I’ve had the pleasure of being able to visit Washington DC numerous times the past few years with my cousin Joshua going to Georgetown and multiple friends moving to the area after college. Despite having been a handful of times recently, I’m always impressed by how easy it is to find new neighborhoods, new cultural experiences, and great food everywhere you turn. The past two days were no exception and I had the added benefit of being able to see some great people while here.

After a stroll around the under-construction Capitol building upon arrival on Tuesday afternoon, we stopped inside the United States Botanic Garden. I’ve walked by the building on a number of occasions but never went inside until this week. We were immediately greeted by a lovely woman who welcomed us inside, handed us a map, and told us about the new exhibit focusing on roots. An hour spent exploring the gardens and it was easy to forget we were in the district or that it was mid 40s and gloomy outside. There was such a diversity of life to experience across the different rooms and so many sensory treats to take in. From the humidity and enormity of the rainforest to the sweet smell of lemongrass to the full spectrum of colors seen in the orchid displays, there was unique nature to marvel at with each turn.  

The roots exhibit was another spectacle, categorizing the different types of roots found throughout the world and their specific functions. There were dozens of different plants that had been uprooted and cleaned so that their intricate root systems were fully visible. It was amazing seeing these huge networks that are so important to the life of the plant fully exposed to reveal their impressive complexity.

Dinner on Tuesday was a reunion with three great college friends in Sara, Jourdan, and Jason at Bluejacket near the Navy Yard. The converted factory had a great atmosphere with some classic American eats and craft beers. My mole-inspired Mexican Radio stout was a fantastic choice. Shoutout to Sara for the great tips on how to prepare brussels sprouts with cranberries that I’ll definitely have to try soon.  The meal was a perfect throwback with plenty of time spent laughing and reminiscing about the glory days back in University City. Before crashing for the night thanks to Jason’s much appreciated hospitality, the three of us boys watched the recent Ron Howard movie Rush. I highly recommend it if you enjoy action-packed racing or frequently seeing Chris Hemsworth with his shirt off. In all seriousness it was a great story that balanced simultaneously following the lives of two protagonists without ever making you lose interest in one or the other. Well done, Opie.

Wednesday we made sure to take advantage of the free admission at Smithsonian museums and got a couple of different experiences in. We first went to the Museum of Natural History and had a great time learning about our early human ancestors, checking out impressive dinosaur skeletons, and learning that roadrunners are actually pretty damn tiny. I was especially glad to be reminded that if you condensed the history of mammals on Earth down to one hour that humans wouldn’t show up until the very last second. Gotta love being humbly reminded about how infinitesimally small these lives we tend to take so seriously are compared to the history of our planet, let alone the Universe.

We next stopped by the Sculpture Garden which is always one of my favorite places to hit regardless of the time of year. There’s a really cool optical illusion house from Roy Lichtenstein, a large rabbit doing his best Thinker, and this fascinating stainless steel tree that always makes me wonder about its conception and construction.

Our final stop on today’s museum tour was the National Portrait Gallery which has a spectacular collection of portraits, sculptures, and mixed media projects spanning centuries of history. As you can see below, Jeff and I were both particularly captivated by Albert Bierstadt’s masterpiece Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. You are just immediately transported to a different world as soon as you step in front of this beauty. Everything from the reflections in the water, to the clouds rolling through the mountains, to the light shining through the trees and bouncing off the rocks was expertly executed and truly captivating. I could easily have stood in front of this one for a solid few hours to both analyze the painting techniques and imagine myself witnessing such a majestic sight. Today definitely inspired me to eventually try some landscape painting…I guess we’ll just have to see what the rest of the trip has in store.

We finished off the day by meeting our high school buddy Kevin in Adams Morgan for a delicious Japanese rice bowl meal at Donburi. I loved my Shiitakedon bowl with three kinds of mushrooms prepared in front of our countertop seating. As if the good eats and great service weren’t enough, the sound system blessed us with a solid rotation of Outkast, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and MIA so I was right at home. It was also a blast catching up with Kevin who is one of the most genuine yet goofy guys I know and has an unprecedented knowledge of all things music. This man knows it all, from straight out the dungeons of rap to the most eclectic of world music, so he made sure to give us some good listening material for the road as we prepare for a date with the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in two weeks.

Overall this was a relaxing but culture-filled two days doing lots of new things in a town that always seems to have more surprises up its sleeve. Thank you again to Jay and SarHa and Jourdan for the awesome company last night – can’t wait to see yall in Philly come August to celebrate a #coupleofschmucks. And thank you to Kevin aka Tiny aka the Soldier for Culture for always keeping me entertained, informed, and silly, and for this sleeping pad I’m about to crash on.

We’ve got an early morning wake up to continue our travels down the East Coast in search of more friends, warmer weather, and maybe some real authentic barbecue if we play our cards right. Until next time…