by Anna Collins
For a different mode of transportation my traveling companion Barbara and I, decided to take the Amtrak train. It turned out to be a wonderful idea. We left at 9:00 a.m. from Penn Station, NY, and took the three-hour Metroliner to Union Station in D.C. The train was fast, fun, had a great snack car and best of all we didn't hit any traffic along the way. Fare from New York was $229 round trip. And the snack bar stays open practically the whole trip! Check the website for the Amtrak train nearest you. (Arriving in Washington in Union Station is a wonderful experience. The station is a beautifully restored 1908 Beaux Arts train depot that houses 125 shops, 7 restaurants, a food court and a 9-screen cinema. Being in this grandiose building is an adventure in itself.)
Springtime in Washington, D.C. is a particularly beautiful and inspiring site because that's when the cherry blossoms make their yearly debut. The Tidal Basin becomes surrounded by a compelling strand of pale pink, stretching past the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, continuing along the Potomac River to Haines Point and finally laying a magnificent foreground to the Washington Monument. The Cherry Blossoms are celebrated with all kinds of festivities and special events including a parade and even a cruise along the Potomac River. It's hard to pinpoint the exact time they will bloom however, because of weather conditions and temperature, but the official National Cherry Blossom Festival time is from March 25 - April 8. Records for the past 50 years show the earliest date the cherry blossoms bloom is March 20th and the latest, April 15th, but the average date is April 5th. When Barbara and I had arrived, it was the end of March and although there were some cherry blossoms out, they were not all yet in full bloom. But we did get to see some of them.
History of the Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossom Festival has been around since 1935, and in recent
years crowds of visitors as big as half a million have crowded into the
city to see the parade, watch the floats and take place in the festivities
that include concerts, fashion shows and balls. The celebration opens
every year with the lighting of a stone lantern; a carved stone column
at the Tidal Basin. This column was a gift from Japan in 1954 to commemorate
the centennial of the first treaty with the U.S. that was made by Commodore
that Keeps on Giving
Where to Stay
I tell you about the other great sites in Washington, let's talk about
where to stay. Admittedly, the city has many fine hotels and I feel we
stayed at one of the finest; The Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The hotel has 318 guest rooms, with 17 king corner suites. Many rooms offer a view of Franklin Park and the Washington, D.C. skyline. The Franklin Exchange Restaurant and Lounge is a great place to have a casual drink or enjoy a relaxing, delicious meal. Tracy, our bartender at the Franklin Exchange Lounge told us: "Washington has been growing phenomenally in the last two years. It's just unbelievable!"
Many of the people coming to visit this growing city have "discovered" the Crowne Plaza. It has all you need for business and pleasure; a great restaurant, conference facilities, cable in every suite, telephones with data ports and most importantcoffee makers! There's a also a state-of-the-art fitness center so you can keep your girlish/boysih figurebut remember, you actually have to use it, to get the benefits.
The Crowne Plaza itself has been in operation for five years and is fast making a name as one of Washington's most popular hotels. Because of its central location at Franklin Square on the K Street business corridor, the hotel is within easy access to many attractions.
For those of you who plan to visit Washington in the summer, the Crowne Plaza is offering a special "Summer Countdown" filled with perks for groups booking 10- 25 rooms or more for July or August. For more info contact: The Crowne Plaza Hotel, 14th and K Streets, NW, Washington D.C. 20005. Tel: (202) 682-0111 or take a virtual tour at www.CrownePlazaWashington.com..
Great Washingtonian Sites and Places of Interest
On our first
day, after settling into our hotel, we decided to visit the Holocaust
Museum. The museum is a must for anyone interested in not only history,
but humankind. The museum serves as a national institution for the documentation
of Holocaust history and the millions of people who were murdered during
We also viewed a film entitled Testimony, on the second floor. The film depicts survivors of the concentration camps telling their personal experience of survival. These heartbreaking and incredible stories are not only moving but are a glorious testament to the human spirit. Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl., SW, Washington, D.C. 20024, Tel: (202) 488-0400. www.ushmm.org. Admission is free.
After the museum we headed back to our hotel and tried to plan out our next day's travel. But because there were so many things to see in this historic town (cherry blossoms included) we decided to book a tour. Let me say, I used to be kind of an elitist when it came to taking tours. I pride myself on being an explorer and like to see things on my own time schedule. Well, you're never too old to learn! Thanks to Barbara, who convinced me the best way we could see the most sites in the most efficient time frame, would be to take a tour. She was absolutely right. It beats having to take cabs everywhere (after you figure out where everywhere is) and you have someone explaining the sites to you.
Day 2, Saturday
We decided (with concierge Rebecca Mayhew's help) to book an all day deluxe tour from Nation's Capital Tours that included the U.S. Capitol, The White House, Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, Smithsonian Institution, The Kennedy Gravesites, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and other sites. Start time: 6:20 a.m.; finish at 5:30 p.m. Cost: $36.
The tour bus arrived at 6:30 a.m. right in front of our hotel. We stumbled aboard. It was a rainy, gray day; perfect actually for going to a cemetery and memorials. The atmosphere lent itself to the poignancy for the memorials we were about to visit. Our tour guide Robert, was articulate, patient and really knew his stuff. The bus seats were comfortable and after taking attendance, Robert gave us a brief history of Washington and described the places we would visit. It felt like you were on a field trip back in 6th grade.
place we went was to get vouchers for the White House at the White
House Visitor's Center. Although the White House is free and open
to the public, there's a limited amount of people that are let in at a
time and the building itself can arbitrarily close at any time due to
"government business" which includes everything from visiting
dignitaries to gala White House parties. The White House actually turned
out to be one of our last stops for the day. We waited for an hour and
a half near the White House on bleachers under canopies for our group
to be called. We
were one of the last groups of the day so as a result we didn't get to
spend too much time inside, but the rooms we did see (there are 132 in
all) were the grandest; the East, Green, Blue, Red, Vermeil and State
Dining Rooms plus the Library. 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. Tel: (202) 456-2200.
Our first site stop were the war memorials. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982. The black granite walls have the names of over 59,000 of the war's dead or missing. Included here is a statue by Frederick Hart depicting three soldiers standing on a base that has the emblems of the five branches of our armed services.
Another nearby statue is the Vietnam Women's Memorial, a 2,000 pound bronze piece sculpted by Glenna Goodacre that is the first memorial honoring the women who served in Vietnam. It was dedicated Veteran's Day 1993.
Closeby is the Korean War Veterans Memorial which was dedicated on July 27, 1995. This site has 19 larger than life statues made of stainless steel, that just seem to capture the fatigue, loneliness and incredible endurance of the Americans who fought this war on foot. Being near the statues gives you a very real feeling that at any moment these oversize men might bark out a command or aim their rifle to fire at the enemy. Behind them is a polished granite wall etched with images of over 2,500 faces that portray our combat and support troops.
Next was the Lincoln Memorial. Designed by Henry Bacon and completed in 1922, this memorial was modeled after the Greek Parthenon, and its 36 Doric columns represent the number of states in the Union at the time when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. In the center, is a 19-foot tall statue of President Lincoln. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech here. The Memorial is located on the banks of the Potomac River.
On to Arlington National Cemetery home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the Kennedy Graves; JFK, RFK, Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis and two of the Kennedy children.
asked our tour guide Robert, what the stipulations were to be buried in
ANC. He told me that, for a price, you can be buried here if you served
in some branch of the military. To my surprise I saw the graves of heavy
weight champion Joe Louis, and actor Lee Marvin.We went
on to witness the ceremonial changing of the guard at the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldiers. This ceremony had look-a-like soldiers, very precisely
and methodically changing positions.There are exactly 21 steps from the
beginning to the end of their walk in front of the tombs. The guards change
every hour. A crowd (a very silent crowd) gathers to watch these young
men as they perform the ceremony. First there's the one guard, then another
comes out and orders the first guard to step aside to let the replacement
guard take over. It's amazing to watch the synchronicity of the performance
and the incredible discipline these men have.
Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel. Robert dropped us off and we thanked him for an interesting and professionally guided tour. For more info contact: Nation's Capital Tours, Tel: (301) 565-9192, www.nationscapitaltours.com.
Ah, dinner time! We asked around for the restaurants that best represented Washington, and were given some names at the front desk. But since we had had the whole day planned for us, we decided to take a cab to Georgetown and choose a restaurant that suited our fancy once we got there. We spontaneously decided to be spontaneous.
The first place we tried was Clyde's, a very popular spot that is a favorite among locals. But it was Saturday night and very crowded and we didn't feel like waiting. We walked on. To our delight we came across a wonderful French restaurant called Bistro Francais. This charming and friendly eatery gave you the impression you could easily be dining in Paris; lots of wood, brass railings and small intimate tables with white table cloths. An attentive and efficient staff was always around to serve customers, from the minute you stepped in the door. Our waitress, Natalie, was from Lyon, France and she made sure we were well taken care of (and she didn't know I was writing this article until after we ate!).
For appetizers we ordered the Salad du Marche: fresh greens with walnut dressing that was fresh and tasty ($7.95); fabulous Escargots that were served hot, in garlic butter with just enough garlic not to overpower the snails ($7.95); Mousse de Foie de Volaille Au Sheuy (homemade liver mousse) which was some of the best liver mousses I have ever tasted; light, yet distinct, and with enough spices to enhance but not smother the flavor of the liver ($5.25).
For the main course I had the Tournedos Grille au Poivre Vert (Grilled beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce, served with potato au gratin, $19.95). The beef was moist, tender and flavorful and served generously. Barbara had Demi Canard aux Framboises (Braised half duck with raspberry sauce and wild rice, $17.95). Both of us remarked that we generally ate duck with orange sauce; the raspberry sauce was a nice compliment to the distinct flavor of the bird and to my friend's delight the duck was not greasy at all; rather plump, juicy and very fresh tasting. Our general consensus about the food was that it was excellent. The only weird thing about this wonderful French restaurant wasthey had no French bread! Go figure. We were given garden variety bread rolls and when I asked the bread server for French bread she said that the rolls were all they had. The lack of a nice crusty French loaf was a bizarre exclusion from the otherwise genuine and well-prepared French menu.
For dessert we shared a traditional French Napoleon. Again, it was a pleasant experience; the pastry was light and flaky and the creme tasted fresh and was not soaked into the crust. After this wonderful meal, we both agreed we would be back and gave this magnificent little bistro a Five Fork rating! Bistro Français, 3124-28 M Street, Washington, D.C. 20007, Tel: (202) 338-1421
After the meal we did some window shopping along the streets of Georgetown. This quaint, old section of Washington is filled with enticing little shops and wonderful places to eat and drink. You can have a great time just walking around and taking in the scenery.
The next day was Sunday and we headed back to Union Station. We easily could have used another couple of days here; there's so much we still wanted to see. But considering our time frame, we'd seen and done a lot.
Our weekend in the Nation's Capital was a rich experience of history, beauty, humanity and some damn good food. It made us proud to be Americans.