36 Hours in DC: Day 1

So, even though I'm in Italy, I'll be blogging about one of my favorite American cities today. Last weekend, I went to DC and it was so much fun. We really lucked out because the weather was amazing. Saturday was a little windy but really bright and sunny. Sunday started off a bit overcast and cool but by the afternoon, it was wonderfully warm and almost 70F. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see too many cherry blossoms (thanks to the harsh winter and unusually cold February and March) but we spotted a few and snapped a few dozen photos.
We managed to squeeze a whole lot into our day and a half and I'm going to narrate it all. I'd also like to emphasize that we did not pay admission to any of the sights we visited. Isn't that awesome? There's so much amazing free stuff to do in DC.

I started my morning incredibly early - 6AM to be precise - at Newark Penn Station. I boarded my Amtrak train (I love the train so much more than the bus) and headed straight to the quiet car. I managed to get about an hour of snoozing time before the sun got too strong.

I always try and find a seat so that I have a view of the Atlantic. So, on my way down south, I'll sit on the left side of the train. On my way back north, I picked a seat on the right.
About an hour before my arrival, I slapped some makeup onto my face, reserving the harder bits - like eyeliner and mascara - for the brief moments we stopped at a station.
I arrived at Union Station around 9AM where I promptly called H, who had flown in from Hartford and was waiting for me. We found the Union Station Capital Bikeshare station and grabbed our first bikes of the trip and headed to our hotel to drop off our luggage.

The Capital Bikeshare program was identical to the one we experienced in Toronto. Basically, you swipe your card and you have the option to rent one or two bikes, which is great if you're traveling with someone. Then, you are asked to type in your phone number and billing address zip code, to confirm that your card isn't a stolen one, thank goodness for that. You have the option to pay $7 for a 24 hour pass or $15 for a 3 day pass. Once you've confirmed payment, you can either memorize the code to unlock your bike, or you can ask the machine to print you a ticket. Then, you just walk over to the bike, punch in the code (using the little numbers to the left of each bike nook), and tug the bike out of its nook once you're given the green light. It's so simple and incredibly convenient.
We stayed at the v. cool and flash Donovan Hotel, which is located just north of the White House and The Mall. It's sleek, fresh, and really luxe.
After checking in and dropping our bags off in the room, we sat in these awesome bubble chairs to loosely plan out our day.
Our first stop of the day was the Museum of Natural History, which is one of my favorites (made obvious by the fact that I went during last year's trip too). I didn't want to overwhelm this post with photos so I'm just including a few of my favorites, including  this disgusting looking malachite.
The Hirshhorn is full of contemporary and modern art, and depending on the current exhibitions, can be incredibly fun.
We were excited to see this incredibly graphic installation by Barbara Kruger. Who doesn't like giant words plastered to every possible surface?
We also experienced this blinding light installation by Dan Flavin. We joked to the security guard that this couldn't possibly be good for her eyes and that the museum should provide her with complimentary sunnies. She laughed and agreed and said she can't even look away because she has to reprimand people not to touch anything.
Honestly, the best part of this installation was the fact that it produced the creepiest looking selfies ever.
After almost blinding ourselves, went up to the second floor, which was full of projections and videos. There were several weird ones that I did not understand or like at all (including a naked artist, Sigalit Landau, floating with watermelons that were strung together like beads). However, we sat through the entire feed of Hans Op de Beeck's Staging Silence and loved it so much. Basically, he constructs miniature scenes and it's adorable.
We only managed to make it around the second floor of the Hirshhorn before our hunger became way too unbearable so we biked up Capitol Hill (almost dying of exhaustion in the process) and made our way to Good Stuff Eatery.
We readied ourselves with their selection of fry sauces - old bay, chipotle, mango, Sriracha, and plain ketchup - and waited for our buzzers to alert us.
I went for the Steakhouse Burger - piled with cremini mushrooms, emmental swiss cheese, and onion straws and a pile of Spike's village fries (seasoned with thyme, rosemary, and sea salt). I also got a toasted marshmallow shake, which was so rich and thick. This is the only way to do fast food.
After our hearty meal, we made our way towards the Botanical Gardens and thankfully, the bike ride was going down Capitol Hill. We stopped at these lush and blooming dogwood trees for a photo op that confirmed that it was indeed springtime.
We also gave these cutie eagles a little smooch. We were missing our favorite Hanover eagle family the entire time we were in DC.
The gardens were beautiful. Everything is indoors and it feels like a tropical paradise. It's warm and there are blooms everywhere.
We had the most fun at the smell display (which was probably set up for children).
After the gardens, we unsuccessfully tried to bike our way to the Kennedy Center (for the free 6PM music show). We gave up when we couldn't figure out how to cross/wind our way around the highway and instead, we went to a Whole Foods to pick up some wine and biked back to the hotel. We donned these "gorgeous" animal print robes and sipped on our libations and relaxed a bit before dinner.
On our way to dinner, we stopped by the Obama residence and waved hello. Huge barricades were set up, due to the impending Easter egg hunt festivities, so it was a more of a distant wave.
We also stopped by and said hey to Albie. I helped him turn the pages in his book.
We also got some great views of the Washington Monument at night. There was a gorgeous full moon that night so we tried to get both the moon and the monument (which I started calling "moonument") together in one shot but it didn't work out.
We had hoped that by going to visit Lincoln at night (night meaning past 9PM), that we'd avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, hundreds of people had the same thought because it was rather crowded.
After our evening memorial visiting hijinks, we headed to a late night supper at Granville Moore's. It's a really rustic, delicious pub that features one of H and my favorite meals, moules frites (mussels and fries).
We started with the "Mac & Cheese" which was really soft, pillowy potato gnocchi seared in duck fat and subsequently drowned in a cheese sauce made with smoked gouda and cheddar. The top was dotted with salty lardons and crispy breadcrumbs. This was delicious and we wolfed it down rather quickly.
For our mains, we decided to share two dishes. The first was a lamb loin special. The rare lamb loin was served with a pile of white asparagus squished on top of a pea and mint puree. The lamb was incredibly tender and well cooked and the pea puree was bright and verdant.
For our other main, we had the whole roasted fish and mussels on top of a bed of rice with tomatoes and saffron and olives. This was amazing. The fish had a crispy skin and the flesh was soft. The tomatoey compote added a lovely acidity and the mussels were sweet and perfectly cooked.
We had planned on going bar hopping after dinner, but due to a food coma, an early start to the day, and the fact that we'd exerted ourselves quite a bit on our bikes, we decided to head back to the hotel and just watch some trashy television and relax. We ended up watching a couple episodes of Naked & Afraid, which we found fascinating and weird, before passing out.

We had an incredibly fun and full day. Come back for Day 2 tomorrow!