On the Road: Washington, D.C.

One of the great things about living in Philly is that you are right in the middle of some great destinations for long weekend trips. Over the weekend, Bridget attended a conference in National Harbor, MD, just outside of D.C., so it was easy enough to hop on Amtrak for a two hour trip to spend a few days hanging out with her during her free time.

National Harbor is located along the Potomac River with a few large hotels that cater to large conventions, some trendy, chain restaurants (including a Pinkberry. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is amazing!) and a mix of major retailers and small boutiques (including a Peeps store. I hate Peeps, but it was pretty fun to browse through). Although there are condo complexes around, it doesn’t seem like anyone actually lives there on a full-time basis.

Overall, the town was nice, clean, and offered beautiful views along the waterfront. But, it also feels just a bit odd. It had a manufactured feeling to it that sort of reminded us of the Truman Show and there wasn’t a ton to do. Luckily, downtown D.C. was just about 45 minutes away via a bus and Metro trip, so we spent most of our downtime there.

Usually when I go to D.C., I’m traveling for work-related reasons, so it’s generally a quick in-and-out trip. I haven’t done a whole lot of the touristy things. I was excited to indulge my inner history dork while Bridget was attending conference sessions on Friday with a tour of the Capitol Building.

You can request a tour with access to the House and Senate galleries way in advance through your state’s Congressional office. Or, if you are like me and decide on this activity on the spur of the moment, you can book a (free) one-hour group tour that takes you through the Rotunda, National Statuary Hall and Crypt (where George Washington was supposed to be buried, had he not died before the building was completed). The architecture of the building is just astounding to see in person and it was really humbling to stand in the halls where so much of our country’s history played out and were our governmental structure and laws took shape.

Capitol Dome

I also stopped by the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I overheard one of the tour guides describe it as “the most beautiful building in Washington, D.C.” I have to agree.

I wish that I was a researcher so that I could go into some of the reading rooms, but I was still content to stand in the gorgeous main hall to view them from above and browse through some of the exhibition galleries, including a re-created version of the collection of books that Thomas Jefferson sold to the library to aid in its rebuilding, after British burned it down during the War of 1812.

On Saturday, Bridget was free all day, so we headed back into D.C. for more tourist-ing. Brunch was first on our agenda. We got off the Metro and wandered up 6th Street and stumbled upon Jaleo, a Spanish tapas restaurant. I had heard good things about it and we were sold with just a quick glance at the menu posted in the window.

We sipped mimosas while we browsed the huge menu and picked out five dishes to share. The brunch section of the menu is only lists about six dishes, but there were plenty of other options, from cheese and charcuterie plates, to soups and salads, seafood and poultry, which were perfectly suitable for the time of day of our visit.

We started off with a selection of five cheeses. Our favorites from the plate were the sweet goat cheese, paired with raisin bread and fig jam (first on the left) a strong cow’s milk cheese paired with a slightly sweet rosemary and pine nut shortbread (third from the left) and the smoky cow’s milk cheese with crunchy nut brittle (last from the left). That red, somewhat spicy cheese was definitely not our favorite. The flavor was just way too strong (to use Bridget’s analogy, it tasted like feet).

Our next dish was the warm brussel sprout salad. The sprouts were removed from their core and thinly sliced and then topped with apricots, apple and serrano ham. It was dressed very lightly with an oil and lemon mixture and was a great combination of salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy. From the brunch menu, we chose the olive oil infused pancakes which were delicious on their own, but even better when doused with honey. Our second sort of breakfast dish were the grilled pork sausages. The meat was flavorful, but pretty standard. The accompanying sauteed white beans were my favorite part of the dish. They were accompanied by a garlic aioli that imparted a rich, creamy flavor when everything was stirred together. Our final dish, the Rossejat, was the largest of our selections. This was a paella style dish, made with short bits of fried pasta and shrimp in a seafood broth. I was pleased that the garlic aioli made a second appearance in this dish as well.

I highly recommend Jaleo if you are in the DC area (there are also other locations in nearby Arlington, VA and Bethesda, MD). It would be a great place to go with a big group, not only so you can try out many of the dishes, but so that you can sit at one of the table soccer tables that have been converted into dining areas and play while you eat.

After lunch, it was off to the Newseum, which chronicles about five centuries worth of media history and journalism in all forms. Some of the highlights of the museum’s permanent exhibitions include a comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, sections of the Berlin Wall, accompanied by stories of how news and information helped topple East Germany’s closed society, and an extensive collection of historic newspapers and magazines. On the day we visited, there were also special exhibitions focusing on the role of news and media during presidential elections and the role that the news media has played in helping and hindering the FBI in its efforts to solve criminal cases over the years. Much of the content is very interactive and is delivered through documentary footage, electronic kiosks and multimedia presentations. This was one of the best museums I’ve been to in awhile, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Finally, we walked over to the White House and National Mall, to see the monuments all lit up at night.

It was great to have some quality time with Bridget and I’m really proud of the fact that we navigated both the Metro and downtown D.C. by ourselves, with only minimal hiccups. Thank goodness for Google Maps.

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