My Tea Trauma in Washington DC
My husband has biennial meetings in Washington DC. I love the city and there’s so much to do, so I usually try to accompany him. The meetings are near Capitol Hill and we try to stay at The Liaison, a nearby boutique hotel .
Unfortunately, the cheapskate powers that be, organize the meetings in the hottest months when it is quite humid. If you can, stick to Spring and Autumn.
The Liaison Hotel comes with a seasonal rooftop pool, complete with cabanas and a bar. And believe me, after trekking around the city for hours, it’s heaven on earth. One year we booked too late to get The Liaison and had to check in to another hotel down the road. After city tromping for several hours the first afternoon, I decided to pluck up courage and take advantage of The Liaison pool and their cabanas. Not sure this is legal, but I did it anyway, every afternoon, for the whole week… Bliss! I may add that I did not order from the bar and have it put on a room number, though I was tempted as they always get away with it in the movies.
The Summer Season
A word of caution that “seasonal” in the U.S. usually means open in the summer between Memorial Day (end of May) and Labor Day (early September). It’s the same with most water parks, even in the south, where you can fry an egg at 3 o’clock in the morning in January. Unless of course it’s Disney or Vegas. This seems peculiar to a Brit because the weather can be warm enough to swim either side of these dates. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a hotel to find the pool closed. I suggest you make sure the pool is open ‘all year round’ which probably means it’s an indoor pool. If you are a water baby like me check that the pool is open.
The British are obviously made of far sterner stuff than the Americans. Most of us have fond memories of swimming in freezing grey seas around Britain, whilst our parents huddled behind a wind screen under several blankets desperately trying to stop the camping Gaz stove from blowing out in the force 10 gales. Within seconds of leaving the water our extremities would be blue with cold and it would take several hours to thaw out. All character building in my opinion and it’s these childhood holidays that give the British their grit.
The Best Way to See the Sites in Washington DC
My husband and I head straight for the open top buses when we visit US cities because they allow you to see them in a nutshell. Washington DC is no exception. All the better to make an informed decision about which attractions you prefer. The very regular buses are always hop-on; hop-off, and usually on or near an attraction. You can spend time seeing what you want to see and hop back on to continue your trip. The bus tickets are usually for one or two days. If you take advantage of the 2-day trip you’ll get a really good feel for the city. You also see attractions you may not really be interested in, but at least you get to see them, and won’t always wonder, “What if?”
The nighttime tours in Washington DC are extra special because the monuments and buildings around the National Mall are stunningly illuminated. The advantage being it’s a safe way to see the city at night.
Which brings me to the aspect of security. In DC, as in most cities in America and across the globe, they have their problem areas. All hotels will have a local area map, so ask the concierge who will be more than happy to point out the areas to avoid, and you’ll be fine. And don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve found that most Americans love the British accent and are more than happy to answer questions and point you in the right direction.
The White House
I was pottering outside the White House where there was obviously something afoot. Very heavily armed Secret Service agents were outnumbering the tourists. My mother taught me, “If you don’t ask you don’t get”, and so I sauntered up to the biggest and meanest Secret Service agent and asked what was going on. He looked me up and down and apparently decided that at my age I was probably a safe bet. He told me to go around the back of the White House for the next hour, where I saw the President’s helicopter land, pick up the president and take off. Did you know every time the president leaves the White House in a helicopter the staff queue up outside to wave him off. This is all exciting stuff for a girl from rural Cheshire.
The National Mall and Museums
Although Washington DC is compact, the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital is nearly two miles long, and in the heat of the summer can be a little uncomfortable. Carry plenty of water wherever you go. Most places in the city are very walkable, but there’s also plenty of public transport should you so wish, as there are in the big cities.
The Capital half of the mall is taken up with 11 of the 17 Smithsonian museums. The Smithsonian, in my opinion, has more knowledge in this square half mile than anywhere else in the world. There is something there for everyone. The main museums are Air and Space, Natural History, African-American History and Culture, National Portrait Gallery, National Archive and American Indian Museum. May I suggest, if your tastes differ from that of your travel companion, you see the museum of your choice and meet up later. They are all within walking distance of each other and there’s nothing worse than trudging around a museum you have no interest in.
There are public houses in England that are older than America, so upon seeing that there was a Museum of American History, I imagined it filling half a garden shed with room to spare. However, it was surprisingly interesting and I spent a leisurely three to four hours learning about my adopted country.
Library of congress and the Capitol
If you are feeling patriotic there is the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capital. Both are adjoined and free to enter and are as exceptionally beautiful as they are interesting. The library in itself is an architectural masterpiece.
As the White House belongs to the American people there are public tours most days. Tickets need to be booked quite a few months in advance in one of two ways. Through your Member of Congress if you are an American citizen or through your embassy if you aren’t.
There used to be tours around the FBI J. Edgar Hoover building but these are now no longer possible for security reasons.
Way around Washington DC
There are many more museums in and around the city, far too numerous to mention, however the International Spy museum (a must for any James Bond aficionado), at 800 F Street NW is worth a mention. The NW is short for Northwest. Washington DC is made up of four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Therefore, any address will always have one of the four compass points, so you know where to look on a map. However, unlike New York’s streets and avenues, Washington DC just has streets. The numerical streets run north to south and alphabetical streets run east to west.
The Presidential memorials, river and Georgetown
Also on the ‘must do list’ at the Western end of the Mall are several presidential tributes and war memorials. They can easily take a whole day to see everything.
Washington DC is a playground of Festivals, events, parades, and outdoor gatherings. So, if time allows, please try and spend some time just wandering around. I can sometimes be guilty of this preoccupation of organizing these things with more military precision than Monty.
If you get fed up with the busy city, I suggest you grab the bus and head for Georgetown, or walk there and bus back. To do both is probably a bit much.
I can recommend walking along the river and picking the river path up from the John F Kennedy Centre. Then wandering through the Watergate complex to Washington harbor, and if you fancy a bit of a small detour or just to take the weight of your feet as I did, you can pick up a small river cruise to the Pentagon and back. Continuing your walk to the Georgetown waterfront park and into the neighborhood itself. It’s a quaint historical place with high-end shops and restaurants and a canal running parallel to the river. Uncle Google can also provide you with a very pleasant walking tour around the streets showing you homes of celebrities and historical well-known figures and sites. If you are feeling extra collegiate he can take you for a walk around Georgetown University.
A good Curry
Because of the diversity of Washington DC, whatever you want to eat is at your disposal. My husband and I love a good Indian curry and our favorite restaurant in DC is Indigo on 243 K Street NE. It’s a kitschy, colorful place that’s not a stone’s throw from Union Station. Well, maybe a little stone, and thrown by Thor, but you get the drift.
Note to the Brits Who Like Their Tea in the Morning
As we know, it’s in our constitution, the country is tea driven. Depending where you are in the U.S. you can receive a cup of tea any number of ways. At minimum with a teabag dropped in a mug of cold water and shoved in the microwave for two minutes, or, it’s the full Monty of loose tea in a teapot brewed for four minutes, then poured through a strainer. As we know (in the times of Downton Abbey) it’s either milk first or tea first depending on your social status. Putting the tea in first allows the host to offer either milk or lemon.
A word of warning, very few hotels in in the U.S. supply tea-making facilities. My daughter says if a hotel doesn’t have the kettle, is it really a hotel? There’s almost always a coffeemaker, but, and its a big but, you don’t want to make a cup of tea in the coffee machine and it’s this very concept that got me into a lot of trouble…
Still Traumatized by the Turn of Events
So, there I am lying in my hotel bed, it’s 6 a.m. and I’m wide awake and wanting my usual cup of tea. There’s a Starbucks in reception and I decide to head down there for a cup of tea. At my time of life, hot flushes notwithstanding, I tend not to wear anything in bed, so I grab the nearest thing; a recently purchased loose fitting dress and leave the room. I arrive at the elevator and realize my dress is on inside out. Now, my quandary is, do I go back to the room and turn it round or attempt it in the elevator?
For some inexplicable reason, that I still can’t fathom to this day, (call it what you will, senior moment, brain fart), I decide the elevator will be fine. I am on the 11th floor with bags of time before I reach reception. What can go wrong? I enter the elevator and as soon as the door closes I whip off my dress, turn it outside in, or is it inside out? Whatever! I am still traumatized by the following turn of events.
Vomit in shear terror
Almost immediately the elevator pings and I realize I’m screwed, because someone is getting on at level 10. Panic ensues. I pull my dress on over my head, it’s strange, I never knew that blind panic could inhibit limb movement. I then realize I am trying to get my head into my armhole, and my arm is where my neck should be. My bottom half is not even close to being covered, and I’m almost tearing my dress in desperation. My head still won’t fit into the armhole when the lift pings again. However, my arm is now still stuck in the neck of my dress and not through an armhole. Fortunately, the pinging is for each floor, but relief does not ensue and by now I want to vomit in sheer terror.
Note to self. Never take your dress of in a elevator
I just managed to put my arms where they are supposed to be, and straighten the dress, pull it down and cover my modesty as I arrived in the lobby. Being catatonic I can barely move to exit the elevator. Can you get PTSD from an elevator? One very large cup of tea, and a whole lot of biscuits later, I am able to talk without stuttering. Of course it does not finish there. My dearest and closest friends (bless them) remind me that elevators in DC have security cameras. Therefore, at best, there are hotel employees to this day howling at this video. At worst it’s gone viral on YouTube.
So, my British friends, take your teabags and never ever leave home without an instant electric immersion heater (tiny little heaters for just one cup). I have several in case one breaks down. It took over a year to be able to go into a lift without panic. And two years to wear the dress again!
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