Thursday, May 8, 2014

Playing Tourist in DC

It had been a while since I had needed to show a first-time visitor around DC, but the last weekend in April afforded me this opportunity as K came to visit. We were fortunate in that the weather was appropriately spring-like, which always makes the DMV look its best. She arrived at BWI late Saturday morning, and after lunch and coffee at home, we took Metro into DC, getting out at the Farragut North station and walking toward the White House. Her comment: "It really is very white!"
The White House looks particularly lovely in the spring!
After checking out views of the White House from both sides, we headed in the direction of the Washington Monument, which is still closed for renovation following the 2012 summer earthquake. From there we strolled to the World War II Memorial, which was also being visited by many WWII veterans. Here we were a bit surprised that a gust of wind was strong enough to blow water from one of the largest fountains onto us, although we were a good distance away.
WWII Memorial. (Credit: K)
Fantastic panoramic view of the World War II Memorial. (Credit: K)
K had recently watched the movie "Forrest Gump," so she seemed to be most excited about seeing the Lincoln Memorial. Spring is a very busy tourist time in Washington, and the crowds of visitors taking photos prevented us from getting all that close to the President, but we did thoroughly enjoy the vast view from the steps of the monument.
Throngs of tourists visit President Lincoln (Credit: K)
Continuing our journey, we walked toward the Tidal Basin (where two weeks earlier the cherry trees were at peak bloom) and visited the newest monument, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which was dedicated in 2011.
Credit: K
We strolled along the Tidal Basin for a short bit before heading over to the National Mall. Here I enlightened K about the history of the Smithsonian Institution, which is quite interesting and unusual. British scientist James Smithson died in 1829, and left his entire estate to the people of the United States, even though he had never been to this country. In his will Smithson specified that the funds should be utilized “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Today the institution bearing his name is the largest museum and research complex in the world, encompassing 19 museums, as well as the National Zoo and nine research facilities.

I would be remiss to not mention a Latvian connection that the Smithsonian has. Joseph J. Hirshhorn was the founding donor of the institution's modern art museum named in his honor. He was born in Jelgava (in what is now Latvia) in 1899, but emigrated to New York with his family at the age of eight. Hirshhorn became a successful financier, who over the course of his life amassed a collection of almost 6,000 works of art, which he left to the people of the United States upon his death in 1981. Certainly, one of the things that makes this country so great is the generosity of its people, something one sees on both a small and grand scale regularly. While today the federal budget covers about 70% of the Smithsonian's budget, the rest of its activities are funded by private philanthropy.
Hirschhorn Museum. Roy Lichtenstein sculpture. I'm looking toward the sculpture garden. (Credit: K)
Joseph Hirschhorn (Source:
The following day I showed K one of my favorite places in the area: the C&O National Historic Park. She was impressed by the powerful falls and peaceful nature. What I love about visiting the Great Falls section of the park is the fact that it looks different every single time, depending on how much rain or snow or dry weather we've had. Because Maryland had a snowy winter, and because we'd had rain earlier in the week, the falls were quite impressive on this visit.
Just one of the many falls on Maryland side of Great Falls (Credit: K)
Then we drove down the George Washington Memorial Parkway (better known as GW Parkway), stopping at the Iwo Jima Memorial and Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia for the great views across the Potomac to DC and the colorful collection of blooming tulips.
Fantastic view of DC from the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia (Source: National Park Service)
K's view from a similar spot at the Netherlands Carillon
Continuing down the Parkway, we took a coffee break at Buzz in Alexandria. K loved the generous piece of apple crumble pie she ordered, and I later relished the gluten-free brownie I picked up. On the way back, we stopped at Gravelly Point Park for yet another view of DC from a different angle.  
With K on Virginia side of Potomac, Gravelly Point Park
Soon it was time for a late brunch at Chef Tony's in Bethesda (sadly, the brunch menu does not feature their fantastic no-filler crabcake), some quiet time for me and shopping for K. Later we once again ventured into DC, this time to quickly meet a friend of mine, cruise a part of Embassy Row - stopping to take photos at the Embassy of Latvia, naturally - and finally make our way to the Capitol. The photo below makes it look like we had the grounds to ourselves, but that was not the case - there were plenty of visitors milling around at 7pm on Sunday evening. We particularly enjoyed discovering the Summerhouse, a small brick structure that contains a fountain (which provided drinking water back in the day), a grotto and seating. The purpose of the Summerhouse, constructed in the late 1800s, was to provide visitors a place to rest and cool off. It continues to serve as a peaceful place for visitors to escape the hordes of tourists!
Evening view of the Capitol (Credit: K)

The Summerhouse (Source:
Before K had to head home the following day, she found time to explore a few exhibits at the National Museum of American History. She said that she particularly like seeing the Star-Spangled Banner and First Lady Michelle Obama's gown from the inauguration.

Thanks to K for sharing her wonderful photographs! I think she enjoyed her inaugural visit to Washington, D.C. as much as I liked showing her my adopted city.


  1. Next time I'm in DC you can play tour-guide for me, although it won't be my first visit. I haven't seen the MLK memorial, nor most of the places outside the mall... and I thought it was the Smithsonian Institute, not Institution :) It's always good to have a local along on a trip to a big city!

    1. Of course I'd be happy to show you around the next time you're in town! There is *so* much to see just in DC proper, not to mention in the area. Enough to see and experience for many visits! Heck, I've been living here for 15 yrs now, and there are still places I need to check out. :)


I love having visitors, so let me know you stopped by!