(DC) What You Can Before You Go

My friend Derek’s wedding was terrific (so great I took zero pictures) and we were down to our final hours in Washington DC. The friend group had varying flights out, but I had almost a whole twenty-four hours left to see what I could get up to! A few of us left on Sunday decided we would check out the International Spy Museum.

Since we’d be in the area, I took a quick solo jog over to Ford’s Theatre, which was another National Park site for me. The unguided tour was timed, so I waited with a group of school kids in the gift shop until they finally called our time. I skipped a lot of the general information, honestly, to get to the “day of” Lincoln’s death. It was pretty cool to see a side-by-side of both Lincoln’s and Booth’s final hours. Then of course, you actually get to step into the theater’s seating to take a look at Lincoln’s box where he was shot.

Then I met back up with my friends at the International Spy Museum and tested my merits as a potential spy. In the beginning of the museum, they give you a few simple facts about an identity you are to take on to try your hand at deception. Long story short, I did not do well at this. I have such a poor memory, the simple questions I was asked at the computer I failed, not remembering my hometown or what specific business I was in London for. Definitely would not make it as a spy.

This museum focused heavily on the fictional spy, James Bond, which seemed unnecessary. I really enjoyed the many gadgets and spy inventions they had on display. Even the ones that had come from the James Bond franchise – ha! Personally seeing tiny concealed cameras and compartmentalized weapons was pretty awesome.

Finally, there were just three of us left to explore DC in the final hours before my flight. We started with my last National Park site, Frederick Douglass’s home. We watched a little informational film, which did not do justice to the man’s fantastic autobiography (which I’d read several years before).

Then we climbed the little hill to look at his house, still in excellent condition, and with a great view across the river into downtown.

Our trio then headed to the Renwick Museum, which I’d heard was really fascinating and worth stopping in for the current art installation. The contemporary art museum featured several pieces from Burning Man.

Overall it was pretty trippy. As most art is, a lot of it was thought-provoking. I think the giant paper moving jellyfish were my favorite. The technology incorporated into so many of the pieces was so impressive!

After grabbing quick bites at a collection of food trucks, we knew we had just enough time to check out the Presidential Portraits at the Smithsonian. It’s weird to know all the faces of these famous people and not really know them at all as people. Checking out all the portraits, they’re familiar and yet still strangers. I enjoyed Obama and Kennedy’s more artful portraits just as much as the more traditional ones of Washington and Lincoln.

Thus, my trip to DC came to its end. I had seen so much history it was hard to process it all. It’s so weird to think about these famous historical figures walking and seeing the same things I’d seen over the course of my long weekend. And it was also such a blur with all the time spent with such a big friend group! I was glad to have spent my time with a healthy mix of tourism and friendship.

DC, What a Drag (Brunch)

Besides monuments and museums, there was only one other highly recommended activity in Washington DC: Drag Brunch at Nellie’s Sports Bar. The local who had given us tourist tips had said it was a must if we had time – and it was one of the top activities on TripAdvisor.

The day of the wedding left only the ladies of the group available (guys were groomsmen) and it seemed like a perfect way to spend the morning. We needed a little pick me up from the busy day and night before – plus the brunch was a buffet. No better way to stave off a hangover.

I was excited to finally experience something that for years I’d been hearing was a blast. Not only that, but it was everyone in the group’s first drag brunch, and quite a few first-timer’s to experience a drag show. We were all pretty hyped, to say the least.

Let me add a quick side note to say that the food was so good! They had not only your typical continenetal breakfast spread, but also stuff like hummus and grilled veggies. Truly something for everyone! Also, as a non-foodie, honestly the best food I had while in DC. The drinks were fruity and delicious – what more could a girl going to a show ask for?

The show pretty much starts as soon as you arrive, because these talented performers were “on” from the get-go. They were sassy, quippy, and overall hilarious. Our host, the “Fantastic Plastic” never missed a beat, especially when she’d get noticed by the walking passerbys outside. Once everyone was settled with food, drinks, and tip money (of course) the music started up.

The show consisted of four performers who alternated, lip-syncing and dancing to the music. They performed mostly Top 40 hits, showcasing songs by Whitney Houston, Nicki Minaj, and Ariana Grande. Every queen was fully commited to every turn, spin, and shimmy.

We had such a great time, even the videos we took don’t really do it justice. We wanted to keep the ball rolling, so after a group picture at an outdoor DC mural, we hit up the local rooftop bar, Takoda.

Of course, we still had to get ready for a wedding, so early afternoon we headed back to our Airbnb. Naps, then coffee, then a mad dash to the Lyft with one shoe on (me) had us all headed to the wedding. DC was treating us great!

National Mall, Having a Ball

On our first full day in Washington D.C., we had plans to play tourist! After lacing up our comfortable walking shoes and grabbing a breakfast which included homemade poptarts at the cutest diner, Ted’s Bulletin, we made our way to all of the nation’s capital’s hot spots.

Conveniently, D.C. has something called the National Mall, which lies right in the heart of downtown and holds almost all the monuments and memorials on a massive four blocks of lawn. Our goal was to hit them all!

We started with the White House and planned on working our way counter-clockwise through the gardens. These were all famous from our history books, such as the iconic Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For me, I had the added bonus of collecting all the National Park site stamps for every one of these monuments, basically doubling my collection in the span of a few hours.

I won’t list them all, but I’ll tell you my highlights. The Lincoln Memorial was impressive, both smaller and bigger than I’d imagined it somehow. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was really great – I was surprised to have never seen or heard of it before. And oddly enough, the Korean War Memorial was strangely impressive; it was weird to see big statues of soldiers scattered through a field imitating real war.

It had gotten surprisingly hot on our trek around the National Mall, so after the last memorial, we were glad to head to grab a bit of eat at the Jazz Garden that was in front of the Smithsonian. We were a bit early for the jazz to start, but just sitting there in the shade, sharing a pitcher of sangria was super great. We had seen so much, read so many quotes, been both inspired and disheartened by history.

After a bit of a nap and freshening up, we decided to hit up an Ethopian restaurant, Dukem. Almost all of us (myself included) had never had it, so it was a great new cultural experience. I had a tray of sambusa, which was very delicious! And, you could’ve guessed it, I made everyone walk to get the local homemade ice cream (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) after dinner. Yum!

We met up with the bride and groom after their rehearsal dinner for some amazing mint juleps at the Willard Hotel downtown. Coming from a pretty casual group of people, we were all feeling pretty fancy having gotten all dressed up to have drinks at a really nice hotel bar that was located in downtown D.C.  Also after the delicious foods and the introduction to the best mint julep I’d ever had – there was no way the night could’ve gone wrong. Celebrating our long-time friend and his pending nuptials was just a fantastic bonus!

How to Balance NPS Stamps and Friendship

Ah, where to begin on my adventure to Washington D.C? Since we were headed there for a friend’s wedding, a big group of us decided to hit up our nation’s capital for a long 5-day weekend. I felt a little awkward “making” my friends embark on my quest for National Park stamps, but they were all for it! I was glad I’d been able to take charge of the schedule so I could make sure friend time and National Park time was fair. I mean, you can’t take a trip to the nation’s capital where there are almost forty stamps to collect – and not let me try for them, right?!

My flight got in late morning Thursday, so after arranging a drop off for our bags, we headed to the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. It wasn’t too far from our AirBnB, and had been recommended (besides being a National Park site I needed to snag). I was nervous that everyone would enjoy something that was mainly for me – but lucky for me, I have friends who are into history!

This home was where the Women’s National Party had started and conducted most of their meetings when they had met to discuss women’s suffrage. Seeing the same house in all the old pictures as the same as the one I was currently standing in was pretty great. Besides that, there are a ton of old banners still preserved from their marches as well as hand-drawn political cartoons displayed.

That was the only planned National Park site for the day (the other two on the itinerary were closed due to fire system upgrades). Having two stamps taken off my plate right off the bat, was actually kind of great. Since these two were impossible this trip, I knew I’d have to make it out to DC again the future. And because I knew I’d be back, my mission to finish the list in one long weekend became a lot less necessary.

If it happened I got the rest, great. If not, still great! This freedom allowed me to de-stress and enjoy more activities that weren’t NPS related.  So we had time after Women’s Monument to pass by the Capital building and walk over to the Library of Congress. At the Library, we saw some of Alexander Hamilton’s personal letters and also got a peak at some academics researching with the actual books in the Library.

Most of the rest of that first day was spent reconnecting our big group of old friends. Reconnecting with everyone basically means food and alcohol. And laughter, of course. We had lunch at Busboys & Poets, which had great food (every one of my friends there was a meat eater and still enjoyed the vegan nachos!) and even cooler paintings on the walls.

Later, after getting a bit of time with the groom, our friend Derek, we headed to Barcelona Wine Bar. This spot was chosen because it was Tracy’s birthday, but it was also one of the best hot spots in DC! The wait was long, but the wine was great and we were all just happy to be together -and on vacation! When we finally sat, the tapas were awesome and we began making our next plan.

A few of us had heard U Street was a cool spot with lots of bars, but it was pretty dead for a Thursday. Most bars were also showcasing the Stanley Cup finals, so it wasn’t quite ready for our ready-to-party group vibe. We headed back to the AirBnB to wait for a few more friends’ flights to get in and couldn’t believe it’d only been one day!

Stay tuned – there’s still a lot of DC adventures coming!

Mad Dash Through the City

After our previous day of nature adventures, I slept good and hard. Now it was time to actual explore the city of Portland. Our flight home was at 3:40pm, so that gave us about six hours to try and tackle the must-sees on our Portland list.

We grabbed coffee next door to our Airbnb at Bushel & Peck (I’m a fan of any city that has a bunch of great independent coffee shops). Our first stop was at Mills End Park, otherwise known as the “World’s Smallest Park.” I sipped my coffee while looking at this little patch of grass – oddly enough placed right in the middle of a median – and was a little underwhelmed. I wasn’t sure why I’d been so excited to see this originally; I guess I’d imagined it fully and well landscaped since it was small, but it was kind of just some twigs with trash adorning it.

We walked a few blocks leisurely through downtown just to get a chance to see some of the everyday culture. It was still pretty early so not too many people were out, but I love walking a city and just watching all the mundane stuff there is to see. We made it to Powell’s Books, aka Heaven.

Spoiler alert: Powell’s was my favorite part of Portland. I know, I know, it’s just a bookstore. But it’s massive and has so much to see. It’s got new and used. Merchandise and gifts for book lovers (and gifts for nerds ha). They’ve got great recommendation tags all over and even have themed book lists. I wanted to buy everything, or just move in. Sadly, I didn’t. Instead, we headed around the corner from Powell’s to the Ace Hotel, where one of the oldest photobooths was still in use!

We took a few and it actually exposed and developed our film strips. I had to carefully pick it up as the sheet was still drying. I love that they kept such care of it and that it still works!

From Ace, it was time to head to a Portland classic: VooDoo Donuts. Of course it was very busy. There was so many bright colors and the display case turned and they were trying to efficiently move the line, I got a bit overwhelmed. When Jenna decided to get the original voodoo doll donut, I went for the same but in vegan version just to taste test. Now, it’s funny that there’s red jelly inside (pretend blood), but being not a fan of jelly donuts, it was a very unpleasant surprise after my first bite. Got to admit, not really a fan overall of VooDoo Donuts.

Right across the street was the iconic Keep Portland Weird sign, so as tourists we snapped that picture, and then headed to the outdoor Saturday Market. We arrived, saw no booths of food or crafts from local artisans in sight and were very confused. Of course, my research isn’t failproof (which we all know by now) and the outdoor market wouldn’t kick up again for at least another month. Bummer.

I’d done a lot of research on thrifting in Portland. I could tell a lot of the local fashion was thanks to thrifting and I knew from “Best of” lists that Portland had a lot of great vintage shops. I knew we wouldn’t have time to hit them all, but the one that kept coming up as cheapest and most quantity was the same one, locally nicknamed the Bins. It was a Goodwill outlet, where you bought based on weight. Basically, I got three tops for a dollar and some change – crazy!

All day we’d had little bites to eat here and there, but we saved it all for the outdoor food truck area. We were starving and there were so many options. I got a plate of hummus from one and a mountain of fries from the cutest food truck, Potato Champion. Seriously, the food in Portland is so so good!

Our time was escaping fast and we each had one more last wish list item. We grabbed coffee at Heart for Jenna and then made a mad dash for ice cream at Salt & Straw. I was flabbergasted at how busy it was – the line was completely out the door! I was so stressed on time, we should already have left for the airport, but it was one of the only things on my list and I was bound and determined. Luckily, it all worked out! And it was so worth it!

Finally settled in at the airport, no longer rushing for the first time that day, only waiting, I relaxed and thought back on our mad dash around Portland. It felt like we’d done nothing because of how many things we’d had to give up on our list. Compared to our leisurely nature day, our city dash had mostly been frantic. (Apparently more leisurely in the morning where I snapped the following pic for some reason.)

When I think back to rearranging the schedule or substituting, there’s nothing I would hang though. I had a full Portland experience, I just didn’t have the chance to fully experience Portland (if that makes sense. I’ll just have to go again!