Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Collins go to Washington or "Hey Y'all, is that Where Ol' Barry Lives? "

The weekend of September 19th-20th the Raleigh Collins took a trip to our Nation's fair capital for a visit with Sue and Mark and some sightseeing. Thanks to a little serendipity and great weather, we had the best unplanned trip on record.

Ashley flew up for a week of business meetings and power lunches, and got to spend some time in the Northwest part of the District. I'm pretty sure that in a few weeks photos will appear showing her meeting with lobbyists and congressmen - the legislation in question no doubt addressed the pressing question of universal Cooper suffrage. Canine issues notwithstanding, she found some great restaurants around the 14th St NW area (note: they were all out of our price range for dining; but delicious on someone else's dime none the less)

Casey flew up at the end of the week, and had a small public transit odyssey getting into the city. He flew from RDU to Baltimore (BWI), took the MARC train into Union Station, and then Metro'd and walked to the meeting spot. Air turbulence aside, the trip was fun - too bad Raleigh doesn't have any sort of reliable public transit. We would definitely ride a light rail system if they put one in down here. We ate a tasty lunch at Potenza on H St., where the food tasted as good as the place looked, and headed on down to Sue's office.

We got the high roller's tour at the Department of Education. Literally, the high-Rollers (ha ha, get it Sue?) and headed back out to Springfield, where Sue and Mark live. They were kind enough to tolerate us in their space (or we should say, Noel, their cat, was kind enough to hide so we could invade her space) while we took a whirlwind tour of all things D.C.

First up: The Library of Congress (LOC). Let's get a couple things clear about this LOC, from two library lovers and avid supporters: This ain't your average library. For starters, most of the books are kept in the restricted "card access" only areas. This includes the ever elusive "Rare Books Collection", which of course, is what we wanted to see most. Come to find out, you can obtain an 8-day "readers card" if you say you're doing some sort of "research"... just a heads up for those of you (like us) who wanted the Gold Standard for library cards. On another note, this was Casey's favorite building that he's seen in D.C. The majority of the inside is done up in mosaic tile, with designs honoring the great names in arts, sciences and humanities. We also saw the exhibit of Thomas Jefferson's library that showcases the remaining original books that Ol' T.J. offered to Congress after the original LOC collection was destroyed in the War of 1812. The collection is extremely impressive and varied, and contains many original printings of what are now pieces of classic literature. Jefferson possessed over 6500 volumes at that period is an amazing show of his appreciation of knowledge (and, let's be honest, wealth). When we go back, we're going in that dang reading room. A final note, their Bible collection is pretty cool too.

Next, we took an underground tunnel tour (by mistake and on purpose) to visit the Capitol, where we lucked into getting a tour at just the moment we arrived. After a brief video and summary by our guide of the main parts of the Capitol, we were handed tickets to the House Gallery (Senate was closed that day). See, luckily unplanned! Seeing no legislators in session, we continued on our merry way. On the walk back, we heard a (conspiracy) theory from a restaurant manager about how the beginning video is actually a screening room where Capitol security guards use body scanners on the entire audience to check and make sure no one is carrying any unauthorized ordinance.

After the Capitol tour (and no, no one screamed "You Lie" during our visit), we headed back home to eat dinner a nearby (sort of) Italian place. Sue and Mark are infamous for their "spots" and this one didn't disappoint. Best Fettuccine Alfredo ever - Sue, can you leave a comment with the name of that restaurant?

The next day, we opted for a stop over in the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Pretty neat; but we (of course) got stuck behind a terribly grouchy old man in an over-sized Rascal scooter who kept nudging my (Ashley) heels. After that we visited a place I will now recommend to everyone who visits DC: the Newseum. It is an absolutely fabulous place. Highly interactive (for the ADD folks like us) and had a little bit of everything (from a section of the Berlin Wall, to the Unibomber's hut, to a radio tower from part of the former World Trade Center). Visit it; it's worth $20 and can easily take 5-6 hours to spend the right amount of time in! And, since Mark lost us somewhere on the third floor and we were helped by a museum guide, we got a tour of their working TV studio (more unplanned luck). We didn't see him, but this is the place where George Stephanopoulos shoots his Sunday morning political roundtable.

After coming home, we had bite to eat at Mike's American in Fairfax. Fun atmosphere and good food; but they mixed up my side order of asparagus for beans and tomatoes ... not quite the same. Casey reports that their mashed cauliflower (similar texture to mashed otatoes) were good and their seafood is delicious.

Our last morning, we visited the Smithsonian's most recent offering, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The "national" museum is a bit of a misnomer, since this place showcases native culture and history from across the three Americas. This museum is visually and emotionally stunning, from the architecture to the exhibits. Oriented with respect to the four cardinal directions, every bit of the museum is built with a respect for and integration into nature, even though it stands out from other buildings on the Mall. It's a moving experience to visit - make sure you walk around the grounds outside the building if you go.

After an easy flight home and a slight hiccup at the off-site airport parking lot (the automatic carwash there blew off my side-view mirror), we were back home and rested. The D.C. trip was a fun little jaunt, and we'll definitely be back up again.


  1. Dolche Vita - and who could forget the lilting lyrics of "Proud Maria" by the roving Italian guitarist.

  2. Aha - that's it - I wonder if that guy is available for parties?