One cannot go to Washington, D.C. without feeling awed by the power that resides there. Sure, it often feels like nothing actually gets done in our nation’s capital, but when you can go for a run past the White House and the Supreme Court, and then have dinner at a table next to several senators (hey there, Chuck Schumer!), you can’t help but start to feel a little giddy.
I was in the capital in mid-May for a very special occasion: D.C. was the site of this year’s American Institute of Architects (AIA) annual conference, where my dad would be honored as a new FAIA (Fellow of the AIA). This is a huge honor for an architect, and I wanted to be there to see him receive such a well-deserved accolade. Since Pierre’s mom would be turning 80 in Ottawa about a week after my dad’s investiture ceremony, it seemed only fitting that I should stay on the east coast for that special occasion too. I’d been to D.C. a handful of times in the past, but it was almost always for work. This time, I wanted to take full advantage of my freedom to really get my fill of the capital. Happily, D.C. is also home to several friends, so I was in very good company throughout my visit.
Dad’s investiture ceremony was held in the National Cathedral, which is oddly not Catholic, and even more oddly a cathedral dedicated to a nation where the separation of church and state is sacrament. It was completed in 1990, though it looks like it could have been built in Europe in the 1500s (save for the Darth Vader gargoyle that I’m told inhabits the rooftop somewhere). But it was a lovely place for a pomp and circumstance ceremony, where the 105 new FAIAs were draped in robes and adorned with gold medals.
The ceremony was followed by a very fun celebration at the Newseum, a sleek and glamorous interactive museum devoted to all things media. We were served food by Wolfgang Puck (purportedly) and serenaded by a talented pianist, while taking in views of the Capitol and checking out exhibits that include the twisted, melted antenna from the World Trade Center and a photographic timeline of U.S. presidents’ dogs. The Unabomber’s cabin is supposed to be there somewhere too, though I scoped out the entire place and couldn’t find it.
My favorite part of the event? The enormous glass elevators all had bars in them — how brilliant!
The next day, I kept myself busy by checking out the Spy Museum (slightly hokey, but a fun couple of hours) and the National Portrait Gallery. I found the series of presidential portraits to be fascinating, in part because I loved to see the passage of time reflected in the evolution of the artwork, and in part because it made me realize how many utterly forgettable presidents there have been. I also really enjoyed an Annie Leibovitz exhibit that they’ve got at the Gallery now, where she uses photographs of relics left behind by historical figures to tell those figures’ stories.
After leaving the Gallery, I went to tapas with Jason, my good friend, law school roommate, and travel buddy extraordinaire. After taking the bar exam and before settling into our working lives, Jason and I spent a month together touring New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji. Since then, living on opposite sides of the country has meant we don’t seen each other nearly enough. This time around I hadn’t seen him since my wedding three years ago, but as with all good friendships, we were able to pick up right where we left off.
Jason and I spent our Saturday together checking out several national icons. It was remarkable to me to see what a wealth of artistic, cultural, and historical treasures are on display in Washington, free of charge. Hooray for tax dollars.
After admiring the aircraft, we returned to the heart of D.C. and enjoyed a hearty lunch at Founding Farmers, after which I dragged Jason to the horse exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian. We walked through the U.S. Botanic Garden and then, the heat starting to drag us down, we spent a lot of time sitting on different benches along the mall, people-watching. Dinner that night was with some of my former colleagues at a tasty place called Ripple, somewhere in a very nice neighborhood whose name I’ve forgotten.
Of course no visit to, well, anywhere, would be entirely complete without a little racing. It was a little too hot for my liking, but the NCB Capitol Hill Classic 10K attracted a big crowd and offered up a flattish course with a variety of scenery, from the Supreme Court to RFK Stadium. Add in a third-place finish in my age group and a near-PR, and I am one happy camper.
The race was followed by brunch with friends, a walk in the park, and a visit to the gorgeous National Arboretum.
Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises in D.C. was that they finally have at least one good Mexican restaurant: Oyamel. It’s not the cheapest, but they make some fine margaritas and prepare guacamole at your table to your preferred level of spiciness. The perfect ending to a pretty perfect day.
Since Jason had to work during my last day in town, I headed out on my own to do some shopping in Old Alexandria. My favorite find was (not surprisingly?) a great running store on King Street called Pacers. I managed to leave with just a t-shirt, but was tempted by oh so much more.
My shopping complete, it was time to leave one capital and head to another: Ottawa. While it doesn’t quite have the same aura that D.C. has, it’s a pleasant city with an impressive Parliament building.
A few months ago, or during any other visit to Ottawa during the winter, you would not have caught me using the word “pleasant” to describe the city. It is miserably cold during the winter months, which tends to be when Pierre and I go, leaving us unable or unwilling to get out and enjoy much of what Ottawa has to offer. But in May, it’s an entirely different place, largely because we were actually able to get outside and run. There is a fabulous network of bike and foot paths through the greenery along the Ottawa river, part of which turns to gravel for several miles near the Rockcliffe Parkway. It is peaceful, mostly flat, and perfect for a long run.
We also unintentionally timed our visit to coincide with Ottawa Race Weekend, during which 42,000 people run events ranging from a 3K to a full marathon. The races attract plenty of celebrity runners, including fastest-ever-marathoner Geoffrey Mutai, who showed up for (and won) the 10K this year.
And of course, when we weren’t busy either running or watching running, we enjoyed a delicious meal with family to celebrate Pierre’s mom’s big 8-0.
Two weeks, two capitals, many happy memories. Unfortunately, the trip ended on a bit of a sour note when the airline misplaced our bags on our return flight to San Francisco. Yes indeed, we managed to take 54 flights around the world last year with only one minor mishap, but one cross-country flight and we lose our luggage! I guess it’s a reminder of how well things went and how lucky we’ve been.