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.

Road Trip: Gettysburg

Monument to Gouverneur Warren

This post has been sponsored by Enterprise CarShare.

There’s a McDonalds at the edge of the Gettysburg battlefield, visible from the high water mark of the Confederacy, where Pickett’s charge crashed against Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. The rebels got this far but none further, their invasion of the North coming to an end.

And, past the green fields, golden arches, a reminder that this momentous battle took place on some very familiar territory. It didn’t happen in history books, it happened across a Mid-Atlantic landscape of farms and towns that General Lee would recognize today.

The battlefield sprawls over a vast territory – hills, forests, corn fields, peach orchards – and is cut into pie slices by roads that converge upon the town of Gettysburg. Turnpikes drew the Confederates from the west and Federals from the east, pulled into a three-day slug fest of cannon and rifle.

It’s fitting that a road tour is the best way to experience Gettysburg. After visiting a very modern museum that puts the battle in its Civil War context, the auto tour takes you to the action, leading you in chronological order around the battlefield, from the first skirmishes on the edge of town to the bloody struggles for the high ground. The way is dotted with historic landmarks erected by the states to honor their sacred dead.

Being there gives you a three-dimensional perspective to the battle. Standing on Little Round Top, you can see, as Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren did, that this was the key spot that dominated that battlefield, a steep and virtually unassailable hill on the Union left flank. His prompt action in fortifying the hill saved the Union army from defeat.

The auto tour leads you back to the town of Gettysburg, roads radiating out from it like spokes on a wheel, returning you to an imperfect America, McDonalds and all, still striving to live up to the words of Lincoln:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 

Day Trip: Little Washington

Little Washington

Teenagers. Useless, am I right?

Unless you’re a 17-year-old George Washington who surveyed a town in the Blue Ridge foothills, a town that would eventually be named after him.

It’s Washington, VA, commonly known as Little Washington to differentiate it from nearby Washington, DC. Set amid vineyards and rolling green hills, it’s a quaint village that’s home to the five-star Inn at Little Washington. The inn itself is several buildings on both sides of the street that date back to the arrival of George Washington in 1749.

Behind the inn, there’s a short walking path that circles a field full of photogenic farm animals, from goats to a pair of llamas.

The village’s neat grid was laid out by the Founding Father himself. Little Washington is a historic landmark that has been carefully preserved, enabling you to imagine yourself in the George Washington’s day.

One of the attractions of this DC day trip is the drive from the city. After you escape I-66, the scenery grows hillier and greener as advance toward the mountains until you end up on a gentle two-lane road coasting into a town bursting with tulips.

Located just 70 miles from Washington, DC, this other Washington – Little Washington – is a quiet respite from the busy city.

Check out the photos from this nice day trip, taken with my rocking little Canon G9 X. Love this little camera.

This post has been sponsored by Enterprise CarShare.

What Price Louisville?

Plane takes off over pedestrian at Gravelly Point

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
― Timothy SnyderOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Shocking, even for travelers accustomed to the routine discomforts and indignities of flying these days – a man being beaten and dragged from a plane for refusing to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.

Around him, passengers filmed and cried but did not move. After all, they had to get home to Louisville. Raise your voice or get out of your seat and you could be the one on the floor, bloodied and humiliated.

After the video surfaced, the United CEO responded with the kind of corporate-speak that is sadly typical, a masterwork of weasel words designed to avoid responsibility:

As Esquire pointed out, the statements are just as bad as the injury, faulting the passengers for their failure to pre-volunteer for tribute, like the Hunger Games on a plane.

Since they refused to leave their seats, a “volunteer” had to be selected. If that sounds Orwellian, it is because it is:

“This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.”
― George OrwellAnimal Farm

American life has become so degraded that this type of hard-edged mistreatment of customers has become something to be celebrated. Just a couple weeks ago, the United CEO was honored for his work as a communicator:

But let’s go back to the passengers in the plane. Delayed, anxious to get home after a long day, watching this violent drama play out in front of them and their iPhones.

They sat there. No one moved. Some yelled, some filmed, but no one got up from their seats as the police beat and bloodied a man at the behest of United Airlines.

I’m sure I would’ve just sat there, too. The airport experience systematically strips you of your rights and dignity. After enduring long lines and groping from poorly-trained government agents, you’re willing to put up with anything just to feel your plane lift off from the runway and into the blue sky. That includes doing nothing as one of your fellow citizens is violently re-accommodated.

We all want to get home to Louisville. We stay in our seats, lest we receive the same treatment meted out to the unfortunate “volunteer.”

What price Louisville?

Americans must ask themselves this question in the coming days, forced to make a choice between submitting to the kind of routine mistreatment that has become common in American life or deciding to resist.

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.