Washington DC is a city built to serve government and tourism. On a recent trip with a group of French executives, the conversation flowed on the bus as we traversed the city. Designed by a Frenchman, the Mall reminded them of the Tuileries, the Washington Monument of Place de la Concorde. We were to do DC in two days, and although the Smithsonian alone could fill a week or more, I do feel like I got a great flavor for Inside the Beltway.
A visit to Mount Vernon on a stormy day launched the dizzying schedule. I opted for a breath of fresh air with a view of the Potomac, a tour of the house and a walk to the farm. George Washington was quite green (which I learned is a term in French that means an older, quite virile man, not ecologically minded) and in his own way farmed and recycled with an eye on the future, employing crop rotation and mulching much of his waste. A lover of rivers, he situated his house so the view from the porch is masterful and remains unmarred.
The Lincoln, Vietnam and the newer WWII Memorial were next. I had wanted to visit the Vietnam Memorial for years, and memories of the names of the NY tri-state area’s war dead scrolling on the TV News came flooding back. I was so young but not untouched by that war.
One of the best parts of the quick visit was the Hay Adams Hotel, where the group stayed. A famous old hotel, we were charmed to be staying right across the street from the White House.
The Museums of DC are monumental and free. We had two hours only, so I chose the Contemporary wing and buzzed through the permanent collection and Beat Generation photo exhibit and a lovely small Dutch show called “The Little Ice Age” about an 18th century period when a prolonged cold snap kept all the canals in Holland frozen and ice skating reigned supreme. I had just rented the Disney version of Hans Brinker with my two boys so I thought of them and loved the magical paintings.
Three top restaurants fed our massive group in style. We had a wine-filled seafood feast at the Occidental Grill and a whirlwind tour of Union Station as we lunched at B. Smith’s in the train station. The portions, of course, shocked the frogs and you could have fed Congress with what we left over.
A visit to the Capitol was on the schedule and although moving 164 French tourists through the tour was harder than a pre-school class trip, they all seemed enthralled. We got to see Congress, albeit not in session, and I think we all left with more of an understanding of America’s history and government system. One jokester bought a tiny American Flag and began to wave it unmercifully, a comment on the constant presence of the stars and stripes and the patriotic, sweeping music in the promotional film that was shown on the tour. I explained the flag issues about pin wearing during the election and how much Americans cling to/love their flag. They asked if I ever wore a flag pin. I chortled, saying the only time I ever wore red white and blue on purpose was to celebrate the Bicentennial in 1976 as a little kid, and they are not my color. Nonetheless a trip to DC does stir some patriotism.
I must return, perhaps for a week, with my kids, I think the perfect age would be at least 9 or 10 years old to really enjoy all that the city has to offer, so it may be a few years before I do DC again.