Coordinates: 38.9072 ° N, 77.0369 ° W
Washington D.C. is the United States’ political epicenter, but a trip to this vibrant city does not have to be tinged by this topic. Because of its many visitors, there are plenty of events worth experiencing, besides an impressive variety of museums. The surrounding regions and cities, while eclipsed by the capital’s value, give it a special flavor. Here is a summary of ideas to consider during your next weekend there.
My best friend, like so many other people working in D.C., lives in its surroundings, specifically in Alexandria. Although it belongs to the state of Virginia, this captivating city feels more like a suburb of the District of Columbia. Actually it is so near that between 1801 and 1847, it was part of D.C. Because of my emotional connection and a historical center that shines its own light, I will begin right there.
The Historical District
The city’s name derives from landowner John Alexander’ surname, who in 1669 owned the grounds where the town was established. Its paved streets, splashed with structures with commemorative badges, make Alexandria’s historical district one of my favorite excursions. The district, known as Old Town, is also full of shops and spaces that reflect its artistic spirit.
The city on the Potomac River
One of these spaces, opposite the port, is the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The center assembles plastic artists of different disciplines in a space, which during the Second World War, operated as an ammunitions factory. The port opposite the Potomac River, which today hosts a boulevard with restaurants and other tourist attractions, was critical for slave trade before the American Civil War.
The First President
Alexandria holds an illustrious standing in the history of North America for being the home of George Washington. Mount Vernon, the plantation where he lived since he was three years old, is one of the most visited historical homes in the United States. A visit to the plantation, whose original name was Little Hunting Creek, will take a while because of extensive quarters that include a fishery, a distillery, a mill, a blacksmith workshop and a museum that summarizes the political life of who is considered the father of the nation. Go with time to be able to tour the main structure, known as the mansion, as well as its surroundings.
Connected by the Potomac River
My next recommendation is to walk from Alexandria’s historical district to National Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland. It sounds far because essentially you will be crossing from one state to another, but it will be only 3.2 miles in which you will border the Potomac River, take in panoramic views and cross the Wilson Bridge. Of course, you should wear walking shoes!
Once in National Harbor, prepare to choose what to do. The complex offers kayaks for rent, restaurants, shops, hotels and even a ferris wheel, which reaches 180 feet and allows for panoramic views. I discovered it while lodging at one of its hotels during a conference; and in following visits, I have always identified a different restaurant or something new to explore with family or friends.
Vineyards and native grapes
The state of Virginia has over 250 vineyards; some, like the ones on Chesapeake Bay, are organized by thematic paths, while others operate independently. The good thing is that many allow visitors to remain and enjoy the premises while tasting its wines. Perfect to organize a day trip, picnic and conversation included! The first vineyard we discovered was Chrysalis that produces wines with grapes such as Viognier, Albariño, Tempranillo, Graciano and Norton, native of Virginia, among others. In every trip we make sure to explore at least one new vineyard.
Always something to discover
On my way to catch a train for a meeting in New York City, I found a monumental traffic jam, that needless to say, made me miss the train. Upon leaving the station where I should have boarded my train, Union Station, we discovered the National Postal Museum and decided to visit, since suddenly, we had a day to be tourists. It was so much fun! One takes for granted how a basic service as this works; and the truth is, it was extremely interesting to learn how the postal service has evolved. Whether you visit with children or, as in my case, with a sister, I totally recommend this museum, part of the Smithsonian network.
Our next stop was an exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts with photographers from Iran and the Arab world. The exhibition was a sample of seventy photos, where the female photographers themselves explored and confronted their culture. Although it was not a permanent exhibition, this small museum shows art pieces that challenge your imagination, with the topics presented.
A recognized view of the city is the thousands of cherry trees that embellish the path towards the Washington Monument. These trees were a friendship gift made by the Japanese city of Tokyo in 1912. If your visit coincides with the beginning of spring, you must not miss the National Cherry Blossom Festival. As it is celebrated when the blossoms are in bloom, the event is, besides entertaining, visually beautiful and the perfect way to finish a weekend in this vibrating capital.
Conscious Travel Practices:
1) Research and respect the destination’s history.
2) Support cultural attractions and visit public spaces.
3) Support small merchants.
4) Explore destinations by public transport or walking.