The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), held annually in October in Washington DC, is a great way to see people from all over the world traveling to the US capital. Of course, all marathons attract runners from every corner of the globe – but the MCM somehow seems special. First, there are no qualifying thresholds, so anyone can enter and plenty of people do – as proven by the signs along the race course that challenge runners to beat the famous alumni in particular (“You can do better than Oprah!” – yes, she ran it and in pretty good time, too).

Second, because the race takes place in the nation’s capital, many runners want to be part of the excitement that comes in running past monuments, the White House, the Capitol building and along the Potomac River – it’s a well known city and one people want to see even if they are just spectators and not runners.

Third, there is an incredibly patriotic element to the race. It is hosted by the US Marines (guaranteeing it is done on time and without a glitch), and attracts many servicemen and women, both active and retired, both runners and wheelchair. At the end of the marathon – should you finish – a Marine puts the finisher’s medal around your neck while people of all different nationalities look on. Everywhere there are American flags, but also plenty of signs that there are plenty of travelers there – a runner in full Scottish kilt and bagpipe; Australian flags; oompah music from Germany; and lots of chatter in dozens of languages. I saw all of that this year – it was Chris’s third time running the MCM, which means it was my third time as pit and support crew (I’m getting better every year). And on Monday, when it’s over, at the airport, you can see runners flying home — or to their next marathon perhaps – to far flung places, proudly wearing their medal and being congratulated by everyone from gate attendants to TSA agents.

To the Marines, thank you for hosting and providing such a great event – that attracts people from all over the world for a unique kind of tourism. And to Chris – congratulations on sub-four, 3:57 to be exact!

Laura Flippin Washington DC

 

– Laura Flippin

 

Unexpected Pleasures

I know many of the hotels in my hometown of Washington, D.C. – not because I stay there; frankly I can’t tell you or any tourists that inquire of me which ones are the nicest to stay at.  As a local, I see mostly the public areas, generally restaurants, maybe the spa or cocktail lounge. To the degree there are “hidden gems” beyond that, you would be better off consulting Frommer’s or Fodor’s, or even TripAdvisor or Yelp.

Today, however, I’m at a place in Washington that I’ve seldom visited – the Jefferson Hotel on 16th Street – and early in the morning, after breakfast and before lunch.  Chris is running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, and usually books a massage the day before that to relax and get in prep mode.  This year, we waited a bit late to book the massage at the usual place we both like, and so I had to do some research on alternative options.  The Jefferson came up for several reasons – it’s a beautiful hotel, it’s very quiet and rather small so you aren’t subject to hordes of runners crowding locker rooms and waiting areas, and the staff have a reputation for superb client service.

While I can’t speak to how the spa actually turned out – Chris is the one who gets the benefit of the Jefferson’s “couture massage” – I do know that the food at the hotel is excellent.  Plume – the signature restaurant – is wonderful, inspired by Jefferson and particularly his time in Paris as US Ambassador to France. Quill – the cocktail lounge – is charming as well.  And for more casual fare, today we are off to the Greenhouse – which is like a European solarium in a 19th century marble palace.  Food, what food?  Not even sure we will notice it amidst the beauty of the surroundings.

But today, the genuine find for me is the library – a room designed based on Jefferson’s own book room at Monticello.  It’s a cozy, wood-paneled room, with recessed shelves of books written by those who have been guests at the hotel.  Even more alluring is a nook with a table and deeply cushioned benches – modeled after Jefferson’s own bed nook in Monticello.  Except better – Jefferson’s Monticello nook has always struck me as intriguing but uncomfortable (even for the exceptionally tall, over 6 feet, Jefferson).  No air conditioning, basic bed, tight quarters and candlelight might make it quaint but it also won’t win you many stars in today’s Michelin guide.  On the other hand, the Jefferson Hotel’s version is next to a discrete coffee bar, plenty of space, and genteel staff who solicitously offer cocktails, sparkling water, or just a bit of history about Jefferson and the origins of the hotel. All without waiting in line without other tourists.

For more information, check out: http://www.jeffersondc.com/

Coming Home

I’ve been on the road traveling pretty much constantly since mid-2014 and I am just now able to breathe. Hence, the hiatus in posting on this blog. One weekend recently, I was with my family at our weekend place; my brother-in-law traveled separately from the rest of us, taking the train. In the little town where we are, the train stops not too far from the house, and there is always a busy if small gathering of people waiting to meet the travelers who are arriving. The station is one of those where you can park right next to the tracks and the platform, so you can even sit in the car and see the train coming in and the passengers alight. Sometimes the train is late, as it was that evening, but there is always a tableau. Some families with balloons for college kids returning home. A few kids waiting for their dad or mom. And just people in transit, moving through the old-fashioned station with its covered portico and flickering lights.

A little Norman Rockwell, I’ll admit but there is indeed something moving about it. Many singers and musicians have written about trains and what they mean to us as a sense of place and travel in time – think of Merle Haggard and Train Whistle Blues (“Every time I see that lonesome railroad train, It makes we wish I was going home again”) or Peter, Paul and Mary and 500 Miles (“If you miss the train I’m on you will know that I am gone”). Or one of my favorites, from Marc Cohn, Ghost Train:

Some trains they leave in the morning

Some leave in the afternoon

Some trains they leave here

Right on time

And some they just leave too soon

A few years back, the UK Telegraph even had an article about great train-related songs – you can find it at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/journeysbyrail/6406122/Music-on-the-train-Great-rail-related-songs.html

In a world where plane travel is the fastest way to go, and where the automobile is still viewed as the easiest freedom on the road, there is something special about the train, even when it’s just passing through the station in your town, on the way to another place.

– Laura Flippin

Playing Tourist in My Hometown

I’m a native of the Washington DC area, and over the years have seen most of the famous landmarks and locations multiple times. But more often during the daily commute, I mostly see monuments and museums as they pass by in the rush-hour traffic. It’s been a long time since I spent a weekend or more touring in my own hometown.

During the Independence Day holiday, with some friends and family in town, however, I did the marathon of tourism. With two thirteen-year old boys in tow, neither of whom had been to DC before except briefly when they were too small to remember the trip, we had a lot of ground to cover. We began on Friday (7/3) with lunch at Matchbox in Chinatown – great food but service was slow , followed by the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue and then a late dinner at Minh’s Vietnamese restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. The Newseum is perfect for pre-teen and early teenage kids. First, there are a lot of visual displays like sections of the Berlin Wall and a damaged antenna from the World Trade Center 9/11 wreckage. Second, there isn’t a lot of reading of long descriptions and narratives – many of the exhibits are largely done around objects themselves or speak for themselves, like Pulitzer Prize winning photographs. And finally, the place is huge and has a plethora of gift shops with cool kid-oriented stuff – our purchase was a massive Uncle Sam-style plush hat that one of the boys wore all weekend; very patriotic!

On the Fourth of July itself, we wisely avoided the downtown area and instead spent the day at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy facility. With IMAX films, an observation tower where you can see the big planes taking off from the airport, and plenty of real planes and space vehicles to view, it was the perfect place to spend the day. Highlights of this “museum” – which is really the size of multiple airplane hangars – included seeing the Concorde (ah, how I wish I had been able to fly on it when it was in service!), the F-22 Blackbird, the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay. The only real downside of Udvar-Hazy is that the only option for lunch there is a McDonald’s restaurant on site. And given that Udvar-Hazy is located pretty far from anywhere else, you can’t walk to another site. We settled for a late lunch at a local Mexican restaurant in nearby Chantilly as the thought of a Happy Meal was not well received by the foodie members of our touring group.

More to follow in Part 2 . . .

– Laura Flippin

#arlingtonva #DLAPiper #WashingtonDC

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