Our plan was simple. Arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport, take the Metro over to the Capitol and spend our 12-hr layover seeing the sights. It's always simple in theory, isn't it?
Our troubles first started when we arrived at the check-in counter at Portland International Airport. Since we had a 12-hr layover in DC and the actual flight to South Africa was still over 24 hours away, they couldn't check us in for that flight yet, although they had no issues checking our luggage all the way to Johannesburg, South Africa. "No problem," said Ms. Gate Agent, "when you arrive in Denver you can check in." And naively, we believed her.
Since we were traveling internationally, we had arrived two hours prior to departure. But when we arrived, they decided to delay our flight an hour. After the flight check-in and the security checkpoint, we were sitting with 2 hours and 45 minutes to kill in our home airport. Not only that, but Portland is designed with all the restaurants and shops before the security checkpoints, so once you've passed through, it's just coffee stands and magazine racks. Luckily, Dug has a membership to the Red Carpet Lounge. (It was such a good idea to travel with him!) We went in, pulled up to the bar and spent the next couple hours downing free ginger ales, mini-packets of brie and crackers and filling our brains with Discovery channel knowledge.
Fly, fly, fly...we arrived in Denver. No, United can't check us in to the South African Flight, but I'm sure there will be no problem in Dulles. Fine. We grabbed a late dinner.
Fly, fly, fly...we arrived in Dulles at 530 am. No, United can't check us in to the South African Flight. You have to go to the South African counter. We go to the SA counter, no agents. Back to United. We found that SA has only one flight a day and they don't open the counter until 1pm. Our flight was at 5pm. Once again the
"International Flight" rules applied and we would have to come in two hours early. Augh! Feeling helpless and rather upset at United for their inability to check us in earlier, we decided to get on with our plans. We caught the Washington Flyer bus which took us to the Metro station and an hour and a half after we landed in Dulles, found ourselves on Pennsylvania Avenue at the National Archives.
I was amazed. I'm such a small town girl and there I was, suddenly in the middle of our nation's capitol. The buildings are old and beautiful and ornate and as much as I tried not to look touristy, I kept finding myself staring with my mouth agape. First things first. Breakfast.
Dug and I employed our golden standard for finding anything in an unknown city. We started walking. We always figure that we'll find something eventually, right? Let's turn here...that street doesn't look as promising...let's try this one. And lo and behold, I saw it. Teaism. I could tell right away this was where I wanted to eat. After perusing the posted menu, Dug agreed and we went in. It was perfect. They have four million billion types of tea and delicious, mostly savory breakfast choices. (I'm not a fan of the sweet breakfast.) I ordered cilantro scrambled eggs, naan, raita and some Earl Grey. (I know, I know, not very imaginative. But there were so many tea choices, I froze up.) Dug had a waffle and a smoked chicken and apple sausage with some Japanese sweet green tea. It was divine. We ate and watched the businessmen and women rush in and rush out. Teaism. Highly recommended if you're in DC. Now that our bellies were full of deliciousness, we decided to see what we could see.
Oh! I forgot to mention one detail. It was cold! Literally freezing cold. Remember we were heading to an African summer? I had on some heavy cotton pants, a short sleeved shirt and a cotton jacket. That's it. For added warmth I wrapped my long, sheer scarf around my neck. The local Washingtonites (Washington DCers? Washingtonians?) had down-filled parkas, hats, mittens and scarfs on. They weren't messing around. The wind was biting any exposed skin and the sun, having just came up, wasn't fulfilling his warming duties yet. (I'm looking fine in the picture, but I only had to hold that pose for a second before I was wrapping my jacket back around me and hiding my hands in my armpits!) But we soldiered on. The National Gallery of Art (and everything else, for that matter) didn't open for another hour so we decided to walk the National Mall. If you don't know, it is the grassy area from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial. We didn't know what was what, but we decided to try and find the Vietnam Memorial. So we started walking. That's our way.
One thing I found very interesting was that the mall is unpaved. It is grassy areas surrounded by gravel roadways. It isn't manicured other than mowing and keeping weeds out of the gravel. (If you click on the picture of me with the Capitol in the background, you can kind of see what I'm talking about.) I was so surprised. I had envisioned this perfectly manicured area, but it wasn't. I loved it. It wasn't that difficult to imagine the area a hundred years ago, with horse-drawn carriages on the paths that we were walking. I really can't explain how much history I felt the few short hours we were there.
We walked around the Washington Monument and down to the World War II Memorial. It is rather lovely. The Monument has a Pacific side and an Atlantic side. The two are separated by a gap that allows you to see the Lincoln Memorial at the far end of the Mall. I thought it was beautifully created since it blends in perfectly with its surroundings and yet was only added in 2004. We had walked almost a mile and still hadn't found "the Wall" but we needed to turn back. The Gallery would be open and since we had to return to the airport sooner than we had originally planned, we couldn't dawdle.
The National Gallery...one word: amazing. Amazing that I was able to see actual sketches by da Vinci and Michaelangelo. Amazing that I could look at paintings three hundred years older than our country. Amazing that things I had previously seen in books I was now looking at in real life! (The picture at left is one of Degas' sculptures. Click on it and you can actually see his fingerprints!) Simply amazing!
Our favorite piece was "The Reading Girl" by Pietro Magni. For me, it defines "work of art." We stood there staring at her, willing ourselves to believe that she was truly made of marble. Her coat looked as if someone had taken it and dipped it in resin, not like it was carved out of stone. It was so realistic, I wanted to reach out and touch the stone, just to make sure it wasn't really fabric. Nothing else compared to her in my opinion.
Dug had some shoe troubles (read: no support + miles of walking = bruised feet) and took a little break by a fountain while I traipsed around the Gallery taking it all in sans children! It was wonderful. (I added one more picture of The Reading Girl, below. I hope it doesn't offend. I just wanted you to see the detail on the necklace. It is amazing! Click on it for a better view.)
After lunch we jumped back on the Metro, caught the Washington Flyer and found ourselves at the SA counter, this time with a gate agent. We checked in our requisite two hours early, again, shuffled our way through the huge security line and then waited (no Red Carpet Lounge in our terminal this time, wah!) for our international journey to truly begin...
Stay tuned for the next installment of Dug and Tricia vs The World.