We made it to the metro in record time—only two and a half hours from Reading, with two coffee-induced rest stops along the way. We stopped first a the Greenbelt station, as it was the closest to 95 and on the right metro line; we continued on our way to New Carrollton after finding the seven ‘designated overnight’ spots filled; the parking lot attendant agreed with our decision to move on, so move on we did, even though this necessitated a running-through-the-station-with-a-suitcase transfer at L’Enfant Plaza. After finally arriving at the Chinatown stop, we ascended the escalator into the sunlight and…rain. Rain? Rain. It was pouring. No, the word ‘pouring’ would imply rain falling down. This was blowing sideways. We trudged through this wind and rain, two and a half long blocks to the hotel, which we would not even have found if not for the (blessed) rain; you see, the hotel was covered in plastic.
The Renaissance Marriott DC was cloaked in black plastic. I suppose we got a really good deal on a four star hotel, but what we stayed in was a two star hotel at best. So many things were wrong with this hotel, and I could have overlooked all but one. First, when we arrived, the key card machine was ‘down’. We had to be escorted to our room by a very nice man, and though he was very nice, the idea of leaving again–which was our plan–with no idea how to get back into the room without a key was a bit unsettling. Fortunately, as we exited the lobby on the way to lunch we were informed that the machine was back up, and were handed keys. It was too bad this was after we checked into our 15th floor room ‘with city views’–according to the receptionist–that actually looked out on hundreds of other windows that all overlooked the roof of the lobby. We could not open the curtains the entire time we were there, lest every single other person staying at the hotel see our every move; my husband checked, and no one else opened their curtains, either. This gave the room the feel of the inside cabin on a ship. It was not pleasant. But I didn’t even get to the most unpleasant thing, nor did I talk about how my husband ordered me creme brulee in the hotel bar/restaurant, only to have them serve me what can only be described as cheesecake (ok, it can’t ‘only be described as cheesecake’, it WAS cheesecake). The most unpleasant thing was the sewer line break during our first afternoon in town, which rendered the lobby un-walk-through-able, and made us very, very happy that we were staying on the 15th floor. The smell was unbearable, and we were quite worried that we’d be left without working plumbing, which is not ok, even in a one-star hotel. Needless to say, we will not be staying there again.
Our first short trip was to find food, and there was no lack of food to be found in nearby Chinatown. We ended up having some appetizers at a nearby Irish pub right out side the big, brightly colored gate all Chinatowns must have by law, or at least that’s how it seems. We then ventured into town to begin the official Tourism Fest.
Transferring trains is annoying, as it involves lots of jogging through crowds at multi-level metro stations, but we eventually found our way to Capitol South, which is a short block away from the Library of Congress. Yet from that block away you could clearly see the line forming out front–I assumed correctly that it was the first of many security lines we’d stand in that weekend. Visiting anything worth visiting in DC requires a procedure step-for-step identical to that of boarding an airplane. We arrived at around 3:00 in the ‘afternoon’, which was perfect, as the sun was just beginning to dip down far enough to illuminate the inside of the building through the many intricate windows and skylights. We joined the last tour of the day, which turned out to be quite a large tour; we found out later that the day after Thanksgiving, for whatever reason, was the busiest day for the Library of Congress. I found this odd, as I would have thought that everything in or around the Mall–with a capital m–would be empty, as everyone would be at the lower-case-m mall. I was a bit annoyed by our tour guide, as she was very clearly stalling in order to allow the other groups to get through the different areas of the building first. We sat in a very lovely room in the depths of the building listening to her prattle on about the history of the building, right down to how it was funded and Thomas Jefferson’s love of the French. And don’t get me wrong–I did want to know the history of the library, I simply would have preferred to hear it while TOURING the actual building. There were several points in the ‘tour’–the sitting in a chair part–that I very nearly stood up and screamed ‘can we PLEASE just get on with it?’ But I didn’t. The actual tour was nice–once we were actually on our way. It was generally a good trip, and I’m glad we went, though I wish I’d known about the tunnel–there is a tunnel between the LOC and the Capitol Visitor’s center. Had we the time, we could have taken this tunnel and thus avoided having to stand in a security line twice–once on Friday for the Library, and again on Saturday for the visitor’s center. This is a good tip that should be included in every guide book.
We stayed at the LOC (as I can now call it, now that we’ve ‘gotten to know each other) until almost 6:00; as tours that had already started were allowed to finish even after the doors closed. We made it into the gift shop just before they shut the doors behind us, and scored our only souvenirs of the entire trip–a set of Library of Congress stained glass skylight coasters for me (yes, you read that correctly) and a very nerdy Library of Congress mug for my husband, which he planned to sip from whilst reading the NY Times and feeling generally superior.
We took the metro back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. It was very cold out, so we decided to take a cab to dinner. Doug’s only request for the entire trip was that we visit a restaurant he’d wanted to experience the last time we were in town–a pseudo-chain restaurant called Fogo De Chao. There’s one in maybe six or eight other major cities, and we had passed one in Philadelphia the weekend before with a considerable line out front in the cold, waiting for a table. But with the help of Open Table.com, we walked right in and were guided to ours. Fogo is a Brazillian steakhouse, and I don’t know if these types of places actually exist in Brazil, but if they do, I cannot imagine the collective cholesterol of the Brazillian people. We were instructed to take our time exploring the ‘salad bar’–which contained not only salad, but countless types of cheese including a giant wheel of parmesan the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on Iron Chef, cured meats, and marinated vegetables. I could have made a meal out of this ‘salad bar’ alone. But as soon as we were done–correction, as soon as I was done, as Doug didn’t spend too much time with the veggies–we were to flip our little coaster-like discs to green, and commence with The Eating of the Meat. Once your little card is flipped, men with grilled meat on sticks–all kinds of grilled meat on sticks–showed up at the table and sliced pieces off onto your plate. I think there was maybe a three second delay between the flipping of the cards and the arrival of the first man. And you had to turn the card back over if you wanted to even begin to eat any of it, as waiter after waiter would show up with meat after meat after meat. I started with a lamb chop, which was possibly my favorite, though everything was fantastic. I also had pork ribs, sirloin, fillet, and fillet wrapped in bacon. I turned down several other items, at which point I was specifically asked what I’d like more of (ribs for me, fillet for Doug, and of course I took some additional fillet just for good measure). Side dishes arrived, and while my husband ignored them, I sampled all of them and found them to be just as good as the main course–fantastic garlicky mashed potatoes with cheese on top, caramelized bananas that even my husband eventually gave in to, and these little rolls that could only be described as heaven on earth–they were like a small, savory, cheddar doughnut. Only better. There was one other side, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was, only that I think my husband and I fought over it. I think the excessive amounts of meat may have caused some memory loss, I don’t know. What I do know is that it was a really good time; my husband was happy, no one was rushing us, and the food was great. I honestly didn’t expect to like this restaurant–not even a little, but it really was one of the best meals I’ve had. And thus ended day one.
It was a good day.