My first big professional conference was in Washington D.C. last December. While I spent a lot of my days listening to talks on tissue-engineered blood vessels and therapies for cardiovascular diseases, I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of sight-seeing with Garren, who tagged along for the ride. Turns out there are a lot of things to do in Washington D.C.! We even got a bit of family time with Garren’s mom, who drove in from Virginia. It was a busy, productive, and fun five days in the US capital.
I had just had my laptop (among other things) stolen in St. Louis and I’d spent the previous week reeling from the incident, trying to deal with the insurance claim, transfer all my old files from my backup drives, and recreating my research presentation that hadn’t been backed up. The day finally came for me to leave for DC and I just had one task remaining: Re-make the research poster that I had to present two days later. I boarded my 7am flight in Minneapolis, new laptop in hand, old data on my hard drive, and spent the next several hours churning through my data, writing up my methods and results, and putting the finishing touches on my conclusions as the plane began its descent. I looked up poster printing shops as I taxied into the city. There was a FedEx by the convention center. Perfect.
Since my accommodation was paid for by my advisor’s grant money, I found the cheapest hotel within a few blocks from the convention center. It is a pretty expensive area near the Washington D.C. Convention Center, so there aren’t a lot of budget options, but Cambria Suites turned out to be our best bet coming in at just under $110/night for December. It is a newer hotel with suite-style rooms and a very modern feel.
The rooms were spacious and well-appointed with comfortable beds, a nice desk for working, a living area, and two tv’s. The bathroom was functional and stylish with a pearly tiled mosaic shower and a vanity with lots of light.
There was even a big fitness center on the top floor and a patio with skyline views.
Exploring Washington D.C.
Once we got settled in, Garren and I set out to explore a bit with one of my labmates, Z. We walked past the Renaissance Hotel, where the conference was being held and where many of the conference-goers were staying. Perhaps on an unlimited budget, it would have been nice to stay at the Renaissance, but we were perfectly happy with our suites a few blocks away.
We made our way to the White House, which was completely blocked off by the secret service, so instead we took to the sky. We found a rooftop restaurant a block away that had a heated patio looking right out over the White House lawn. We sat and ate an overpriced lunch, and hoped we would see some action, but the White House was quiet. We had fun picking out the different buildings we could recognize from above, and imagined what all the big shots were doing inside.
We knew the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum was close by (and free), so we decided to check it out. We were greeted by a great big elephant immortalized in the main atrium.
Being a huge fan of sea-life from all of my snorkel time in Hawaii’s colorful reefs, I loved the ocean exhibit with all of the coral and creepy sea creatures.
The rocks and crystals exhibit was awesome with all sorts of sparkly natural crystals and giant technicolor stones. The gemstone section was a little underwhelming for me, but I tend to like things more natural rather than polished and precision cut.
We parted ways with my labmate for dinner, and Garren and I found a fantastic neopolitan pizza shop called Etto to settle into. It was pretty busy on a Friday night, but we cozied up at the bar and warmed ourselves with wine and beer. We split a salad and a pizza, both of which were fantastic. They were so good, in fact, that we were tempted into dessert – a concoction with espresso and ice cream that was gone as soon as it arrived.
The next few days were filled with talks and poster presentations and quick lunches between sessions. After the last session one night, I met back up with Garren and his Mom and we drove over to Georgetown to see an art exhibition called the Georgetown Glow. There were various art exhibits scattered throughout the neighborhood, so we wandered around and tried to find them all.
Some of the Georgetown Glow exhibits were fun.
And some of them were downright creepy.
I often leave modern art exhibits somewhat disappointed. While we had fun walking around Georgetown, I have to say we expected a bit more from the Georgetown Glow. I think it would have been better if there were more exhibits rather than the half dozen or so that we saw. Even so, I loved seeing Georgetown all lit up for the holidays. The colonial charm and festive facades put us in the holiday spirit in no time.
After finding the last of the Glow Art, we Yelped for a good Italian restaurant and found ourselves in Filomena. Wow, that place was overwhelming!
We would have had to wait for a long time, and it just wasn’t the atmosphere we were craving, so we walked down the street to a quieter establishment for some basic pasta and Italian wine at Paolo’s Ristorante. It hit the spot on a chilly Georgetown night, and we laughed as we reflected on the Georgetown Glow and our inability to appreciate modern art.
The Phillips Collection
One day when I was on my own, I hit up The Phillips Collection, an art museum I had heard was a bit of a hidden gem. I love impressionist paintings, and couldn’t pass up the chance to see some of the great Monet’s, Renoir’s, and Cézanne’s, so I made the long walk across the city. I know I could have taken the bus or subway, but I like walking, and even though it was December, it felt like Spring to this Minnesotan!
I walked in circles trying to find the museum, but I finally saw the sign for the Phillips Collection in front of a giant red brick and stone building on a quiet side street off DuPont Circle. I had an hour before they closed, so I hit up the impressionist galleries first. I loved seeing the Monet’s and Van Gogh’s, the Renoir’s and Cezanne’s. They even had one of my favorite Chagalle paintings!
The Phillips Collection had some more modern pieces as well, including a few Georgia O’Keefe’s and Picasso’s on display. This was modern art I felt I could really appreciate. It was somehow more accessible and easier to enjoy than the Georgetown Glow art walk. I felt like the 1 hour I had was a bit rushed to see the whole Phillips Collection, but 2 hours would have been plenty.
Washington D.C. Monuments Photo Walk
I couldn’t have gone to Washington D.C. without seeing some of the monuments, so one sunny afternoon we took a golden hour stroll along the National Mall for a DIY photo walk.
Washington DC may not be what you think of for travel destinations in December, but it sure was pretty seeing the monuments decked out for the Holidays. December is a great time to do this walk as long as you dress for the weather.
If you want to do this DC Monuments photo walk yourself, start at the National Archives on Pennsylvania Ave. Allow 1-2 hours depending on how much time you want to spend at each monument. Start an hour or two before sunset for the best light for photos.
On our way down to the National Mall, we came across a group of protesters and watched them march down Pennsylvania Ave.
We walked down 7th St past the National Archives building and across Constitution Ave to find ourselves on the National Mall. We walked through a small park and admired the skating rink with the National Archives building in the background.
From the skating rink, we walked out onto the National Mall promenade and made for the Washington Monument. It was kind of hard to miss. We strolled down the promenade, tempted by the line of food trucks lining 14th St in front of the Washington Monument. If you’re lucky you just might see Santa and his elves, like we did. Apparently SantaCon is a thing.
We continued on past the Washington Monument to the World War II Memorial at the base of the reflecting pool.
I loved the view toward the Lincoln Memorial. So many famous moments in history took place on those steps, in front of that long pool.
We veered right of the reflecting pool to walk along the path toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
As we approached the memorial, the black granite wall rose up ominously along the path, engraved with the names of over 58,000 American soldiers that went missing or lost their lives.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was as moving as I had imagined it would be. It is all too easy to forget about the sacrifice made by so many. It seems so far from home when we may not have lost someone ourselves. But seeing a vet kneel before the name of a fallen comrade, brought the reality of the wall home to me. For every name, there was a life that was lost, and for every life, there were countless affected friends and loved ones.
Just as I was feeling more somber than ever, a little boy tottered by with a balloon. I smiled.
From the end of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the path led us to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just as the sun was setting.
The streaky clouds were lit with yellows and blues like a watercolor.
We finished up our walk watching sunset reflections in the glassy water.
With the limited time I had, I only got to see a small portion of what the city had to offer. If you’re planning a trip to Washington D.C. you can check out James Clark’s Washington D.C. Travel Guide over on Nomadic Notes. He has compiled lots of useful resources to help you plan your trip and discover the city. And there are even more destination guides too on the main travel guides page, so go check it out!
What’s your favorite Washington D.C. sight? I’ll add it to my list for next time!
My travel expenses were covered by my PhD advisor’s budget. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. Feel free to book your stay at Cambria Hotel & Suites using these links. At no extra cost to you, a small percentage of the booking will go toward keeping this site up and running. Thanks for your support!