“This is fun!” says Maria, my Dutch friend as she zips around in circles on her Segway. She and her husband, William, are here on vacation, and Peter and I have driven up to meet them in D.C. and see some sights.
A friend suggested we try a Segway tour, so here we are practicing maneuvers as we navigate our cool “personal transporters” on a safe side street near the Old Post Office. It’s a stunning blue-sky summer day, and we are itching to get rolling and see what these babies can do. Peter and I have tried Segways before, and while they take a little getting used to, they’re amazingly easy and fun to operate. Washington is the perfect place to use Segways, too, because, as you probably know, walking from one end of the National Mall to the other can take forever, especially on a hot day. But when you’re rolling along on two wheels, you can definitely cover some ground. And that’s exactly what we do!
We only have a couple days to explore D.C., and while each of us has been here before, there’s always something new to see and do. In fact, no matter how many times I make the trek up to D.C., I am always rewarded with new discoveries, experiences, and hidden treasures. Being able to enjoy this beautiful city with our good friends from the Netherlands makes this visit even more special!
A TOAST TO FRIENDS
We meet in the lobby of The Normandy Hotel near DuPont Circle, a cozy boutique hotel just off Connecticut Avenue. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood dotted with foreign embassies, The Normandy proves to be a perfect place to stay. Right away Maria, who’s the quintessential hostess no matter where she is, offers Peter and me steaming cappuccinos, and we relax in the comfy sitting rooms off the lobby to catch our breath. Recently renovated, the hotel features contemporary design combined with an understated elegance. We love our rooms and the hotel’s charming ambiance.
The Normandy’s location is also convenient—just a few minutes drive from downtown or a short walk to a Metro stop. It’s also close to Rock Creek Park, a green haven with running trails, playgrounds, and picnic tables. After getting our bags stashed in our rooms, we head to the park for a picnic, where we pop open a bottle of wine—surreptitiously, of course—to toast our friends’ arrival and enjoy a light lunch. We talk about New York, their first stop on their whirlwind tour of the East Coast, and then head to the National Zoo for a walk with the animals.
The best parts of visiting a metropolitan area like D.C. is trying new restaurants. I originally planned to take my friends to Acadiana, one of my favorite D.C. spots, but decided instead to try a couple new places I’d heard about. One is Brasserie Beck, which, as the name suggests, offers diners a European experience in the heart of D.C. Specializing in “moules et frites,” beef, and seafood, Beck features a brightly lit open kitchen area balanced by dark wooden decor that makes you feel like you’re in an exclusive restaurant in Paris. Owned by acclaimed chef Robert Weidmaier, Brasserie Beck has been garnering rave reviews since it opened in 2007.
On the weeknight we visit, the place is packed, so make sure to reserve a table in advance if you go. Peter and I are big mussel fans, so that was a given, but we decide to share a few appetizers first. The charcuterie plate jumps off the menu at me: a lovely selection of artisan cured meats, which I am happy to share. Other starters we enjoy include steak tartare served with a duck egg—a nice balance of beef and onion flavors; grilled octopus—perfectly charred, smoky, and tender; and a shrimp and chorizo dish, sweet and salty and good.
Next the house specialty—mussels served in their shells, floating in fabulous savory sauces. We share two portions: the first, a classic white wine preparation enhanced with roasted garlic and cream; and the second, Spicy Red Thai Curry, a heady combination of flavors including coconut, peanuts, and cilantro, plus curry of course. Wonderfully flavorful and satisfying. The gateau of chocolate, a decadent, semi-sweet French chocolate cake, proves the perfect ending to our special evening.
The next day we wake up early and decide to head over to the Eastern Market, a favorite spot of mine in D.C. Unfortunately, on this weekday morning, it’s rather quiet—weekends are the best time to visit—but we find a great little eatery, The Tortilla Café, where we order breakfast. Owned by a father-daughter team from El Salvador, the casual restaurant offers authentic Latin-American cuisine at very affordable prices. We chow down on a hearty breakfast, fortifying ourselves for an adventurous day of museum going.
So much to see, so little time. D.C. is like that. The best advice is to choose only a couple destinations per day. Then you don’t feel so rushed and can take your time getting to know each place. We start with a walk through the U.S. Botanic Garden, nestled next to the Capitol Building. It’s a cornucopia of flowers and plants along with exhibits designed to teach visitors about the importance of flora and the need for conservation efforts.
Highlights include medicinal plants from all over the world, as well as ethnobotanical plants, which are used to make products for human consumption. The orchids are my favorite, but we also love the succulents—all sizes of odd shaped cacti—as well as the Garden Primeval, a fern-filled atrium that makes you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park. A cooking class draws a crowd in the Garden Court, and we get to taste delicious fig crostadas: carmelized figs served on crusty slices of baguette with feta, mint leaves, and a balsamic vinegar syrup. Yum!
Maria and William haven’t been to D.C. since the National Museum of the American Indian opened, so we explore that next. Luckily, it’s right next door. I’ve been a couple times, but nevertheless I am happy to spend a couple hours wandering through its exhibits. We join a tour, given by a Native American docent, and he sheds insight on what it’s like to be a Native American today. He mentions how Native Americans’ contributions have been overlooked in U.S. history books and tells the story of Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman who provided food to General George Washington and his troops in Valley Forge. A statue commemorates Polly’s loyalty.
One of my favorite places for lunch is the underground cafeteria in the National Gallery of Art. Tucked between the East and West Buildings, the airy space with skylights and water features offers affordable fare and great people watching. I also love the gift shops nearby. After a quick bite, we venture into the galleries. A helpful docent gives us a handout with highlights, designed to point visitors toward some of the museum’s most noteworthy art in less than an hour. I know art should not be rushed, but when you’re in the presence of such an astonishing array of world-class art, I recommend taking it in small doses.
Time to head back to our hotel, where we find a complimentary afternoon reception featuring wine and small bites, another reason why The Normandy is a perfect spot to stay in D.C. We relax and enjoy wine and cheese before getting cleaned up to head to Station 4, a fashionable restaurant in D.C.’s up-and-coming Southwest neighborhood. The vibe at Station 4 is cosmopolitan with trendy décor, chandeliers, and fabric treatments that lend a soft touch. Venezuelan-born chef Orlando Armara, who studied in Mexico and Spain, specializes in “modern American cuisine.” After we share another charcuterie plate, Peter and William opt for the evening special, a hearty seafood stew featuring swordfish, shrimp, mussels, and calamari—bathed in a spicy garlic broth.
Maria and I decide to eat “light” and order pizza. I choose the Station 4 pizza, a zesty pie featuring tomato salsa, pork belly, baby arugula, and dashes of balsamic syrup. The thin crust ensures that the flavors of the other ingredients shine through, and I am delighted with my choice. Maria opts for a traditional margherita pizza with tomato sauce, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and just-picked basil. A sprinkling of black pepper on top adds the perfect hint of heat. We’re stuffed, but our waiter convinces us to try some of the evening’s homemade ice cream and sorbets. I love the hint of pepper in the Mexican chocolate ice cream. In contrast, the raspberry and pineapple sorbets taste smooth and fruity. Station 4 is definitely on my radar now, and I look forward to my next visit.
It’s our final day in D.C. and what better way to spend it than sailing along on our Segways as the soft breeze washes over us and the sun beams down from the blue sky. Unlike the poor tourists who walk along on their own two feet, we have technology on our side and whiz along at a whopping 16 miles an hour. Slight incline? No problem. We just lean forward and ride uphill to the Capitol, where we stop to take photos and admire the view.
After a pit stop at the Botanic Garden, we cruise on by the Washington Monument, still closed for repairs in the wake of last year’s earthquake, scoot past the Reflecting Pool, recently reopened after extensive renovation, and pull up in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where we dismount and spend a little time exploring the south side of the Mall. We swing by the front lawn of White House on the way back, and before we know it, the tour’s over and we say goodbye to our trusty “personal transporters.” I definitely recommend the Segway tour the next time you’re in D.C. The best part is you’ll feel like a kid again as you zip along.
Visiting D.C. awakens the inner child in all of us. Its history, culture, art, and adventures—not to mention fabulous places to eat and cool boutique hotels that offer a city escape—all add up to a priceless getaway. The best part is it’s just up the road a ways!