Parisian Ponderings

The next leg of my whirlwind, three-week jaunt through Europe took me to our neighbors to the west, good ol’ France. Two days after my Easter trip to Budapest, I took off for Frankfurt to catch an overnight bus.

This was certainly an experience in itself. Our bus departed the train station in Frankfurt at 9:30 p.m., set to arrive at 7 a.m. the next day – yech. It was, however, 40 euros cheaper than taking the train. The trip included an hour-long stop in Metz, France, which I hear is lovely, but less so when you’re at a gas station at 2 in the morning. Overall, I think the bus ride went as well as could be expected. You’re never going to sleep well sitting on a bus for nine hours, but I at least was able to sleep a few solid hours.

We got into Paris at around 6:20 a.m., which was a bit confusing for my travel companion, Larissa, and I, since it meant we were 40 minutes early. I asked the bus driver in German if this was the last stop (we had made some stops previous to this one), and as far as I could tell he affirmed this (and probably also thought we were a bit daft for even asking). So we wandered off the bus, uncertain what we were going to do until my friend Kaellen met us at 7.

Luckily Kaellen, who studied in Paris this semester, was running on time and we didn’t have to wait too long. We hopped on the Metro to go back to her apartment (she spent the semester living with a host family) to drop off our bags. On the way, we stopped at your stereotypical French patisserie and got a stereotypical pain au chocolat – basically, croissant-type bread filled with chocolate. And, in short, it was amazing. It was amazing how something as simple as a croissant could be a thousand times more delicious in Paris than anywhere else I had ever had one.

Sufficiently energized for the day, we set off on our sightseeing expedition. The first stop was Notre Dame. Upon arriving, I realized that I think church fatigue has finally settled in for me. I have heard all my other friends who have studied abroad in Europe express the same sentiment again and again—no matter how cool or beautiful they are, eventually you will get sick and tired of seeing so many damn churches all the time.

Don’t get me wrong – Notre Dame is a beautiful church. But I think the Dom in Köln was definitely the high point of all the churches I have seen, and so everything after is pretty, but not exceptional. It’s weird to even write that – weird to think that I’ve seen enough in Europe that I can say the Notre Dame is lovely, but nothing exceptional.

View of Paris from the top of Notre Dame.

We did however pay the 5 euros to climb to the top of the Cathedral, and that was absolutely worth it. It was a long climb on a very narrow spiral staircase, but we were rewarded with a great view of Paris as well as the upper parts of the cathedral. We were able to see some of the gargoyles up close as well as to explore the Belfry, where much of The Hunchback of Notre Dame takes place – pretty cool!

From there we went to find lunch, using a guidebook Kaellen had to select what we hoped was a tasty and reasonably priced French restaurant. I had a sort of open-faced roast beef sandwich for about 10 euros, which was quite pricey for me but reasonable by Paris standards.

We stopped by the Pompidou Centre, which houses a modern art museum, among other things. The building itself has a very modern design, looking sort of like the outer walls were stripped away, exposing a network of structural beams and escalator tunnels used to get to the top. The elevator attendant on the outside of the building was nice and let us go straight up into the building, instead of having to wait in line for tickets (which I believe would have been free for students, but at least we saved time!). There wasn’t a lot to see up there besides the art museum, but at least it provided another nice view of Paris.

Our last major stop of day one was the Louvre. We went in knowing there was no way we would be able to see everything, instead intending to just hit the highlights. The Louvre is a museum whose scale you’ll never truly appreciate until you visit it. I knew it was huge, but seriously – it’s HUGE. I was just overwhelmed by how many rooms full of priceless collections there were.

Somewhere back there is the Mona Lisa... also note pretentious beret-wearing art snob with hands on hips.

We saw the Mona Lisa (of course) which, like everyone says, is much smaller than you expect. The crowds there actually weren’t as bad as I thought they would be – certainly, there were a lot of people, but it actually didn’t take that long to get close. It would have been nice to been able to stand there longer though and actually appreciate the picture, instead of feeling like you have to take your picture and then get out of the way for the next person.

The next day we all met up in the Luxembourg Gardens. One thing I did not realize about Paris that there are dozens of gardens across the city, all saturated with perfectly maintained hedges, elegant fountains and beautiful flowers. So they’re all quite lovely, yes, but the novelty does wear off quickly.

From the gardens we headed to the Pantheon, which as far as I could figure out is basically France giving itself a pat on the back. Ok, that’s probably not a fair reduction of the building – it’s primary purpose is to serve as a place of entombment for prominent French men and women, such as Rousseau, Voltaire and Marie and Pierre Curie. The architecture of the building itself was very classical, and reminded me a lot of the Capitol building in Washington D.C.

The Arc de Triomphe was our next stop. It’s possible to go to the top of the Arc and get yet another panoramic view of Paris, but Larissa and felt that would have been a bit excessive, since we had already seen the city from Notre Dame and the Pompidou Centre and still had impending visits to the Eiffel Tower and the Montmarche. Still, the Arc was an impressive sight from the ground, definitely bigger than I had realized. I particularly liked all the detailing on the Arc, with reliefs on the sides depicting angels charging into battle or something like that. It looked epic.

Oh hey EIffel Tower

The rest of the day featured some ambling around the Champs d’Elysee and various other pretty parts of Paris (this is my way of saying we saw a lot of things that seemed significant but I have no idea what they were called and I am too lazy to look them up). In the evening, we headed to the lawn of the Eiffel Tower for a stereotypical meal of wine, cheese and baguettes. When in Paris, one must do as the tourists do.

We got there in the evening, and immediately I was overwhelmed at how many people there were. The lawn was full of people doing exactly as we were as well as children playing soccer, dogs running around and the omnipresent vendors trying to sell you five key chains for the low price of one euro!

I quickly became disenchanted with the overall environment. The space was just so crowded, the vendors too persistent and numerous, and the soccer-playing-folks  too inconsiderate of people trying to sit and enjoy the day. The final straw was when someone’s dog – off its leash – suddenly jumped into the middle of our picnic and began eating our food! If that wasn’t bad enough, the dog’s owner simply laughed, grabbed the dog and walked away without so much as an apology.

The magic lost, we quickly packed up and moved to get in line to actually go up the tower. We had timed our visit so that we would either make it up around sunset or nighttime, hoping that either way it would be a distinctly pretty view of the city. The process of going up the tower was a bit overwhelming – there were just many people, several different lines, and vendors! Vendors everywhere! Luckily Kaellen had done this before and was able to steer us in a shorter-looking line. I’m not sure how long we waited for tickets and then to get into the elevator, but I don’t think it was more than 45 minutes, so not too bad.

Like many other things this trip, the tower is just so much bigger than you realize. Standing under the base of the tower, looking at the massive steel legs supporting it, I just couldn’t believe how a structure like this could have been built before the ease of modern technology.

We bought tickets to go to the very top, but you go up in stages. First you take an elevator to the middle level, get off and walk around to your heart’s content, and then you line up for the next elevator to take you to the very top. Both levels were certainly crowded, but it wasn’t too terribly difficult to find a spot against the fencing to look out to the city below.

Paris at night. That beam of light you see is the searchlight from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I will say that the view from the middle level isn’t really all that different from the view at the very top – you probably are better off saving your money and paying only for the middle. But, I suppose there is something to saying that you went to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. The view itself is everything you think it is. It was particularly nice to see it at night though and to see the city begin to light up. Overall, this is one super-touristy destination that’s still probably worth your time, no matter how above it you think you might be.

The next day, our last day in Paris, our primary destination was to see the Sacre Coeur Basilica, located on a hill overlooking the city (the Montmarche). This was something I really wanted to see, because, based on picture, the church itself looked just beautiful, and it also seemed to provide a nice view of the city.

Ultimately, however, the church was a big disappointment. To be sure, it’s a really beautiful structure, certainly one of the most elegant churches I’ve ever seen. The main problem was the people. There were SO. MANY. PEOPLE. It was hard to move. Even worse, there were an incredible number of shady street vendors, and they were much pushier than any of the ones I had seen elsewhere in Paris. They’re the kind that don’t take no for an answer, and it was very obnoxious

Additionally, by this time we had seen so many different views of Paris, that it really wasn’t that special to see it from the Montmarche. Sacre Coeur ended up being the most touristy thing we did in Paris, and ultimately, I just didn’t care for it. Which really is a shame, because I loved the church itself. I just couldn’t stand being near it because of how crowded it was.

The last highlight of our trip to Paris was a visit to Angelina’s, a fancy coffee-pastry-sandwich restaurant. We were lured here by Kaellen’s food guidebook, which said Angelina’s had the best hot chocolate in Paris, possibly in the world. How could we resist?

It was somewhat difficult to commit myself to the experience, because they also price their hot chocolate as if it is the best in Paris – 7 euros ($10, for those of you following along at home) for a personal pot. Yikes! But what’s more Parisian than spending excessive amounts of money on decadent treats?

So we did as the Parisians do, and it was definitely worth the money. It was the thickest, sweetest, and tastiest hot chocolate I had ever had, and I consider myself to be somewhat of a connoisseur. Essentially it tasted as though someone had melted down rich milk chocolate bars, which is to say, it tasted amazing. Money well spent.

I feel like we got as much out of three days in Paris as we possibly could have – definitely my most successful trip to date.

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Journey with the Parents: München

The Great Parental Adventure continued with a four day stint in Munich, chock full of adventures.

We got into the city in the afternoon. Famished from a long journey, dad leapt at the first food vendor he saw, directly outside the Hauptbahnhof. He got a wurst there which was seemingly ordinary, but apparently it was one of the most delicious things he had ever eaten. Based on that first impression, we knew Munich was going to be a good time.

The Neues Rathaus in Munich.

After getting settled into our hotel, we immediately set off for Marienplatz, the heart of Munich’s old city. Our specific target was the fabled Hofbräuhaus. After some early missteps, we were able to find our way into the city center. From the first sight of St. Peter’s Church (Alter Peter), I was in love. There is so much beautiful and incredible architecture in Munich as well as history. To me, Marienplatz was totally overwhelming because it seemed like everywhere you turned there was something to see or explore or look at appreciatively.

The Neues Rathaus is particularly stunning. It’s most well-known for its Glockenspiel (one of Europe’s most overrated tourist attractions!) but to me, that was just a footnote. The building itself is just beautiful and so intricate, full of charming details that reward careful observers.

No touristy visit to Munich would be complete without a visit to the Hofbräuhaus, so we made sure that was one of the first things we did. We’re thorough like that. But the Hofbräuhaus is a must-see for obvious reasons. Yes, it’s crawling with tourists and saturated with Bavarian stereotypes. But you know what? It’s also ridiculously fun. The atmosphere is convivial, the music is entertaining and, most importantly, the beer is delicious.

The next day, we took a train out to Dachau in order to see the concentration camp memorial there. I was very conflicted about this trip. Obviously, this is a place that is powerful and worth seeing. But it’s still not an easy thing to commit yourself to, no matter how important you think it is.

Still, I am glad I went. The camp is very well-preserved and extremely interesting and moving to visit. It was much, much bigger than I expected – walking into the camp and immediately seeing the open square where the prisoners used to line up for roll call was a somewhat surreal experience.

I am quite glad that I got to visit the camp in April, instead of the summer when there might be more tourists. It was already a little too crowded for my tastes, and this was on a Wednesday in the low season. I experience places like Dachau better when there is more solitude, and it was quite distracting—and a little disheartening—for there to be so many tourists there who only seemed to want to take pictures, rather than take a second to internalize what they’re looking at.

The third day, we took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. I was excited for this both to see the city—I had heard it was beautiful—as well as to actually leave Germany for the first time. Granted, going to Salzburg was not exactly a huge departure from what I knew in Germany, but still. It was a new country!

Overlooking Salzburg, with a glimpse of the Alps to the right of the fortress.

The weather was phenomenal and Salzburg certainly lived up to its reputation as a beautiful city. A friend described the city as “excruciatingly beautiful” and by the end of the day, I think I understood what he meant. It was all just almost too perfect—a historic fortress looking down at the city from a hill, winding streets through a thriving old city, wide squares with picturesque fountains and white marble buildings… seriously, Salzburg pretty much has everything you could ever want in an ideal European city.

We paid several euros in order to take an elevator up to the top of  a hill so as to get a better look at the city, and I think that was definitely money well spent. It was a great vista from which to appreciate the beautiful white-and-green motif that dominates the city as well as to get a look at the Alps in the distance. To sum it up, Salzburg is simply gorgeous.

The original plan for our last day in Munich was to go to Neuschwanstein, which is basically THE German castle to visit. However, it was clear that energy levels in the group were dwindling and none of us were particularly enthused by the two-hour train ride that would be needed to get us to the city of Füssen, from where we could obtain transport to the castle.

We decided instead to use Friday to see more of Munich, and filling the day was not difficult – again, there is so much to see in Munich.

We started with a tour of the Residenz, the former palace of Bavaria’s royal family. It was an interesting tour, but I’m not sure it was worth the money to me—it was just a lot of elegant rooms, many of which were reconstructions, since much of the Residenz was destroyed in World War II. The part I enjoyed most was actually seeing the display of the valuables that belonged to the family,, such as swords, crowns and gem stones.  This was actually a separate part of the museum that you could pay individually for, and I think I would have been just as contented if we had only paid for the treasury portion of the museum.

After the Residenz, we wandered over to the Viktualienmarkt to find some food. The Viktualienmarkt is basically a huge outdoor market where you can buy ready-to-eat food as well as things like vegetables, breads, etc. From there we went over to the beautiful St. Peter’s Church, which was largely destroyed in World War II and was then reconstructed in the aftermath.

I’ve really come to appreciate the devastation that actually ensued from WWII. We don’t really have any conception of this in the United States because there has never been any sort of assault on our soil that has caused such widespread devastation. Yet time and time again, I visit places—structures as well as entire towns—that were something completely different before the war. I can’t help but wonder what Germany would look like if WWII had never happened—so much history was lost amidst the onslaught.

Green space! People!

Our last stop was the English Gardens, a massive public park similar to Central Park in New York. The park space is absolutely massive from what we could see, and we really only saw a sliver. The University of Munich is situated along one edge of the park, which I think would be absolutely wonderful if you were a student. I was instantly jealous, suddenly no longer satisfied with grilling on the banks of the Lahn River in Marburg.

All in all, I absolutely loved Munich. It’s everything you expect it to be, but it does that so well. If you can get over the fact that it’s crawling with tourists and accept its clichéd charm, you’ll have a blast. And seriously, the beer is awesome.

Journey with the Parents: Bacharach

The tower of St. Peters Church

After Köln, we took a train to Bacharach, a small village on the Rhine. It must not be particularly well-known among natives, because every German I have spoken to has never heard of it. I swear it exists!

We arrived on a rainy Sunday evening, and the village was pretty much dead. Which wasn’t surprising, since most German towns pretty much shut down on Sunday, but I was nervous that a town as small as Bacharach wouldn’t be much livelier on a Monday.

We spent the next day exploring the town. It’s incredibly small – you definitely don’t need more than two days to feel comfortable that you’ve seen everything, and even that might be stretching it – but very cute, full of timber-frame houses and cute little shops. My parents’ main goal in visiting Bacharach was to do some wine tasting, but we were largely unsuccessful in these efforts. Most of the wineries were closed, since this is low season for tourists, and not exactly prime wine season regardless.

Still, it was a very pleasant town to walk around, with plenty of history to explore, such as the ruins of a 13th-century church. There’s also a castle atop a hill overlooking the village which is now actually used as a youth hostel. I think the walk up would be pretty below average if you had a heavy pack – it’s about 15-20 min, uphill the entire way – but hey, then you get to sleep in a castle. That’s pretty cool right? I walked up there just to explore, and it seems like a very nice place to stay. Moreover, it offered wonderful views of the town and the river valley.

All in all, if nothing else, Bacharach offered a great middle point between bustling, modern Köln and our next stop, Munich. It was a lovely chance to stop and enjoy the quiet life along the Rhine.

Looking down the Rhine River Valley from the vantage point of the castle.

Helau!

Yesterday was easily my best day here, and very unexpectedly so.

Four of us met up this morning to head to the train station to spend the day in Frankfurt. We get free train rides within the state of Hessen as students in Marburg, and I figured if we didn’t have anything better to do, why not bum around Frankfurt? It doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in Germany as an exciting, scenic place to visit, but I know there are some parts of it that are kind of pretty, and again, it’s not like we were paying anything to make the trip. Plus, it only takes about an hour.

Confetti bursting in the air, with the Römerberg in the background.

We got into Frankfurt at about 10:30 a.m. and just started walking with a vague sense of direction, which eventually proved to be faulty (shock). I was trying to get us to the Römerberg, Frankfurt’s old city, but I was ultimately unsuccessful in these efforts. We worked our way back toward the train station to find a Starbucks so I could use the wifi to look up a map on my iPod.

On the way back, we kept noticing people dressed up in costumes, which seemed a bit odd.  We also began to hear loud music and noticed increasing crowds of people – clearly, something was up. There were barriers that had been set up along the roads that we thought had been left from a previous event, but we began to realize that something was actually happening today.

I began to figure that Frankfurt was probably having a Karneval celebration, something the city of Köln/Cologne is best known for, but which other cities and villages also celebrate. We immediately realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a uniquely German celebration, and we abandoned our plans of wandering around, instead finding a place along the barriers to watch the parade.

It was pretty cold out, and we stood for a LONG time – I would guess a total of 3 ½ or 4 hours – but it was incredibly fun. It’s not clear to me exactly who made up the parade participants, but it seems that there are hundreds of organizations throughout the city who create their own floats and performances for the parade route, dressing up in silly costumes, handing out candy to children and playing traditional Karneval songs. Many of the songs were well known by the parade watchers, who would sing along. Apparently Sweet Caroline is a popular Karneval tune, and we heard it several times during the parade.

One of the many, many floats in the parade.

In addition to the traditional songs, all the parade participants would constantly call out to the parade watchers, “Frankfurt! Helau!” to which the crowd which shout back, “Helau!” I guess this was some sort of traditional Karneval greeting – we thought they were saying “Hello!” but we eventually realized it was different.

One aspect of the parade that I thought was interesting was its use of some racial imagery in ways that would never be acceptable in the US – there were groups done up in blackface with images on their floats depicting caricatures of blacks that would be offensive to most in America, and other dressed in ponchos and sombreros as part of an overall Mexican theme. I realize that different societies will have different taboos, and it’s certainly not as though the parade participants themselves were entirely white, but I just thought it was interesting that what some Americans might find deeply offensive apparently doesn’t even register with Germans.

Other highlights of the day included: trying currywurst, a bratwurst chopped up with some sort of sauce poured over it and curry powder sprinkled on it; trying Glühwein, a hot spiced wine that is absolutely phenomenal on a cold day; and making friends with Patrick, who currently lives in Frankfurt and works as a dog trainer (he had an adorable dachshund with him and his parents trained German Shepherds – how German!).

It was just such an unexpectedly fun day – we were going down because we had nothing better to do and I wanted to get more familiar with Frankfurt’s train station, since I hope to be making many more trips during my time here. Yet instead we stumbled on a uniquely German celebration, essentially a giant party in the middle of Frankfurt. We didn’t quite make it to the old city today, but this was absolutely a day well-spent in Frankfurt. And hey, it’s not like we can’t come back another time.

Getting Settled

Monday morning Becca and I checked out of our hotel room and hailed a taxi to take us to the Mensa/Studentenwerk (basically their student union building) at Philipps-Universität. We arrived, checked in and then were sorted into four different groups containing other students participating in the pre-semester language course. Our group ended up containing five Americans (there are a lot more Americans doing this program that I would have expected) as well as people from Poland, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan. So, besides the preponderance of Americans, all in all, there’s a fairly good mix.

We had two sort of orientation leaders. Their primary job was helping us fill out some complicated paperwork to notify the German government of our presence and arrival. We also got breakfast together in one of the building’s cafeterias .

Perhaps the most important thing we learned this day was our housing assignment. When applying for this exchange program I had requested one of the dorms near the castle that crests the hill Marburg is located on – seemed like a cool idea, yeah? However I was not successful in these efforts. I am living in the Karl-Egermann-Haus, better known by the street it’s on, Fuchspaß. It’s about a 20-minute ride by bus from the university, which is another reason why I had tried to request a Schlosswohnheim – I knew they had dorms that were outside the main city and I wanted to try and avoid this. Alas, however, I was foiled in my efforts.

The room is certainly no thing of beauty, but it’s definitely functional, and that’s really all I can ask, right? They provided bedding for me, which is much appreciated. My building’s Wirtschafterin, (sort of like a den mother for your dorm building, as best I can tell) met me upon my entry (and also helped me carry my suitcase up to the fourth floor, bless her heart). She told me, I think, all about living here and different procedures (using the kitchen, washing facilities, etc.). She spoke entirely in German and I would say I only caught about half of what she said, but she seems very nice and I’m sure she will be patient with me if I have to ask her the same thing multiple times. She’ll be coming by tomorrow morning (I think?) to give me some additional keys – I get a sort of cubby in the kitchen to keep my food, which seems like a smart idea to me.

After finally getting to unpack my clothes and deciding which articles deserve to be hung on my ten hangers, I decided to head back into Marburg to a) see if I could figure this bus nonsense out (we were driven up to the dorm) and b) to scope out where I could buy food and to hopefully buy a hair dryer. I was successful on both counts and returned to my dorm with bananas, granola bars, shower supplies and a much-sought-after hair dryer.

Overall, I’m quite surprised by how much use I’m actually getting of my German skills. I think the prevalence of English over here was quite overhyped, at least in Marburg. I mean, I’m sure you could get by without German, but it’s not as though everyone I meet and converse with immediately tries to spoeak with me in English – if I want that, I almost always have to ask for it, and that’s something I’m trying very hard not to do. However, I do need to go open a bank accountzz and I will probably ask for English for that, simply because that can be confusing enough in English.

I do feel like my German skills are improving, even after just a couple days here.  Being surrounded by people speaking German – and being spoken at almost solely in German – does wonders for your language capability. When I first arrived at the university this morning, I spoke very little German – I was very self-conscious and didn’t necessarily find the right words coming to me fast enough. Yet after a few hours I was speaking more and more in German, forming sentences with much less difficulty and much greater speed than before.

Still, it’ll take some time to fully immerse myself in the language. I still find myself reverting to English without consciously realizing it, such as saying please instead of bitte or thank you instead of danke. Those are small slips, yes, but I want to reach a point where German is my default language, not English.

The above was written yesterday – here are further updates.

Today pretty much all of us living in Fuchspaß were late, having unwittingly missed the 8:27 bus – the next one wasn’t until nearly 9:00 and that’s when we were supposed to arrive at the university. Luckily we were only late for breakfast.

Some representatives from different banks came and helped us to open new accounts, so I should have that finalized tomorrow. We also went to the Stadtbüro to register with the government. Most importantly, I finally have a phone which I will try to set up shortly, hopefully it works.

Miscellaneous observations:

–Germans, or at least Marburgers, do not jaywalk. It doesn’t matter how sparse traffic is, they will not cross out of turn. This seems to be one of the quickest ways to identify yourself as a non-native.

–Marburgers/Germans are apparently very green/eco-conscious/cheap because plastic bags either cost you extra, precious euros or they are only available in tiny, paper-thin varieties. Canvas bags are the way to go, and I will remember that for next time.

–Döners are delicious. It’s some sort of Turkish falafel thing. I am not sure what’s in them but I don’t ask questions and I am happy.

The Last Day and Some Superlatives

Now, to wrap up my DC journey.

Yesterday was it – our last chance to explore this city and ensure that we left with no major regrets.

The first stop yesterday was the Holocaust Museum. This was something I had wanted to do the entire time in DC but I had never heard significant interest from other people and really didn’t want to go alone. But it turns out that there were a few other people in the house who had really wanted to do it as well, so we seized the moment and went.

There’s not really a lot to say about the museum itself. Which isn’t meant to imply at all that it’s not worth seeing or not a good museum – far from it. But, it is exactly what you think it is: moving, heartbreaking, horrifying, fascinating and even at times hopeful. In terms of its quality simply as a museum, I think it was very well done. It unfolded very logically and you leave with a strong idea of how discrimination and scapegoating of Jews and other marginalized peoples warped into mass murder.

One thing I liked about its setup is that as you move between floors, you would always cross on walkways with glass walls that let the natural light pour in. I’m guessing it was a deliberate design. These walkways give you a chance to take a deep breath, collect yourself and prepare to descend once more in the darkness of the exhibits—a darkness that is both literal and figurative.

The Jefferson Memorial, on the side not obscured by construction.

After the museum, we headed to see the Jefferson and FDR memorials. I had heard a lot of great things about the Jefferson Memorial; a lot of people have told me it’s their favorite of the monuments and memorials. It’s located on the Tidal Basin south of the Mall and the walk there is quite pretty, curving along the water and lined with trees.

I have to say though, I was not quite as enamored with the memorial as it seems everyone else is. A lot of it has more to do with the setting than the structure itself. They are currently doing construction on the pavilion in front of the memorial so there were both a lot of loud noises as well as ugly machinery marring the view of the structure in front of the water. Additionally, it’s quite close to the Reagan airport, so there’s a lot of ambient noise from airplanes coming and going. Adding the throngs of tourists into the mix, the memorial becomes anything but a peaceful place. I’m sure it would be lovely at night, and of course would be much better when the construction is over, but for now I’m not so sure what the hype is about. Which is weird to type, since it means I know have enough of a basis of knowledge about to DC to have strong opinions about memorials.

After the Jefferson, we walked around the basin to reach the FDR memorial. I had also heard a lot about this one as an often-overlooked but very pretty memorial. This one definitely lived up to expectations. It’s very different from the other memorials because it’s not just a single structure. It’s a series of water features, statues, stone walls inscribed with quotes and other elements stretching along a long path. You don’t just visit the FDR memorial—you explore it.

If you like water features, you'll love the FDR memorial.

It’s broken into four parts for each of his terms, and the quotes and features of each section are particular to the events of thatterm. So, the section pertaining to the Great Depression and the New Deal has statues of worn and weathered men standing in line waiting for aid, and the section pertaining to World War II has quotes specific to his thoughts on war. It’s all very lush and peaceful (much less heavily trafficked than any other memorial or monument, probably because it requires more walking to get to).

Now that the last of my adventures have been dutifully reported and tied up, I’d like to reflect on the highs and lows of my time in DC. This isn’t meant to be any sort of authoritative list for you to shape your own future visit to DC around; it’s just a way of drawing some final thoughts from this trip,

Favorite Monument/Memorial: I have to say the Lincoln Memorial. I know this isn’t a very novel choice, but it just seems to have the best of everything. It’s a beautiful structure with massive historical significance (so many important speeches and events have happened there). It also has a terrific view of the mall, and, as I experienced myself, is a lovely place from which to watch the sunrise.

Favorite War-Themed Memorial: Definitely the World War II memorial. It’s a very classic style, compared to the Korean and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials, but that gives it a timeless feel: it doesn’t feel dated by the style of any specific era or like it’s making a statement. It’s got huge pillars and fountains and also provides a great view of the Lincoln Memorial. I recommend visiting just after sunrise J

Least Favorite Monument/Memorial: The Washington Monument is cool to look at from the ground, but I don’t think going to the top was really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to pay for tickets, you just have to reserve online or stand in line really early in the morning. But it doesn’t really offer anything special. You go up to the top, you look through little dirty windows at the city, you go back down. I suppose if you like heights it’d be cool, but I’m kind of indifferent to that.

Favorite Smithsonian: American History by far. I’m not a history buff per se, but this museum just had so many fascinating exhibits and neat holdings, like the actual Star-Spangled Banner or Dorothy’s ruby slippers. It’s a museum of American culture as much as it’s a museum of American history.

Least Favorite Smithsonian: I didn’t enjoy the Air and Space Museum much, but that has more to do with my personal tastes. I don’t really like science and engineering when they get technical, nor do I have much of an appreciation for technology and “how things work.” So all the exhibits on planes and flight were much too dry for me. The space side was better, though.

Favorite Thing That Wasn’t Free: The Newseum. You know why.

Favorite Restaurant: I’m sure DC is a foodie’s heaven…if you have the money. I didn’t, so we didn’t do a lot of eating out. But, there was one place we kept going back to, and that place is Good Stuff Eatery. It’s a burger joint, but more like 5 Guys than McDonalds. The burgers are handcrafted and juicy, the fries are creatively seasoned, and the milkshakes… ah, the milkshakes. It’s possible that more than anything, I’ll miss late night runs to Good Stuff. If you are ever in DC, go there. It’s worth every penny.

Capitols and Cupcakes

It’s been a whole week since I updated – sorry! Nothing particularly exciting has happened. We’ve been taking it easy our last couple weeks. Perhaps a bit too easy, thought. Now we’re sort of overwhelmed with all the things we’d like to squeeze into our last week.

Mother Joseph, prayin' and stuff.

I went on a second Capitol tour on Thursday. My roommate Liz, who is a congressional intern, was doing it for the engineers in the apartment who otherwise have no chance to visit the Capitol, and I liked the idea of getting to see the building again at a slower, more personalized pace. I got to see parts of the Capitol that my first tour blew past, like the old Senate Chamber or the original Supreme Court. Granted, much of the pieces in those rooms were replicas, but it was still interesting to see them recreated. I also had a chance to seek out two statues of interest as part of the state statues collection. The first was Father Marquette, which we naturally took a group shot of. The second was Mother Joseph, AKA Providence Health Care’s mascot. Sort of.

Today we ventured into Georgetown. This was something I really wanted to do, because I feel like we’ve done a lot of sightseeing related to specific sights and locations like the monuments and museums, but not a lot of just wandering and seeing parts of the city. I had heard Georgetown described as a “posh” district and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The streets are lined with tons of preppy, hipster stores like Urban Outfitters, Lacoste and Ed Hardy (bleh). There were also tons of restaurants and artsy stores. It’s definitely a great place to window shop.

The line of people willing to stand in line for a half hour to pay $3 to devour a morsel of deliciousness.

No visit to Georgetown is complete without stopping by Georgetown Cupcake, or at least that’s what every visitor to DC is told. We certainly weren’t willing to doubt that wisdom, and so we dutifully got in line, which stretched down the block. We probably waited about a half hour, which is standard. Recently the bakery got its own TV show on TLC in the vein of shows like Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes. I have no familiarity with the show, but there were plenty of people seeking autographs from the bakery’s owners and various workers. We made sure to take a picture with one of the employees for posterity’s sake.

The cupcakes themselves definitely lived up to the hype. I had a Mint Cookies n’ Creme cupcake – mint Oreo icing and bits of cookie in the cake itself. It was pretty fantastic. I have a Chocolate Birthday Cupcake awaiting me later tonight, which is a more traditional chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing. Other flavors included Key Lime, Toffee Crunch, Chocolate Peanut Butter… basically, they have a ton of flavors and it’s all ridiculously delicious. Certainly if you’re not already jonesing for a cupcake it’s probably not worth waiting in line, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth and some time, you really can’t go wrong.

Our haul.

Mint Cookies n' Creme. It took approximately five minutes two eat: four minutes of admiring its cupcakey goodness and one minute of cupcake devouring.