Chapter Three – Hallowed Ground to Falling To The Ground To A Meeting Of Travelers

 DSC06698Chapter Three –  Hallowed Ground to Falling To The Ground  To A Meeting Of Travelers

Day Five – Get Out Of My Way, Changing Of The Guard, From The Halls Of Montezuma, Missed It By That Much, I Cannot Tell A Lie, Where’s Vanna White, George Washington Slept Here, The Bus ‘Nazi’, Down By The Lazy River, Riding On The Metro Again and Damn It “Our Out Of Business Wine Bar” is Open!

Mary was on the phone to us early. We had to get ready for our day trip outside of DC. Although Arlington Cemetery opens at 8 a.m., because we had been going at such a frenetic pace, Mary aimed for an arrival time closer to 8:30 knowing that we didn’t want to end up in the cemetery, but just visit.

We took a taxi to Arlington (the great thing about traveling with another couple is that taxis become an affordable and much quicker mode of transportation).  Thirteen bucks is a lot better than 26 bucks (yes, that San Diego State Math Three course comes in handy).

DSC06678Fearing the warnings we had heard about enormous crowds, we were amazed at the lack of people by the time we arrived a little before 8:30. The sun was already making its heat making quality known, so we knew this day was going be the hottest day yet that we had experienced.

web-8As we started walking up the road toward JFK’s gravesite, out of the corners of our eyes we spied a humungous tour group that we definitely wanted to stay ahead of for as long as we could.  We paid a visit to JFK’s eternal flame and his first flame, Jackie.

DSC06681I guess they didn’t have room for all his other flames.

DSC06684When you turn around, there is a beautiful view back toward Washington D.C. and The Washington Monument.

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Staying ahead of the crowd, we strolled over to where RFK was laid to rest.  Visiting the Newseum the previous day, it is amazing to me that 40 to 45 years after both assassinations, how much of that coverage still is vividly ingrained in my memory.

DSC06699It was about 8:45, and we knew that the Changing Of The Guard at The Tomb Of The Unknowns was to commence shortly. We picked up the pace. At one spot in the cemetery there is a single path that is a kind of a short cut to get to where the ceremony would take place, which was now only about five minutes from starting.

DSC06696In the distance I saw people scurrying to get to the 9 a.m. guard changing. Meanwhile we were stuck behind “The Snail Family.”  Seinfeld had “Low Talkers.” We now had “Slow Walkers.” They were not disabled. They were not obese. They were not looking around taking in the hallowed surroundings that are Arlington. They were just slooooow!

DSC06687As we reached a connecting road, I turned on the afterburners (well, actually I just had to walk at a normal pace) and passed them, and I got up to the ceremony just as it began. Mary, Kim and Tracy were not far behind.

DSC06686The Changing Of the Guard should not be missed.

web-7After the solemn ceremony, we meandered through the cemetery, which was very beautiful.

DSC06685Although Arlington did not have the same impact (to me anyway) as The American Cemetery in Normandy.

DSC06679However, knowing how many thousands of stories that could be told from the great beyond made this a very interesting place to visit and once again makes you think about how many young men and women have lost their lives in our many wars.

DSC06703For those who do not want to make the treks that we do, there is a TourMobile that takes visitors around Arlington, but you already know that we don’t do that. From the Tomb Of The Unknowns, we made the long walk over to The United States Marine Corps War Memorial where the famous statue of the flag being raised on Mount Surabachi stands.

DSC06700 We had seen the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph the day before at The Newseum, and now we were standing in front of the 32-foot high figures planting that 60-foot high bronze flagpole. With the sun captured behind the flag, we took some pretty memorable photographs. During our 15 minutes here, only handful of people stopped by.

DSC06710On the way back to Arlington’s entrance, we passed by The “Netherlands Carillon.” The tower was presented a gift from Holland. We also stopped by and paid our respects to William Howard Taft (buried sans his huge bath tub) and five-star general Omar Bradley.

DSC06709 Next on the spreadsheet was a trip to Mount Vernon, home of our first president, Millard Fillmore (just seeing if you’re still with me). As we neared the spot where our cab had left us earlier, I started having DC marathon hike flashbacks. “God, I hope we aren’t going to have to walk to Mount Vernon,” I said to Kim and Mary. They assured me that the group would be taking public transportation to Mt. Vernon and soon we descended some stairs, and I finally got my first glimpse of the Washington DC metro system that could have been a savior to my feet for the past four days.

DSC06713If I remember correctly, we took the Blue line to King Street Station (the guy working the booth said that this station is easiet to switch trains), and then we hopped on the Yellow line to Huntington.  We arrived at the Huntington station shortly after 11 a.m. Unfortunately, the bus that takes you out to Mt. Vernon had just left and the next one was not until noon. Taxi!!!!!!!!

We split the cab fare, took the very scenic drive along the parkway with glimpses of the Potomac and within about 20 minutes we were at Mount Vernon, where our first executive decision was made. “Let there be lunch!.  I cannot tell a lie, we lunched at The Mt. Vernon Inn, and Kim continued on with the chicken (Chicken Caesar Salad), Mary with the fish (Salmon Corncakes), Tracy had the turkey pye (yes pye), and I had a Virginia peppered ham sandwich with Monterey Jack cheese and spicy mustard along with some scrumptious and totally unhealthy tavern chips.

We had 1 p.m. entrance times, but we were a little early, and like everywhere else we went, they did not care we were early. Each of us plucked down six bucks apiece for the audio tour that included highlights of the grounds and museum (the house has an actual human being to give visitors information).

Before entering the grounds, we watched a 30-minute film, and the gentleman giving the orientation on that film (dressed in traditional 1700s’ garb) was none other than Pat Sajak. Fortunately there was no vowel buying, and after he gave his little spiel there was an interesting movie about George and Martha.

DSC06716 We walked though some gardens (Tracy was now getting really spoiled), and then we waited in the mid-afternoon heat to take the short tour of the house.

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Inside the first couple of the rooms, the docent gave us a detailed explanation of the house (by the way, all the docents here were friendly and quite knowledgeable).

DSC06719We then waited.  Finally, we were able to go out on the front porch with commanding views of the Potomac, but we were told there would be some more waiting.

DSC06720It seems there had been a slight emergency with one of the “house guests,” but that emergency crews (a foreshadowing alert for tomorrow, by the way) were on the scene and it was nothing serious.

web-14Escorted back in the house, we toured room by room, with docents answering questions all along the way. Afterward, we walked through the kitchen to the grounds in front and some other nearby buildings, and made our way finally to George and Martha’s final resting place.

DSC06722Our last stop at Mt. Vernon was the museum that gave visitors an inside glimpse into the more personal Washington, who always wanted to be a homebody, but his service to our country never afforded him that luxury.  The artifacts are presented in a very nice setting in a number of rooms.

DSC06724It took us about 2 3/4 hours to see the grounds, the mansion, the tomb and the museum (and a few bovine), and I know some people will say you could spend a whole day there, but nearly three hours was plenty for us.

It was 3:25, and the #101 bus (it runs every 30 minutes starting at 3:30) was going to whisk us back to the metro station. We made an inquiry on what the bus ride would cost, and one man replied, “The fare is $1.35, and by the way, you better have the exact change or he will be very unhappy.”

With only a minute to spare, it was time to find spare change.  And fast! Going through our pants quicker than a fake blind pickpocket in Paris (see trip report – circa 2006), we were able to garner the correct change and did not incur the wrath of the driver, who made Tracy’s “the look” seem downright kind when unsuspecting persons did not have the correct monetary unit.

DSC06727Next stop: Alexandria, Virginia. It was time for the obligatory afternoon cocktail respite. Getting off at King Street station, we walked down the main drag lined with restaurants and shops to the water, where we sat down at The Chart House with a couple of refreshing drinks on this now windy, but sunny, afternoon.

DSC06725We hopped on the free trolley that runs up and down King Street from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. at ten, thirty and fifty minutes after the hour or so it said there (when I checked online, it says 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., so perhaps a local can chime in with correct information) back to the metro.

Soon we found ourselves at Dupont Circle and we walked toward the hotel. The restaurants in our little neighborhood were all almost full (what recession?).

The memory becomes a little foggy here, but we think the name of the restaurant where we ate outside on the patio was called Delaney Italian Café (help me locals), but any mistakes I make from this point forward can be directly attributed to the Gabbiano Chianti we started to consume.

In a shocking development, Mary had (drum roll) fish, but her dish of grilled tuna with a Tomatillo avocado sauce was the winner of the night. Kim and I went for the 10-ounce steaks while Tracy had a nice chicken saltimbocca stuffed with Prosciutto and spinach. It was $160 for four, including tip and plenty of vino.

After dinner, as we walked back to the hotel, we saw a place that was really going great guns with colorful lights and what looked a really fun atmosphere.

“Hey, that’s our wine place from Sunday,” I said. Yep, the place those lying guys (oh wait a minute, it is Washington) told us was out of business a few nights before was doing a great business tonight. Once again the notes and memory are sketchy, but we have written down the name of the wine bar as Florianda (again locals, please correct if not right).

Well, we’d already consumed our full quota of cocktails and wine anyway, so it was back to the Rouge.  Most importantly, we needed to get our beauty rest, because along with everything else we would accomplish on the following day, the big event would come later that evening. That would be when the infamous Gathering Of The Fodorites would take place at Jack’s. God help DC!!!!!!

Day Six – Insufficient Grounds, Affairs Of State, So Easy A Child Could Do It, I Don’t Want To Be A Pirate, A Banner Exhibit, Going Postal, She’s Fallen and She Can’t Get Up, Presidential Portraits, PLUS The Attack Of The Fodorites!

Buoyed by a good night’s rest, the four of us decided that our feet were sufficiently rejuvenated enough that we could walk to The State Department for the tour Kim and Mary had arranged before we left California.

DSC06738We were in such good shape that we arrived a full 20 minutes before our appointed tour time, so we decided to grab a cup of joe.  Nearby the State Department was a crowded little place called Casey’s where we could down some needed caffeine and devour a not-so-healthy pastry item or two.

As we sat down and started supping our assorted jumble of java concoctions, a similar expression quickly came upon our collective countenances (except Tracy who had ordered an ice tea). You’ve heard of “Bitter Beer Face?” Well on this morning Kim, Mary and I had “Bitter Coffee Face.”  The only adjective we cold come up with for our three disgusting coffee creations was, “Oily.” Mary came up with this quip as a slogan: “Casey’s coffee, brought to you by Chevron.” Sadly, we would have to be caffeine deprived on this morning, and lattes were summarily dumped into the nearest trash receptacle.

We scurried back to the State Department, met up with the remainder of the tour (12 of us in total) and took an elevator upstairs.  We were taken to a tiny room, where the docent told us about the furniture and plates in the room. She then related the story about her husband was in the Pentagon on the morning of 9-11.  Fortunately, he survived the attack.

web-9The tour took a little break as we waited for some more people to join us. Ten minutes then passed before the elevator door opened, and it was not until then that we discovered there was a special Iraqi contingent of who we perceived to be dignitaries that would be taking the tour with the rest of us.

DSC06733 On the outside, the State Department building looks similar to other uninspired architectural efforts, but inside it is a different story. There is beautiful and historical furniture (including the desk on which the Treaty of Paris was signed) to behold and beautiful paintings adorn many of the walls in the various rooms we were allowed to see.

DSC06734At different moments during the docent’s explanations it was hard to hear her speak, primarily because the head Iraqi guy (well, we perceived him to be their leader since everyone else was kissing up to him) would just start talking and interrupting her train of thought. Miss Manners would have been very upset.

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When we arrived in the last room, the docent told us about a dinner party that had been held the previous evening. This fact was confirmed when I turned around and saw Tracy holding something in her hand that looked suspiciously like a dining utensil. “What’s the heck is that?” I inquired.

DSC06728“Oh, just a fork,” she answered. “I stepped on it. Do you want it as a souvenir?” Not wanting to start an international incident this early in the day, I declined, although later we picked up a program that had been left behind and took that with us.

The tour lasted about 45 minutes and, after it was over, we headed over to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which we had been told was the first art gallery in Washington D.C.  Since we had not reached our full allotment of caffeine, the four of us sat in their cafeteria and had some decent coffee and even a bowl of turkey chili soup.  We perused the Corcoran program detailing what was on display at the museum, and we unanimously decided that we would pass on the Corcoran. Yes, I know, blasphemous!

Next on the day’s agenda was the incredibly crowded, but very entertaining National Museum of American History. Our first stop was Julia Child’s Kitchen. The renowned chef had donated her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen in the early 2000s and most of the items contained therein.

DSC06740The many videos of Child cooking were quite amusing, and one line she uttered reinforces that she did not have too many recipes suited for “Cooking Light” magazine. On one of her shows, Child states, “If you do not want to use butter in your mashed potatoes, then use cream.” I could see arteries harden throughout the room as she spoke.

We meandered past the very interesting transportation exhibits, complete with life-sized rail and trolley cars.

Mary and Tracy had heard there was an exhibition featuring gowns worn by the first ladies. Fortunately for Kim and myself the line was long, and they didn’t want to wait. Nearby was a very interesting series of photos taken on the day of Obama’s inauguration.

Next up was the actual Star Spangled Banner itself, the one that Francis Scott Key saw fly over Fort McHenry on that September morning in 1814 (fortunately, he never heard Roseanne Barr’s rendition).  The huge flag is in a new display and it really is quite a presentation that should not be missed.  Since it was so crowded, I got a better photo of the internet without people in the way.

SSB+manuscriptI might be going out of order, but we then went upstairs to see the Thanks For The Memories exhibits.

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From Dorothy’s red shoes in The Wizard Of Oz to Apollo Ohno’s skates to Seinfeld’s puffy shirt (“I don’t want to be a pirate”) to the jersey of another kind of Pirate, Roberto Clemente, this exhibit is very fun to wander through.

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The Lincoln exhibit was fascinating. It included a timepiece that contained a recently found secret message to the President engraved on it. Unfortunately, it didn’t say, “Skip the play.”

Our last stop at the museum was the American Presidency Exhibit, where I could easily have spent a week going through all the memorabilia on display or viewing the many special films.

We had heard the Old Post Office Pavilion was neat to walk through, so we headed over there to take a quick gander. The architecture was interesting indeed, and although there were numerous places to eat inside, we made the now fateful decision to try someplace else.

Although there was a nearby crosswalk as we exited, Tracy and I decided to be lawbreakers and jaywalk across the street. The decision would have dramatic ramifications.

As we waited across the street from the Old Post Office Pavilion for the law-abiding Kim and Mary to rejoin us, we saw an amazing event unfolding only about 20 feet away. Suddenly the Federal Triangle became more of a Bermuda Triangle.

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Out of the corner of our eyes, Tracy and I spied two elderly women in walkers accompanied by a man. Suddenly, one of the women started to lose her balance. In a slow motion ballet, as she descended toward the pavement, we thought she would be caught in time by the man with her. Instead, he just stood there like an idiot, and a second later we heard a terrible thud, which happened to be the lady’s head meeting pavement.

DSC06750Tracy and I rushed over to see what assistance we could offer the woman who was bleeding slightly from the top of her head, but before anyone could say “Florence Nightingale,” Mary arrived on the scene. Like a trained CSI Agent, Mary had the entire area around the woman cordoned off while she determined the extent of the woman’s injuries.

I could see it now; the woman would ask Mary if she were a doctor, and Mary would reply, “No, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Back to reality. The woman’s name was Helen, aged 92. She was traveling with her sister, Edith, 86, and Edith’s son, age unknown, but someone who did not know how to catch little old ladies as one hurtled toward the hard cement. Edith was a veteran, and they were all in Washington D.C. to tour the war memorials. Sadly, this was their first day.

DSC06747 By now, Mary had a dedicated team of other passersby assisting her. There was a tour guide who has strayed from her tour, a guy from Homeland Security, a military liaison and Kim. Tracy was assisting Edith and making sure she was calm and out of the sun. A relatively cool day had turned quickly hot and humid.

Meanwhile, the Homeland Security guy asked me if he could use my phone, because he could not get service (thank God this wasn’t a terrorist attack or we would have doomed). I’m lucky to get cell service in my own kitchen, but fortunately the cell phone received a signal and soon we could hear the sound of not just one, but two, ambulances. I guess those Homeland Security guys have some clout.

DSC06752Back at the accident site, Mary was administering aid and comfort to Helen. While Mary worked to stop the bleeding by applying a compress of Kim’s clean windbreaker on the wound, Kim (now sans windbreaker) was holding an umbrella over the fallen woman, providing a break from the ever-present sun.

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By the time paramedics arrived, Mary had the situation (and the bleeding) under control. Mary helped the paramedics get Helen on the gurney, and Tracy helped Edith. Edith’s son was, well, doing nothing. Soon Helen was placed in an ambulance and headed to a nearby hospital. The paramedics said she was very lucky, but with a head injury it is always best to err on the side of caution.

Saving lives in our nation’s capital can make a tourist very hungry, so we headed over to Ana Trattoria in the Federal Triangle for lunch. I had a Quattro Formaggio Pizza, Tracy opted for the Goat Cheese and Pesto Pizza, Kim munched on a Caesar Salad and Florence (I mean Mary) decided upon the Roast Beef Panini.

After lunch, we hopped on the Metro and exited just around the corner from the National Portrait Gallery. This was a terrific museum, one of Tracy and my favorites.  We liked that not only did we view the paintings, but that there was also historical references to the subject and to the artist.

DSC06755Our visit culminated by seeing the complete collection of presidential portraits.

It was already after four in the afternoon, and we had to start our trek back to the Hotel Rouge, because in a couple of hours the highlight of the entire trip would be unfolding; a visit with many of the storied individuals who make up the Fodor’s Board.

At 6:30 p.m. sharp, we arrived at Jack’s on 17th Street NW. There was a large table set up in the corner, so I knew that the event was still on and that the locals had not hightailed it out of town.

I decided the best way to recognize the Fodorites was to start with one of Jack’s signature drinks (well, it was for me), the incomparable Limoncello Martini. Oh baby, it was good!

DSC06759Soon people began filtering toward the bar, a sure sign the Fodorites had begun to arrive, I presumed. I either looked drunk or perplexed, because I heard a woman say, “Are you Maitaitom?”

DSC06773 After answering, “yes,” she introduced herself as St.Cirq, who had made reservations at her local haunt (hopefully they have let her back in after our get-together) for this group of travel aficionados.

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People began arriving soon afterward. The names were familiar and none have changed to protect the innocent.

DSC06767There before me was a Who’s Who of Fodorville: tdudette, yestravel, bubblywine, tzarinna, 309pbg, easytraveler, basingstoke2 and significant others. You gotta love “Half-Priced Wine Thursdays” at Jack’s.

DSC06757 The night went by much too fast, and I wish our conversations with many of the gathered Fodorites could have been longer. Kim and Mary showed everyone the book they had made of our Central Europe trip from the previous year.   The book incorporated the verbiage from my long (some might say long-winded) and detailed trip report, and added photographs we had all taken on that four-week journey.

 

As the evening wound down, rain started pelting the restaurant, and there were a few lightening bolts thrown in for good measure.

DSC06772The Travel Gods were saying it was time to depart.

DSC06769I would like to add extra kudos to St.Cirq and yestravel who were instrumental in coordinating the event, and it was a pleasure to meet everyone who took time out to make it such a memorable evening.

DSC06768I promised everyone before they left that, with only 48 hours remaining on our Washington D.C. timetable, I would make a concerted effort not to embarrass the city or its inhabitants in any way, shape or form.

Kim, Mary, Tracy and I stumbled back to the Hotel Rouge after this night of revelry with the Fodorites and quickly got ready for bed.  A good night’s sleep was in order, because we were scheduled for an early tour of The White House the following morning, which would kick off our last full (and I mean full) day in Washington D.C.

Next: 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?

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