Sunday, 10 June 2012

DC & New York: I


Much of winter, 2012, is a blur. I think I was mostly just exhausted, getting through work and ante-natal appointments just to come home and rest in bed. My energy slowly returned tho, and by early spring I was almost back to myself—just in time for our trip to America!

David was giving a paper at the Renaissance Society of America conference, which this year was held in Washington, DC. I decided to join him, as I figured it was my last chance for a vacation away before August, especially as plans to travel in late June or July would be severely hampered by the trouble of trying to get a flight to take a heavily pregnant woman. I had only thought of taking a week to do his conference and see DC, but David proposed that we instead go for 10 days and split our time between DC and New York. It was an opportunity too good to be practical over!

It was a fantastic trip. Because we live far from home, it’s been very difficult for us to get vacation time for just the two of us. Usually one or both of us is flying home to see family, or else we take time off to tour family and friends around where we’re living. All of that is great fun, but it was really nice to have time together. David’s laptop broke as we were heading for our outbound flight, which meant that he was actually forced to take a proper vacation after his conference instead of his usual working until 3am.

I was really nervous about going to DC. It’s a very expensive city and we don’t have a lot of spare money, which meant that we had to stay in an inexpensive hotel near the border of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ area. I was also worried about how safe I’d be getting around town on my own. Thankfully, with some general precautions and street smarts we ended up having a safe and fun time. Google Maps was a great help for ensuring that the hotel was in a safe-looking location (ie: not a rundown neighbourhood, but right off of a busy highway), the money we saved on our stay meant that we could take taxis to town center and back and thus didn’t have to walk around DC in the dark, and I stuck to well-populated tourist locations (obviously, as I was touristing!) and used a tiny travel wallet which could be hidden on my person if necessary.

My first day in DC was one of the highlights of this vacation. Once I’d safely left David at his conference I had the whole day to myself. The weather was summer-warm, I was armed with several maps, and I had a new city to explore. I started off at Ford’sTheater, where Abraham Lincoln was shot. Being Canadian I have only a general impression of American history, so it was really neat to move through the historical site (the tour package includes a museum across the street in the boarding house where President Lincoln died). I certainly gained a new respect for President Lincoln and America’s history from the tour.

Balcony where Lincoln was shot (in case you couldn't figure that out from the flag overdose)
Ford's Theater
My next step was to navigate the metro system to Foggy Bottom, home of the White House and the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters. It’s also home to the Breadline, a rather posh sandwich place where I stopped for lunch. I unfortunately couldn’t go on a tour of the White House, but I was able to spy it through the high gates. It is so beautiful—just gleaming white in a sea of well-kept green lawn. Sad to say it makes Buckingham Palace look really ugly. From there I continued on to the DAR Headquarters, which happens to be the home of an American folk museum and various period rooms. Given various hints of the DAR’s history of racism, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bother visiting them, but in the end I was glad that I went. The period rooms were really cool—each state donated (ie furnished) a room for a certain function and time period in the style that would have been prominent in the state at that time (meaning there was a Californian whaling captain’s drawing room, among other things). It meant getting to see a lot of folk art in situ, and then getting to enjoy more folk art up close in the actual museum. I was a very happy camper.


Colonial Kitchen
The DAR Museum took longer than I thought, which turned out to be a happy accident as I had to rearrange my schedule. I ended up making the US Supreme Court my next stop. It’s across the street from the Capitol, so it’s in the gleaming white building part of town. As luck would have it, I arrived at the Supreme Court just in time for a lecture in the courtroom! It was really cool to be able to sit in the Supreme Courtroom, especially since no cameras of any kind are allowed in there, and listen to a talk on the building’s history and the workings of the court. This is the sort of happy accident that makes traveling quite fun.


I was getting pretty tired by the time I left the courthouse. I had overestimated the amount of walking that my pregnant body could handle, and by this point I’d been walking/on my feet for about 6hrs. So I scoped out the neighbourhood where I was to meet David and then I took off for the National Archives, as it meant I could sit on the metro for a little bit. That trip sort of took me beyond my limits, although I’m glad I went there. There was a lot of standing in long, slow-moving lines (not the best for sore feet and hips). I did manage to meet one of those lovely nice Americans who is perfectly willing to have a jolly conversation whilst waiting in line, so that made the time pass quickly. And getting to see the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights was pretty cool even if I felt like an 80 year old woman by the time I was done. I ended up sitting on a bench with all the elderly people, sipping water and trying to gear myself up for the trip back to David!



When I picked up David from his lecture at Folger’s Shakespeare Library we headed back towards the town center to find some classic American BBQ for dinner. We ended up at a chain called Ruby Tuesday where we were served by the world’s nicest waiter. David was exhausted from a long day of lectures + jetlag, although a meal of ribs & fixin’s soon put some life back into him. I felt a little guilty that my poor husband had spent a day in meeting rooms whilst I’d been out in the hot sun and fresh air, seeing all the neat tourist sites and not having a care in the world. It’s one of the perks of being an academic’s wife.

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