Getaway to Washington, DC
After traveling to over 10 world capitals, I finally made it to my own country's in June 2005. It certainly did not disappoint. And getting there was an adventure in itself! Our sons Richie and Jason and their families live in Annapolis, Maryland and earlier that spring, Carol had been struggling with her plans to visit the kids and grandkids. There were so many things going on during May and June and she couldn’t decide which graduation, confirmation, lacrosse game or dance recital to attend. So I suggested that she stay out there for a month and attend them all. That's what she did, with the caveat that on one of the middle weekends, I’d fly out to see her and spend some time with the kids as well.
On a Thursday in early June, I boarded a regional jet at Peoria airport and started my journey east. Unfortunately, the weatherman had other ideas and the trip from Peoria to Baltimore/Washington International Airport was not uneventful. My worst nightmare was that I’d make it to St. Louis, the first leg of my trip, and something would happen to the St. Louis to BWI leg and I’d either have to drive back to Peoria, get a hotel or sleep on the floor of the airport. So I secretly hoped if the weather was going to mess things up for me, that it happened before I left Peoria. No such luck of course. But it did start out well and much to my delight, our flight left right on time from Peoria.
The day before, huge storms had moved through Central Illinois in the late afternoon and the heat and humidity on that Thursday was certainly cause for concern that the same thing would happen again. But as I said, we left on time, had a nice short flight and as we began our descent into St. Louis airport, I breathed a sigh of relief as the sun was still shining and at about 500 feet off the ground, I was actually looking to see where the shadows were so I could determine what direction we were coming in from. But then at about 200 feet off the ground, it was as though someone had turned off the lights and within a couple seconds, there was lightening all around us and the plane was being buffeted from side to side. At about 50 feet off the ground, the pilot (actually the copilot I found out later) pulled the plane up and we banked right and away from the storm. After a few minutes, the pilot came on and said that she thought we could beat the storm into the airport but that we couldn’t land safely in those conditions so we had to abort the landing. After circling in clear air for about ten minutes, she came back on and said that St. Louis airport was indefinitely closed and that because we were running out of fuel, we would need to divert to a nearby airport, The Spirit of St. Louis, in Chesterfield, MO. We did that after another fifteen minutes in the air and we landed safely in Chesterfield. I noticed as we were taxiing in that there were other American Airline planes on the ground there as well. We were third in line for refueling.
It was so hot, that they could not let us stay on the plane without the engines running. But since there was no security at this airport, they had to keep the 28 of us in a tight little group outside the aircraft on the tarmac. At one point, the copilot, who was flying the plane as we approached St. Louis, came past me and I said hello. He apologized for the delay and told me that as they were just about to land, it was raining so hard that he couldn’t see the ground and their training requires them to abort in that case. I said, “Hey, thanks, I’d rather be alive in Chesterfield than in a smoldering mass of metal in St. Louis!” I also told him that although this would likely cause me to miss my connection, seeing a jet being fueled up close and actually just being this close to a commercial aircraft kind of made it all worthwhile. It was actually quite fascinating.
We were on the ground in Chesterfield for about an hour before getting the word that St. Louis was back up and running. It took about 20 minutes to fly the 20 miles back to St. Louis, and we landed almost exactly when my BWI flight was scheduled to leave. I called Carol when we were taxiing in and asked her to look to see if flight 2282 had departed. She was at Richie’s and I could hear him in the background telling her it had. My heart sank, knowing my worst nightmare had come to pass…sleeping on the floor or driving three hours back to Peoria.
Anyway, when I got inside, I immediately asked an AA agent if 2282 had left and she looked it up and said that it had not and that they had not started boarding. Turns out, that flight came from Phoenix or someplace out west and when Richie saw that it had departed, it was obviously from there, not from St. Louis. Anyway, instead of having 2 ½ hours to have dinner and relax in the Admiral’s Club, I ran to my gate just in time to board. I had requested an upgrade on this flight and once I got in my comfortable first class seat, I relaxed (the two glasses of wine helped that) and started to enjoy my vacation.
As it turned out, I was only 40 minutes late into BWI and when I arrived, Carol, Richie and Julie were there to greet me. We made it to Richie and Julie’s house, a beautiful home in a wooded area of Annapolis, at about11:30pm. We had a quick glass of wine and crashed out shortly thereafter.
The next morning, I got to see our grandkids Nathan and Natalie for a short time and looked forward to seeing them again in a few days at Nathan’s graduation party. Carol and I took off about 8:00am for New Carrollton, the closest Washington Metro station to Annapolis. Getting parked, to the station, ticketed and on board were all very easy and the train was clean and efficient. The ride on the Orange Line from New Carrollton to Foggy Bottom station took about 40 minutes and after we arrived, we had about a two block walk to The Watergate Hotel, our destination for the weekend.
The Watergate Hotel
When Carol and I first planned this weekend, I agreed to find us a hotel in Washington on the Internet and a gazillion options came up in the search. When I saw that one of them was The Watergate, it never occurred to me that it would end up being one of the least expensive options. Without hesitation, I booked us a room for Friday night.
Since we had gotten to Washington as early as we had (about 9:30am), we planned to drop off our luggage at The Watergate and do a bit of exploring on Friday morning. But when we got to the front desk and asked about that, the gentleman behind the counter said he had our room ready and we could check in if we’d like. A pleasant surprise and we gladly accepted his offer.
After freshening up, we started off east from The Watergate which is in Georgetown, a section of western Washington. We headed towards Pennsylvania Avenue and The White House. It was really great seeing all these wonderful buildings and structures in person that I’d seen in so many movies and books over the years. South from The White House is the Washington monument which was undergoing a huge landscaping project which kept us from getting up to it easily. We had a nice walk around it though and headed west again towards The Smithsonian Institution, which was a must see for me. I won’t bore you with all the details but seeing the Star Spangled Banner, the actual flag that Francis Scott Key saw flying over Ft. McHenry one September morning in 1814 was a real thrill for Carol and me. I had no idea how big this flag is. When Mary Pinkersgill made the flag, it measured 32’ X 40’ but some of it is now missing, having been cut up for souvenirs and as memorials to fallen soldiers. We watched for a while as Smithsonian technicians sprawled on an apparatus hovering above the flag, meticulously worked to preserve the woolen and cotton fabrics. It was an amazing thing to see.
For me though, seeing The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane in which Charles Lindberg made his solo flight across the Atlantic, was the highlight of the day. That and the X-1, the tiny rocket craft in which Chuck Yeager first traveled faster than sound. In fact, all the NASA spacecrafts, the Wright Brothers flyer and nearly everything else in the Air and Space Museum kept me pretty interested and I know The Smithsonian is a place I’ll return to some day.
After our time at The Smithsonian, we walked to the Capital and saw this impressive structure from the base of the reflecting pool in front. Again, seeing this building that I’d seen countless times on TV and once or twice on a fifty dollar bill was inspiring when I began to mentally list the many people who’ve worked and visited there in our country’s history. It was a great walk from one end of Washington to the other and I’m very glad we had the chance to do it.
After the walk and the Smithsonian, we were quite ready for a taxi ride back to the hotel. It was unseasonably hot in D.C. for early June and though we probably could have made it back to Georgetown on foot, we would have been done for the rest of the day, or so we thought. We decided to have a late lunch at The Watergate in Aquarelle, the nice restaurant that overlooks The Potomac River. We were seated by Adrian Muldoon at Condoleezza Rice’s favorite table and served by Dominique, a young man from Portugal. Adrian and Dominique both spent a lot of time with us and we were made to feel very special during our time there. Getting checked in early, finding our room to be quite nice, getting a great table for lunch and meeting Adrian and Dominique prompted Carol and I to declare The Watergate one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed in. And we’ve stayed in hotels all over the world so I think that says a lot.
After lunch, we took a short nap, freshened up, then took a walk along the Potomac. We found Tony & Joe’s, an outdoor bistro right on the river and we had a drink and some hors d'ouvres. The plan for later was to walk to Georgetown city center and find a little out-of-the-way restaurant for dinner. We did just that but again, it was still so hot in the early evening that we didn’t look too long. We found News Café, a small Italian place and it really couldn’t have worked out better. The food and service were great and we had a nice bottle of wine as well.
After dinner, we took a taxi back to The Mall, the area of D.C. where all the monuments and museums are located. We visited Lincoln Memorial and The WWII Memorial, both quite awe inspiring places. It was funny, though, it seemed as though at times, we were alone on a Friday night in Washington. I mean, we could walk for great distances before running into anyone. It was odd, really, especially for a fairly nice, albeit a bit hot, Friday night in a big city. Of course we loved it and it made the evening even more special.
We took a taxi back to the hotel and caught the second to the last boat tour up the Potomac. It was great seeing all the beautiful sites from the river and of course, I had a glass of wine while we sat and enjoyed the views.
Though we’d had a very full day and were quite tired, we did manage a nightcap at The Potomac Lounge, the nice bar in The Watergate. It was a great end to one of my most memorable days.
We got up early on Saturday and took a walk along the Potomac again, this time just enjoying the river views and all the people jogging and walking on the nice promenade. After the walk, we had breakfast at Aquarelle (Condoleezza’s table again) and said our good-byes to Adrian who once again was working as maitre’d. We packed, checked out and headed back to Foggy Bottom for the Metro ride back out to New Carrollton.
The train ride was uneventful and in fact, for most of the trip, we had the entire train car to ourselves. And unlike Friday morning, the parking lot at the station was nearly empty on Saturday and getting to the car and on the road was a snap. Our destination was our son Jason’s store, Bank Schott Billiards. I hadn’t seen Jason for a long time and it was good to spend some time with him, see his store which is quite nice and get caught up on his life in Maryland.
This was a great weekend for me. Obviously it was wonderful to see Carol after two plus weeks and it was really nice seeing the kids and grandkids again. But I think what made this really special for me was Washington itself and the time that Carol and I spent there together. This is a great city, maybe one of the cleanest and friendliest I’ve ever visited and certainly the nicest capital I’ve experienced (with Edinburgh, Scotland a close second). I love my country and having finally visited it; I’m really proud of its capital. I know that I’ll spend more time there in the future and I hope when I do, it’s as memorable an experience as this one was.
For more information on Washington D.C. check out www.washington.org, or, for The Watergate Hotel www.thewatergatehotel.com