Huntley Meadows

Hometown, Uncategorized

I follow a former professor of mine who posts pictures and videos from her hikes, providing a “soothe” to those who weren’t able to get out into nature like she was. The videos are often of flowing streams or leaves blowing in the wind. The pictures are usually of mountain tops and tree-lined paths. And with everything happening in the world, sometimes the soothe is just what is needed.

This weekend, while visiting my parents, my mom and I took a walk at Huntley Meadows. Despite being relatively close to Route One, once you’re in the woods, the sounds and smells disappear for a while. It was a sunny weekend day, so it was relatively busy, but never got overly crowded. It is kind of nice to wander past older folks going for a walk and young families exploring the boardwalk and birders with cameras the size of a small child. (Everyone wore a mask.)

Huntley Meadows is home to many a bug, a bird, and creature. Our walk was spent with our noses turned down searching amongst the marshlands for a frog or a turtle, before quickly looking up to try and spot an egret or an osprey.

The weather has gotten a little chilly around here, so an afternoon spent searching for sunshine and friendly little creatures was a much needed soothe.

Embassy Row

Hometown, Travel, Uncategorized

Perhaps you’ve been wandering down a street in DC and you see a foreign nation’s flag hanging on a beautiful building and you wondered “what’s that doing there?”. One of my personal favorite things about growing up in the DC area is the diversity of the folks who live here: from the locals with generations of native Washingtonian heritage to the recent immigrants here for work or school, to the small towners who came to the city to work for the government or an NGO. DC draws in people from literally all over the world. One of the places this is so apparent is a stretch of road known as Embassy Row.

Massachusetts Avenue is one of the diagonal roads that cuts across DC, bringing traffic from the more suburban areas into the heart of the city. One section of this road is heavily populated by embassies, the home of foreign nations, big and small, in the U.S. The basic start of Embassy Row is the Naval Observatory, home to the Vice President. As the road continues southeast, it is lined with embassies through Sheridan Circle and Dupont Circle, unofficially ending somewhere before Scott Circle. (The most interesting collection tends to stretch between Dupont Circle and the Naval Observatory.)

You can take tours of the area if you’re interested, but it’s also just a nice place for a wander. I will warn you – not every embassy is located on Embassy Row. For instance, the Swedish and Icelandic Embassies are located in Georgetown in the House of Sweden on the waterfront. Additionally, ambassador’s residences and other diplomatic buildings are spread throughout the city. That being said, a good majority of the 170+ embassies in DC are located on Embassy Row and you can’t walk this stretch of Mass Ave without hearing a different language or two, or seeing diplomatic plates line the streets, or if you’re unlucky, being stuck behind a motorcade.

One of many events that typically happen throughout the year is Passport DC, an opportunity for embassies to open their doors and share their nation’s culture. Many of these events won’t be happening as usual this year, but that just means folks outside of DC can experience them (without the crowds). For instance, most of the European Union nations open their embassy’s doors for visitors during the EU Open House Day in May. Instead, the effort to shine a light on the diplomatic missions has been moved online to HomeWithEU, taking place on Saturday May 9, 2020.

If you’re interested in visiting a particular embassy the next time you’re in DC, check their social media pages for open house dates or for links to join their mailing lists for events.

Exploring Georgetown

Hometown, Uncategorized

One of the perks of my current living situation is the proximity to one of the cuter parts of DC. Georgetown is literally across the water from my apartment and is walkable. Georgetown is pretty impossible to drive to and isn’t Metro-accessible, which can make it a pain in the butt to visit.

Getting there: I find the easiest way to get to Georgetown is to take a little walk. You can park your car at Rock Creek Park and wander over along the waterfront or you can find parking in Rosslyn and walk or take the free Circulator bus across the river.

What to do: The main attraction of Georgetown is the shops along M St. There’s anything you could want from Kiehl’s to Nike to Starbucks. It’s also always rotating, so you may visit two months apart and see new shops where another had previously been. I’m not a huge shopping person, but the window shopping opportunities are good and there’s plenty of people watching. (Warning: good weather means people and Georgetown can get packed, especially during tourist season.) I love a good wander, so I’d recommend ditching the main road and taking a stroll up the hill towards the cute houses there or down the hill towards the waterfront.

(In the winter, Georgetown Glow lights up the night and the waterfront hosts an ice skating rink for your winter activities.)

Where to Eat: Farmers Fishers Bakers has a great brunch if you’re in the mood. Skip Georgetown Cupcake and get a sweet treat from Baked and Wired instead. And if you want a bit of history with your meal, visit Martin’s Tavern.

Bonus Bits: Georgetown University is right there – it looks a bit like Hogwarts… And the House of Sweden (home to the Embassy of Sweden and the diplomatic missions for Iceland and Liechtenstein) is on the waterfront. Both host events that are open to the public if you’ve interested.

December in DC

Hometown, Uncategorized

No, we don’t really get snow. And yes, most of the city seems to disappear for the month. But DC in December is still a lovely place to be.

Last year, I happened to get a tour of the White House during the holiday season, but there are plenty of accessible (and mostly free!) options for a festive December in DC.

The National Christmas Tree is lit, with smaller trees representing each of the states (and territories!). My favorite part as a child was always the massive Yule log (because it was warm after being outside freezing!).

The National Botanical Garden gets festive as well. There’s a model train display and this year’s theme is botanic gardens from Hawaii to Maine.

Less flora, more fauna? Head to the National Zoo for ZooLights! Most of the animals will be snoozing, but you can wander amongst the light displays of all your favorite zoo friends.

Speaking of lights: Georgetown lights up for Georgetown Glow. The curated lights display takes you on a path through and around Georgetown with different installations. Each year brings different artists and different spots for the area to light up each night.

Maybe you don’t want to drive all the way into the city? Old Town Alexandria is always a lovely place to visit, but in December it definitely keeps its charm. The first weekend in December is the Scottish Walk supporting the Campagna Center. (There’s always plenty of pups, too!)

My personal favorite part of the holidays is a good Christmas market. Luckily, there’s one on F Street. The Downtown Holiday Market features local artists and crafters, as well as food stalls. It’s a great stop for a last minute Christmas gift and reminds me of London at this time of year.

Have you got any festive plans for the month of December?

Homesick

Hometown, Travel

When I moved away for college, I didn’t have a whole lot of homesickness. Flying across the world didn’t spark constant sobbing sessions of wanting to return home.

I think there’s a couple reasons I avoid what for many can be a debilitating limitation to their exploration of the planet.

The first was that home, as in the physical location of my house, wasn’t that important to me. I love my bed and driving down the GW Parkway and I love my belongings, but I have very little attachment to my home of 20-something years.

Maybe I spent too much of my childhood driving to and from school or maybe location wasn’t as important as memories. Either way, it’s nice to go back but not something I crave.

Another reason I avoided homesickness was avoidance. If you’re too busy to be homesick, you won’t notice the time and distance from your home. From the second I arrived in Indy or Sydney or Stockholm or London, I was busy.

I had things to do and people to meet and bags to unpack. I had a couple of stress/frustration/fear/PMSing sobs, but never felt horribly homesick.

Yes, it was tough to go away – but I wanted to go. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to study abroad and I wanted to get my masters and I wanted to travel. Those plans and the excitement attached kept me going.

The third reason I avoided homesickness was that I digitally detached from home. Yes, I texted my mom to let her know I arrived at my destination and yes, I sent the occasional text to a high school joking about some song I heard playing, but I avoided phone calls and FaceTime sessions for the first six weeks. I also didn’t go home a week in. It gave me a distance that allowed me to skip the wallowing in leaving home and focus on the exciting part of being in new places and meeting new people and learning new things.

I love my home. And I love my family. And I love returning there (even if my nice bed is no longer there and I sometimes end up on the couch…). But I also love my new home and my found families and the experience of going far far away. It’s just as much an adventure to return home now as it was to leave. And when it’s time to leave again, the excitement returns all over again.

Five Favorite Things: Best (Free) Things About DC

Five Favorites, Hometown, Travel

There’s about a thousand and one things you could do in Washington, D.C. on any given day. So I’m picking my five seven favorite things (okay, I’m cheating a bit at this… can you blame me?!) to do in the nation’s capital.

First stop, the zoo. The Smithsonian National Zoo is located in Woodley Park, accessible by Metro, but a bit out of the tourist zone that is D.C. in the summer. The zoo is incredible, emphasizing research and the welfare and survival of the animals in its care. The work done by the national zoo is saving species from extinction with the largest group of conservation biologists in the world. And they let you visit, for free! You can wander by and see the pandas (D.C. is a bit obsessed with the pandas and each birth is a huge celebration for the survival of the species — plus they’re cute) or the elephants or just about any animal that your heart desires. Locals stop by the zoo during their lunch breaks or jog past the animals for their afternoon run.

If you’re in the area, Rock Creek Park is a cool stop. (My favorite part about Rock Creek Park is the parkway which switches to one direction at rush hour and let’s me pretend I’m British, but that’s just me.) We won’t count this as one of my official five, but if you’re sick of the city, you can almost escape into the 1,754 acre park in the middle of it all. There’s paths for hiking, walking, wandering, or horseback riding, plus events year round.

Another spot worth visiting is hidden behind the White House. The Renwick Gallery became Insta-famous a few years ago and is one of my favorite smaller museums in the city. It’s part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which means there is no fee to enter, but unlike some of the bigger Smithsonian art museums, it showcases a small, rotating collection of art pieces that are larger than life. Literally. Most of the art on display fills a room. So each time you pass through a doorway, you walk into a totally different, immersive experience. Stop by on a weekday or during non-tourist season and you’ll have rooms to yourself.

If you’re looking for some politics in the political capital of the United States, I will give in and add one spot to the list for you: The United States Capitol. (Please note that it is spelled with an o.) The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center provides tours of the legislative building with some history and some fun facts mixed in. The tours are free, but you’ll want to book a spot in advance if you’re visiting during tourist season.

Since you’re on the Mall, you’re probably thinking I’ll just go wander around and see all the monuments. And then you’ll start walking and you’ll be sweating and tired within minutes, surrounded by tour groups. To avoid this, follow my handy-dandy tip: visit at night. Though there will still be folks out and about at night, the National Mall clears out quite a bit when the sun goes down. You’ll be cooler (not that humidity will go down at all — sorry, it’s a swamp!) and you can take your time before you turn into a lobster. The monuments are all lit up at night from the World War II memorial to the Lincoln Memorial and down to the Tidal Basin to visit the Jefferson and the new(ish) Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

Now my last few (counting them as one!) suggestions aren’t really in the city, but they’re close enough! Hop on across the river to stop number one: Teddy Roosevelt Island. Another place good for a wander. Take a path through the “natural forest”, pop your head through the trees to spot Georgetown’s Waterfront, and pretend you’re far from a major city until you hear an airplane up above.

Which brings us to our next stop: Gravelly Point. A park located just next to National Airport where you can bring a picnic and hang out while airports land over your head. It’s part of the GW Parkway, which may be my favorite place to drive in the metropolitan area, which you can follow along to down to Mount Vernon. It’s the best during fall when all the leaves have changed.

So, that’s my top five (ish) things to do in DC. All can be accomplished in a day, if you’re speedy. I’m sure now that I’m home I’ll have a hundred more recommendations and lists popping up, but these are my quick recommendations.

What’s your favorite (free) place to visit in the DC area?