From the hour I landed in D.C. until I had to leave, I had 74 hours of my D.C. trip. That’s really not much time considering there were large blocks of time reserved for the reason I made the trip. My cousin Andrew - on my dad’s side - was ordained as a Catholic priest on June 17. Almost all my cousins, aunts, and uncles on that side of my family as well as my parents and sister traveled to DC to watch and celebrate his ordination as well as celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday. With the different celebrations and events I had to attend and the need to sleep, there really weren’t enough hours for me to see everything. However, I made it work with the help of my awesome parents who called all the Ubers for us and were very flexible with trying to do all the things.
These are the highlights of places we went to and what we saw:
National Portrait Gallery
This was the first museum my mom, Emily (sister), and I went to in D.C. We had about two hours in the museum before they closed, and it was not enough time (you’ll be reading this statement a lot in this blog post). The first floor holds photographed portraits from people throughout history. There were soldiers and people in politics, but there were also portraits of writers, educators, and artists. There are portraits of Americans, but also those from other countries, like the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng from Bangkok. While I was walking down one of the hallways, I saw two people walk out of a door that shut behind them. I thought I saw a sculpture in the room, so I thought the room was part of the exhibit. I made my way to open the door when a museum worker stopped me. Apparently, only rooms with doors open are part of the exhibit. Great way to start my D.C. trip: almost getting kicked out of a Smithsonian Museum. My mom, Emily, and I tried to stick together, but that ended rather quickly. I made my way through the first floor, and I quickly made my way to the second after seeing a museum map that showed the Presidential Portrait Gallery to be on the second floor. I first saw other portraits, but also paintings from the Romanticism period, as well as landscapes. I fell in love with these landscapes of Yellowstone that each took up a whole wall. Then the Presidential Portrait Gallery was found. Each president’s portrait is hung there. Unfortunately, Obama’s wasn’t finished yet, so two photographs took its place.
After visiting the National Portrait Gallery, my mom, Emily, and I met up with one of Emily’s friends from high school, Josh, for dinner. He suggested we eat at Matchbox which isn’t too far from the National Portrait Gallery. While I was on my flight to D.C., the guy sitting next to me said Matchbox is rated to have some of the best pizza in D.C. Knowing this, I was really excited to eat there for dinner. For dinner, we ordered a chicken pesto pizza for the table - which was eaten primarily by Emily and me. Josh had Ahi Tuna salad, my mom had the Capitol Hill Club, Emily had a half-size simple salad, and I had a half-size apple + pear salad. The food was all really good, and it definitely lives up to the hype and ratings.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
This is where Andrew was ordained as a Catholic Priest! The entire family congregated in the basilica where we sat for the two hour long ceremony. I’m not Catholic, so I didn’t understand a lot of the rituals, like the constant kneeling or why they threw incense around like confetti. Even if you’re not Catholic or there for a special occasion, it’s a gorgeous place to see! The artwork along the walls and ceilings is extravagant and decadent. There are also catacombs underneath that are interesting to walk through.
Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle
This is where Andrew held his first mass after being ordained. It was truly a special moment for him and the family. He present our grandmother with communion and gave an anniversary blessing to his parents who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary that same day. The cathedral was just as ornate as the Basilica, just a bit smaller. There’s a massive organ going up one wall, then separate sections to the side of the main sanctuary. I’m not familiar with Catholicism at all, but I assume each room has a special purpose. There is a statue to the side honoring Pope Francis because he was IN THAT CATHEDRAL. Oh ya, pre-ordained Andrew assisted the Pope during a mass while he was in D.C. last year. This Cathedral is also where John F. Kennedy’s funeral was held, according to the writing on the floor. Even if you aren’t catholic or religious, you have to appreciate the decorated beauty of the place and the history.
This is a little gelato and coffee shop that is throughout D.C with different locations. My dad and I stopped there for breakfast before going on our morning adventure. They don’t have breakfast tacos like most of the coffee shops do in Austin, but they did have croissants; I had one of those and a cup of black coffee. Dolcezza brews Stumptown, so I felt that I had to drink it black. Stumptown is a roaster that makes their beans really flavorful. The interior was very polished and urban with a little French influence. I could definitely see myself hunkering down at one of the booths working on a project while drinking my black Stumptown.
On Sunday morning, my dad and I had four hours to see as much as possible along the National Mall before we had to meet the rest of the family for a party. We started at the end of the Mall with Lincoln Memorial. I haven’t seen the memorial since my first visit to D.C. almost eight years ago. Before seeing the Lincoln Memorial, we first passed by four golden pegasuses that sit by the Memorial Bridge and Rock Creek Potomac Parkway. The two by the Memorial Bridge at the Arts of War: Valor and Sacrifice. Those by Rock Creek Potomac Parkway depict the Arts of Peace: Music and Harvest, Aspiration and Literature. The Lincoln Memorial is everything that you’ve seen in movies, in photos, and on TV. There’s just something different about seeing it in person and knowing what it represents. I love people watching, so it was so much fun seeing so many people take photos in front of the monument. I kept watching this one family with a little girl probably around two or three years old. They were quite adorable to watch!
World War II Memorial
The next memorial on our walk was the World War II Memorial. This one is incredible with fountains in the center as well as on the two far sides that represent the Atlantic and Pacific - the two main fronts. There were also pillars surrounding it with all the states and countries that were involved in the war. I found Texas, by the way! I loved watching all the different people reading the quotes on the walls and the kids playing in the water. I had never seen photos or any imagery depicting this monument, so I was in awe struck.
We didn’t walk to the top of it, but I feel like it’s pretty obvious what the Washington Monument is. An interesting fact about it: it’s the tallest structure in D.C. No architect is allowed to build anything in D.C. to be higher than the Washington Monument. This is because when the Senators or Representatives look out of their buildings, they are to be able to see the Monument and are reminded why they are there.
National Museum of American History
By the time we got to the Smithsonian Museums along the National Mall, it was around 10:00. We had around two hours to spend looking at these museums. There definitely wasn’t enough time. The first one we popped into was the American History Museum. Looking at the map, I decided to go to the bottom because it looked like there would be more exhibits there that both my dad and I would enjoy. We saw an exhibition on inventions, and then I wandered into an exhibition on industry and the Industrial Revolution. As I was reading about some men who did some huge things in history, I realized the typeface used in the exhibit looked very familiar. That’s when I realized the Smithsonian used the Helvetica family. As a graphic designer, this made me really happy knowing I could recognize a typeface. After looking through that exhibit rather quickly, I went across the hall to the Food exhibit. I thought this was really interesting because it showed how our concept of food has changed throughout time. For instance, after World War II, the concept of a backyard grilling and barbecue developed. It was to trace back to a simpler and more easy going way of eating. Lastly, I took a quick look at the Pirate exhibit. I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in this one. Actually, really, I could have spent all two hours in that one museum, but I had a huge list of what I wanted to see.
National Museum of Natural History
I was really looking forward to seeing this museum. I loved it the last time I was in D.C. and I wanted to see if anything had changed. Walking into the museum, you’ll first see a giant elephant, and to the left is the mammal exhibit which is where we started. Some of the exhibits stayed the same like display cases for the different zones where animals can exist: sahara, arctic, underwater, grasslands, etc. There was a really awesome new exhibit on climate change where a huge orb was manufactured with a screen to show weather patterns in a global view. They also have an exhibit on evolution and genetics. I didn’t stay long in that exhibit because I wanted to see some of the geology exhibit and see the Hope Diamond. The Hope Diamond is not the same thing as the one in Titanic that is thrown overboard. That is a movie. The real Hope Diamond is famous because of its blue color and size. Being passed through many owners since it was cut, the Hope Diamond eventually landed with the Smithsonian in 1958. It was said to be cursed, but the rumor was likely spread to increase its appeal and sale value. There, of course, was not nearly enough time to see even a fraction of the museum. My conclusion is that you can spend an entire day in just one museum, and even then you might not get to see everything.
Folger Shakespeare Library
My dad and I crossed the rest of the National Mall in order to get to the other side of the Capitol building where the Shakespeare Library is located. I was a little broken hearted to realize half of the building was closed because we went on on Sunday, but we did get to see some things. There is currently an exhibit of paintings done by artists whom were inspired by Shakespeare. These paintings ranged in styles, time periods, and depiction. I saw portraits of Shakespeare and imagery from his plays. A bust of Shakespeare was set up on a pedestal and I got to take a photo with the bard. The other open room was to the theater. The Shakespeare Library houses a small theater resembling the Globe in London. It is there that lectures and discussions are given as well as shows from Shakespeare’s original plays. I’m sure the rest of the building is just as lovely. The reading room and part of the library was closed. I wish we were able to go back!
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress visit was on the morning of our last day. Once again, we did not spend enough time there. At the base of the library, there is a fountain with poseidon and sea nymphs with conch shells and riding horses. It’s a beautiful work of art, and I was disappointed that they turned off the fountain for restoration purposes. I can only imagine how majestic it looks with water coming out! The architecture and art of the Library is magnificent. There are paintings of people and scenes all over the walls and ceilings. There are words written in Latin on the walls and floors. On the floor of the main entrance are the twelve zodiac symbols with a sun in the center. Within the Library of Congress are various reading rooms that aren’t open to the general public, but walking up to a balcony, you can overlook into the main research and reading room. There are also multiple exhibits held within the rooms. Some current ones include the Gutenberg Bible on display as well as Thomas Jefferson’s massive library. A few new exhibits I had a chance to look through was one about propaganda art during World War II and courtroom sketches. I loved seeing the art style from both exhibits.
The final adventure my family went on for our D.C. trip was to walk around Georgetown. We only had about an hour to an hour and a half left, but my mom was more than happy to call and Uber to take us down there. We first went to the acclaimed Georgetown Cupcake. We were greeted with, what seemed like, hundreds of cupcakes on display. Georgetown has a vast menu of different flavors. I decided on the coffee cookie dough cupcake while my sister chose the unicorn cupcake. This didn’t surprise me because my sister is a unicorn. We sat down, and each tried our cupcakes. Personally, I liked mine, but I wasn’t blown away by it. I feel that I’ve had better cupcakes from some of the bake shops in Austin. We had some time before we needed to pick up our luggage from the hotel, so we walked around Georgetown. Georgetown is a very wealthy area, and it shows with the type of stores that lined the main street. For instance, we found a Moleskine store - one of the few dozen that are sprinkled around the States. My mom, Emily, and I purchased some Moleskine notebooks that aren’t easily found on Amazon or in stores like Barnes and Noble.
After our Georgetown excursion, the four of us went back to the hotel so we could pick up our bags and head to the airport to catch our flights. It was such a fun trip, but too short. I can’t wait until I can have a chance to go back and spend more time exploring D.C. Maybe next time will be during cherry blossom season - one of my ultimate trip goals!