National Cousins Week in DC

Woodley Park Zoo/Adams Morgan (Red Line) Station

It was still dark when I left Columbus on 11 December. It’s always smart to have a photocopy of your passport if you don’t have its original copy for whatever reason.  As when I went through TSA checks at Columbus Airport, the security had to check with the supervisor if my Australian Drivers License is an acceptable ID.  Mind you, I did check this with the airline just to make sure before sending my passport to the Cambodian Consulate.  Luckily, I made sure to keep copies of the visa application form as well as the express mail receipt.  Without too much hassle, I made it through.

At 6am, I finally boarded the plane, found my seat, relaxed and slept through the entire flight. The next thing I realized, the plane was already touching down at Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport at 7:38, which is 12mins earlier than scheduled.  I looked through the plane window and was so entertained as I witnessed the awe-inspiring and dazzling sunrise.

The airport was already busy as evidenced by the many planes taxing out and pulling into their designated gates. I waited for 1hour.30mins for my connecting flight to DC at Concourse A of the airport.  Yes, I was bound to the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, for another family reunion. This time I will be meeting my cousins Mark, who’s attending a HIV Prevention Leadership Summit (HPLS), and Rosemary who lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

I haven’t seen Mark (aside for a 3-hour lunch get together during my San Francisco visit) for over 22 years. And with Rosemary, it was after over 15 years (aside from the 24-hour family reunion we had during Anaheim visit).

I finally made it to Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) at 11.08 am with no delays. Having been used to taking trains, long and short distances, I opted to take the Metro (train) from DCA, taking advantage of the weekend rate of $1.85 – an absolute bargain!

When I finally got to my stop at the Woodley Park Zoo/Adams Morgan (Red Line) Station, I had no idea that I will be up for a surprise – in front of me was the exit stairs akin to a stairway to heaven.  I was awed by the steepness of the escalator that I had to think twice of taking it or finding the elevator.  I suspect people with medical conditions like vertigo would have a problem with this escalator and may have to avoid taking it.  And trying to be as adventurous as I can be, I took the brave choice of taking the escalator.  As I rode the escalator, I held on to my suitcase really tight and did not move much nor look back down.  It was moving slowly that I was petrified to falling backwards.  Upon reaching to the street level, I decided right on there that I would take the shuttle back to the airport.  It was a torturous experience that I felt like getting slowly through a scary dark tunnel.

The Station was a two-block walk to the Omni Shoreham Hotel. I was too early for the 3 pm check-in time and had to wait since the room was booked under my cousin Mark. I was tired and weary and was hoping that I could check in early and be allowed to access the room.  I know that in the US, they are pretty strict about it.  But it was my lucky day.  At around 12.15pm, a very warm and friendly receptionist, Nemanja, graciously helped me worked out the room situation.  I also asked about the Internet access in the room.  He suggested that I register online for the ‘Omni Select Guest Loyalty Program’ to gain free Internet access and enjoy additional perks.  He also handed me down city and Metro maps along with the list of restaurants nearby when he knew that I was visiting DC for few days.  In addition, he also upgraded me to a higher floor. It was indeed an awesome service!

The hotel foyer is absolutely beautiful and the Christmas décors made it more stunning. There was a winter land décor, a tall white Christmas tree in the middle of the waiting area and a number of smaller Christmas trees displayed throughout the lobby.  Along the hallway of West Promenade wing, different themed Christmas trees were prominent.  Each Christmas tree was decorated by an organization in DC.  The trees have been on display for 2 weeks and were up for auction within 2 days.  Money raised will be going to the Special Olympics.

The rooms at the Omni Hotel are spacious, however the bathrooms are small. But for the superb service and location, which is in one of the most vibrant neighborhood in DC, I would stay in Omni anytime for leisure or business.

My cousin was due to arrive from San Francisco at around 3.40 pm, so I took the opportunity of catching up for more sleep (as I only had 2 hours of sleep from the night before) right after I took a quick bite at the Open City Restaurant. Open City is a block away from the hotel. I noticed the place while I was walking from the station. Nemanja did mention that it is a popular place frequented by both locals and visitors because of its location and affordability. It was apparently busy when I got there as I witnessed people standing by the door waiting for tables. Within 5 minutes, Teresa, the guest relation person, nicely placed me on a table by the window.

My cousin Mark finally arrived at around 6:00 pm, just right on time when I got up from my nap. We had a few chat and realized that it was time for us to go and have our dinner.  He took me to Kramerbooks & Afterwords Bookstore Café, which is located in the heart of Dupont Circle.  We waited for a good 10 minutes to be seated on the upper level of the restaurant.  The 10 minutes waiting time gave us the opportunity to explore the unique set up and concept of the place.  It is a bookstore where you can enjoy some good food, drink cocktails and have coffee.   The restaurant is open from early breakfast until midnight.  A solo guitarist entertained the diners that night.

As we browsed the menu, what brought to my attention was one of their desserts – ‘Dysfunctional Family Sundae’ (a combination of vanilla ice cream, amaretto-soaked chocolate brownie hot fudge, nuts & whipped cream topped w/raspberry puree).  I sometimes wonder how they come up with the dessert names!  The table next to us was savoring this dessert and highly recommended it to us. It motivated me to finish my main course to earn my dessert.

Right after our dinner, we received a call from Mark’s friend, Cesar, who is visiting from NY.  He happened to be in DC for a college friend’s housewarming party.  The house is located in Dupont Circle and 3 blocks away from the restaurant.  The party was already at its peak and was well attended.  Most of the guests were young Foreign Service Officers (FSOs).  The host, Ben, is about to embark into a new work assignment in Mexico.  Few of his colleagues have been assigned to places like Paris and Jordan.

The night was fun and entertaining. It reminded me of my college-day activities.  In one section of the house, there was a group playing table soccer game.  In the kitchen there was another group playing the ‘Flip Cup’ game.  I was keen in observing this game.  Flip Cup is a team based drinking game, where each team has an equal number of players standing on opposite sides of a table, facing one another.  In front of each teammate is a solo cup filled with a set amount of beer.  When finished, the cup is placed open side up at the edge of the table, and the player who drank it attempts to flip the cup, by flicking or lifting the bottom until it flips and lands face down on the table, sitting on its mouth.  Only after a teammate is done flipping successfully can the next person proceed. Whichever team finishes drinking and flipping all its cups wins the game.

Visitors were also asked to write their wish lists in a small paper and have them placed inside a box. Ben plans to bury it and have the wish lists read after 15 years

On Sunday, 12 December, we woke up with a cold and semi-freezing weather.  Lazy to look for another place to eat, we decided to go back to Open City for brunch.  Open City became our next-door kitchen.  This time, I tried one of the Winter Specials: ‘Crusty Wild Mushroom,’ a very tasty pastry served with green salad.  We added a bowl of the mussels, which was highly recommended by Teresa.  I decided to order the half-size serving and shared it with my cousin.  The serving was more than enough for two.

At dinnertime, Conrad, a college friend of my cousin and who currently works for the World Bank, joined us at Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant. The restaurant is one of the legendary longest-running Ethiopian establishments in DC and is only 10 minutes walk from the hotel.  While in DC, I was told that one has to experience the authentic Ethiopian cuisine.  We ordered and shared the ‘Messob Combo.’ The service at $24.25 was enough for three.  Drinks are very affordable and if you are into beers, try their local beers.  Food is really simple, not the sort that I would crave for the next day.  Service and ambience was definitely not to my satisfaction.

Nemanja met up with us after dinner and recommended that we go and check out the local bars around the neighborhood. Our first stop was at the Madam’s Organ, a pub-type multi level restaurant/bar/karaoke venue. The place is highly popular hang out spot. I will certainly not forget the signage outside of the bar, which says “Sorry We’re Open”.

Our last stop for the evening was the Tryst (next door to Madam’s Organ). Tryst and Open City have the same owner. Since Madam’s Organ didn’t offer a great wine selection, we opted for a wine and cakes at Tryst. The place is great to hang out with friends while drinking a cup of coffee or sipping a glass of wine.  And if you are by yourself, bring your laptop since everyone around you is there for the same purpose, lounge and relax.

Monday, 13 December, was another cold day.  No snow, which is a good day for my first icy city walking tour with my usual driver and car, the Metro. First stop was at Farragut West Station. From here it took me to the White House and the site of the Washington Monument.  I then walked through Pennsylvania Ave towards the Capitol.  Surprisingly, I was still surviving the freezing cold, and decided to continue walking back towards North West from 1st Street and finally gave up and hopped into a cab from 11th Street to go to the Cambodian Consulate to collect my passport, which I mailed when I was in Columbus. I had to obtain my visa in preparation for my Southeast Asian trip next year.  I was told that I could not get a visa being too far in advance but I sent it anyway and followed it up with an email stating my situation.  Well, I got my wish!  Visa was granted – stamped with a 31 March 2011 issuance date and 30 June 2011 expiry date.  I was so happy and thankful to the consulate clerk.  Rules are meant to be broken!

The next day, Tuesday, 14 December, was a lot colder but I cannot leave DC without seeing one of the museums.  I have been in DC in the 90s and seen few but one legendary museum that I have always wanted to see is the Bureau of Engraving & Printing.  My Metro stop was at the Smithsonian, which also links you to most of the museums in the area.   After a quick visit at Holocaust Memorial Museum, I immediately went next door to the Bureau of Engraving & Printing.  It was certainly an interesting and informative tour.  It is free of charge and definitely a highly recommended visit for everyone.  Yes, they even allowed a screaming infant in!  From here, I struggled through the cold weather and the wind-chills.  So by 3.30pm I was back in the hotel.

The night of 14 December marked the last night of my stay and ended to be eventful and comical. My cousin Rosemary and her cousin Virginia drove all the way from Baltimore to meet up with me at the hotel.  We decided to have dinner and met up with my cousin Mark who at that time was still at the Marriott Wardman Park, the HPLS conference venue, which is a block away from the Omni Shoreham.  When we got there, the hotel lobby and lounge was apparently filled with HIV advocates and leaders around the US.

Here we met my cousin’s friend Andy from NY and introduced ourselves which turned out to be the most entertaining introduction I ever had.  So this is how the introduction went:  Mark says ‘Andy meet my cousin Michelle’, and then I did my part, as I stood on the left hand side of Rosemary ‘and this is my cousin Rosemary. ’And then Rosemary said her line, ‘and this is my cousin Virginia’.  Not realizing how it went so natural.  We all paused for a second, realized how we were connected with each other (“one-degree of separation”) and laughed.

Then we met the rest of Mark’s co-workers from the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco who were also in the conference – Lance, Carlos and Lina.  We did our introductions once again, which became the entertainment of the night!

After the intros and guffaws, we all headed to Jaleo, a Spanish tapas bar restaurant in downtown.  The place was very busy but nice ambience.  We ordered several tapas but what stuck in my head was the ‘Arroz Negro.’ It was one of the Paella dishes – cooked in black rice with porcini mushrooms, cuttlefish and squid ink.  Overall, the food at Jaleo was tasty.  Service wise, it was a bit disappointing – the assigned server was neither attentive nor friendly.  But what’s special about the night was the company and the reunion of cousins.

Rosemary took us for a nice Moonlight driving tour where we gazed the tranquil night sights of Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and finally the National Cathedral.  Washington has a great park like feeling and very interesting nightlife offerings.  You just need to know where to go.   Government buildings and monuments are beautiful, with a distinctive level of sophistication and style.

The memories of my cousins are there from childhood and will remain forever as my lifetime ready-made friends.  A National Cousins Week should always be celebrated and cherished wherever you are in this world!  DC was the key to Directly Connect with my Direct Cousins.

At 5 am, Wednesday 17 December with 2hours sleep, I sadly bid farewell to my cousin to catch a flight at 8.25 am.

With all the holiday decors I see around, these remind me of the quote  “like ornaments, thoughts of special people brighten the season and warm our hearts.”  From a cold winterland, I am sending my warmest Christmas wishes to you and your family, and to my friends and loved ones. May you have a merry and bright Christmas whilst mine is gift-wrapped in Snowy-White!

© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.

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