Friday, February 25, 2011

Visitors - Fran and John

John, Fran, Kathryn, and I in front of the White House.

Kathryn's parents came for a visit over President's Day weekend. Kathryn and I also had the day off on Friday, so we were able to spend plenty of quality time exploring DC.

My favorite activity for visitors, a night time tour of the monuments. (Driver accepts tips.)

A friend of ours from SLU gave us a tour of the Capitol on Friday. This is The Apotheosis of Washington in the rotunda.

Here we are in Statuary Hall.

Our friend Jim showing us a set of doors that were commissioned but never used (government spending).

Kathryn took this picture at Arlington Cemetery. I plan to use it as the cover picture for my novel.

In addition to the Changing of the Guard at Arlington, we saw a wreath laying ceremony with some pretty impressive bugle playing.

Kathryn and her folks in DuPont Circle.

When we were at the White House, these folks were protesting the Iranian government. Given all the political upheavals (and attempted ones) currently, this may make for a memorable photo.

Sunday, we went to mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Basilica is really impressive.

I never knew that the front of the Smithsonian American Indian museum was supposed to look like a face. Can you see it?

The last day of the trip also included a visit to Ford's Theater, although we barely made it in before closing.

Eating Out - Caribbean

I'm not technically Cuban, but I grew up in a tiny town named "Cuba." Both locations have a love for pork (in all forms).

Banana Cafe (Caribbean)

Banana Cafe is a popular spot on Barracks Row, for both food and drinks. This Sunday afternoon we stopped in for a bit of both.

  • I love brunch, but so does everyone in DC (particularly in the greater Capitol Hill area). This usually means long lines and annoying drunks, in the daylight hours no less. However, we were able to get a table with only a limited wait. It was only a few minutes later until I was sipping on an alcohol laced Almond Joy milkshake. Fortunately, I didn't end up drunk, just annoying.
  • I had the Cuban style carnitas with yuca and, of course, black beans and rice. The carnitas were extremely tasty - juicy without tasting fatty.
  • Kathryn was under the impression that the menu featured tons of banana and plantain dishes. When that wasn't really the case (there were several but not tons), she settled on the Puerto Rican Piononos - a sort of plaintain hash covered in cheese. She seemed pleased.
This would be perfect if you were in the mood for round foods.

Smithsonian Museums - Renwick Gallery

One of the few days where a thin jacket was warm enough. We need spring to get here! and soon!

Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The Renwick Gallery is located virtually across the street from the north side of the White House. Given it's prime location, it should pull in huge numbers of visitors, yet I imagine most people have the same response I did. "Who wants to visit a museum dedicated to American craft and decorative arts?" If it wasn't for my completist personality, I probably wouldn't have gone.

  • The gallery is currently under renovations, so only the upper floor is open. I apologize to all artists with work on display on the first floor. I'm sorry I can't talk about your art. It's not my fault, honest.
  • The museum has one giant gallery and several smaller rooms surrounding a grand stair case. Most of the art is more traditional and not as "crafty" as I expected.
  • Here are a couple of our favorite pieces:
If I was the Most Interesting Man in the World, I would definitely touch this art.

It's hard to see at this scale, but this "game fish" is covered in all sorts of old toys and game pieces. It's one of the more talked about pieces in the museum and a lot cooler than it sounds.

This sculpture left the biggest impression on us, by far. It's called "Ghost Clock" by Wendell Castle. It's a solid piece of mahogany carved to look like a Grandfather clock under a sheet. The sheet is part of the wood (!!), and it's quite a trick on the eyes (even when you're up close).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Getting Out - Chinese New Year

Dragon dancing around the firecrackers.

This weekend we went out for groceries and a quick lunch, and we stumbled on the Chinese New Year celebration at Eden Center. The parking lot was full of noise and smoke as what seemed like endless chains of firecrackers were exploding up and down the sidewalks. Several troupes of dragon dancers and drummers paraded from shop-to-shop causing a ruckus (or driving out evil spirits, if you will). It was a fun surprise.

A lot of people wore masks and earplugs. They clearly knew what was about to go down.

I'm a big fan of this guy.

Rolling out even more firecrackers.

This should give you an idea of what we were dealing with.

Eating Out - Belgian

I sort of look like a crazy person.

Bistrot Du Coin (Belgian/French)

Belgian cuisine is surprisingly popular in DC. Some foodies list it just behind the heavy hitters of Ethiopian and Salvadoran. We've been meaning to check out a few of the Belgian joints around town, so we decided to start with Bistrot Du Coin in DuPont Circle.

  • We both started the evening with a glass of Hoegaarden wheat beer, which was cold and delicious and completely necessary after standing in line with a bunch of grouchy people waiting for tables.
  • We weren't really sure how much food to order. We started with a bowl of French onion soup and a potato salad with goat cheese. For the main course, we split a pot of moules marinieres (mussels steamed in white wine, shallots, onions, garlic, and parsley) and French fries. This was our first time eating steamed mussels, and it was pretty fun and surprisingly filling. We finished the night with a cup of coffee and a traditional custard tart with pears.
  • Bistrot Du Coin may become a new personal favorite given its combination of price, quality, and location. However, I'll likely try to avoid Friday evenings in the future and opt instead for a quick weeknight meal.

Cancellation Staycation

Passport to Your National Parks -- every American should own one!

For the last few weeks, I've had the pressing feeling that I could use a vacation. In lieu of blowing some cash or dealing with travel arrangements, we decided to stick around town and spend the day doing some fun (and free!) activities. We spent the day around the National Mall collecting cancellation stamps for our Passport to Your National Parks. If you don't have a national parks passport yet, you should get one. They're super cheap, and it's fun collecting all of the stamps. Fortunately for us, the DC metro area offers the highest concentration of national parks and historic sites. We collected 32 cancellations on our long day around the mall.

Kathryn making her way through the mother load of stamps at the Washington Monument.

We started the day at the Department of the Interior - the headquarters of the National Park Service.

Although it was gloomy, the weather was actually pretty nice for a February day.

This was our first time up to the top of the Washington Monument. It has a cool view, but you can't see DC's most distinctive landmark, the Washington Monument.

Looking west toward the Lincoln Memorial.

East toward the capitol.

One of the reliefs at the US Navy Memorial.

Can you see the fox that Kathryn spotted at Arlington National Cemetery?

From the front yard of the Arlington House.

There are a number of important people buried at Arlington, but I was surprised to find Pierre L'Enfant, the architect of our city.

We finished the day watching the last changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It was the highlight of the day.

I put together this cool little map of the cancellation stations. The red markers indicate the locations we've collected, and the markers without dots have pictures. I plan to keep it updated as we progress through the cancellation stations.

View Cancellation Stations in a larger map

Thursday, February 3, 2011

D.C. Sports - Georgetown Hoyas

Corner seats - the best view for basketball.

This is my favorite time of the year, the heart of the college basketball conference schedule. This is when bubbles burst and the strengths and weakness of every team are exposed. It's been a great week since I was able to check out two games live. While Kathryn was stuck at work saving lives, I was busy watching some Big East conference play with a good friend from work.
  • I was amazed to see Jesuit university students actually get really excited about their team. It was way better than anything I've seen at Saint Louis or Creighton.
  • The game was a real nail biter with GU coming up late in the game and securing the win despite a last second 3 point attempt to tie. As a fan of Rick Pitino, I was sort of bummed that Louisville didn't pull off the road win.
  • I would love to go to more Georgetown games, but they are prohibitively expensive. Ticket prices are on range with the Wizards, but somehow, the games are just as well (if not better) attended.
  • The worst part of the game is the metro ride to and from the Verizon center. I live very close to Georgetown so the cars were more cramped than other lines around the stadium.

Eating Out - Burgers

The real deal.

BGR - The Burger Joint (Burgers)

There are a lot things the DC populace and I agree on: statehood, recess, and grease... tasty, tasty grease. There is no better form of delicious grease than the premium burger. Whenever you eat greasy food, you're going to get a stomach ache (which sucks), but I've noticed recently the better the burger, the easier the stomach ache. It's similar to the old adage about better booze leads to less painful hangovers.
  • Kathryn and I first went to BGR soon after we settled in the District, but I'm finally getting around to recording my review. After about a half a dozen visits, I'm sure I can give this place proper justice.
  • The burgers at BGR are amazing, definitely top flight along with Ray's and Good Stuff. Both the burgers and the buns are high quality. The fries are pretty awesome, too, but the sweet potato fries are even a notch above the regular potatoes.
  • The only downside to BGR -- the shakes. They're never quite as good as Good Stuff. They do have the most extensive offering of sodas however with at least five varieties of Coke, for example (raspberry, cherry, lime, etc.).
  • If you're going out for burgers specifically, BGR is a good alternative, but if you're wanting to grab lunch in DuPont circle, you would be hard pressed to find something better.