Washington D.C. is 100% the perfect first-city to visit. Not to live in... I don't know about that, but visit, yes. If you're a young kid with no travel experience or a tourist from another country, it gives you this glossy idea that all cities can be quite lovely. Impeccably clean, modern yet historic, full of free, exquisitely curated museums, Metros void of trash-filled tracks and a rush hour that seems... not so rushed.
Clean. Spacious. Downright good looking.
I stepped out of Union Station and I was first struck by the cold, November can be like that, and then, by the full-on monumental architecture. D.C. does not play. All buildings are massive structures with classic curves and lovely accents and they all honor something. Not to mention this is magnified by the fact that there are no skyscrapers and a ton of empty vertical space. As a long time New York City resident, this is... highly unusual.
What was more unusual was that I was never competing for space. I actually could walk on the sidewalk without having to circumnavigate the Slow Walkers, the Oblivious Zig-zaggers, the Mesmerized Tourists or the Tunnel-vision Assholes. I have never seen public space that was accurately built for the number of people using it. Although I didn't drive while I was there, it seemed that even the traffic during the day was always moving freely with no hangups.
Clean. Dark. Brutalist.
I was the only one with a coffee cup in my hand. It didn't take me long to notice. How can it be the morning commute without coffee? Silly me. A sign with pictures of all the forbidden metro items including the cartoon silhouettes of a frozen dog, a radio from 1930 and a hamburger next to a large fast food drink. I was performing a brazenly tasteless act in front of all these fine people. ...But I'm from out of town! And the coffee I had was so delicious, I couldn't throw it out, that's just rude. However, this gives some insight on why the entire subway system is pristine! A stark contrast to NYC's subway, garnished with litter and urine in all places. They must enforce the rules and fines in the D.C. Metro because I saw not one speck of trash.
Now that being said, they do need some lights down there! It is positively the darkest platform that I've ever seen. I know we're underground and everything but, I don't want to feel like it! To me, big city + dark cavernous spaces = bad creepy place with potential lurking weirdos. I mean, that happens in broad daylight, let alone shady spots. #getdcmetromorelights .
I should also mention that getting a card to even get on the subway is a pain in the ass. I felt like I was in a different country in 1990 and none of the directions on the ticket machine made any sense. It's not intuitive, not digital (I know, I know, but it matters!), and it requires you to know the surrounding stations because then you have to calculate how much money you need to get around if you're going to different zones. I prefer the flat-rate thing, but that's just me. I feel like pay per zone systems also encourage a socio-economic divide due to affordable housing being on the fringes, making it more expensive to use public transportation to get to any higher paying jobs in the city center. But I don't feel like diving into that today so...
The ticket machines suck.
Free. Accessible. Go.
I don't think it's possible to say enough about the museums in this city. If you've got any sort of a speck of interest in anything other than big concrete monuments (or if it's raining), hit one of the bazillion museums in D.C. You really can't go wrong. I went to four different museums in three days and they were all incredible! Yes, of course there are all of the outdoor sites to see, but you'll walk past them on your way to the next museum. Take a picture. Then make sure you go to these museums:
The Holocaust Memorial Museum. Spend an hour or so being utterly moved by the interactive exhibition Remember the Children, which takes you on a journey through the eyes of one Jewish child and his family. You will walk through a life size set of the family's home, and where they were transferred to every step of the way. After that, head downstairs to the Americans and the Holocaust exhibit. It is presented in a more modern style with Q & A tablets, giant visual representations of statistics and just a hint of espionage. There is so much startling information there, it will piss you off in the most educational way.
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Weave through the sections and hallways discovering all of what portraiture can do to express the past and present. Spend one or two hours here and explore the Hall of Presidents, marvel at Kehinde Wiley's stunning portrait of President Obama (and LL Cool J upstairs) and make your way to the upper floors to experience both classic and modern expression. The special exhibits change fairly frequently so you can go back every few months or so and discover something new and wonderful.
*Note: If you are visiting before March 10, 2019 definitely check out Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now. You will see some truly incredible artwork redefining portraiture.
The National Gallery of Art. Technically comprised of two buildings, I only made it to the West building which houses an inconceivable amount of European and American artwork. What seems like a confusingly simple choice between "right" or "left" down an airy central hallway with vaulted ceilings, this museum seems small at first, betraying its outward appearance. Once you dig a little deeper you begin to realize exactly how sprawling this museum is. Each corridor brings you to a section of labyrinthine rooms, connected in a way that I couldn't understand ...I just had to keep discovering new art in order to eventually get out.
My favorite discoveries were the Dutch, Flemish, Netherlandish section, containing some lovely Van Gogh work, and the Italian, Spanish, French area of the building featuring several bold and sassy pieces by Toulouse-Lautrec.
The ONLY negative thing I can say about the museums of Washington D.C. is that they all close way too early. Closing time is generally 5pm or 5:30pm, which means you need to get started early or if you worked all day, well, you're out of luck. The National Portrait Gallery does lean a little toward the night crowd, closing at a scandalous 7pm.
Keep a look out for my next post where I take a look at:
Why does D.C. take so long for a morning cup of coffee, and what's good for Food & Drink in Washington D.C.