Chapter Four – White House, Abe’s House and Our Last Day Before Returning To Our House

DSC06790Chapter Four – White House, Abe’s House and Our Last Day Before Returning To Our House

Day Seven – Tennis Anyone, Act Of Congressman, Hail To The Chief, Hail To The Chief (of Police), Nearly Turned Into a Newt, Moon Rocks, We’re On The Road To Nowhere, The Lincoln Logs, Shut Out, Afternoon (Make That An Hour) At The Museum, A Cut Above, Wow What a Pear and Bowling For Dinner?

With visions of Fodorites dancing in our heads, which were still a little groggy from the previous evening’s wine consumption, we were ready to leave the Rouge by seven. This morning we had our appointed White House Tour that had been set up by the arrested (well, let’s say just say “previously detained”) congressman.

In an effort to clear our heads, we walked briskly toward the Obama residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Although we had not hooked up with Barack and Michelle for cocktails, we were hoping that they might have some espresso, mimosas and croissants waiting for us.

DSC06542When we arrived at the spot where we were to enter and meet the congressman (who became quite infamous about four years later…you have to wait to see who he is), there seemed to be a rather massive throng of humanity waiting outside the gate.  Kim inquired with a park ranger, who told us that nobody was being allowed in at this time because someone was playing tennis on The White House tennis court, and the Secret Service was not allowing people who were not already on the property to enter the grounds.

We waited. Then, walking toward the gate was a gentleman, who seemed very official in his confident stride. “Oh no.” the ranger said, “Here comes a congressman. I wonder which group he is with this morning?”

Kim took a slight glance toward the oncoming politico, smiled wryly and said, “That would be us.”

The congressman came down and asked why we were not being let in. “Because,” the ranger answered, “the Secret Service is not letting anyone enter.”

In a “let my people go” instant, the congressman said (very decisively), “Let them in now.”

As we chatted on our way up to the White House security entrance, the congressman asked Kim if he had heard about his “arrest.” Kim chuckled and said, “I read a little bit about what happened.”

Smiling, the congressman replied, “If I’m not arrested every few years or so, my constituents think I’m selling out.” He then added, “Of course, I did lose a little of my ‘street cred’ being detained by a lifeguard.”

The congressman escorted us to the White House check-in, bade us farewell (we would see him later for dinner) and we entered the White House. There was no sign of the First Couple (apparently they were getting ready to greet the Philadelphia Phillies later that day), but one guard said that first dog, Bo Boma, was prowling the grounds and there was a very slight chance we might get a canine glimpse.

No such luck, but the short, self-guided (well, except for Secret Service in each room that would answer questions and guards outside with sub-machine guns) tour did include The Vermillion Room, The Red Room, The Green Room, The East Room and a couple of other rooms whose colors and directional settings I have forgotten. We saw where the president walks out to deliver his speeches, and although the tour was shorter than we would have liked, it was still an interesting peek into our nation’s leader’s residence.

Tracy was impressed with how fresh and well maintained the rooms looked and that there were beautiful floral arrangements in every room, mostly peonies.

As we exited the White House, the four of us had that one collective thought that so often defines our trips — Hunger! Nearby the White House is, of course, The Old Ebbitt Grill, and soon we were ensconced in a booth.

We were not sheltered enough, however, to not notice the person at the booth kitty corner to us. Isn’t that Bill Brattan?” Tracy said.

Sure enough, the Los Angeles Chief of Police was sitting within shooting distance, but fortunately since I was not on any L.A. “Most Wanted List,” we all could eat in peace. In all truth, the Old Ebbitt breakfast was nothing to write home about, and we all thought it was overpriced, as well.

Back out in the stifling heat, we could tell this was going to be an ugly, hot day in D.C., so we decided to walk back to the Hotel Rouge, change into some shorts and continue on trying to complete as many spreadsheet venues as we could on our final full day in the nation’s capital.

As we reached a street corner not too far from the hotel, Mary tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You won’t believe who is crossing the street only 20 feet from us.”

Hoping against hope that it was Shania Twain, I pivoted to my left and nearly turned into a Newt…Gingrich, that is.

Mary asked, “Are you going to say anything to him?”

I replied that my mom always said that if you didn’t have anything nice to say to or about someone, you should keep your mouth shut.  Silently, the four of us trekked onward toward the Rouge.

web-13After a quick change, we grabbed a cab and headed to The Washington National Cathedral.

web-12We paid the five bucks each for a guided tour of this vey lovely church and learned that Woodrow Wilson is buried here and that Helen Keller’s ashes are also located at the National Cathedral.

web-10 The Space Window was very cool. In a tribute to NASA and the lunar landing, it even contains a piece of Moon Rock. We were told that the National Cathedral is the sixth largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States.

DSC06788Fortunately for my companions, the bell tower was not open to be scaled, so we walked across the street to the nice gift store and ventured to the street to hail a cab.

DSC06789 Grabbing a cab at The National Cathedral turned out to be a 15 to 20 minute exercise in near futility, since this is not exactly a haven for taxis, but finally one picked us up. Unfortunately for us, our cab driver took futility to a new level.

We told him our destination was President Lincoln’s Cottage at The Soldiers’ home. As he scoured his map of the Washington D.C. vicinity, Kim pointed to the area where Lincoln’s country home was located. I surmised that a horse carriage transporting Lincoln could have made better time than we did.

Our cabbie feigned that he knew where he was going, but as time progressed we realized he was headed back toward Washington D.C. in the direction from where we just came, and although we kept telling him he was incorrect, our cab driver insisted he knew where he was going. Finally, however, he realized he was clueless, and we stopped for a moment for another map reading session.

A light bulb must have gone off in his head, because off we went on the correct route, and soon (well, soon might not be a slight exaggeration) we were deposited at Lincoln’s Cottage.

web-11Before our tour (which had been arranged by Mary before we left for DC), we wandered around the Visitor Orientaton/Education Center that had numerous interactive exhibits.

The tour started at 1 p.m. and it lasted a little less than one hour. We had a very good tour director who imparted a great deal of knowledge regarding our 16th President of the United States. In many of the Lincoln Cottage rooms, the group was treated to either audio or visual presentations that made the tour more interesting.

Leaving the cottage, a sudden rain shower (yes, we were getting that east coast humidity now) hit. Fortunately Tracy came prepared with an umbrella, which she quickly put over the statue of Lincoln and his horse for a quick ‘photo op’, but once again she forgot to warn him about going to the theater.

DSC06790Told that it was only about a ten-minute walk to the nearest metro station and since our previous cab ride had not provided us with pleasant memories, we opted for the walk/metro combination.

We headed back to the DuPont Circle stop, which was located nearby our next attraction, The Phillips Collection. I asked Kim why we were going to see a bunch of screwdrivers, and he just walked on, shaking his head. Yes, the trip was nearing its conclusion.

DSC06791As we approached the inviting looking structure, there was a sign on the door stating the Phillips was closed for a “private event.” So much for being inviting, and we thought we would give it another try the following day.

Kim and Mary went in search of sustenance, but Tracy and I were on a quest to see more museums.  Before we departed, Kim said to be sure to be back by 6 p.m. so we could get ready for “Ten Pin” with the congressman.

I thought bowling seemed like an odd thing to do on our last evening in DC, but Kim and Mary had been correct about everything else, so we just nodded our heads, grabbed a cab and headed for The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It just so happened that a few hours later there was to be a special screening of “Night At The Smithsonian” on The National Mall.

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Inside the Natural History Museum we were treated to an array of dinosaurs and weird looking mammals (although we had witnessed plenty of those in eight days walking around DC).

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We then scooted over to an exhibition containing The Hope Diamond.

DSC06798Supposedly, when a French merchant first bought the diamond, it was more than 110 carats. “Man, that guy’s wife must have had massive fingers,” I told Tracy.   Today, after some careful carat cutting throughout the centuries, it still weighs a formidable 45 carats.

Speaking of weighing, Tracy and I weighed far less than we had after breakfast, so we decided to duck in and grab a snack and late afternoon libation before our strenuous evening of bowling. It was off to Zaytinya, located across the street from The National Portrait Gallery.

Since it was late in the day, we didn’t want to eat too much and spoil our dinner, and Zaytinya fit the bill perfectly. They serve “mezze,” which are actually “small plates of the Eastern Mediterranean and The Middle East.” We had also heard they served a mean pear martini.

DSC06810We sat at the bar, and our new friend Kent (very personable bartender) gave us the rundown on some of the small plate items the restaurant offers. I said, “I hear you have a special pear martini.”

“Oh, you mean Aphrodite’s Pear.”

He went on. “Aphrodite’s Pear is a martini made from Grey Goose Pear vodka, fresh squeezed Lime Juice and St. Germain elderflower cordial.”  They also add a thinly sliced pear, which I believe can be considered part of your 5-A-Day servings of fruits and vegetables.

I took one sip and said, “Damn, that is one great martini!”

Tracy’s martini was also good. The Lemonas Maximus is a concoction of Skyy Citrus Vodka, Limoncello and fresh Lemon Juice. The pear martini was better, however.

For our spread, we tried the Htipiti. This delicious dish was comprised of roasted red peppers, feta and thyme. We would have liked to stay, but as they say, “Thyme was running out,” and we needed to get freshened up for our evening on the town. We told Kent we would pay him a visit the following afternoon before we headed for the airport. I think it was at this point that Kent considered early retirement.

Tracy and I quickly got ready, and the four us cabbed down to meet the congressman. As it turned out, we weren’t going to a bowling alley after all. Kim had actually said we were going to meet the congressman at “TenPenh,” which turned out to be a rather chic restaurant located at 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue.

DSC06799Instead of defining the cuisine myself, I will steal this quote from the executive chef that comes from the restaurant’s website, “I’ve taken good solid French-based techniques, seasonal foods, and added indigenous ingredients from Thailand, Vietnam, China, The Philippines, Malaysia, and Japan. The result is a great restaurant called TenPenh. I would define the cuisine as Asian-Pacific inspired Contemporary Cuisine.”

However you describe it, the food was exceptional. Tracy had the Red Pepper Sambal Halibut with cold peanut soba noodles and cilantro sauce. Not to be outdone in the fish category, Mary ordered pan-seared Sea Scallops.

The congressman and Kim lassoed the “Cowboy Steak,” while I dined on delectable Lamb Chops with Black Bean Garlic Rice Noodles and Chinese mustard.

Because I hadn’t eaten in nearly two hours, I convinced the table to order a side of Wasabi Mashed potatoes, which has now become a staple at the Maitaitom and Tracy house and is why I always keep larger sized pants in my closet.

After a very interesting evening talking politics, the Washington DC area and solving virtually all of the world’s problems in a little more than two hours, we were on the metro back to DuPont Circle.

Oh…who was that congressman?  None other than Bob Filner…yes, that Bob Filner, who would go on to become mayor and resign in shame.  On the night we dined, there was no groping.

It was a very muggy evening in DC, so we felt like we were “getting out of Dodge” just in time. We packed our suitcases, looked over our final day spreadsheet (hey, there were still things to do and see) and drifted off to bed. I am relatively certain I dreamed mostly about Wasabi mashed potatoes and Pear Martinis until awakened by a Mary phone call the next morning.

Day Eight – Brunch At The Bookstore, Collection Notice, Da Planes! Da Planes! A Sobering History Lesson, A Not-So-Sobering Pair of Pears and Beating The Storm Out Of D.C.

Tracy and I called our friend back in Southern California and were happy to be informed that we didn’t lose any cats on this vacation. The four of us checked our bags at the front desk of the Hotel Rouge, and amazingly even after our huge dinner of the previous evening, all of us were famished once again.

Although barely able to exit the Rouge front door thanks to our astonishingly enormous girths, we were able to waddle over to Dupont Circle for one last breakfast. Walking, I thought of the Carole King song, “I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet.”

We had brunch at Kramerbooks (no, not a coffee table book that becomes a coffee table) and The Afterwards Café and Grill located at the bookstore.

The brunch included delicious muffins, orange juice, fresh fruit, café potatoes, along with coffee or iced tea. The Brunch Quesadilla that Tracy and I ordered was $14.95. It consisted of eggs, roasted corn, scallions, mild green chiles and jack cheese in a flour tortilla (God, we ate a lot, but still did not gain a pound thanks to General Kim and Mary’s 10 mile-a-day walking regimen).

Kim had the $14.95 Porker’s Brunch (appropriately named for this group’s eating habits) that included bacon, eggs and sausage. Mary had the mushroom omelete, which amazingly came in at $14.95. It wasn’t cheap, but it was good.

After brunch, we decided to take another crack at The Phillip’s Collection, and, voilá, it was open. I know this is a favorite of many and, although the building and environs are quite attractive, Tracy and I were not enthralled by the artwork that is contained within. Kim and Mary liked it a little better than we did.

Walking out of The Phillip’s, we realized this was going to be a brutal weather day. It was hot, overcast and so muggy that my sweat had sweat.

We had 1 p.m. reservations to visit The Holocaust Museum, which gave the four of us just enough time to visit one of Washington’s most popular Smithsonian sites, The National Air and Space Museum. It had been quite some time since I had seen this museum, but it never disappoints.

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From space vehicles to the Spirit of St. Louis to my favorite, Orville and Wilbur Wright’s plane, it was a nice one-hour respite from the intrusive heat.

DSC06802In an Amelia Earhardt moment, we lost Tracy for a few moments, but she eventually showed up (she’d been hanging out with Orville and Wilbur behind my back) so there will be no History Channel shows on her.

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Our last museum of the trip was The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We got here a tad before our timed entry, but were let in anyway a little before our assigned time.

The museum is three floors and you start on the top floor. It is, at once, both a fascinating and sobering museum that chronicles the rise of anti-Semitism and all the inconceivable events that took place during the Nazi regime and more.

My only complaint is that when you take the elevator to the top floor, it is so crowded that you have to bypass some of the exhibits you might want to see (unless you want to spend the entire day here) in the first part of the museum.  There is also an introductory movie with a tiny theater that fills up very quickly, so if you get shut out (we did see it, fortunately), you have to wait another 20 minutes until it is shown again. They either need to limit the amount of people let in at any given time or do something about the timed entries to space it out better.

Crowds aside, once you get further into the museum, it is easier to move around and view all the exhibits. It certainly makes one stop to ponder how these horrors were allowed to be perpetuated by the human race, and the exhibits do not let the United States off the hook for its sometimes callous lack of commitment to the plight of those in concentration camps and turning its back to refugees seeking asylum. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking museum.

Back outside, after spending a little more than a couple of hours at the Holocaust Museum, we all had to choose where to spend our last hour or so before heading toward the airport. Kim and Mary decided to take the metro back to DuPont Circle and look for some books at our restaurant/bookstore and grab a quick bite.

Tracy and I had a slightly different idea on how to spend our last hour. Our motto was, “When the weather gets tough, the tough find refuge with a pear martini (and some appetizers).”

Back to Zaytinya we headed. A pair of Aphrodite Pear Martinis later along with some selected small bites, and we were ready to bid so long to Washington D.C.

We met Kim and Mary back at the Hotel Rouge. For $149 a night, we felt it was a great deal. Its’ fantastic location near Dupont Circle was terrific, the rooms were clean and the decibel level was minimal. Of course, I never got to try on the leopard skin outfits in the closet, but upon further reflection, that might have been a good thing for all concerned.

At the airport, as the four of us sipped our last libation of the trip, the local television weather reports expounded upon previous forecasts of heavy thunderstorms expected to come through the DC general vicinity in the next few hours. We said good-bye to Kim and Mary and hoped that our respective flights to San Diego and Los Angeles would get out on time.

We were supposed to depart at 6:30, one hour after Kim and Mary. We did not get out until nearly 7:30 and were told later by the steward that only three planes took off after us before Dulles was shut down for a few hours due to thunder, lightening and rain.

Upon landing, there was a phone message from Mary that they were being held up due to a maintenance problem. Did they or did they not get out? There was no answer from Mary’s cell.

We found out the next day, they were also one of the last planes to successfully leave before the big storm hit. It must have been the clean living the four of us displayed during a week in DC.

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Washington D.C. was everything we had been hoping for and more. Kim and Mary had planned it perfectly, putting extra pressure on me to put together a great 2011 trip that will send the four of us scrambling all over France. Mon Dieu!

DSC06635Everything from the Monument Death March to Gorgeous Georgetown to Magnificent Mount Vernon to Smithsonian Splendor to The Fabulous Fodorite Get-Together could not have been more enjoyable.

DSC06594In the meantime, we learned new martini recipes, dined at some spectacular spots, helped a damsel (well, an old dame) in distress and learned even more U.S. history in the process.

  We didn’t terrorize any of the locals (well, maybe the Fodorites), and once again our motto held true:

Enjoy The Journey! Attitude Is Everything!




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