Monday, April 25, 2005

Capitol ideas, day one

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Scranton, despite being nestled in the Pennsylvania hills, is well-positioned for day trips to some of the biggest cities in the northeast. Over the past few months I've been happily re-exploring my region with Gail, my peripatetic paramour. Last weekend we turned south to enjoy the spring weather in Washington, D.C. for a few days.

Washington would have been a short flight, under two hours, but the Baltimore/Washington airspace is still somewhat restricted; all flights must be filed ahead of time and flown precisely as filed. The penalties for deviation range from the severe (loss of flying privileges) to the extreme (interception!), considerations which take some of the lighthearted fun out of private aviation. Besides, the old problem of transportation; there are no longer any easy-access general aviation airports near the capitol.

A far easier matter to drive, less than 3-1/2 hours to New Carrollton, Maryland where there was a reasonably-priced Ramada and a MetroRail stop. Washington has one of the nicest subway/rail systems in the country, so we were able to leave the car and zip into town, cheaply and in about 20 minutes. (What we didn't find out until the next day is that for only $6.50, we could have purchased unlimited-travel weekend passes! Oh well, that's what I get for not reading the machine carefully.)

Thus delivered via Metro to the downtown area, we emerged soon after lunchtime Saturday from the L'Enfant Plaza station - named, no doubt, after some French toddler who was somehow a key figure in the American Revolution. (Research is not my long suit.) We made our way to the main building of the Smithsonian Institution, the castle, and spent some time exploring the beautiful flower gardens in the cool sunshine.

Looking over the plentiful signage outside, we decided to make our first visit to the Museum of Heritage and Culture; to indulge our avid interest in things cultural, and because Kermit the Frog is there. He was, as promised, along with many other fascinating exhibits - such as Julia Child's kitchen, transplanted from her New England home. Admission is free, by the way, to all of the Smithsonian museums; and they are among the best anywhere in the nation.

After the museums closed, we spent some time walking up and down the huge National Mall, taking pictures and watching the sun set. At the new World War II Memorial, a school band played patriotic music, and we explored the area in photos. The new monument is smaller than I imagined, at least on the scale of the other landmarks on the Mall, and somewhat fragmented - it feels like they tried to put in a lot of ideas and detail about the great conflict, an impossible task. But it works well, very approachable on a human scale; and the complexity of it reflects the many facets of American involvement in the war - one which still shapes this nation's view of the itself and the world, sixty years later.

As the sun set, we realized that we had wandered a long way from the commercial sections of town, so we hailed a cab and asked to go to Chinatown. The driver left us in front of a chophouse which looked okay, but we walked two blocks farther and I spotted a sign: "La Tasca", a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. Tapas! Gail's favorite way to eat, and we had missed out on tapas and sangria when I was in Vancouver. We made a beeline for the door, right across 7th Street. We ordered two sangrias while we waited for the table, which was ready almost immediately; the dishes were all fabulous, and the restaurant has a great atmosphere and decor. A keeper.