Friday, March 11, 2011

NYC-DC trip

Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 9:17pm
This trip began on Friday afternoon, May 22, 2009. After leaving work that afternoon, I hooked up with Anna in Morgantown and we drove together to Gaithersburg, Maryland, where we had dinner and spent the night at the home of our friends Tim and Lori. The next morning, they dropped us off at the Shady Grove Metro subway station to ride to Union Station, where we boarded an Amtrak train to New York City. Upon arrival at Penn Station, we went to our Hampton Hotel near Times Square. Our New York City Memorial Day weekend trip can be summed up in three categories—shows, activities, and food.

SHOWS: We had purchased tickets in advance to the Broadway revival of “Hair” for Sunday night. Anna’s “inner hippie” had always wanted to see this show (although I think her affinity for vegetables made her think the song lyrics were “This is the dawning of the age of asparagus”). Our plan was to see other shows based on what was available at the half-price ticket office. We had hoped for opportunities to see “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys” but neither was available. As it turned out, we also got tickets for “Avenue Q” and “Rock of Ages”—the first we had heard about and looked forward to seeing its comedic take on modern life using Sesame Street style puppets. “Rock of Ages” is new and we had not heard of it, but since it was based on music of the 1980s (Pat Benatar, Journey, Foreigner, etc.), we decided to give it a try (I don’t watch American Idol, but it stars one of their recent finalists, some Greek guy named Constantine something). All three shows were FANTASTIC! I’d have a hard time picking which was my favorite!

ACTIVITIES: The Hampton gave a 2-for-1 discount for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It was very well done. I was surprised to see Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson there, but because they had spent time in Paris, she had selected them and they went through all the sittings and measurements. Her process was quite scientific and accurate even back then, and was handed down over the generations, so there were a number of historic people represented. We also visited the “Top of the Rock” (Rockefeller Center) for a rooftop view of the city at night after watching “Hair”. We both had been to the Empire State Building before, but not at night. Looking down on the lights of Times Square from 60 floors up was interesting. We took an “All Access Tour” of Madison Square Garden, as well as a New York City Duckie Tour (an open-air amphibious bus which also takes you out in the Hudson River). Much of the rest of our time was spent roaming the streets of New York, taking in the many sights and sounds (and smells) of the big city. We did a lot of walking in the mid-town/Times Square/Central Park area (but nothing as long as the last visit in 2005, when we walked from Battery Park to beyond Times Square one afternoon).

FOOD: Saturday’s dinner was at an Ethiopian restaurant called the “Queen of Sheba” on 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. Walking back to the hotel afterwards, we saw a place we wanted to try on Sunday night—“The Delta Grill”, a Cajun/Creole place. On our last night, we ate at the “Brazil Grill”. All three of these main meals were excellent! We also supplemented these major meals with snacks, including stops for Matcha Green Tea Blasts at Jamba Juice (a fruit smoothie place that has been parodied on Saturday Night Live).

On Tuesday morning, we checked out of the hotel and rode the New York subway down to Penn Station, where we caught the Acela express train back to Washington. This is the new high-speed train Amtrak offers in the Northeast corridor. It is faster and smoother, but it is not nearly as fast as the Japanese or French high-speed trains. Train travel is wonderful, and I wish we could do more of it. I think America would benefit if more folks would give it a try.

We arrived back in DC, took the Metro to Rosslyn, and checked into the hotel where I would stay for the rest of the week. We ate a late lunch at a nearby “Pho75” Vietnamese restaurant (Washingtonian Magazine Best Bargain Restaurant award winner). We then headed downtown and ended up at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. It has a couple of new exhibits we enjoyed about ocean life and forensic science on bodies found at Jamestown and elsewhere. We met Tim when he finished work, rode the Metro to Shady Grove and then on to their house, to pick up my car and get some food. The four of us went to a Portuguese restaurant on Connecticut Avenue (near the bike trail crossing a mile or so within the beltway) called Taviras (?). For the price they charge, it was a bit disappointing, but you can’t hit a home run every time. We still had a good time.

I was in DC to work on Wednesday and Thursday. Anna needed to get back to her job, so she rented a car to return to Morgantown on Wednesday. So I had arranged to let my 19-year-old daughter Halley experience train travel and get in some DC sightseeing. For a mere $50, she boarded Amtrak at around 9:00 in Charleston, WV and arrived at Union Station at about 6:00 pm. It was her first real train ride, up the New River Canyon, past the Greenbrier at Lewisburg, over to Charlottesville, and up to DC. She was starved upon arrival so I changed my original dinner plan (the “Tackle Box” in Georgetown) to let her choose at the food court in Union Station (I had Jamaican, she had Chinese). We rode Metro to the hotel in Rosslyn, and then walked over the Key Bridge and all around Georgetown that evening (including the Tackle Box, which looked interesting).

On Thursday, she went sightseeing while I worked. We met at the inner court of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and went back to the hotel. My plan was to check out “Ray’s Hellburger” where Obama and Biden had stopped for a gourmet burger recently. Once we found it (they have no signs visible, and it ended up being next to the Pho75 that Anna and I had been two days earlier), the line was so long that we opted to skip it—but at least we got to see inside and have a sense of the place. We then went to Whole Foods Market and got our dinner there—very tasty! We also purchased two boxes of the chocolate cookies from Whole Foods, which Halley had fallen in love with last year.

I took Friday off, and Halley and started the day with a three hour Segway tour of DC. This was my third time on these two-wheeled chariots—they are a blast! It didn’t take Halley long to get the hang of it. We ventured down 9th to Pennsylvania Avenue, up around the Capitol, then down Independence past my old NASA office building behind the Air & Space Museum (best window office I ever will have!), then across the mall, down Constitution to 17th, across in front of the White House, and then back to the beginning near the Spy Museum. It was quite an experience! Gliding along the sidewalk on two wheels is incredible.

After eating a salad lunch at “Chop’t”(a DC salad restaurant), we took the Green Line subway to the Navy Yard. Halley is a graphic design major, so I thought it would be a good thing to check out the opening day of “Artomatic”. This is an annual DC event that brings all sorts of artists together into a building for a temporary gallery. This year it is being held in a brand new (yet to be completely finished) nine story office building overlooking the new Nationals ballpark. We took the elevator to the top, and spent the rest of Friday afternoon slowly working our way through the displays of incredible (OK, maybe some was not all that great) artworks on each floor. The view out the windows was breathtaking, and it was a great vantage point from which to view the rainstorms that pummeled the DC area that afternoon.

For dinner on Friday, we went back to Gallery Place to meet my cousin Judy. She works nearby, and suggested the Gordon Biersch restaurant as a place to eat. We had a good time visiting with her and the food was OK. We then headed to the Reagan building for the Capitol Steps show that evening. It was my fourth time to see them, but Halley’s first (I am so proud that she seemed to understand all the jokes which are based on contemporary politics). They did an excellent job!

After checking out on Saturday morning, Halley and I drove to Capitol Hill. I was fortunate to find a two-hour parking space in the first block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. We went to the Library of Congress, which to me is one of the most impressive buildings in DC—an ornate shrine to knowledge. I highly recommend it for all DC visitors. We spent over an hour there, and then did a quick lunch at the “Hawk and Dove” tavern. This was a place I frequented (along with the adjacent “Tune Inn”) during my DC days, beginning with my semester internship with Congressman Rahall thirty years ago. It was nice to take my college age daughter to the same place.

We then headed out of town, via Connecticut Avenue so that Halley could see more of DC life before returning to West Virginia (with a quick stop at the Hagerstown Outlet Mall). We spent Saturday night in Morgantown with Anna (dinner at Fujiyama) before finally returning to Parkersburg on Sunday (after eating brunch at the Mediterranean Deli on High Street). It was quite a trip!

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