Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mrs. Expat Teacher's first impression of DC

The following is Mrs. Expat Teacher's mass e-mail (she is sooooo 2003). The voice is hers and the "I" is her as well. She is a better writer than I am, so I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.

Greetings, In my work in admissions for a private school, I frequently talk with families who are going to be in London for a very short time to look for housing and schools before the big relocation.

Last weekend, I was the one on the short trip looking for housing and visiting The School where Expat Teacher will be working. We flew to DC on a red-eye Friday night, arriving at midnight and crashing upon arrival at our accommodation.

First thing Sat morning, we were up and on the go, visiting with a real estate agent who had been recommended to us by a friend in London. He was a wonderful guy -- gave us two hours of his time discussing various areas in London and what we could possibly get for our budget. He was also intrigued by our adventures of the last few years. We left determined to enlist his services when we move in August. During our time with him, we told him about our plans for the rest of the day, namely walking around a couple neighborhoods to get a feel for them. He recommended we walk from The School down to an area called Dupont Circle via Connecticut Avenue. We took the metro (in DC it's carpeted! -- and there's a strictly-enforced no food/no drink policy) to Cleveland Park, which is the location of The School and had a walk around the campus. It's beautiful! It's very leafy and set on the estate of the granddaughter of the founder of POST cereals. It has a baseball diamond, which Expat Teacher was thrilled about, and the architecture is just beautiful. The street just off The School is gorgeous, leafy with beautiful old houses that even have front porches! In fact, I waved to a lady catching the sun on her front porch as we walked by and she waved back:) Following the estate agent's advice, we walked from The School to Connecticut Ave and began the 30-min trek to Dupont Circle. It was so lovely. We passed a zoo along the way, which a colleague and former DC resident later told me is free. It had a very European feel to it: the streets had lots of little shops and there were cafes spilling out on the sidewalk.

In Dupont Circle, we met our host for lunch, and he then took us on a walk to the White House, which we saw from the South entrance (not the 'back' -- there is only north and south entrances rather than back and front so dignitaries won't be offended by being let in the 'back'), which was beautiful, but not nearly as imposing as I expected. I've seen it so many times on The West Wing, so it was very cool to see it in real life:) Then we walked up Constitution Avenue along The Mall to the Capitol, where our host pointed out the Houses of Congress. When we reached the Supreme Court, I was properly impressed -- that is an imposing building. I ran up the steps and weaved around the pillars and marveled at the handle-less doors, wondering that they must only be opened from the inside. Visitors can sit in on court cases (I think--or at least get a tour) three days a week.

Our evening entertainment was a progressive dinner of sorts -- along the high street near our host's flat. Several restaurants and cafes were participating in an event geared to bring visitors to the street. Participants bought tickets and were then treated to an appetizer, main, drink or dessert, whichever each participating restaurant was offering. We moved from restaurant to restaurant enjoying 14 of the 16 offers for nearly three hours. It was quite fun -- certainly unlike anything I've ever done. Sunday, I met with a friend of a friend in London who is in journalism and we discussed the difficulties of breaking into the field and the various opportunities. In the evening, we visited a church on a recommendation from the same friend in London and went out with several of the parishioners for dinner afterward.

Monday, while Expat Teacher was at The School getting to know his new employer, I went sightseeing! I started with a free tour of the Library of Congress -- Gorgeous building! -- and then walked down Independence Ave along the Mall, marveling at all the museums and stopping in at the various gardens along the way to...The Lincoln Memorial, which I've wanted to see for several years now. It was amazing. And moving to read The Gettysburg Address engraved on one wall and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address engraved on the other. I then walked up Constitution Avenue, along the other side of The Mall, and arrived back at the flat just in time to meet Expat Teacher coming home from The School. Together, we had just enough time to grab dinner before we headed to the airport for our red-eye back to London.

The main thing that struck me about DC was the crazy mix of European and American. For example, high streets, which in British English parlance simply denotes the main street in each neighborhood that has all the shops and cafes and generally isn't found in suburbia, are booming, but crowded with people who talk loudly, strike up conversations with everyone around them and dress very comfortably (cut-off sweat shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops), many of whom were overweight. And in one of these little restaurants on one of these very European high streets, we were still presented with our bill within 30 minutes of entering. I rode the metro -- very European -- and a fellow commuter noticed my book and commented on it -- to me! That would NEVER happen in the London metro. The architecture everywhere was amazing, just really wonderful to look at, and yet every building I went into had airport-style security: metal detectors and x-ray machines. Even the White House Information Center. This wasn't the White House itself -- just the info center! Overall, we really enjoyed our brief taste of DC and are looking forward to relocating there. I'm excited to return to the land of baseball, extroverts and good customer service, and my brief visit assured me lots of culture, history and various forms of entertainment await as well, not to mention new travel opportunities! Stay tuned...

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