Friday, June 26, 2009

Washington, Da Capital

Going to Washington, DC from the “countryside” of Kentucky excited me as much as it probably excited the Roman citizens from the provinces when they had the opportunity to go to Rome. Being a history lover the rich similarities was a draw card; In Rome I could only see the ruins, in Washington I could see the architecture as it is before it eventually will become ruins...someday.

The similarities between modern-day Washington and ancient Rome are numerous: The seat of world power, the stomping ground of big-ego politicians, the vast number of monuments and statues, the grandeur and sheer scale of the architecture and the extensive use of marble in the buildings and monuments. On top of that, today, just as then, the absolute delight to have such a wide choice of cuisine from all over the world.

As usual, my travels won’t be complete without delays (the story of my traveling life.) Our planned three and a half day exploration of Washington was altered to three days on the very first day by bad weather when a supposedly 90 minute flight from Cincinnati turned into a 6 hour ordeal of end list circling south of Reagan airport, a landing and lift-off again from Richmond, VA, before we eventually arrive at Washington, DC.

In general, the 3 days were taken up by visiting museums on the National Mall, visiting some of the memorials and strolling around taking in the architecture. The pictures will tell the story.

There is one thing you can say about the politicians in Congress: They know how to spend tax payers’ money on buildings. Washington must boast some of the grandest government buildings in the nation, especially the many neoclassical style buildings with their endless columns, classic fa├žades and sculpted friezes.

I love paella. As a semi-accomplished self-trained home cook (in my lexicon chefs are always professionally trained) I have made many different paella recipes and I have received many favorable comments, but I have never tasted the real thing prepared by a Spanish chef. One of my objectives for the trip was to do just that and prior Internet research showed that one of Washington’s better Spanish restaurants was just around the corner from our hotel in Georgetown. All I can say is it is back to the test kitchen for me. The Arroz Abanda paella (monkfish, shrimps, calamari and scallops) at The Bodega in M Street was absoluto fant├ístico. Every flavor in their paella complimented another and the starchy flavor of the Valencia rice bind the dish together perfectly. What changes do I have to make to my paella? Use a different kind of rice (I am going to try Italian Arborio, since I won’t find Valencia rice in Kentucky) and use saffron instead of turmeric (the poor man’s alternative.) Now you may say, dah…that’s what you should use every time, but at $18 for a few saffron strings it is the most expensive spice in the world. Add the seafood and other ingredients and suddenly it all adds up to a very expensive dinner for a Friday night (the night they traditionally made paella in Spain…all the week’s leftovers into one pot.)

On other evenings we indulged in French cooking at La Madeleine (not bad at all) and Italian at Fino (stay away as far as possible: the food is not too bad, but the service is terrible and they are too expensive for the amount of food you get.)

Alas, enjoyable as it was, 3 days were not enough for a city of Washington’s stature. There was no time for many places we would have like to see (for example the Washington National Cathedral, inside the US Capital, etc.), or for exploring the surrounding area (Alexandria or Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia), or for taking more time inside museums (our visits to the Natural History and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Museums were nothing but a wam, bam, thank you ma’am.)
The Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts "floating" on the Potomac River.

Reiterating its strong links to Rome, Washington's Pantheon - The Jefferson Memorial


And copying of ancient Greek Parthenonian architecture for the The Lincoln Memorial. However, I have to admit both these memorials as very impressive.


One of the more unusual memorials is the Korea War Memorial at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. Here is a collage of (1) group of grey soldiers walking through a field of junipers, (2) the Freedom is not Free enscription on the wall, and (3) some of many etched faces on the black marble wall. This memorial was one of my favorites.

Arlington National Cemetery.

Taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, resting our tired legs and feet at the end of day 2, in front of us the Reflecting pool with the George Washington Monument on the other side of the pool. I still wanted to take the elevator up the monument for a bird's eye view of Washington, but we ran out of time.

However, we did make time to visit the chateauesque National Postal Museum building and to go up in the tower for a view of Washington.

And from the tower I took this picture of the Washington National Cathedral, many miles away. The cathedral, located on the edge of Georgetown, must be massive because it is visible from many parts of the city.

No visit to Washington is complete without a view of the White House, the south entrance on the left and the north entrance on the right. By the way, the White House actually have a key to the front door. It is on display in the National Museum for American History.


The Smithsonian "Castle". The HQ of the Smithsonian Institute and the first building on the National Mall.

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