Days 14-15September 19th, 2010
Given how well we did on camping, this was my first real opportunity to be a marauder of the hotel breakfast buffet. Waffles, biscuits and gravy, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, donuts, fruit, etc. If they had it, I ate it!
We relaxed in our room, then checked out at 11am to see more of the city, leaving our bikes behind. We visited many of Savannah’s famous squares, which are presumably annoyances for drivers who must navigate around them, but form beautiful park-like oases for those on foot. Public spaces all around the city, not only the squares, are shaded and cooled by spreading canopies of iconic Live Oaks, with their hanging beards of Spanish Moss. A natural air-conditioning, they make the city liveable under temperatures that would otherwise be unbearable. Along with the countless stately historic buildings, there is seldom a stretch of flat sidewalk to be found. Stone, brick, and even seashells underfoot add to the old-world charm of the city.
We lingered for some time at an independent coffeshop (root beer float and a spinach scone for me), frequented by many still-comfortingly-idealistic students from the nearby Savannah College of Art and Design. Then after some more sightseeing, it was time to leave Savannah behind, riding our bikes at below-sweat-threshold speed to the Amtrak station out in a desolate wasteland that made the historic city even more beautiful in comparison.
At less than 12 hours, it was a “short” train ride to DC, and despite the wailing 2-year-old across the aisle, I somehow got excellent sleep, which made it go even faster.
Union Station in DC is by far the most-impressive train station I’ve been in. Perhaps the the clientele attracted to the high-speed Acela Express service (connecting major centers of finance and government) is a bit different than the standard Amtrak customer, and their cash flow keeps the station well-maintained and full of amenities?
We sat down on a park bench, enjoying yet another perfect morning (though somewhat cooler than we’d been used to) and used our phones to select a hotel. We ended up at the Grand Hyatt, for the 3rd $99 hotel in a row, though this was by far the classiest. We couldn’t check in, so instead got a recommendation for breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle House, a packed-in little spot presided over by an Asian man cheerfully “woo”-ing and “ayy”-ingg as he took orders and directed traffic. Food was nothing special, but it was a fun local spot.
Then we got in a bit of monument-seeing before hopping the Metro for a subway ride back to our hotel. This classy hotel (grand piano floating in a lagoon on the lower level) was so full of finely-dressed African-Americans that I almost felt out-of-place as a white dude in shorts. It took a day and Dre T. Turner to help figure out what was going on. Dre was a man in white pinstripe suit who stopped us in the stairwell as we were heading up to bed, telling us to check out his music: “Dre T. Turner, Facebook, YouTube, cdbaby. Dre T. Turner!” Gotta respect a man hustling that hard to get his music heard, so of course I had to check him out. His Facebook revealed that he was actually from Chicago, and was in town to perform at the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual conference. Ah ha. And then that explained why, earlier in the evening, while having a beer in the brewpub across the street (amazingly, this brewpub/hotel combination was completely unplanned), we saw the streets get shut down and the President’s motorcade stream by! The initial word was that he was actually going to our hotel, but now I think he was probably just going to the conference center a couple blocks away. Still was cool to see.
We ended up at the brewpub after meeting the Bansal ladies and having dinner at an old Washington tavern. Old friends of Swati’s, I’ve now met Mrs. Bansal in DC, in India, and of course many times in the Chicago area. I’m pretty sure she’s stalking me. 🙂 They were the third group of friends we’ve met on this trip, which was very cool, because although Dennis and I seem to do remarkably well spending 350 hours straight rarely out of each others’ sight, it’s always nice to add some fresh voices to the conversation!
Before that, we had done another stretch of Metro-fueled sightseeing, including the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetary, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and perhaps my favorite, the Albert Einstein Memorial: finally a statue honoring someone for something besides skill in politics or killing people!
The next day we bagged the three branches of the Government (White House, Capitol, Supreme Court), and also visited the Air and Space Museum, where we saw no fewer than three bicycle-related exhibits: an exercise bike in Skylab, a rare example of a bicycle designed and manufactured by the Wright Brothers (resembling a bicycle of today 100 times more than a 747 resembles the 1903 Wright Flyer), and the Gossamer Condor, the first airplane to fly on human (pedal) power. Ourselves, we were operating on foot-power alone, as we shipped our bikes straight through from Savannah to Chicago. Plenty of bicycles around town though, many annoyingly piloted on the sidewalks. Git in the street, people!
It was my third visit to Washington, but first in 15 years, and still very enjoyable. I was fearing that the post-9/11 Washington would be a defaced mess of high fences and concrete barricades and blast walls. Certainly things are more locked-down and surveilled than I remember them (we were sudddenly herded away by police from the White House South Lawn when a visitor for the President was arriving), but on the whole, the monumental edifices are able to overcome their lowly barriers.
So it was another great day in an interesting place, and with a mere 18 hour train ride remaining, a good end to what, on the whole, was a pretty darn good two weeks.