My DC: Blossoms, books and gelato

Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms

A weekend of cherry blossoms, books and gelato taught me to love DC once again.

I’ve become inured to the sights and sounds of Washington, DC – the historic monuments, the thudding helicopters, the blue sparkle of the Potomac. I see and yet don’t see, because they’re so familiar. Playing tour guide for the weekend helped me rediscover the city.

The occasion was a college reunion. Because I was the only one who still lived in the city, I was appointed tour guide.

It’s hard work being tour guide! Much easier to be led by another, not knowing where you’re going to eat or what you’re going to do next, confident that the tour guide has those details figured out. Make it a large group – eight people – and make it the height of the spring tourist season, and you can understand why I was a bit anxious. Thankfully, it was an easy group that I knew from time spent together at American University.

The advantage of being tour guide is going to the places you like best. Here are my choices for 36 hours in Washington, DC.

Friday

The Darcy
My friends stayed at this boutique hotel by Hilton. Located near Logan Circle, it’s an ideal home base for visitors who want to explore the city. Even better when you get an upgrade to a top-floor suite!

Tidal Basin
If you come to DC, you’re going to walk. During cherry blossom season, it’s also the easiest way to get around (other than biking, of course). After checking-in at the Darcy, we walked down 16th St to see the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin, along with half a million of our friends, it seemed. The walk is about thirty minutes, and filled with interesting sights along the way, like the White House and Washington Monument.

Thai Tanic
Every Thai restaurant in DC must have a pun-based name. Popular among Logan Circle locals like me, Thai Tanic been serving interesting Thai dishes on 14th St for years. They were also very accommodating as our party grew from six to eight on a busy Friday night.

Gelato time

Dolcezza
How I love this place! The gelato is delicious. I almost always get a combo of dark chocolate and hazelnut. If you’re with me, this is a mandatory stop.

Saturday

American University
It wouldn’t be a college reunion without a trip to college. We went to AU in the pre-wonk era, which was far more fun, and considerably cheaper, than the serious world-changers of today. While the campus is nicer, with a brand new School of International Service, it’s not the same, probably due to the lack of alcohol.

Surfside
One of the challenges of leading a large group through DC is, “Where will we eat?” While they took my favorite burrito off the menu, Surfside in Glover Park was still a good choice. No one noticed a group of eight in this taco joint mobbed with soccer moms and kids from the field across the street.

Bob in Georgetown

Georgetown Waterfront Park
If you’re with me, you’re walking (or biking). Thankfully, my friends love to walk. After lunch, we walked down Wisconsin Avenue and 33rd Street to the Georgetown Waterfront Park, which has a great view of Rosslyn and the Key Bridge.

Dog Tag Bakery
Georgetown Cupcake is for tourists. Instead, visit this pleasant little shop near the C&O Canal that helps military veterans and families. The scones are great and they serve Compass Coffee.

Whole Foods P St
Finding a table for eight on a Saturday night in Logan Circle struck me as impossible. Instead, everyone got food and drink at Whole Foods and partied back in the suite at the Darcy Hotel. Sushi, cheese, fruit, beer, wine, chicken, chocolate rugelach – we ate well, without the hassle of going out.

Sunday

Lil B
This New Orleans-inspired coffee shop at the Darcy Hotel became the spot to meet every morning. While the beignets are more like fried dough than what you’d find in the Big Easy, they make good hangover food.

Dupont Circle Farmers Market
Why don’t I go here more often? This sprawling market has more than just produce. You can get pancakes, pizza and even a growler of beer from Right Proper.

Spanish Steps
One of those 0ff-the-beaten path places that I love, this miniature version of the Roman landmark is a spot I captured in an award-winning photo. It’s a lovely walk from Dupont Circle, as well, in which you pass art galleries and embassies. Makes a great spot for portraits.

Kramerbooks

Kramerbooks
Now, this is a required stop, at least if you’re with me. Washington loves its bookstores and Kramerbooks is the oldest and most famous. I have a connection to it too – I did a reading here. You’re sure to find something smart for the plane in this bookstore.

Of course, this is just a small sample of things to do in DC. But if I’m the tour guide, there’s going to be gelato, coffee and books. That’s my DC.

En La Florida

SunRail in Winter Park

Bathed in light, I watched the cutest little bit of stimulus money creep into the green environs of Winter Park, FL. The station is tiny, and families waited along the palm tree-lined track to catch the three cars of the SunRail train. The destination was Orlando, five miles away. Driving (or even biking) would’ve been faster but this was some cheap fun for bored children a couple days after Christmas.

Kids love trains, as do most adults though they dismiss them as impractical. But if trains ran more often, and to more places, they would be practical.

Instead, we build roads. Near where my parents live, the state built a flyover at a suburban intersection, allowing traffic to soar on a concrete ramp twenty feet in the air, going from Red Bug Road to 436, one of those six-lane highways lined with fast food joints and gas stations that could be anywhere in America. In a car, you wait for the light to change, go under the massive flyover and then run into another traffic light.

After watching the train disappear into the verdant flatness of Florida, I drove to my favorite hipster coffee joint. I love how Orange Avenue meanders between Winter Park and Orlando, winding around lakes and passing lingering bits of Old Florida. Along the way is Foxtail Coffee, which makes a great cappuccino and has an outdoor seating area with fake grass and real palm trees. Next door, there’s a place for tiny, tortured salads and a local brewery. It’s about as Portlandia as Florida gets.

Foxtail is nine miles from parents’ place. Easily bikeable, where it not for the presence of six-lane roads like 436. The Google bike directions send you through the flyover.

In Orlando, people bike in subdivisions or they bike on trails but they don’t bike on roads, especially ones like 436. You don’t even see people walking along these suburban corridors.

There’s a tendency to think that this is the natural state of things, as if God ordained the car and America built a network of highways in response to his word.

I watched Secrets of Spanish Florida with the family. American history doesn’t begin with Jamestown but with St. Augustine in 1565, where Spain established a melting-pot colony of Europeans, Indians and escaped slaves. The first Americans were not Puritans, and the first Thanksgiving was not in Massachusetts. By the time the English got to America, the Spanish had been living here for decades. In La Florida, citizenship was available to all, no matter your race.

Perhaps if the Spanish remained in control, Florida would look like Spain, with high-speed trains and excellent ham.

Florida doesn’t have to be a place where retirees go to escape taxation. It can be different. America can be different, too.

The Coffeeneuring Challenge 2016: Always Be Coffeeneuring

me and Capital Bikeshare
For short trips around DC, I love to use Capital Bikeshare.

Bikes and coffee are two of my favorite things. With plentiful bike trails and an endless market for hipster coffee, Washington, DC, is great for both. I was coffeeneuring before coffeeneuring – there’s nothing I like better than wandering the city and then stopping for mid-afternoon java.

Now in its sixth year, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. And with the timely end of my gubment contractor job, I had plenty of opportunities to bike the city. Also, a recent liberalization of the coffeeneuring rules permitted rides during the week – not just the weekends.

It was like the universe wanted me to coffeeneur. So I did, biking way more than seven rides. Biking and coffee was nearly a daily experience. Always Be Coffeeneuring, indeed.

Here are the highlights of my coffeeneuring adventures!

Oct 18
Swings, Del Ray, VA
26 miles
Specialized Sirrus

reading and coffee

Thank you, federal government, for giving me time to catch up on my reading, among other pursuits. I began my coffeeneuring with a 26 mile jaunt across the river to Swings in the charming Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Squeezed between the Mount Vernon and Four Mile Run trails, Del Rey is very bike-accessible.

October 21
Filter
12 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Cappuccino at Filter in Brookland

REI is White People Heaven! Opening day of this new store in the NoMa neighborhood of DC and I’ve never seen such a frenzy. The line to get in stretched around the block and beyond. While I waited for that to clear, I cruised up the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Filter near Catholic University. They make one of the best cappuccinos in the city.

And the REI is well worth a visit. Located in a historic arena where the Beatles played, it’s huge and packed with cool stuff.

Oct 23
Green Lizard, Herndon, VA
65 miles
Specialized Sirrus

WO&D Trail

My first metric century! That’s 100k or 65 miles by bike. The secret, I discovered, is to keep eating and drinking. The WO&D Trail is perfect for that. I stopped at the Whole Foods in Vienna for a snack, Carolina Brothers in Ashburn for trailside barbecue and cappuccino in Herndon at Green Lizard.

Nov 4
Best Buns, Shirlington, VA
21 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Colors on the Mt Vernon Trail

I’m obsessed with the bike commuters on the Mount Vernon Trail. It looks so much fun to bike into the city every morning along the river. So I tried a reverse commute to Shirlington. It was quick and easy.

Nov 8
Emissary
3 miles
Capital Bikeshare

cappuccino at Emissary

Located a block from Dupont Circle, Emissary had the best coffee of the Coffeeneuring Challenge. This cappuccino was tiny, perfect and delicious.

Nov 13
Glen Echo
23 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Pop Corn at Glen Echo

The coffee at this former amusement park was awful. But it’s such an interesting and photogenic spot along MacArthur Boulevard that it’s well worth the trip.

Nov 18
A Baked Joint
23 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Friday Coffee Club

For the grand finale of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, I went to Friday Coffee Club. Every Friday morning, area cyclists gather at A Baked Joint to talk all things bike. It’s where you go to learn about new routes, equipment and other tips. Plus, the coffee is great and they have a nice chorizo biscuit.

Nov 20
Illy
4 miles
Capital Bikeshare

Cappuccino Viennese

I’m including this just because it was a delicious. Located in the Renaissance Dupont, Illy Coffee dishes out some great coffee, including this, a Cappuccino Viennese. New to to me, it’s a cappuccino with whipped cream and dusted with cocoa powder. Damn, this was good.

Thank you, Mary G., for starting the Coffeeneuring Challenge! I, of course, love biking and coffee and will take any opportunity to take part in two of my favorite pursuits.

But the challenge makes me feel like I am part of something bigger. And I am! Coffeeneuring now takes place in every part of the globe. It’s a worldwide movement of bikes and coffee.

Waynesville is the Next Asheville

crossing Main Street in Waynesville
Main Street in Waynesville, NC

The world has discovered Asheville, anointing it the next Portlandia.

It’s easy to see why. This beautiful city ringed by mountains is surrounded by natural beauty and filled with breweries and a vibrant local food scene. Plus, it’s artsy, with dreadlocked kids playing drums downtown, a great indie bookstore and a literary history that includes Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And it possesses an easy Southern charm, where you can tube down the French Broad River with several hundred friends while enjoying a cold beer.

I’ve been visiting the area for twenty years, ever since friends of mine moved from Florida to the mountains. (If you live in Florida, you retire to western NC for something different.) I’ve seen Asheville develop from a sleepy downtown lined with empty art deco buildings to a booming mountain town with a half a dozen new hotels under construction.

But now that Northerners have found this once sleepy town and decreed that it is hip, the search has begun for the “next Asheville.” Roanoke has a good case to make. It has everything Asheville has – a nice farmer’s market and a historic downtown set amid the mountains. However, it still feels a little industrial. A little too real.

The Washington Post tried to convince readers that Sylva was the next Asheville. I remembered it as the town with the paper plant on the way to Western Carolina University, where my friends went to school. It smelled. And it still smells, a lingering sulphur scent on certain days. Though it does have a beautiful view from the courthouse.

outside Panacea Coffee in Waynesville
Frog Level in Waynesville, NC

What’s the next Asheville? I’d bet on Waynesville, which has developed from a semi-dry mountain burg (there used to be only one bar on Main Street and it only served beer) to a busy county seat that’s home to several breweries, a Mast General Store and a hipster coffee house called Panacea. The coffee place is located in the delightfully named “Frog Level” down along the creek and the railroad tracks.

But what I like about Waynesville is that it still feels like a real place. It’s not just cutesy shops. The largest town west of Asheville, it’s where the mountain folk come to shop. And not just at Wal-Mart. Main Street is home to City Hall, the courthouse, the local newspaper, restaurants, art galleries, a bookstore and more. It’s the place where you’ll see your friends and neighbors.

From Waynesville, you can take NC-276 up into Pisgah National Forest, a lovely winding road that passes Looking Glass Falls and other waterfalls as it makes its way over the mountains. NC-215 offers a similar serpentine route. Or hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, located just out of town, and take a day trip to Smoky Mountains National Park.

So, if you’re looking for the next Asheville, you need to go just a little west. Thirty minutes outside the city, and over another range of mountains, you’ll find it. Waynesville. It’s a little colder. A little foggier. But it has everything to be the next Asheville – except tourists.

Coffeeneuring #1: There Ought to be an App

dark roast at La Colombe

Washington, DC, has an endless appetite for coffee. While there are tons of coffee shops downtown, it’s not always easy to get a seat in one. And the more photogenic the shop, the more crowded it is. For if there’s one thing that millennials like more than coffee, it’s pictures of themselves drinking coffee.

Case in point: La Colombe. Super-cute shop with great coffee. However, on the weekends, all the chairs and tables are taken by young people taking selfies with soy lattes. Shakes first at cloud! If there’s one thing I can’t stand is getting a cappuccino and then finding every table taken by chatty youths. I prefer to drink my coffee in silence, possibly with a book.

Fortunately, this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge (where you bike to seven coffee shops over seven weeks) includes an important rule change – weekday rides are now allowed! Coffeeneuring is no longer just a weekend activity but can occur on any day of the week.

So, on an overcast Friday afternoon, I took advantage of the new proviso to visit La Colombe in Chinatown. There are three La Colombes in DC but I guessed the Eye Street venue would be the least crowded. Two miles later, I was enjoying a simple mug of coffee, able to read in peace while sipping a dark roast. And when I came out, the sun had emerged for the first time in days. It’s a coffeeneuring miracle!

This trip got me wondering: I used the Spotcycle app before I left home to make sure that the neighborhood Capital Bikeshare station had bikes. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something similar for coffee shops? There should be an app that tells me which coffee shops have available seating. Sensors could be attached to chairs and the data could be reported real-time, like bikeshare does. I’m sure some nerds could figure it out, fueled by enough coffee.

 

Like Bikes and Coffee? Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

23322185411_eaaf6fd22a_kCoffeeneuring has returned! For those not familiar with this bike activity, it’s a challenge to ride your bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. The Coffeeneuring Challenge runs from October 7 – November 10.

Coffeeneuring is something that I look forward to every year. As a lover of bikes and coffee, my motto is: Always Be Coffeeneuring. It’s a caffeinated, two-wheel lifestyle for me, something that I did years before I even knew there was such as thing as coffeeneuring.

Bikes and coffee are perfect together, especially when the weather is cool. What else are you going to do on a Sunday? Watch the Redskins lose? Better to hop on your bike and go explore someplace new. Listen to the leaves crunch under your wheels. Catch up with a friend. Sip cappuccino outside on a chilly October afternoon.

You won’t be alone. Coffeeneuring is a worldwide activity, with people taking part in this challenge across the United States, Europe and other parts of the globe.

And you’ll be doing it for more than yourself. More bikes means safer biking for all. By taking a coffee ride, you’re making a statement and encouraging others to hit the roads or trails on their bikes.

Banish those fall blues away with caffeine and exercise. Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

 

DC to Leesburg by Bike and Metro: A Multimodal Adventure

Last weekend, I rode to Reston, taking a 50-mile bike ride from DC into the outer suburbs of the nation’s capital.

I wanted to ride the WO&D Trail again but wanted to skip over the parts of the trail that I had already done. I would use Metro for that purpose, since you can take your bike on the train on the weekends. With the new Silver Line running out to Reston, it seemed like the perfect solution, allowing me to leapfrog ahead to where I left off last weekend. Bikes and trains – a perfect multimodal adventure!

But, of course, there was track work on the weekend, as always with Metro. Orange line trains were running only every 20 minutes and the Silver Line was terminating at Ballston rather than running into DC.

Bike over I-66

I checked wmata.com for the next Orange Line train before leaving home. I hurried to Farragut West and was so proud of myself for making the train!

Unfortunately, I blanked on switching to the Silver Line at Ballston and so just stayed on the train to the end of the line in Vienna. Then I biked through the neighborhoods and back to the WO&D.

It’s a beautiful trail that just gets better the further west you go. Every few miles, there’s another town, with a brewery, bike shop and coffee place. I don’t know how people bike the length of it without stopping multiple times. I biked through Reston, Herndon and Sterling without stopping.

Herndon on the WO&D Trail

But when I smelled the barbecue at Carolina Brothers in Ashburn, I had to stop. Located right next to the trail, it’s awfully tempting.

I actually went past it, thought about it and then turned around and came back. I’m glad I did. It’s a great spot. Casual, fast and filled with cyclists enjoying a mild Sunday afternoon.

Carolina Brothers BBQ

Cyclists passes lots of bikes at Carolina Brothers BBQ

I prefer my biking with a side of BBQ #bikedc

Once you get past Ashburn, the trail really opens up. With its long straightaways and miles between road crossings, it attracts the road biking crowd.

WO&D trail is long and straight

For me, I kept on to Leesburg, where I stopped for coffee, of course! My motto: Always Be Coffeeneuring. I had cappuccino at King Street Coffee along with a new doggie friend. Cute place and excellent coffee.

Coffeeneuring with a new doggie friend #bikedc #coffee #coffeeneuring

Moi in Leesburg

Purcellville and the end of the trail was another ten miles. I decided to save that for a future trip. I turned around and headed back, passing many tempting trailside breweries.

This time I would catch the Silver Line in Reston. The Wiehle Avenue station is right off the trail, though you have to navigate a bit of construction to find your way into it. The station was really anticlimactic. I was expecting something more glamorous. But it looked just any other Metro station complete with a 1970s-era train waiting at the platform. Got on the train and sat there for a good twenty minutes, along with tourists coming from Dulles. Yup, it’s always this way, I wanted to tell them.

The Silver Line train then slowly chugged its way past Tyson’s Corner then down the middle of I-66 before ending in Ballston. Getting off the train, a crowd of confused passengers waited on the platform. The next train into DC wasn’t for another 20 minutes (at least).

Feel like I'm cheating on #bikedc but I wanted to check out the Silver Line so put my bike on the Metro at Wiehle Av for the journey back to DC. #va #metro #wmata

Abandoning train, returning to #bikedc

Thank god I had a bike! I abandoned Metro and headed for the Custis Trail, flying downhill into Rosslyn, then over the Memorial Bridge to home.

Lesson Learned: Using Metro to leapfrog ahead on the WO&D would be great if the transit system actually worked. But a bike is more reliable.

 

Art, Coffee, Bikes… Frederick?

I’m kinda old to be a social media hipster but I was recently selected to be part of Enterprise Carshare’s #CarShareDC crew. Guess they liked my Instagram shots of beer and bikes.

As a member of the crew, I get to take three free day trips this summer courtesy of Enterprise. Anywhere within 100 miles of DC is within my domain. In return, I have to take photos and share them on social media. I’d do this all on the iPhone, of course.

For my first auto excursion, I went to beautiful downtown Frederick to have lunch with my talented photographer friend Mary-Kate McKenna.

Here are some pics from the trip:

Foldy bike and Enterprise CarShare
Enterprise has cars around the city. I chose a Ford Escape, which was parked in an an alley about a block from where I live. It handled DC’s potholes with aplomb and was surprisingly maneuverable. Accompanying me, as always, was the foldy bike.
folded
Plenty of room for my foldy! Next time, I’ll have to bring my real bike.
Untitled
Gas is included but you may have to fill up the tank yourself. A gas card is in the glove compartment.
City of spires
Downtown Frederick. It’s about an hour from DC. Leaving after rush hour, I didn’t run into any traffic.
Me and MK
Miss seeing this girl! I worked with MK at NOAA before she went away to bigger and better things.
MK at the canal
MK at Carrol Creek in Frederick.
I'm in Frederick
I’m selfieing along Carrol Creek, which is a linear park which runs through downtown Frederick.
Pretzel & Pizza
Lunch was at Pretzel & Pizza.
downtown mural
Earthbound, part of Angels in the Architecture by William Cochran. Frederick has a lot of art like this downtown.
Gravel & Grind
Vintage bikes! Coffee! All my dreams in one store: Gravel & Grind.
Cortado at Gravel n Grind in Frederick MD
Cortado.
vintage bikes
Vintage bikes which have been fixed-up and modified.
Liked this bike
A thing of beauty. Love that rack on the front.
Baker Park in Frederick, MD
After coffee, I took my foldy bike for a little spin around Baker Park.
Keys go here when you're done
When you’re all done, you return the car to its reserved parking space. To end your trip, you put the keys in the glove compartment holder and swipe your Enterprise card on the windshield sensor.
Best deal in the city - $4 beer at Glen's Garden Market #igdc #beer #lifeiswanderfood #dupontcircle
Trip #1 was a success! After I put the car away, I went to Glen’s for a $4 beer.

Look for more adventures in carsharing coming this summer!

Errandonnee: The Biking Flaneur

Biking to the Lincoln Memorial
The best time to visit the monuments? At night. The best way to get there? By bike.

The Errandonnee Challenge changed my life. My bike-life, that is. The challenge is to take 12 errands by bike over 12 days. There are a lots of categories and rules but the gist of the contest is to use your bike for everyday errands.

Doing it last year changed my approach to biking in Washington, DC. Before then, I was a weekend cyclist. I didn’t ride during the week because I thought it was too much of a hassle. But the experience of running simple errands by bike taught me that biking was by far the easiest, fastest and most fun way to get around the city. The Errandonnee Challenge turned me in to an everyday cyclist, one who rode in all kinds of weather, even when it was 16 degrees.

Bike outside Garden District
A cool bike outside Garden District, a local beer garden.

One of the requirements of Errandonnee is to share what you learned during the challenge.

This year, I learned that there’s nothing I like more than drinking coffee and biking – if only there was a challenge for that! Oh, wait, there is.

#errandonnee 2 - coffee and book edition #igdc
Bikes, books and coffee – that’s pretty much my lifestyle.

My bike trips around the city tend to be more rambling than functional. I look for good excuses to bike around town (which is why Errandonee is perfect for me). DC is compact, so the distances are small. But you always see interesting things.

For example, every morning I bike one mile to the Metro. Most of the trip is up the 15th protected bike lane – the best piece of bike infrastructure in the city. It’s a neverending stream of people heading downtown, from women in heels on red Bikeshare bikes to power commuters on road bikes.

This little five-minute trip is the best part of the day. It’s like people-watching but done at ten-miles an hour.

#errandonnee 5 - biked up the 15th St protected bike lane to the U St Metro
What my morning commute looks like. This is the 15th Street protected bike lane.

A flâneur is a French word meaning “urban explorer.” A term with literary pretensions, it’s defined as a lounger, a stroller or, even better, a boulevardier. As a Gen Xer, I might call this person a slacker.

Wandering around the city is exactly what I do,  except that I’m doing it by bike. Tracking miles and setting personal records doesn’t appeal to me. Instead, I want to bike around Washington and look at stuff.

Errandonnee has taught me that I am a biking flâneur. I will embrace it. Here’s to more urban rambles by bike!

Friday Photo: Bump N’ Grind Edition

My first flat white. It's like a cappuccino but without the froth. I had it at Bump 'n Grind, a new coffee place with bearded baristas and a tattooed clientele that's right up the street from the suits at NOAA. #igdc #coffee #flatwhite #dtss #lifeiswander

This was my first flat white. I’m a convert. Made with espresso and steamed milk, it’s like a cappuccino but without the froth. The rich milk and the caffeinated jolt make it a great afternoon treat. The flat white is an Australian invention. I welcome it.

If you read my earlier post, you know I have mixed feelings about Silver Spring. But I really like Bump N’ Grind, the new coffee place where I got this lovely drink. They make great coffee, there’s plenty of room to sit and it’s convenient to my office – everything I want in a coffee place. It’s a little hard to find on East-West Highway but if you like coffee, it’s worth the trip.