death by paper cut

{August 8, 2011}   Washington, DC

of the three-week trip to new york in june, three days were spent in washington dc. d.cai took a friday off work so that we could do a long weekend there. we initially thought of signing up with one of those cheap chinatown tours that frequently organise group tours from new york to dc, take tours was one such option, but decided to take the road less traveled and go it our own independently and adventurously. this way we get full control of our itinerary and not have to put up with other travelers.

three things made this possible. bolt bus, airbnd and google maps on d.cai’s iphone.

bolt bus is cheap and convenient. the comfortable bus ride takes four hours from manhattan to dc and cost us only $21 there and $19 back. the price of the ticket depends on when the booking is made. the first bolt bus ride always begin at $1 and gradually increase in price as the seats fill up. so the sooner you get your ticket from the date of release, the cheaper the ticket is. the bus also offers free wifi, however the signal is weak and intermittent. but for that price and comfort of the coach, i’m not complaining.

airbnb is an online platform that allows for locals in a city to let out their rooms or beds to travelers. depending on location and type of accommodation, the price ranges from $60 to $100 plus a night. this is still much cheaper than staying in hotels of cities like new york and dc. from what we browsed on airbnb, the accommodations are often as comfortable and as plush as hotels. many of the hosts even provide fresh towels and rooms with attached toilets. trust is definitely necessary here, especially on the part of the host, because it means to give a spare set of keys to strangers. we decided on s. marriotts offer because it looked great, seems rather near the national mall of dc, available and on the cheaper side. for the uninitiated, the national mall is not a shopping centre; it is the cluster of smithsonian museums and national monuments on a huge rectangular piece of land.

because works 5 mins away from union station where the bolt bus dropped us off, she came to meet us to pass us her house keys and gave some general directions to her place. her place is as lovely and plush as a showroom. it is exactly as described on airbnb. her cat with long luxurious orange fur spied us suspiciously when we first arrived and was soon curious to check us out.

Airbnb Accommodation 7 Airbnb Accommodation 8

Airbnb Accommodation 5

Airbnb Accommodation 1 Airbnb Accommodation 2

Airbnb Accommodation 3

the moment we saw the bed and attached toilet, we knew we made the right choice not to sign up with the group tours.

the final thing that made our dc trip possible was google maps on d.cai’s iphone. because i wasn’t using my data plan overseas, the both of us had to rely on one iphone. we used google maps for everything. it was most crucial for finding directions especially since we had to travel independently on public transport.

s. marriott’s place is not far from the main attractions, but it still is a 10 minute bus journey away. google maps informed us what bus to take, what time it arrives, where to stop and how far to walk. soon we got rather familiar with our surroundings. we were usually the only non-blacks in the bus.

having only canberra as a western capital of a large white country to compare to, dc is nothing like it. we noticed that an overwhelming proportion of the residents are black and they don’t seem to have much to do with the tourism industry nor the bureaucratic agencies in dc. it was as if the whole of dc was harlem and part of it was swept away to built the national mall serviced by white people. that divide was pretty palpable. white people do not take public transport and black people stay clear of the touristy part of town as if they have no business being there. the part of dc that d.cai and i stayed in was a pretty gritty neighbourhood, so that was an eye opener. even so, this report says that the black community in dc is on the decline.

d.cai made advance arrangements for us to visit the white house. the visit is free, and all you need to do is to register your interest in visiting the white house with your respective embassy in dc. subject to a background check (of course) and demand for the tour, the embassy will get back to you about your request. so with our assigned time of 10.30am, we waited at the visitor’s entrance of the white house.

there are some photos of the white house at the start and end of the brief walk around the accessible parts of the white house; no photographs of anything in between. (of course)

The White House 12 The White House 11

The White House 15

the crowd of people beyond the fence are all those who did not get to visit the white house and can only gawk from between the rails. yes, we are quite smug that we were on the more exclusive side of the fence.

The White House 13

did you know that eisenhower’s grandson did this?

The White House 10

the visit to the u.s. capitol was very informative. i got to know a lot more about how the u.s. senate and house of representative works. the visit is free as well, but booking a timed slot for the guided tour in advance does save time queuing for the next available slot. thanks to d.cai who also made the arrangements for us.

U.S. Capitol 3

the visitor centre arrival hall is actually underground, also called the emancipation hall.

U.S. Capitol 9 - Emancipation Hall U.S. Capitol 10 - Emancipation Hall

this picture was taken near closing at 5pm so it looks deserted. the capitol visitor centre is actually packed with people all day, especially during summer.

the dome of capitol hill is the most picturesque part of the building. in the eye of the rotunda is ‘the apsotheosis of washington’ painted in fresco technique in 1865. click here for more info and close ups.

U.S. Capitol 38 - Rotunda Canopy 2

the lower walls of the rotunda displays eight historical paintings; four of which are revolutionary periods and the other four are scenes of early exploration, of which the ‘baptism of pocahontas’ by john chapman is one.

until that day, i thought that pocahontas was a disney creation.

the accompanying write up reads, “the colony at jamestown, virginia, was the first permanent english settlement on the north american continent. through the friendship of pocahontas, daughter of the powerful chieftain powhantan, the colonists were able to establish peace with the indians. she befriended the settlers and helped them in their struggle to adapt to the land and climate in which they found themselves.

this painting depicts pocahontas kneeling to receive the scared rite of baptism. members of her family are shown looking on with both curiosity and mixed feelings. john rolfe, whom pocohontas later married, stands behind her.’

U.S. Capitol 29 - Rotunda History on Walls

i’m not going to take this story of pocahontas at face value. there are competing accounts of what happened including her kidnap for ransom in exchange of settlers captured by her father, her year long captivity and even her rape. whatever the case, i think there is more tragedy than romance than meets the eye. after all, colonists are colonists.

besides museums, dc is full of national monuments. visiting them in the monuments tour with dc by foot provided us with a good historical context at a pace just right for us. we began at the washington monument at 7pm and ended at night fall at the lincoln memorial at 9pm. they are the same guys that organise the free new york walking tours i attended.

washington monument

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 3 - Washington Monument DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 2 - Washington Monument

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 5 - Washington Monument

capitol hill as seen from the washington monument

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 8 - U.S. Capitol

world war two memorial, the most massive monument in dc

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 10 - National WWII Memorial DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 11 - National WWII Memorial

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 16 - National WWII Memorial

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 13 - National WWII Memorial

freedom wall. each gold star represents a hundred fallen soldiers. there are 4048 gold stars in all.

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 17 - National WWII Memorial

constitution gardens lake

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 21 - Constitution Gardens Lake

vietnam war nurses memorial

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 22 - Vietnam War Nurses Memorial

the vietnam veterans memorial wall

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 23 - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

names of the fallen are inscribed onto the black wall that is supposed to represent a wound cut from the earth.

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 26 - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 24 - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

the lincoln memorial…

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 32 - Lincoln Memorial

that is totally overun by buses of school children like an amusement park

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 28 - Lincoln Memorial

DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 29 - Lincoln Memorial DC by Foot Monuments Walking Tour 31 - Lincoln Memorial

the korean war veterans memorial was an extended stop of the monument tour. however it got too dark to take photos without flash so i didn’t. i found it to be the most chilling and effective memorial in capturing the frightful tension of the soldiers. this memorial didn’t seem to concern itself about the outcome of war as it did about how the war affected the individual soldier. instead of conventionally representing the soldier as stoic and unemotionally chiseled, this memorial depicted the soldier as himself; uncertain, isolated and weary. and rightly so.

in the three days we were in dc, we also managed to check out the national history museum, the museum of american indians, the air and space museum briefly, the holocaust memorial museum and newseum.

newseum is the least well known, perhaps because it is not free, but also the most interesting because it is more contemporary than historically based compared to all the other museums. newseum is about how news is gathered and presented to the public and the role journalism plays in shaping history and politics.

it so happens that capital pride was organised at the main stretch of road outside newseum when we visited. it was perfect for us because we got to get something to eat after we were done at newseum. besides the promotion of gay issues, there were also the advocacy of other left wing causes and pure commercial advertising such as tv programmes and a range of products. we had an enema in our goody bag.

it was really colourful to say the least.

Capital Pride 8

Capital Pride 25 Capital Pride 10

Capital Pride 27 Capital Pride 11

Capital Pride 23

the lesser known side of dc is its food. through a recommendation that d.cai had, we visited founding farmers. what we had in that one indulgent meal in dc can rival all i had in new york combined. it is that good. the wait in the line was long, but that is also because of extenuating circumstances in addition to the usual sunday brunch crowd. to placate hungry customers in the line however, we were handed free nibbles.

one of which was the banana fluffer nutter

Founding Farmers 11

it was a sign of greater things to come.

Founding Farmers 2 Founding Farmers 3 Founding Farmers 4

upon being seating, we were offered more freebies as a way of apologising for the long wait.
more banana fluffer nutter and b baby’s beignets

Founding Farmers 12

the beigets were freshly made so it was piping hot, fluffy inside and crispy on the outside. d.cai and i finally settled on sharing the founding farmers breakfast and stuffed french toast with fresh strawberries.

the founding farmers breakfast came with the standard bacon, eggs and bread with the addition of rosti. it was pretty good especially the bacon that was thick cut and glazed with black pepper maple.

Founding Farmers 14

what took the cake was the stuffed french toast. it is nothing at all like the usual french toast what i am familiar with; coated with egg and pan fried.

Founding Farmers 16

Founding Farmers 17

the texture of the french toast is hard to pin down. it is not really bread, neither is it cake-like. it is dense, spongy and evenly fried on all four sizes. upon bitting the middle of the stuffed french toast, sweet and warm vanilla pastry cream oozed out in its molten state. d.cai and i were in food heaven.

another lesser known food gem in dc are the fresh oysters at the seafood market. i’m not sure if the seafood market has a collective name, however, captain white seafood city seems to be largest sign board there because it is one of the larger operators at this waterfront seafood market.

Captain White Seafood City 13 Captain White Seafood City 9 Captain White Seafood City 8

Captain White Seafood City 7

Captain White Seafood City 11

we chose our fresh oysters from this stall after a quick survey and at an even quicker rate chomped the cold fresh oysters after sprinkling it with some lemon.

see ’em glisten

Captain White Seafood City 15

for a three day two night trip totally planned on our own, i think d.cai and i did very very well for two girls with a terrible sense of direction but a gut full of adventurous independence. we had no one to drive us around, we walked long distances guided just by gps under the scorching summer heat and took so many buses that we met the same bus driver twice on two different routes. it was quite awesome.


debbie says:

your writeup kicks ass, woman. that was some trip huh, it was such a blessing doing it with you =)

steelwool says:

thanks debbie! pls share with your dc bound friends.

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