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Williamsburg Weekend Getaway

As much as I love DC, there are times when you gotta get out of the city and recharge the batteries. Another one of the huge benefits of living in this area is its central location. There are so many great destinations within a few hours drive of DC. You can easily get to other fun cities like Annapolis and Baltimore, the beach towns of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore or the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. When my two best friends from college were planning a weekend getaway to celebrate my 40th birthday, they racked their brains for a nearby destination that we hadn’t already visited numerous times. They decided on Williamsburg, VA since none of us had been since we were children, and we all share a love of history and architecture.

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Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum where actors portray the daily life of the 18th century inhabitants.

My childhood memories of Williamsburg were pretty hazy so I was newly impressed by the perfectly preserved architecture, quaint streets and the dedication to maintaining period details. It was also a perfect time of year to admire the magnificent flower and vegetable gardens. As we walked through the streets, we would occasionally catch the wafting, sweet scent of honeysuckle.

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Typical colonial architecture

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Poppies!

No girls weekend would be complete without a little pampering so of course I made a trip to the hotel spa with impressive gardens of its own.

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Trellised entrance to the spa.

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Yet another beautiful garden on the spa grounds.

We were able to rent bikes to better explore the colonial area. Since this was not the height of the season with hordes of people milling around, it was a fun and easy way to get around.

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Our preferred mode of transportation.

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Love the colors of this stately entrance.

Of course, I can’t forget the food. There are taverns within the colonial area serving traditional period food and drink. We were able to enjoy refreshments on the beautiful garden patio at Chowning’s Tavern. Because of the glowing Yelp reviews, we ventured out of the colonial area to a quirky restaurant called Food for Thought¬†featuring Southern comfort food where I had some pretty delicious ribs. We also enjoyed traditional French cuisine at the Blue Talon Bistro in the adjacent Merchants Square shopping district where we indulged in some of our favorite desserts like creme brulee, chocolate mousse and an interesting burnt sugar ice cream. Our breakfast within the Williamsburg Lodge was also phenomenal. A hearty Eggs Benedict with perfectly poached eggs and buttery, homemade English muffins filled me up for the day.

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Exceptionally good eggs benedict.

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The inviting vine covered trellis on the patio at Chowning’s Tavern.

Williamsburg proved to be a truly memorable location to celebrate a huge milestone with two of the most important people in my life. There’s nothing quite like enjoying time with friends who know and love me so well. I fell in love with these peacock plates at Chowning’s Tavern and decided to pick up a couple as a momento of this very special weekend.

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My peacock plates.

 

 

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Following the “Beach” Balls Underground

I will freely admit that one of the biggest draws of seeing the current “Raise/Raze” exhibit at the Dupont Underground was just to get inside the underground space. There’s been a lot of buzz of the use of these abandoned trolley tracks as a public art space and I was excited to see it for myself. Tickets to the exhibit were sold out within 24 hours so I clearly was not alone.

“Raise/Raze” is constructed from the thousands of plastic balls used in last year’s very popular “Beach” exhibit at the Building Museum. The balls were re-purposed for this exhibit in another interactive display allowing visitors to create blocks and build structures with the balls. The intentional lighting and shadows create opportunities for some great pictures.

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The black hole within the glowing white balls.

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Entering the Raise/Raze exhibit.

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My somewhat somber underground selfie.

Ironically and completely by chance, earlier that day I also visited the National Building Museum on a field trip with my son’s school. Last year, I took my boys to experience the “Beach” installation at the Building Museum which was essentially a huge ball pit mimicking a beach scene. We had so much fun! I literally had to drag them out of the “water”. Seeing the balls in their new space today was that much more compelling after being reminded of that unique experience. I love that both exhibits were interactive which allows patrons to connect more authentically with the artwork. And the contrast between the balls in a light and airy beach scene and now literally in a dark, underground passage was striking.

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A decidedly more lighthearted selfie playing with the kids at the “Beach”.

The National Building Museum is an amazing space in its own right, filled with tons of light and soaring, majestic ceilings. Pretty much the opposite of being underground.

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On this trip to the museum, my son was learning how to plan a city to make it the most livable and accessible for its residents. He and his classmates learned about the different uses of buildings, i.e. residential, commercial, industrial, etc. They then each built their own structure and figured out the best location in the town for their building based on its purpose and the needs of the people living in the space.

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The city map displaying some of the awesome creative structures built by elementary students.

It struck me how much the kids’ lesson demonstrated an ongoing theme of the use of public spaces in creating viable cities. The “Beach” and “Raise/Raze” installations specifically demonstrate the real world necessity of art in such spaces for building community, raising awareness and exploring important themes of our collective well-being.

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Declaration and the Shaw Revolution

It was the first warm, sunny day in weeks when my good friend Haleh and I ventured on over to Shaw to try Declaration. There are so many fun, new eateries and bars popping up in the neighborhood that it’s hard to keep up. Declaration is quintessentially Washington with its Declaration of Independence theme and we’d heard good things about the food so we decided to give it a try. We were also seriously craving some great wood fired pizza so our expectations were high.

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The Declaration of Independence themed eatery.

 

Declaration is just across the street from another one of my favorite new additions in Shaw, Landmark’s Atlantic Plumbing Cinema. The theater boasts a great selection of independent and critically acclaimed films, a beautiful bar and lounge and fun movie snacks. The Landmark theaters provide my favorite kind of movie experience. In fact, I’ve filed it away that dinner at Declaration and a movie at the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema would make for a great evening out.

We ordered our drinks promptly upon being seated. I was in a beer mood and knew that there would be many local brews on tap. DC Brau, Atlas Brew Works and Right Proper were all featured. I tried the Atlas Home Rule IPA for the first time and it was perfectly hoppy, not too bitter, with just the right amount of citrus. We ordered two starters, the Roasted Octopus with chorizo white beans, apricot preserves and salsa verde and a small plate of the Brisket Sausage Ragu made with house made lasagna pasta, basil ricotta and pomodoro sauce.

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Roasted Octopus appetizer

 

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Brisket Sausage Ragu

Both dishes were excellent. Octopus is one of my favorites, especially when roasted or grilled. This may have been a little too charred for some, but I love “almost” burned things. So much so that I buy special dark pretzels and prefer my pizza crusts blistery and brown. (I was excited that the menu here made a point of saying that their pizzas are cooked well done and may have a darker crust. Yay!) The octopus was incredibly tender and delicious with the smoky roasted flavor. I was worried about the apricot but it wasn’t overly sweet and blended wonderfully with the slight sweetness of both the octopus and the beans and was balanced by the saltiness of the chorizo. The combination of smoky and sweet was killer. The brisket ragu was as rich and velvety as it should be. The delicious flavor of the brisket really stood out and the sauce was so good that we ordered bread to sop up what was left on the plate.

Next up was the pizza. There are thirteen pizzas here inspired by the original thirteen colonies. Some feature pretty non-traditional pizza toppings like the lobster roll theme on the Massachusetts pie, the fried chicken and bread and butter pickles on the Georgia or the braised pork, dijon and smoked pears on the North Carolina. We went for the good old Virginian which featured ham, arugula, olive oil, lemon, roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

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The Virginia Thomas Jefferson Pie

I was obviously happy with the charred crust and I’m a huge fan of arugula on pizza. Overall, it was a great pizza, but the ham did have a strong briny taste. It was slightly overpowering the way that I feel prosciutto can sometimes be. And the crust at the center was really thin so the ingredients slid off when I picked up a piece, necessitating the use of a knife and fork. There’s a big wood fired pizza game in this city these days (Menomale in Brookland is still my number one) but this pie definitely held its own among the competition. I can’t wait to go back to try another less traditional pie and see if some unique ingredients help to make the pizza at Declaration stand out from its competitors even more.

With our bellies satisfied, we strolled around the neighborhood enjoying an absolutely perfect sunset. Shaw seems to be the land of the rooftop bars and my friend pointed out a new addition to the club, Takoda Restaurant and Beer Garden. From the street, the rooftop bar looked perfectly positioned for some prime views, so we headed up to see for ourselves.

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Enjoying a Dortmunder Gold Lager while taking in a perfect sunset along Florida Avenue.

The west facing roof top bar was full of removable windows and it was open and breezy and the perfect venue for worshiping the return of the sun. It was, not surprisingly, buzzing with people like us taking in the gorgeous weather. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end another memorable evening in Shaw.

 

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Treasure Hunting

About a year ago, I was flipping through an issue of Washingtonian magazine reading a feature about the best antique shops in DC. I was making a mental note of where to go for great vintage jewelry, clothing and home decor. A photo of a huge warehouse space filled to the gills with funky, colorful antiques caught my attention and as I scanned for the address, I was excited and surprised to learn that Off the Beaten Track was in my neighborhood of Woodridge! Turns out that, true to its name, it is hidden away in a residential area just beside the railroad tracks. The hours are limited – they’re only open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10am – 4pm and then two weekends a month – but I headed over to check it out right away.

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Warehouse space packed with goodies.

I had so much fun exploring and of course picked up a cute chair for my office. I was struck by the quality of the items and the relatively inexpensive price tags compared to some other antique shops in the city. Speaking of price tags, they use old photos for price tags which is adorable.

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Creative price tags.

The owners are engaging and friendly and somewhat willing to negotiate on price, depending on the item and how much they purchased it for. They live in Brookland so they’re happy to support their loyal customer base. And I was quick to explain that this was the perfect spot for me to find gifts for my real estate clients. In fact, I picked up a great mirror for some clients who are renovating an old Wardman rowhouse with beautiful original Victorian details.

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The antique mirror made a great client gift.

Since it’s virtually impossible for me to go there without picking up something for myself, I also bought this great carved wooden screen to hang above my bed.

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Framed wooden carved screen, likely from Indonesia.

The other really cool thing is that the furniture showroom is not the only business in the warehouse. The rest of the building was converted to affordable artist studios and workshops. You can wander around and visit artists hard at work on their latest projects and the Saturdays when the showroom is open turns into a kind of block party.

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Filling the Belly with Goodness at Donburi

It was a bit of a rainy, dreary afternoon when my friend and I found ourselves looking for a quick but tasty lunch in Adams Morgan after an appointment. Having lived in DC for so long, we’ve spent a lot of time hanging out on 18th Street and patronizing the various bars and eateries. We both wanted to try something new and my friend deferred to me since I’m the foodie. We were inspired to go small and local after admiring the mural below and you can’t get much smaller or more local than a tiny restaurant originally launched as a food truck. Since I still hadn’t been to the 18th Street location of Donburi, we agreed to give it a go.

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Small Business Saturday Mural in Adams Morgan by Aniekan Udofia.

The space is essentially a galley kitchen with one long counter, which feels intimate and welcoming, at least on a day like this one when it wasn’t packed with people. We ordered our food at the front and took a seat at the counter to watch it being prepared. It’s impossible to hide the freshness and quality of the food when you’re prepping and plating in front of all the nosy patrons watching for their dish. It’s a cozy spot with low lighting and good music contributing to the ambiance. The counter is filled with plenty of condiments – extra Donburi sauce, utensils, tea, water – so you have everything you’ll need.

I decided on the Shiitakedon bowl as I’m a mushroom lover. The menu says a half cooked egg on top but with the scallion it seemed a little like an egg scallion pancake which was fine by me. It was soft and delicious, oozing over the mushrooms. The briny pickles were a great compliment to cut the overall richness of the dish. This is a lot of food! I left super stuffed but that might be because of the side order of Karaagedon or fried chicken. I’ve been on a bit of a Korean fried chicken kick lately and just couldn’t resist some Japanese fried chicken. And it was worth it.

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Left to Right: Karaagadon (fried chicken) with Japanese Curry, Side order of Karaagadon, Shiitakedon (mushroom rice bowl with egg)

My friend also got the fried chicken bowl but with the Japanese Curry Sauce. She loved it but the curry sauce wasn’t completely my cup of tea. It just wasn’t the kind of curry that I seek out. It tasted like the powdered curry we find in the spice aisle of American supermarkets, the only kind of curry I knew during my childhood. I was hoping for something a little more unexpected. But overall, it was a delicious lunch. Next time, I want to try the Gyudon or beef brisket and the panko covered shrimp which we were drooling over as we watched them being prepared in the kitchen. I expect to leave just as stuffed and happy as I was today.

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A Worthwhile Trek to the National Arboretum

Tucked away in a parcel of land at the northeast corner of the city surrounded by drab industrial areas along New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, the National Arboretum isn’t easy to get to without a car making it a bit of a lesser known attraction in the area, but it’s well worth the trek.

Perhaps the most iconic feature of the Arboretum is the National Capitol Columns. The stately Corinthian columns were once part of the US Capitol but were replaced in 1958 and eventually found their permanent home on top of a slightly elevated open field at the Arboretum called the Ellipse Meadow. Their appearance is imposing and photo worthy and a popular local spot for wedding and engagement shots.

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National Capitol Columns

There are over 400 acres of land in the Arboretum so there’s much more to explore. There’s an impressive Bonsai garden, an azalea garden that is absolutely breathtaking if you hit it at peak bloom, a youth garden and even plenty of cherry blossom trees for those looking to avoid the overwhelming crowds at the Tidal Basin in the spring. Although it’s currently under construction, outside of the Administration Building is a large koi fish pond and visitors get to feed the fish. It’s a favorite kid activity. They love to see the huge fish crowd around with their gaping mouths begging for food. We can’t wait for the koi fish to return when construction is complete.

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Vine Arbor

One of my personal favorites is the Asian Collection which backs up to the Anacostia River and includes a few secluded benches with great river views. It’s easy to drive in and follow the signs to a small parking lot right off the gardens. I’ve often found myself completely alone in contemplation and peaceful silence.

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Rustic secluded bench nestled among lush greenery in the Asian Garden.

There is a tram that offers tours of the grounds but they tend to run on the weekends only. There are also plenty of guided walking tours, even a full moon hike in the evening after hours which is on my to-do list but plan ahead b/c they fill up quickly.

Helpful Tip: If you don’t bring along a picnic lunch and you’re needing to fill your belly after all the walking you’ll do at the Arboretum, there’s a great Szechuan Chinese restaurant called Panda Gourmet just up Bladensburg Road inside the Days Inn. You’ll be skeptical, but trust me, it’s good and authentic Chinese food in the most unlikely of places.

 

 

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A Retreat for Quiet Reflection and Natural Beauty in NE DC

These days I am filled with NE DC pride, but when I bought my house in Woodridge in 2010, I had no clue about the neighborhood. I understand why NE DC is still unknown to many folks who live in and visit DC, but there are some spectacular places to explore, particularly for nature and garden enthusiasts.

One of the best is the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland. I’m so lucky to have this amazing attraction within walking distance. I visit often for reflection and relaxation and just to enjoy a gorgeous sunny afternoon surrounded by the well tended gardens.

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Tulip Garden

The Monastery includes a pretty impressive church, but I go for the gardens. Gorgeous rose and tulip gardens are huge draws for visitors in the know every year. There are numerous replicas of Vatican grottos on the grounds as well and a small path. The Monastery holds many events like spaghetti dinners and their famous plant sales which generate money to help maintain the gardens, as well as a shop where they sell honey made by the bees raised onsite. The 2016 honey harvests are in June and September and you can participate in extracting the honey by attending a workshop. There are guided tours throughout the spring and summer on Saturday afternoons through the Garden Guild or you can just roam around during their open hours.

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The Rosary Portico

Most don’t know that there is also a hermitage on the grounds available for nightly rental. It’s designed for single person use as a way to quiet the mind, reflect and contemplate spirituality. I fully intend to try it one of these days.

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