05/01/2008

Welcome to Washington, D.C.

By Nedra Klee Hartzell

NCDA Members who live in the Washington, D.C. area welcome conference participants to the city that belongs to the nation. We enjoy a large variety of cultural and social events in the area and invite you to take full advantage of the city while you are here. The NCDA Global Conferenceruns Wednesday July 9 through Friday July 11, but we encourage you to arrive early and/or stay the whole weekend!

 

There are six topics to this description of DC:

 

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

There are two great ways to get around in downtown DC and both can be found at Union Station, about three blocks from the conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.

Union Station itself is beautiful and was saved from demolition. It features 100 places to eat, drink and shop and hosts 32 million visitors annually. Amtrak, the DC subway system and a local commuter train service operate out of the station. Good restaurants and a noisy food court with good choices.

1. The subway system, called the Metro , will take you close to just about anywhere you want to go. Hints: There are several exits at many of the stops. Check the large maps in the stations or ask a Metro employee for help choosing the best exit. You choose which way to go on the Metro by the end points of each line. For example, if you are going on the Red Line from Union Station to Dupont Circle (see Neighborhoods and Food later in this document), you would take the train going toward Dupont Circle, but is called/ marked Shady Grove.

2. The Circulator is a bus that costs only a dollar and travels circuitous routes to many tourist destinations, including Georgetown (see Neighborhoods and Food later in this document) and the Mall (see Five Things Everyone Wants to See later in this document). Caveat: The last Circulator that will take you back to Union Station from Georgetown (see Neighborhoods and Food later in this document) leaves around 8:45 PM. But a Circulator will take you from Georgetown to a Metro stop up until midnight during the week and 2 AM on the weekends.

FIVE THINGS EVERYONE WANTS TO SEE

1. PANDAS!
They are cute and very BIG. The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian museums and free. There is a PANDACAM , so you can watch our own DC native, Tai Shan, 2 years old, and his parents LIVE anytime -even right now. The Zoo grounds are open until 8 PM and buildings until 6 PM. Getting there by subway:
  • Take the Red Line to the Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan stop or the Cleveland Parkstop. The Zoo entrance lies halfway between these stops, and both are a short walk from the Zoo.
  • Tip: It's an uphill walk from Woodley Park to the Zoo, and a level one from Cleveland Park. We suggest you arrive at Cleveland Park and leave from either Metro station.
2. The Mall. 
A local NCDA member reminded me to tell you that "The Mall" doesn't mean shopping. Instead, it is the expanse of grass and reflecting pools between the US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. The Mall  is very close to the conference hotel and is a good place to walk. Just stand there, look around and marvel. In the Mall and along its perimeter are many of the Smithsonian Museums, the Washington Monument, and Memorials to WWII, Vietnam and Korean War Veterans. The Circulator (see Public Transportation above) takes you around the Mall. You can get off and on as you wish, paying each time, but this method is less expensive than taxis and the regular buses. Memorials to two other Presidents - FDR and Jefferson -  are a short walk from the Lincoln Memorial. Treat yourself to both. When you are on the steps of the Jefferson, look across the water and find the White House. Allegedly, FDR asked the builders of the Jefferson Memorial to cut down trees so that he might view the statue of Jefferson from the White House and draw inspiration from Jefferson. (Don't worry - we don't cut down trees on the Mall any longer!)

LOCAL FAVORITES:  Many of us who live in the area like to visit the Memorials at night on "the midnight monument tour." However, don't go at midnight, since they are not lit. Just go after dark. The reasons we like nighttime tours are that the temperatures are cooler and the monuments are beautifully lit. A little known gem across Constitution Avenue from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences, is a delightful statue of Albert Einstein. You can sit in his lap! "The star map at the statue's base--a 28-foot field of emerald pearl granite from Norway, is embedded with more than 2,700 metal studs representing the planets, sun, moon, stars, and other celestial objects accurately positioned by astronomers from the U.S. Naval Observatory as they were on the date of the statue's dedication in 1979." (from the NAS website ).

3. Smithsonian Museums
How to begin? DC is blessed with amazing museums, including the most visited in the world, the Air and Space Museum. And those run by the Smithsonian Institution are FREE! The conference hotel is close to many. Unfortunately, most close at 5:30 PM, so you will have to plan carefully. Luckily, the American Museum of Art and the Portrait Gallery, newly renovated and connected by an enclosed courtyard, are open until 7 PM.

RELATIVELY UNKNOWN FAVORITES: The Renwick Gallery, about two blocks from the Farragut North subway stop, houses crafts and decorative arts. The Freer and Sackler Galleries, on the Mall, are small and house art from all over Asia. The outdoor sculpture garden at the Hirshorn Gallery is fun to visit on the Mall, as is a modern sculpture garden at Constitution Avenue and Ninth Street NW, a short walk from the conference hotel.

IMAX films at both the Air and Space Museum and Natural History Museums are big draws and cool on hot, humid DC summer days. Finally, there are two magnificent indoor spaces. The I.M. Pei-designed National Gallery of Art, East Building is a marvel to behold, even if you don't see the exhibits. Be sure to watch the Calder mobile in the lobby and observe where two walls of the Museum come to a point outside. Likewise, the National Building Museum , not part of the Smithsonian, is "America's premier cultural institution dedicated to exploring and celebrating architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning." It is a grand space that was originally built as an office. My office doesn't look anything like this one! An inaugural ball is always held here - so imagine waltzing!

4. The White House
It is difficult to get tickets for a White House tour once you are here. Call your members of Congress NOW to see if you can get tickets for a tour while you are in DC. It is a lovely but small building, beautifully furnished and full of history. Be sure to hear the stories of Jacqueline Kennedy rescuing the wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room during a renovation, and of Dolly Madison rescuing the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in the East Room during a fire.
 
5. The US Capitol Building
If you haven't done this, take the public tour, no matter what. The building is worth every moment of your time and you will learn a lot. A new visitor's center is under construction, but probably will not be open by the time you arrive in DC.

OTHER RECOMMENDED THINGS TO DO

1.Private Museums
DC offers several private/semi-private museums of high quality. All charge admission, except the Holocaust Museum.
  • The Phillips Collection (art), near the Dupont Circle Metro
  • International Spy Museum, near Gallery Place Metro
  • The Newseum (along Pennsylvania Avenue, near the National Gallery of Art - can walk there from the conference hotel)
  • The Corcoran Gallery (art), near the White House and the Farragut North and West Metro stops
  • The Textile Museum (fabrics), a good walk from the Dupont Circle Metro, is worth every step.
  • The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, about three blocks from the Washington Monument, near the Independence Avenue exit of the Smithsonian Metro
2. The US Botanic Garden
At the foot of the US Capitol is this gem full of plants and flowers, featuring a new National Garden.

NEIGHBORHOODS AND FOOD

Like many large cities, DC has great neighborhoods. And many of those neighborhoods have great restaurants. The diversity of restaurants in DC reflects our international community. The Washingtonian Magazine annually chooses the 100 Best Restaurants in DC and the 100 Cheap Eats (good but not expensive). Choose whatever cuisine you wish and there is probably a restaurant downtown for you.

A good guide to DC neighborhoods overall is compiled at Cultural Tourism DC .

1. CHINATOWN
It is not as large as New York's or San Francisco's, but DC's Chinatown is thriving. Lots of high-end shopping, as well as food. Very near the conference hotel. But why is there an Irish pub in Chinatown? Go figure . . . . .

LOCAL FAVORITES:  "In 1986, the city dedicated the Friendship Archway, a traditional Chinese gate designed by local architect, Alfred H. Liu. The colorful, $1 million work of public art includes 7 roofs up to 60 feet high, 7000 tiles, and 272 painted dragons in the style of the Ming and Oing Dynasties. Erected to celebrate friendship with Washington's sister city of Beijing, itwas hoped the arch would reinforce the neighborhood's Chinese character. According to the plaque next to the arch, it is the largest such single-span archway in the world." (retrived from Wikipedia). Located at the Chinatown exit of the Gallery Place Metro station.

2. GEORGETOWN
Full of high-end shopping and restaurants, with some locations on the Potomac waterfront, Georgetown is also THE upscale place to live in DC. Take the Circulator bus from Union Station.

LOCAL FAVORITES: Take a canal boat ride on the C & O Canal out of Georgetown with the National Park Service. Or a short walk along the Canal.

3. DUPONT CIRCLE
Full of night clubs, bars, cafes, art galleries, and shops, the Dupont Circle area is a good place to walk, shop and eat. It is also the hub of the gay and lesbian community in the DC area. Another very desirable place to live in town; notice the beautiful brownstones.

LOCAL FAVORITE:  Kramerbooks and Afterwords, a bookstore and restaurant under the same roof. Open until 1 AM nightly.

4. PENN QUARTER
A newly revitalized section of the city near the conference hotel, _Washington offers cultural venues, restaurants, galleries and shops.
 
5. U STREET
A happenin' place with a variety of night clubs, bars, shops and restaurants, U Street was DC's equivalent of Harlem in the early 20th century. Recently revitalized, it is now an area where many Washingtonians converge. Accessible through the U Street/Cardoza Metro stop.

LOCAL FAVORITE: Historic Ben's Chili Bowl . Regularly visited by celebrities, its highly caloric menu has been hard to beat since 1958.

6. EASTERN MARKET
Another local favorite, Eastern Market, is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and it bustles with activity every weekend. Built in 1873, the main building was severely damaged by fire in 2007, but may be fully open for business in July. It is the last of Washington's 19th century markets to remain in continuous operation and is open every day. One the weekends, a farmers market and an arts and crafts market are also open. Located one block from the Eastern Market/Pennsylvania Avenue Metro stop.

Main Market http://www.easternmarketdc.com/about.php

Arts and Crafts/Farmers Market http://www.easternmarket.net/

7. ADAMS MORGAN
Last but not least, DC's "resident funky neighborhood." Lots of nightlife: bars, clubs and music venues. Also many Ethiopian restaurants and multi-ethnic shopping. At the crossroads of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW, and celebrated for its diversity and eccentricity, the Adams Morgan area boasts the "largest display of expressive art in the city" - murals everywhere. Take the red line metro from Union Station to Dupont Circle. Get a transfer pass inside the Union Station station. Then take the #42 bus, using your transfer, north on Connecticut Avenue. Get off at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW.

SPORTS

Only diehard sports fans know that wonky, political DC has major league hockey (the Capitals), basketball (the Wizards), baseball (the Nationals) and football (the Redskins) teams - and avid fans.

The Nationals have a brand new, fabulous stadium this year, and, just for you, evening home games during the conference! Take the Metro to the Navy Yard station and follow the crowds.

THEATER VENUES

1. The Kennedy Center
There's always lots going on at the Ken-Cen - theater, dance, music of all types. A road company of The Lion King will be on stage during the conference. Check out the July schedule at theKennedy Center  website.

LOCAL FAVORITES: The Kennedy Center is a good place to visit, even if you don't catch a show. The Hall of Nations and the Hall of States fly beautiful, multicolored flags. The US flags are displayed in the order in which the States were admitted to the Union. The bust of JFK is glorious. Many nations contributed to the art and d'cor of the Ken-Cen. Don't miss the view of the Potomac from the terraces. Take a tour , or check the schedule for the free performance at 6 PM on the Millenium Stage. There is a free shuttle from the GWU/Foggy Bottom Metro station to the Kennedy Center.

2. The Warner, Lincoln and National Theatres
Weird Al Yankovic (yes, we aim to offer variety in DC!) will be performing at the Warner , an historic theater downtown, during the conference, one block from the Metro Center Metro stop.  The historically black Lincoln Theatre has been restored "to its original 1920s splendor" The Theatre is directly across the street from the U Street/Cardoza Metro stop. No schedule yet for July. A road show of Mamma Mia! will be showing during the conference at theNational Theatre close to the Federal Triangle and the Metro Center Metro stops.
 
3. (Outdoor) Wolf Trap
The Wolf Trap Foundation is part of the National Park system and offers outdoor concerts most of the summer. During the conference, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Chicago, Kiri Te Kanawa, the National Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky, and Marvin Hamlisch conducting the National Symphony Orchestra with Broadway favorites are featured.

Wolf Trap is quite a distance out of town, however. You can take the subway to the West Falls Church Metro stop and pick up the Wolf Trap Metro Shuttle Bus Express from there. Or you can drive, but weekday rush hour traffic to Wolf Trap can be difficult.

 

Please enjoy our nation's capital - and the NCDA Global Conference!
 

Nedra Klee Hartzell, PhD, compiled this list for NCDA members.  Nedra is with the Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, US Department of State and can be reached via email at HartzellNJ@state.gov

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