Saturday, February 18, 2012

Best Valentine's Day Gift Ever

There are many things I love about my husband, but his gift-giving skills often leave something to be desired.  Case in point: for Christmas he gave me three pairs of socks, one of which was actually for himself.  So I try not to get my hopes up to high when gift-giving occasions come along.

Two weeks ago, Josh was opening his mail and seemed overly excited to discover that he had received his provisional UK driving licence (that's how they spell it here).  He still has to take three more tests before he gets his real licence, so it's essentially the equivalent of a learner's permit in the US.  It turns out what he was really pleased about was that his passport -- which he had to send in with the application -- had been mailed back to him as well, about a week earlier than expected. 

"Guess what?!" he announced.  "We're going to DC next week!"

Josh had told me a couple months ago that he had a meeting in DC on February 14, so we had initially been planning to go together, but then he said it had been canceled.  Apparently, it had recently been rescheduled for February 13, but he didn't want to say anything to me until he got his passport back, in case he wasn't able to go himself.  Of course, this only gave us a week's notice to plan the trip, but Josh bought me a round-trip Premium Economy ticket on Virgin Atlantic so we could not only spend Valentine's Day together, but see a few of our close friends and visit some of our old haunts.  (Sorry if we didn't get a chance to see you on this trip -- it was very short!)  And as an extra treat, we booked a room at the Hotel Monaco, rather than stay at Josh's parents' house, like we did on previous visits.

We flew to DC on Saturday, February 11 and checked in to the hotel.  It's in a historic building (formerly a post office) right in the heart of DC.  It's a bit strange to stay in a hotel in an area where you lived for 15 years -- and still own a house -- but we were excited to be in a neighborhood we didn't get to very often.  We didn't even rent a car, since we could walk or take the Metro just about anywhere we needed to go.  (And why pay $40/day to park at the hotel!?)
Hotel Monaco
What a great location! The hotel is across the street from the Smithsonian's American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery and the Verizon Center, and just a stone's throw from the Spy Museum, Museum of Crime & Punishment, and National Building Museum.  It's a short walk to the National Mall, with the bulk of the Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art, and all the familiar  DC landmarks, and there are a ton of good restaurants nearby.  The Gallery Place Metro station is across the street, and two others are a few blocks away.  Too bad we were only in town for four days!
Roy Lichtenstein's "Modern Head" in front of the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery &
American Art Museum, with Hotel Monaco in the background
Our room was on the top (4th) floor of the hotel and had VERY high ceilings, quirky patterned fabrics, and nice architectural details.  Some of our friends were a little creeped out by the plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson sitting atop the armoire, but he didn't bother us.
Thomas Jefferson watches over us
After checking in, we had an early dinner with Josh's dad at the District Chophouse, one of the many restaurants near our hotel, and then succumbed to jet lag by 9 pm.  It was 18 degrees F when we left London, and not much warmer in DC -- there was a dusting of snow on the ground when we arrived.  Sunday was also quite cold and windy, so we were glad to only have to walk a couple blocks to meet our friends Rob and Addie for brunch at Clyde's.  It was fun to catch up with them and their adorable 2-year-old son, Quin, and check on the progress of my godson-to-be, who is due at the end of April.  He's definitely grown over the past couple months, but his mom still looks fabulous.  (And I'm not just saying that because she reads my blog...)

Afterwards, we decided to head for our favorite place to escape to in the dead of winter: the US Botanic Garden.  It sits on the south side of the Mall by the Capitol building, but it was an easy walk from our hotel (at least by London standards).
View of the Capitol from the Botanic Garden
US Botanic Garden
Josh's dad met us there, and we eagerly ducked inside and shed our coats.  It was so warm and humid inside that my camera lens fogged up!
Welcome to the Jungle!
If the tropical climate indoors wasn't enough to warm us up, the brightly-colored flowers would have done the trick as well. 

Princess Diana orchid
More orchids
Cherry Blossoms
Chocolate!  (Cacao tree)
Warm and cozy with Josh and his dad
After exploring every nook and cranny, we said goodbye to Josh's dad and poked our heads into the National Museum of the American Indian, where they were having some sort of chocolate festival.  Although I like the exterior of the building better than the museum, I certainly couldn't pass that up!
Frozen fountain at NMAI
Unfortunately, the chocolate festival seemed to consist of a long, unmoving line of people who were watching some kind of chocolate-making demonstrations and hogging all the free samples, with occasional dance performances in the middle of the room.  We gave up on the line, had a snack in the cafe, and watched some of the dancers.
Menacing-looking dancers in Converse sneakers
Josh didn't want to linger too long because he was eager to visit the Air & Space Museum next door, which is probably his favorite museum in the world.  (Or maybe second favorite, if you count the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles as a separate museum.)
Josh poses with the Hughes H-1 racer
I had to physically drag him out of there at 5:00 so we wouldn't be late for our 6:00 dinner reservation.  Fortunately, it was at Poste, which is the restaurant in the Hotel Monaco, so we just needed to walk back to the hotel and change into slightly dressier clothes.  We even had time for a quick glass of wine in the lobby -- the hotel serves free wine and beer every day from 5-6 pm -- before meeting our "gang" of friends for dinner.

It was a real treat to see our friends again (whom you may recognize from the triple birthday dinner back in December) -- even more so when they presented me with actual treats.  Diana brought us all homemade Valentine's cupcakes (which were DELICIOUS!), and Ann gave me an early birthday gift: boxes of NyQuil and DayQuil, along with Valentines from her two boys and some homemade cookies.  How sweet!  (Clearly she reads my blog, too!)  Of course, even after I announced that I had Cadbury's Easter candy for everyone up in our room, we still couldn't resist ordering a few desserts to share.  Everything was so tasty!
The Gang at Poste
Josh had meetings all day Monday, so I took the Metro to our old neighborhood in Arlington and ran some errands, since I knew the post office, CVS, Trader Joe's, and a whole shopping mall were within easy walking distance.  Then I met Ann and Matt at their house, which is under construction just two blocks from our own house, and took a quick tour to see what was new since our last visit.  Ann and I went to the Italian Store for a late lunch, so I could enjoy my favorite sandwich of all time, and then headed down to Pentagon City to do a little shopping.  I took the Metro back to our hotel (only 4 stops!) and met up with Josh.  We got in touch with our friends Scott & Paige, who had just returned from Orlando, and made plans to have dinner with them that evening.

Conveniently, Scott's office is right across the street from our hotel, and he had come into work that afternoon, so we just met him outside and he gave us a ride to their house, picking up some takeout for dinner on the way.  Paige was excited to show us the cute new business cards she just had printed up for her landscaping business, and the kids told us all about their first trip to Disney World.  While we ate, their 7-year-old daughter was working on her Valentine's Day cards for school, and seemed to be taking forever.  Paige kept asking what was taking so long, so her little sister explained that she was putting her business cards in each one.  Paige was horrified!  Even more so, when she opened on of the cards addressed to her daughter's teacher and read it aloud, "Happy Valentine's Day!  If you need any landscaping, please call my mom."

While Paige retrieved her new cards from the rest of the valentines and told her daughter she'd have to start over, the rest of us were shaking with laughter.  You've got to admit, that's a pretty clever marketing ploy for a 7-year-old to think up.  Which is why Paige was mortified at the thought of what her daughters' teachers and classmates' parents would have thought had she not nipped it in the bud.  It still makes me laugh out loud, but I expect that little girl will go far!

Josh had another long day of meetings on Tuesday, so I took the Metro back to Pentagon City to do a little more shopping.  Everything is so expensive in London, and I have yet to find clothing stores I like that carry Petite sizes (I'm only 5'2").  Additionally, the shoe and clothing sizes are different here, and it's very rare to find anything on sale.  I did manage to find a few good bargains, but I ran out of steam before I checked everything off my list.  Maybe next time...

So where did we go for dinner on Valentine's Day?  A romantic, candlelit bistro?  An expensive restaurant downtown?  One of our favorite neighborhood hangouts in Clarendon?  Nope.  We ate at IHOP.  Why?  Well, apparently it's a family tradition with our friends Ann and Matt and their kids, and our mutual friends Jason and Elizabeth and their kids decided to join them, so we decided we'd much rather spend more time with our friends than go out to a fancy dinner by ourselves.  Plus we had heard that some of the kids were a bit disappointed that they didn't get to see us on Sunday night -- and the feeling was mutual.  It was a bit chaotic with 6 adults and 4 kids, but we had no trouble getting a table at IHOP on Valentine's Day.

As we were walking back to the hotel from the Metro, I had a weird deja vu kind of moment.  Across the street was a Pret a Manger and an H&M, which you see EVERYWHERE in London. 
Pret a Manger and H&M?  Wait, am I back in London?
Even funnier, just beyond that was a Zara and a Le Pain Quotidien.  Of course, if you walk around London, you are just as likely to encounter familiar American shops and eateries, like the Gap, Subway, and McDonalds -- but you see those pretty much everywhere you go.  Pretty soon, you really won't be able to tell what major city you are in by the shops and restaurants, because they'll all be the same.

We had a quick lunch with Scott before flying back to London on Wednesday afternoon.  Because this was a business trip for Josh, his company flies him on Virgin Atlantic in Premium Economy for daytime flights and in Upper Class for overnight flights.  Premium Economy is pretty nice on Virgin -- it's the equivalent of flying First Class on a domestic flight.  Wide leather seats with footrests, free drinks, seatback entertainment systems, hot towels, ice cream -- it's quite comfortable.  Since I had a round-trip ticket in Premium Economy, we sat together on the way to DC, but we had seats in different cabins on the way back to London.

An Upper Class ticket includes transportation to and from the airport, so while we were riding to Dulles in the big black Town Car that picked us up at the hotel, Josh told me that I could have his Upper Class seat on the way home.  I was reluctant to let him do that since he needed to work on Thursday and needed to be able to sleep on the plane more than I did, but he insisted that he would be fine in Premium Economy.  What a sweetheart!  As it turned out, it was a pretty empty flight, so he had two seats to himself, which made me feel a little less guilty about having my own private pod that converted into a bed.
Kicking back in Upper Class
The flight from Dulles to Heathrow is only 6.5 hours long, so by the time they serve you dinner and make up your bed, you really only have about 4 hours to sleep before they start serving breakfast and preparing for landing.  Still, I think I managed to sleep for about 3 hours, thanks to the pre-takeoff champagne and a glass of wine with dinner.  We were back home in Wimbledon by 8 am and both went straight to bed.  Josh got up around noon and worked from home, and I finally dragged myself out of bed around 2:30, but was really groggy for the rest of the day and had no trouble going back to sleep at 10 pm and waking up at 7 am on Friday morning.  I guess Josh's strategy of waking up at 5 am every morning in DC really did help us keep from adjusting to DC time.

By the way, I did not get flowers, candy, or even a card from my husband on Valentine's Day (I gave him a card and a box of Trader Joe's pancake mix), but I'm really OK with that.  ;-)

I'm not sure when we'll be back in DC, but I hope our next visit will be a little longer.  In the meantime, I look forward to perhaps traveling to some more exotic places this year.  My birthday is coming up, so maybe Josh will surprise me with yet another conveniently-timed business trip...


  1. Thanks for choosing to spend your Valentine's Day dinner with us! (Message from Gabriel M. relayed by his mom)

  2. I'm SO happy we got to see you!


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