Crons in the Capital – Day 3

For our final day in DC, Bayley and I started off by heading over to Arlington National Cemetery. Taking the DC Metro on the weekend is a very different experience than I expected. There are a lot fewer people riding it, and as a result (I assume), fewer trains running, which was really only an issue when we left the cemetery, thankfully.

On arriving, we slowly headed up a main road towards JFK’s grave site, taking time to read some of the headstones along the way, including that of Marine Staff Sergeant William Windrich, awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Korean War. That link’s an amazing read and well worth the time.

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After visiting the grave sites of the Kennedy family, we headed towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After a bit of a hike, as the hills and heat were a bit tiring, we arrived to see that they were just finishing up a changing of the guard, and as the crowd filed out, we found spots almost dead center to watch the guard walk and pay our respects. As we stood there, with most of the crowd being silent and respectful, one of the most maddening things I’ve ever seen took place. In this picture, you’ll notice the guard is off the mat:

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He came off of the mat to rather loudly remind the crowd that a level of silence and respect needed to be maintained (example of how they handle it here). So why did he have to do that? Well, because someone to my right was on his cell phone. Even after the guard resumed his walk, this person continued talking on it, at which point someone working there came over and demanded he get off his phone. He didn’t, he just walked up the stairs and over to the far side of the building behind us. Amazing lack of respect shown there. Regardless, we stayed for a few minutes watching the guard’s precision movements across the mat before heading back down the hill on a different path to see more of the grounds.

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We headed back to the Metro station, only to realize that due to the limited service, we’d have to wait ~25 minutes for a train, which while annoying did give us some time to rest in the shade. Our next planned stop was the National Archives once the train did finally arrive.

After reaching the Archives stop, we decided to get some lunch. We found what looked like a cool little burger place in the area, Plan B Burger Bar, and headed in. The place was dead, but frankly the whole area was. They had plenty of staff on hand, and while the food was pretty good, the service was horrible. Our server, who for most of our visit only had our table, was MIA most of the time. She got another table shortly before we finished, so it ended up taking almost 20 minutes to just get the bill and pay it. All this while three other employees were up at the main entrance chatting with each other at the hostess stand, and other employees were just wandering around trying to look busy. As far as the food itself, I really did like my burger, having selected the bacon cheese burger, sans onions, on a pretzel roll:

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The fries were okay, but I wish I’d gone with the tots. Oh well, live and learn, although not sure I’d go back after the service issues. I understand stuff like that when restaurants are busy, but not when there are only two tables of people in the entire place.

Our lunch over, we headed over to the National Archives building, expecting some semblance of a crowd, but we were in luck! There was no line outside, and we got through security pretty quickly. We really only had one goal in coming here, and that was to see the documents contained within the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.  We had no wait to get in there either, although it was a bit crowded inside the rotunda itself. No biggie, we got to see and read all of the documents. No pictures of it, obviously, since photography and video aren’t allowed in there.

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After finishing up there, we headed back to the hotel to rest up and wait for Jen. Once she was done with her meetings, we hopped back on the Metro and headed for the White House, as we all wanted to walk around that area while we were in town.

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After making a full loop around to check out both sides of it, as well as take in the amazing architecture of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we headed up the road to Elephant and Castle for dinner. I wasn’t super hungry, so I just got the Jalapeno Mac & Cheese, sans jalapeno. Twas delicious, and the service was much better than what we experienced at lunch.

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That pretty much did it for us, as we were all tired from a busy week, and wanted to get some sleep before our long day driving to Baltimore for a ship inspection and driving home to Charlotte after that. It was nice to spend some time in DC and visit a few things we haven’t been to in a number of years!

Crons in the Capital – Day 2

The second day began with Bayley and I heading to a local Arlington “landmark”, the Apple store in Clarendon. The night before, there was a bit of a water related incident with her iPhone, with the device being terminal by the time we woke up. Fortunately she got AppleCare for it, and after she handed over a few bucks, they swapped it out for a new device and we were on our way.

Leaving Clarendon, we had one main goal for the day, to hit the National Zoo. By the time we made it over there, we were both pretty hungry, and decided to stop outside the park at a little Italian bistro just down the road, Lillies Restaurant and Bar. Ended up being a pretty solid choice. We were both pretty hungry, and started off with some garlic bread, which was pretty good. For the main course, I went with lasagna, which I really enjoyed. Good sauce, and the perfect amount of ricotta for my tastes. We’d definitely eat there again.

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Our bellies full, we headed in to the zoo. Again, it’s nice to have the option to visit something like this without an entrance fee, but we did donate $5 for the zoo map as we walked in.

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We didn’t plan to see everything, but Bayley did have a list of animals she definitely didn’t want to miss. One of those targets was the panda habitat. Most of the panda stuff was shut down, as one of the panda bears was getting close to delivering a newborn, which actually happened the day after we were at the zoo. All we managed to catch was a brief glimpse of one of them while over there, which I managed to capture in a shot I had to crop pretty tightly:

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Some of the other animal highlights included the tiger, who was out playing with a ball in his pond, which was pretty fun to watch, and the otters who were all out playing too, and were fun to watch as they showed off for the crowd.

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The only negative to the zoo trip was the terrain. Going in is fine, it’s all downhill all the way to the back of the zoo. The downside to that is you’re walking all the way back up to get out. It was a little humid, too, so we headed back to the hotel after that to rest a bit, clean up, and wait for Jen.

For dinner that night, we decided to head to Old Town Alexandria. On arrival, we walked from the metro station all the way down to the waterfront and see if anything along the way sounded good. When we got to the end, we ran across Virtue Feed and Grain, and after a quick scan of the menu, decided to give it a shot. Ended up being a good choice for the most part. They seated us at the high-tops near the bar area, which was a little too loud for our tastes, but we had a great server, and the food was excellent. We happened to be there during restaurant week, so I ate off that 3 course menu. After starting with the mac and cheese, which was outstanding (quite cheesy, and almost perfectly creamy). Being a meat and potatoes guy, I went with the NY strip steak for my entree, which was excellent, having been cooked to a perfect level of medium. For dessert, I had the icebox pie, which was just okay. For something with the word ‘icebox’ in the name, I expected it to be a lot colder than it actual was (it was almost room temperature).

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After dinner, we walked around a little more, even stopping for a couple of small cones at Pop’s Ice Cream before grabbing the King St trolley back to the metro station to catch a train back to our beds 🙂

Another fun day in the DC area in the books, with one more day on tap!

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Crons in the Capital – Day 1

As mentioned in an earlier post, we spent a few days in DC in late August so that Jen could attend some CruiseOne regional training on Friday and Saturday. We actually arrived on Thursday morning so Jen would have a little time to see the sights with us.

With our hotel in Arlington being right on the DC Metro orange line, we got the day started pretty quickly after arriving. This was easily the most packed day for us, since we wanted to be sure Jen got to see as much as she wanted to. She and Bayley had done some initial planning and had a list of things to see on day one, including the National Mall, a few museums, and Chinatown.

The Mall

We got off the metro at the Smithsonian stop and headed for the Washington Monument. It was a bit overcast out and a bit humid, but I don’t think it ever actually rained on us. We didn’t go up the monument, instead choosing to walk the mall towards the WWII memorial, and on to the Lincoln Memorial.

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We then headed over to the Vietnam Memorial to walk the wall and reflect. While it wasn’t super busy here, it was good to see everyone here being respectful, something I won’t be able to say when I get to Arlington National Cemetery in my ‘Day 3’ post.

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After which, it was pretty close to lunch, so we took a stroll a few blocks towards our next destinations, a couple of Smithsonian museums.

The Museums

We started with the Museum of Natural History, and had lunch in their cafeteria (nothing to write home about). After eating, we spent an hour or so walking different areas of the museum before heading over to the Museum of American History for a stroll. While I’m normally not much of a museum guy, it’s nice to have places like this to visit that don’t charge admission when you’re trying to not spend much on vacation.

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After our museum walks, we headed towards the archives with the hope that even thought it was late in the afternoon, we’d still be able to get in. No such luck, we’d just missed the cutoff time for the day. We decided at that point to head for Chinatown before dinner. We were all pretty tired, and it was a bit of a hike, but we made it over there with just enough energy for them to do some quick shopping in a little store in the area.

After a few minutes in Chinatown, we decided to head back to the hotel and clean up before finding somewhere to eat. While in the hotel, we scanned the list of local restaurants the front desk had given us, and came across one that sounded good by the name of Grand Cru Wine Bar & Bistro. Neither of us are wine people, but the menu sounded pretty good. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, as the Filet was pretty tasty, as was the Skull Splitter Scottish ale I had with it

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All in all a pretty successful day, and just the start of our trip. The next two days Bayley and I visited a few of the other touristy sites in the city, and had a blast!

Next up: Day 2!

 

 

Hotel Review – Holiday Inn Laurel West

Once again, life gets in the way and causes me to write this up a lot later than I wanted to, but hey, at least it’s finally done 🙂

While on our last minute trip to D.C. two weekends ago, we spent a night at the Holiday Inn Laurel West. We had to book the night before, so there really wasn’t much time to do research, other than reading a few reviews on some of the travel sites. One other factor limiting our options was the presence of our dog, but fortunately this hotel was pet friendly. Unfortunately, that was one of a very small number of positives of the stay.

Driving up as late as we did on Saturday, and stopping in the city for dinner before going to the hotel, we were both pretty tired when we arrived. After checking in, we grabbed our suitcase and the dog and headed up. The lobby itself was fine, but as soon as we got past the main desk, we could see that the hotel was definitely under renovation, as a number of reviews we found online mentioned (apparently this hotel is being converted to a Doubletree). No biggie at that point, it wasn’t busy when we got there, so the fact that only one elevator was operational wasn’t an issue. Arriving at the room, we realized they’d given us the wrong room type. Instead of a single bed, we had two doubles. Too tired to deal with it, we pretty much just changed, chose our beds, flipped on the TV for a while to relax before going to sleep. It wasn’t until Sunday that we really got a look at the hotel itself. Before I get to that, I’ll mention my other main positive of the stay, the mattresses. Both were Tempurpedic, or had Tempur toppers on them, and we found them very comfortable. We have a knock-off version at home that we love, so it was nice to not have to switch between memory foam and spring, even just for the night.

Here are my initial shots of our room, which had not undergone any renovation yet. Sorry about the blurry desk/TV shot, I was tired:

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The next morning, Bayley and her boyfriend were set to come meet us at the hotel just before 11am, so we had a chance to take the dog out for a walk and check out the hotel. The renovation is real, as we saw all of the old furnishings from some rooms stored on the back side of the hotel as shown below. I’d have liked to see an updated room, but we just had to deal with ours, which really looked dated compared to other Holiday Inns we’ve stayed at in the past. The inside of the hotel was more of the same. The hallways looked pretty run down, and as mentioned, only one elevator worked, so each time we went to use the elevator Sunday morning, we had to wait. One time we just gave up after watching two full elevators arrive, and took the stairs down. I never did get interior shots, other than the renovation sign, so here’s what I got outside:

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I can’t say how the cafe in the lobby or the steakhouse attached to the hotel were, as we didn’t use either, since both of our meals in D.C. were at the previously reviewed Scion Restaurant in DuPont Circle, but apparently the steakhouse, which is currently an All American Steakhouse and Sports Theater, used to be an Outback based on the signage in the hotel. No biggie, as I said, we didn’t eat at either place. We did notice that the breakfast buffet here, like other Holiday Inns we’ve stayed at, isn’t free. Not a huge deal to us since neither of us are really breakfast eaters, but with all of the work going on, maybe make that free during renovations as a way to thank guests for choosing to stay.

I can’t really say anything else about the place, other than we likely wouldn’t stay again while it’s undergoing renovations. We’ve been pretty happy with other Holiday Inns we’ve stayed at in the past, so this one was a bit disappointing. Overall thoughts:

Pros:

  • Comfortable Tempurpedic mattresses (or topper), at least to us
  • Clean room
  • Staff was friendly
  • dog friendly hotel
  • Stable (but slightly slow) internet access

Cons:

  • Obviously dated, both inside and out, but undergoing renovations
  • Only one working elevator, makes it hard to get in/out of the hotel during busy times like check-out
  • Paper thin walls, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. Not long after we got there, some family that apparently had rooms on either side of the floor started running down the halls and talking loudly. Not quite sure why they felt why that was warranted at 11pm, but after a few minutes or so, it subsided.
  • Very few available outlets in the room (and none on the nightstand), and the ones that were available had loose plugs, making it hard to keep devices connected. Normally I carry two of my favorite little Belkin accessories with me to counter this, but being so short notice, I forgot to grab them.
  • No fridge or microwave.
  • The security/privacy lock on the door didn’t work. In fact the cutout in the metal plate (receiving side) wasn’t even close to lining up with the latch.

I think that about covers it. It served the purpose of a quick overnight stay, but if we’re able to make it back up for a longer trip near the end of summer, we’ll be looking elsewhere. Anomalies happen within any brand, and overall it doesn’t sour us against staying at other IHG properties in the future.

Good Eats in DC – Scion Restaurant

Last weekend we made a completely unscheduled overnight trip up to DC. Bayley’s two weeks working at Woodward had come to an end, and both of her options for a ride home fell through, so early Saturday afternoon we hopped in the car and headed up to DC to get her. We decided to take our dog Indy with us, so before leaving Jen did a quick search to see if she could find a restaurant in the area that was dog-friendly (the search was literally “dog friendly restaurants in Washington DC“). The first hit in the results took her to BringFido, which led her to Scion Restaurant in the Dupont Circle area. It wasn’t all that close to our hotel, but we liked what we saw on the menu and decided to stop there for dinner as soon as we got to the city, so on the way up I used OpenTable to make a reservation for 7:45pm, noting that we had a dog with us.

When we arrived, parking was a bit of a hassle, but after hunting a bit we finally located a space on the street a few blocks away and walked over to the restaurant. When we got there, I stayed outside with Indy while Jen went to check in. While they had our reservation, the note that I put in OpenTable about having a dog with us apparently didn’t get transmitted to them, and as a result they weren’t quite ready to seat anyone with a dog since the end sections of the patio where they allow dogs weren’t set up. No matter, with a very friendly attitude they jumped right on it and set up the corner that had an awning over it and seated us quickly. Definitely a good start to the evening!

After being seated, we ordered our food and drinks. I decided to try something on draft, and chose the Sun King Wee Mac Scottish-style ale. I’m not a huge beer guy, so I don’t often call out what I drink, but this was one of the best beers I’ve had in quite a while. For my dinner, I ordered the Scion burger (sans onions and pickles) and Jen got the LBJ Mac and Cheese. I should also mention that when they brought our water out, they brought a plastic bowl full of water out for Indy, too, and kept it refilled while we were there. Nice touch!

While waiting on our food, it started raining pretty good, so we ended up switching tables in that same little corner area to avoid water runoff. I think due to water running in on the ground, Indy got a little wet (but not a big deal), but we stayed dry the whole time, even with the downpour it turned in to. Once the food arrived, we dug in. My burger was excellent, as were the garlic fries, which were some of the best garlic fries I’ve had. Jen’s mac and cheese was really good too, although she realized something we already knew from past experiences, that she’s not really a fan of lobster meat. Oops 🙂

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Overall we really liked everything we had, and the service was outstanding the entire time. Our experience that night led us to come back for brunch the next day with Bayley and her boyfriend. Thankfully it wasn’t raining this time, but the food and service were just as good. It was noticeably busier, but they had space for us in the opposite corner of the patio, so even at noon, we were seated right away. While I was tempted to get the Scion burger again, I ended up going with the cinnamon vanilla french toast. In a word: wow. It was absolutely delicious, and one of the only times that I’ve eaten french toast without any syrup. The vanilla drizzle was more than enough to top it, and I enjoyed every bite. Jen got the New Orleans Benedict (See the above ‘brunch’ link for a description), and while she enjoyed most of it, she wasn’t a big fan of the Cajun Hollandaise sauce that was on it. Bayley went with a side of mac and cheese and breakfast potatoes, both of which were delicious, and her boyfriend had the Scion burger.

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As mentioned throughout this post, both meals were absolutely delicious, and the service was outstanding. The Dupont Circle neighborhood that the restaurant is in is pretty cool, even if it was a pain to find parking (all parking garages we found were closed both times). We wish we could have spent more time in the area, but being on a compressed schedule that had us arriving in DC around 8pm Saturday and leaving right after brunch on Sunday, we simply didn’t have any time. Hopefully we’ll get some time to drive back up late in the summer before Bayley goes back to college. If we do, we’ll definitely be stopping at Scion again!

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