Thursday, 29 May 2014

WASHINGTON...I CANNOT TELL A LIE

29.05.2014

So after a hectic and rewarding 3 days in Chicago we left at 18.40 on the Capitol Express. Sleepers get to use the Amtrak lounge with complimentary snacks and drinks, help with baggage ( we checked the 2 large cases, only needing overnight stuff) and priority boarding. We didn't have a full bedroom on this leg, just the roomette which has 2 chairs that convert to 2 single bunks, no toilet but fine for one overnight journey. Have I mentioned that restaurant car seating is community seating so that we share a table with different people every meal ? So we had 9 meals and so 18 different dining companions. Great conversations about health care (everybody we met is for it despite the TV ads), gun laws( everybody for complete control but nobody thinks it'll happen), stop going to war across the world, etc etc.
Anyway for dinner we had Barbera  a cartoonist on the New Yorker and her daughter Lee who is a fellow at a university in NY teaching art. Barbers was a lovely lady and very funny so we had a great time.
Train passed through Toledo, Pittsburgh, Cumberland ( saw the Gap) and Harper's Ferry before arriving Washington at 13.30, Union Station which is yet another stunning building.
$10 cab ride to Holiday Inn, stones throw from Capital if you walk in the right direction.
Checked in,stowed the bags, weather horrendously humid and hot,sticky and unpleasant. Hotel top notch and tv even bigger. On advice from a nice lady we took the metro, about 100 yds away if you walk in the right direction and take the right entrance, to a place called Metro Centre, about 4 stops away where we could purchase a Senior MetroCard for $2 each which then gave 1/2 price fares....this was very useful as fares are by distance traveled and time of day.....peak rush hour starts at 3pm to 7pm and until 9.30 in the morning.
Checked out the BigBus co.  for the hoponhopoff and decided on a 48 hour ticket next morning which I could buy in the hotel and there is a stop about 200 yds away.
So looking at the map we decided to go to the library of congress for culture and it wasn't too far. Caught the metro, which is very user friendly, and walked up to the library which closed at 4pm as do all government offices so waste of time there in the heat. However, close to the Capitol, so walked over there, for photos. No congressmen or senators about so decided that since the hotel was a stone's throw away we would walk back, down Independence Ave and hang a left onto Maryland and the bob's your uncle. Stopped for a coffee as it was steaming. After at least half an hour of walking, through very leafy( but humidly hot) suburbs and just as I was thinking we might be wrong, (as we should be amongst big buildings) a very nice man  hopped off his bike to ask if we were lost which it turned out we were, having been walking in the exact opposite direction somehow. So he directed us to the nearest metro, still a good walk away, but at least we found it.......it was now 6pm and panic was setting in as Happy Hour  at hotel bar finished at 7. Got back to our stop, the aptly named L'Enfant Plaza, and immediately exited from a totally different entrance to the one by which we entered.....just as the predicted thunderstorms broke. Waited till it stopped then set off in completely wrong direction and had to retrace our steps only to find 2 women having exactly the same ' mare. Eventually got back to the hotel bar with 4 mins to go so ordered 2 beers to the amusement of the bartender..... however it paid dividends because the next night when I got in at 6pm, despite being packed, when I slid onto a stool a beer appeared in front of me like magic . .I felt  like Norm in Cheers and had to have more than several to get over the shock.
So Tues evening was a disaster, and as it rained we ate at the hotel which was OK but nothing special.
Wed morning bought tickets for the Bigbus and did Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington memorials, walked to FDR &  Martin Luther  King memorials, then Vietnam Wall, all inspiring and just as big and awesome as I expected. In the afternoon we did Arlington Cemetery, JFK grave and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at which were  lucky to see the changing of the guard which was very American and very polished. The heat was getting unbearable and Arlington is a big place with hills so very hard work. Back via the Pentagon and the White House, didn't call in, and probably other places I've forgotten.
Found a Spanish tapas bar for dinner using the TripAdvisor app that had good reviews and was only 17 mins walk away so rang up and booked for 8pm which was lucky as when we got there it was heaving with a queue and we got straight in but table not ready so drink at bar until they sent a text to say it was ready....cool ! And a great meal with lots of excellent dishes and a relief from the grills/fries/salads of late.
On  Thurs the temp dropped and rain forecast all day  but didn't start till afternoon though. Rode around and hopped off at Georgetown, explored v.nice waterfront and excellent lunch at J.Paul's pub which may have been the tastiest and best meal we have had. Rain started so spent the afternoon at the Smithsonian museum of American history, which may be one of the best produced museums we've ever seen.....except we are in the traditional period of field trips for American schools so everywhere is full of noisy crowds of teenagers of which we were not the only ones complaining.

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