Practical, Tried and True Tips and Tricks to the District of Columbia and Surrounding Area, with Guide to Restaurants, Sights, and Attractions!

I originally wrote this up for my friend, but I figure it is officially tourist season now that Memorial Day is upon us, so why not polish this up and let people get some guidance from a local.

Suggested itinerary for Washington, DC from Wednesday-Sunday

Wednesday: arrival

Thursday: you spend downtown (Green/Red line Gallery Place/Chinatown). Walk from the metro station to the National Building Museum (make sure you check out the gift shop, it is fantastic), have lunch at Merzi, which is set up like the Chipotle of Indian food. It is a local place though, not a chain. I frequently stop here on the way home for dinner because it is fairly inexpensive. If you are up for more museums, the National Portrait Gallery is right there (where Gallery Place comes from), and is really interesting. You can also hit up one of the other Smithsonians, if portraits don’t interest you. Natural History is awesome of course. Air and Space is a must see, if you’ve never been, just for the lunar lander if nothing else.

*If you drive instead of metro you could also head over to the Arboretum, which has an amazing bonsai collection. Some of them are over 400 years old! If you drive, I cannot stress enough the importance of missing rush hour and leaving after 9:30. Parking will be expensive and I recommend going to a garage because street parking is limited and the meter maids are vultures who can smell an expired meter a block away.

Thursday night dinner: The best 3 course evening (dinner, bar, late night snack, obviously for swanky people like me) can be found around U Street. Options are Dukem Ethiopian Market (did you know DC is full to bursting with Ethiopian restaurants?) or Izakaya Seki (really adorable and delicious Japanese restaurant) and then grab drinks at The Saloon, which is actually a specialty Belgian beer bar. Finish up the night at Ben’s Chili Bowl, where I usually grab a milkshake, but those with heartier appetites can chow down on the famous half smoke.

Friday: Go to Capitol Hill (Blue/Orange Capitol South) and take the Capitol tour (more fun then you think), or head to the Library of Congress, Jefferson building (the pretty one). You have to go inside. LC is probably the prettiest building in all of DC, I’m not just saying it because it’s a library. If you need more nature instead of buildings, go to the Botanical Garden. Afterwards, walk or metro to Eastern Market (Blue/Orange Eastern Market). Dining choices: Ted’s Bulletin (must have homemade pop tarts), Matchbox pizza, Good Stuff Eatery (burgers and shakes), Banana Café (Cuban and Mexican), Cava (Mediterrean). If you have a pressing need to see the monuments, I suggest going to the National Mall (Orange/Blue line Smithsonian or Foggy Bottom) at night, because they are beautiful when they are lit up. *Summer 2013 note: the Washington Monument is covered in scaffolding right now and is not pretty*

Saturday: Devoted to exploring Virginia’s outer burbs by car, with trip to the awesome Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum (the huge one), home to the space shuttle Discovery. You need to have cash for both the toll road (it’s about $2 I think) and parking, which is $15. Totally worth it. Then head to Annandale for Korean food. Annandale is the Koreatown of DC as you will see. You can’t really go wrong at any restaurant here, but good ones are Ga Bo Ja Restaurant and To Sok Jip. There’s also Super H Mart, which is the giant Asian grocery store.

Sunday: Departure

Delaware Water Gap

I went on vacation with my family to the Poconos. I’d never been there before and was shocked at how big the mountains were. We lucked out on weather, so I was able get in some great hiking and to snap some nice photos, even when hobbled by using just my phone.

My Greek Dog

My Greek dog

My temporary pet in Greece

Of all the photos I took while I was in Greece, this might be my favorite. If you have ever been to Athens, you know that the streets are teeming with stray dogs. They are everywhere and basically have the run of the place. They sleep all over the Acropolis. They stand in the middle of the street with no fear of oncoming traffic. They are generally either friendly or indifferent to people, although some seemed a little aggressive. They are all mutts, and I don’t think they have homes, but overall they seem healthy enough. I’m curious as to the fate of these dogs since the rioting and unrest over the past year.

This dog was my favorite dog during my stay. I saw her (I decided she was female, but I didn’t check) many places around the main tourist areas. She’s a sweet girl, very friendly but not pushy. Every time I saw her, she would come right up to my side and stroll with me for a few blocks as if we were friends running errands who meet each other on the street and chat for the time they are headed in the same direction.

I traveled to Greece by myself. I was 26 and had never traveled abroad alone before. Although everyone was very kind, and many people spoke English, Greece can still be overwhelming. Almost every sign that isn’t on the main road is written only in Greek, and in tiny letters at that. The streets meander and take sudden turns, making it easy to get lost. There are panhandlers all over, some more aggressive than others.  I was also there in January 2011, which is not tourist season, and  just when the Greek debt crisis was becoming the serious issue that we know today, and there was a  lot of tension in the air.

My third or fourth night in Athens, I was walking back to my hotel after dinner around 11pm but I needed to stop by a bank ATM, doubling my distance. The streets were eerily quiet because many Greeks were resting up for a transportation strike the next day and there didn’t seem to be any fellow tourists around. I felt anxious and alone. Then this dog comes from around the corner in front of me, makes a beeline right to me, and proceeds to walk with me not just to the ATM, but continues to follow me to the tiny street my hotel is on, another 5 minutes away, whereupon seeing that I was delivered home safely, she trotted along her way. Her presence calmed me instantly and I was able to go about my business happily, without any lingering fear, just absolutely knowing I would be fine while she was with me.

I love all dogs, but…there are always some dogs you connect with immediately and remember forever. She was one of them.