Friday, January 31, 2014

A Day in D.C.

This will probably be a long post to report about only one day - sorry.  I was excited to be able to go to Washington D.C. for work the other day.  I've been busy planning this work event for quite awhile and finally, the fateful day arrived.  We had decided early on that we'd head down to D.C. the night before the event, just so we wouldn't have to hurry around on the day of.  So Tuesday, three work colleagues and I rode the Amtrak Acela train to D.C.  Another colleague took the Delta Shuttle.  Our original train was canceled, so we took an earlier train - it was packed.  We couldn't sit all together, but were at least nearby.  I sat across from a work chum and the gals next to us were quite the chatty cathies, especially after they went to the club car and bought a half bottle of wine.  Each.  I can't imagine drinking a half bottle of wine during a less-than-three hour train ride, but ok.  As they were drinking, their conversation got louder and louder.  It was funny that my work chum and I put our headphones on at about the same time... :)

don't stay here
After arriving at Union Station, we all piled into a cab to head to our hotel, the Capitol Hill Hotel.  Let me preface things by saying that I had been in nearly-constant contact with this hotel, with regards to name changes and prepaying the rooms.  OK.  So, we got to the hotel, and it looked pretty nice from the outside.  The lobby was kinda funky looking, so I was looking forward to getting to the room and putting my feet up before dinner.  When we went to the front desk to check in, the clerk tells me "Hello, I have some good news for you and some bad news."  Uh, what?!  The bad news was that they had overbooked the hotel and we couldn't stay there.  The good news was they were going to cover our rooms in their sister hotel.  In Georgetown.  I guess I should back up again - the reason I chose the Capitol Hill Hotel was because it was two blocks from where our meeting was going to be, and around the corner from several restaurants we wanted to try.  Georgetown was not a suitable option.  I just couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that we were getting booted from this hotel.  I said, wait, I prepaid the rooms.  He said, no, we didn't charge the card just in case this happened.  Well, if there was a possibility this would happen, why wasn't I informed BEFORE we got there?!  I think the hotel really screwed up with this one.  Luckily, our colleague who took the Delta Shuttle got a room, so it was just the four train peeps who had to move. 

The desk clerk told us the Capitol Skyline Hotel was nearby, so we said book us there.  The clerk said he wasn't authorized to pay for that hotel - we said whatever, you can pay for the cab to get us there.  Which he said they would.  Needless to say, we were all a little crabby by this time.  We saw the bellman found us a cab, so we went out to change hotels.  As we're settling into the cab, the work colleague in the front seat said that the bill was being paid by this first hotel.  The cabbie, who was eating his dinner, said, "No way!  This is a $5 cab ride!  You can't afford a $5 cab ride?  Do you need to get out now?!"  We were rather gobsmacked that the hotel ALSO didn't pay for our cab, but we were also tired, so we said JUST GO.  So he did.  As he kept eating.  What a charmer.

As we drove to the new hotel, we saw we were leaving the cute neighborhood and heading into a not-cute neighborhood.  Our eating cabbie told us there wasn't really anything within walking distance of the hotel, which wasn't very encouraging.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw there was a restaurant, so our hopes went up a bit.  We checked into the Capitol Skyline, which sort of looks like an airport hotel, and I asked about the restaurant.  I was informed it was only open for breakfast, but would we like a list of area restaurants?  Sure.  Top on that list?  The McDonalds across the expressway.  Sigh.  We decided we would get a cab and go somewhere nice, after we all went to our rooms and relaxed for a few minutes in our rooms.

Easier said than done.  The first room I went to?  Smelled like smoke.  A lot.  So I went downstairs to get another room.  The second room they sent me to smelled like rotten onions.  I was beginning to doubt my sanity, so I asked a work chum to corroborate - she agreed.  So I went down to the front desk for a third time.  I told him I'm usually a very pleasant traveller and I hated to get the cleaning staff in trouble, but could I please get another room?  This time he put me in the tiniest of tiny rooms, but I did have a nice view of the Capitol building. 

We called a cab and decided to go to Sonoma wine bar, near our first hotel.  Our new cabbie was dubious at first - considering the State of the Union address was coming up, he was afraid all the roads to the restaurant would be closed.  We all just had to laugh.  What travel craziness.  Luckily, the roads weren't closed and we were at Sonoma in just a few minutes.  Sonoma is a lovely space, all wood and metal, very modern and spare.  The menu had small plates, entrees, antipasti and very affordable wines.  As always, I couldn't decide what I wanted, so I got three small plates, and a glass of montepulciano.  The wine was delicious as was the food.  I got the prosciutto plate (clearly this was not going to be a vegetarian trip), and it was gorgeously presented with delicious breads, whole grain mustard, pickled onions and cornichon.  Delicious.  I also got the burrata, which was served with more delicious bread and a green olive relish.  It was so light and fresh, creamy and acidic.  Just gorgeous.  I also got the meatballs, which were served in a tomato sauce, with mushrooms and gorgonzola polenta.  Oh yeah.  Also tremendously delicious.  I was quite happy and in a bit of a food coma afterwards.  Considering we didn't have lunch, though, I felt entitled.  Thumbs way up for Sonoma.  I'd love to go back.

As I tried to sleep in my teeny tiny room, I quickly discovered that having a view of the Capitol came with some drawbacks - there was a lot of traffic noise outside my room.  I didn't get a lot of sleep, darn it.  Boy, there were a lot of sirens that night.  Oh well.  The next morning, we went down to our hotel's restaurant (wow, it was open!) and had the breakfast buffet.  It wasn't much of a buffet, truth be told.  I had some bacon and some toast and lots of coffee.  The eggs and potatoes looked rather plastic, but that bacon was pretty good.  

One work chum and I had decided that we couldn't be having a meeting in the Library of Congress without actually looking around the Library of Congress.  So we got there a couple of hours before our tech rehearsal to look around.  The Jefferson Building is an amazingly beautiful building!  I had no idea!  Plus, one of the Gutenberg Bibles is on display there, as is one of George Gershwin's piano.  There are amazing sculptures and mosaics, and the light flooding in those ceiling-to-floor windows was glorious.  It was just stunning in there and I wish we'd had the time to take the official tour.  But we had a good time just the same.  I also wish we had had more time to peruse the gift shop, which had some incredible things in it.  But work waits for no one.

The tech rehearsal went great, the reception before the event went great, the event went great, except none of the tech worked.  Which was frustrating, since it had worked in the rehearsal, but the panel was game and improvised well.  I thought the panel discussion was very compelling and I look forward to seeing the video they put together.  I teared up a couple of times, just at the thought of being in the nation's capitol and having people hear the struggles of the writer.  I could hear 'wow' and gasps from the audience, so clearly a little education happened, which is always a good thing.   After all the travel agita, everything else was a great experience.  I would love to go back to the Library of Congress and see all the gorgeous stuff I missed.

The trip back was, thankfully, uneventful.  The cab got us to the train station with ease, the train was on time, we got seats together and the wi-fi worked so I could peruse the office iPad.  All in all, it was a nice day and a half, even with the pain in the butt hotel nonsense.  I felt like I was away for a week instead of just over a day, but that's ok.  I need to make more trips to D.C. - the city is so European in some ways and there's always something new to do and see...

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