Things We Pretend Not to Know

One of my absolute favorite things when traveling is just wandering and finding what you may. Sometimes I might start out somewhere and wander from there, or maybe I might just pick an area of the city. This practice has led me to some pretty amazing places in the past and it served me well again on my recent business trip to Washington, D.C.

My good friend Amanda was in town for the weekend, and we tend to gravitate towards out-of-the-way experiences, abandoning Starbucks for independent coffeehouses, and that’s how we ended up meeting for coffee one lovely Saturday morning at Filter for coffee. Filter is located in Dupont Circle (we had been deciding where to meet based on neighborhood) and it was packed out when we got there. Literally. There are probably 15 seats inside and so you can well imagine that on a Saturday morning in one of the trendiest neighborhoods it would be busy. Busy, but worth it: we snagged the window “seat” which we perched our muffin plates on, and dug in. Amanda got a chai latte, which she claimed was amazing; I had regular coffee, which was excellent, though I really needed a smidge more room for cream. Also, I highly recommend the peach-raspberry muffin; the peach flavor was not very pronounced, but it was delicious.

When I had been walking to the coffee shop, I had passed by a seemingly innocuous building that bore a sign that said “Laogai Museum.” This might not seem a big deal to you, but for me it was, because I had been seeing the signs for the museum in the Metro. It was literally next door to the coffee shop, so since we had a few extra minutes before we needed to catch the Metro to meet up with some friends for lunch, we headed next door.

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What happened during the next hour left me feeling pretty ignorant. I highly, highly recommend the Laogai Museum–everyone in D.C. and everyone visiting D.C. should go. It’s very educational. The museum has been there for less than five years, and it’s about the laogai system in China, which is essentially a system of labor camps. The name was changed a few years back, but Chinese who have since escaped and come to America claim that the exact same concept of work camps still exists; nothing has changed but the names.

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It’s hard to purchase something that has been completely not impacted by labor camps, child labor, or another of the things that we like to pretend don’t really happen in the world. It’s almost impossible to avoid it in some form or fashion– the last exhibit at the museum shows you different products that are impacted: everything from shampoo to clothing to computers. Regardless of the impact on your life, or whether you believe this is a past or present issue, this is one that is worth learning more about.

Learn more and visit the next time you are in D.C.

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Honoring Our Heroes

Part of my job here in Washington, D.C. at the moment is taking middle schoolers to our national monuments and memorials. As I walk them through the sites, I am reminded of how powerful our history is, how far we have come, and how many have fallen to protect us. It’s easy to forget everything that has been sacrificed to give us the protected and bountiful life that we have today. We visit most of the major memorials and monuments: Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, MLK and FDR. For this segment, though, we’ll just focus on what the tourists call the “Big 3”: the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial.

For me, someone who studied these wars in school but doesn’t really have any personal connection to them, the Civil War, the Vietnam War and the Korean War… it’s easy to forget how many people lost their lives and how significant the wars are in how we live our lives today. Of the three, I’m probably most conscious of the Civil War, having studied it extensively in US History classes. The Vietnam War next, because of all the protests and such associated. But I have to admit (and I’m ashamed to say) that I know very little about the Korean War. I’ve learned so much from teaching others about the monuments, and so much about what I do not know, what I want to learn. Almost as many people died in the Korean War as in Vietnam, but we do not remember that war. Do you know that even in the war-focused exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Korean War is only granted one wall of space, while the Vietnam War is granted a large exhibit space? It is no wonder that there are conflicts we do not remember.

Many of our soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice rest in peace at Arlington National Cemetery, a short Metro ride away from the national monuments and memorials, and definitely worth a trip. The next time you find yourself in DC, stop by to honor our soldiers. It’s a powerful experience for you, and not necessarily a solemn one, but don’t forget why you’re standing in front of that stone.

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Brunch Bunch: Patisserie Poupon

If you are looking for the perfect spot for brunch this weekend, Patisserie Poupon is a safe bet. From their perfect espresso to the delicious baked goods, it’s hard to go wrong in this spot that is often overlooked. Located on Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown, it’s the perfect spot for jumping off into a day of shopping in Georgetown. You will want to walk around the area after stuffing yourself with everything on offer, from chocolate croissants to madeleines and more substantial foods like sandwiches, salads, and quiches. Grab a friend and be prepared to duke it out for a table, but the wait is worth it. Often only stopped at by tourists for macaroon tours, Patisserie Poupon has gained a slanted reputation, but don’t be deceived by the judgment on <<les macarons>> because the food is not to be missed, and the location is ideal.

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Your Dinner Tonight: Matchbox

Hip Matchbox has been a staple of the D.C. foodies scene ever since it introduced the phenomenal foodie trend of “sliders,” though the staff infinitely prefers that you call them “mini burgers.” Stop in early to check out the bar scene, particularly at the Chinatown and Eastern Market locations, where the singles meet and mingle before grabbing a bite. On Friday and Saturday nights the scene heats up; don’t expect to get a table in less than half an hour– and that’s if you’re lucky! Don’t miss the 3.6.9 mini burgers, shown below. The onion straws dusted with cheese make them the best in the area by far. Whether it’s date night or girls’ night out, Matchbox is a great scene for couples and singles.

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Where the Wild Things Are

The zoo is one of the best free things to do in D.C., particularly for families. While most of the museums in the D.C. area are free (the ones run by the Smithsonian, at least… the other museums cost an absurd amount of money, as if they have to make up the difference), few hold kids’ interest as much as the zoo. And personally, it’s one of my absolute favorite places to visit, and I always stop by when I’m in the city. Some people I know knock the zoo, saying it’s not a very good one. Well, sure, it’s not Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, but you don’t have to pay $20 for admission, now, either! Which makes it a sweet place you can go again, and again, and again.

The zoo is constantly evolving, and recently has been undergoing some dramatic updates. When I left D.C. a year and a half ago upon graduating college, the zoo had recently opened the new outdoor Elephant Enclosure, was working on the Elephant House, and was also developing a new American Trail, with new enclosures for animals like seals and sea lions. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to go back to the zoo since they undertook that phase of construction, and they’ve made great progress.

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Above you can see the new American Trail. When I went recently it was pretty chilly so most animals were indoors, but I’m looking forward to checking it out again when I’m back in the city in less than a month. There was actually still snow on the ground, so my pictures turned out pretty nice!

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Above, cheetahs. Below, the lion. A year and a half ago there were tons of baby lion cubs at the zoo; most have now moved on to new zoo homes. Such a remarkable story! The zoo is actually in the process of introducing two tigers, so maybe there will be tiger cubs in the not-too-distant future!

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The zoo is one of my favorite places, and I hope that you choose to check it out if you are in D.C.! It’s such a wonderful place. I’ll leave you with some of my top tips for visiting.

Tips:

1. Take the Metro! Unless you have six kids with you (which personally I wouldn’t want to keep up with), it’s INFINITELY easier to take the Metro. You can walk from Cleveland Park or Woodley Park-Zoo on the Red Line.

2. Check the website before you go! The official zoo site is http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ and not only can you find hours and info on there, there is also a schedule showing what’s going on by day of the week, so if you really want to see a feeding or zoo talk, you can plan for it.

3. Bring your own food. The zoo is really chill about this and it’s so much cheaper. My personal plan of attack is grabbing Starbucks across the street and taking it in with me, but to each his own…

Coffee Break: Buzz Bakery

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This neighborhood coffee shop is a hot spot for meeting up with friends and coworkers, the mid-morning rush a testament to its lasting power past just the caffeine fix for the morning work crowd. Small tables are crammed together to accommodate as many guests as possible, but the rustling of newspapers and cheery chatter will all fade in the face of the excellent espresso-based drinks and variety of tempting baked goods. The quiches and popovers offer egg-based options for a more substantial breakfast, or choose a cinnamon roll or one of the many cupcakes for a sweet treat. In the summer, fight for one of the few tables scattered in front of the restaurant for brunch en plein air. For moms looking for a kid-friendly outing to coworkers looking to have a quick business lunch, Buzz offers good eats and pick-me-ups in the form of caffeine and chocolate.

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Where’s Waldo?

See this photo? Grab a partner real quick. Whoever finds the Washington Monument first wins.

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Say what? You can’t find it?

Oh wait, it must be the fog that’s obscuring your view across the harbor.

But trust me. It’s there.

Welcome to the bizarre weather that DC has been subjected to over the past few years. Snowpocalypse. The earthquake. Sandy. And now, some super-thick fog. (For the record, the Washington Monument is still closed to tourists).

I visited Old Downtown Alexandria for the first time on this trip to DC with a local friend as my host. The area is cute and quaint, mixed shopping and dining, plus the incredible views across the river to downtown DC, where normally you would be able to look across the water and view the city’s skyline, monuments and all. Still, we weren’t about to let the weather get us down, so we wandered and shopped for a while after grabbing brunch, picking up some cards at Papyrus and some tea at a local store.

Old Town Alexandria is accessible via the King Street Metro Station, as well as by car, with a mix of metered and free spots, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. Check store hours if you are planning to shop, to avoid getting there too early/ late to take advantage.

Old Town is definitely worth a look, and if you can plan a visit around Restaurant Week, all the better! It’s a cute spot to wander for a few hours, with more locals than tourists, unlike other shopping areas like Georgetown.

Packing for a Quasi-Business Trip

When packing for a combined business/ pleasure trip, there’s a few key things to keep in mind, the most important one being: space. Who wants to have to check a bag for a two week trip? Solely carrying on, however, creates its own set of issues as you have a very limited amount of packing room and must thus pack strategically to avoid taking any excess. This was definitely the most strategic packing I have ever had for a trip: I headed to D.C. for a combined vacation/ business trip with about 9 working days plus two weekends for fun. Before I even started pulling clothes out of the closet I looked at my dress code for the conference I would be working, analyzing how many of each outfit (professional, relaxed professional, snappy casual) I would need and when it might be appropriate to repeat outfits. From there I was able to determine what I really needed to take. I hung outfits together to see what they would look like (see below) and planned every outfit to coordinate with black shoes, black blazer, and black coat, to minimize what I would need to bring.

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From there I laid everything out on my bed for packing purposes, to be able to make sure I had everything I would need and to visually see it:

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And then eventually it all made it into the suitcase, fitting perfectly:

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Above you can see the final result… everything coordinated into the suitcase, plus the books and liquids I put in my purse for easy access and the outfit I was planning to wear the next day on the plane.

Believe me, normally packing is not this planned out for me. Typically I tend to just take a bunch of things that I like, and hope it all works out. But for a trip where you have multiple needs and limited space, planning out what you are thinking about wearing is extremely helpful in terms of conserving space. Happy packing!