The first day we almost get arrested. We’re strolling through verdant Great Falls Park — where the mighty Potomac River tumbles over craggy rocks — and feasting on red cardinals and eastern bluebirds as a burly park cop yells at us for not having media accreditation.
n a three-state expedition that visited Maryland and Washington DC, we started in Virginia, the birthplace of America: the Powhatan Indians were long here when the Englishman John Smith sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and founded Jamestown in May 1607. Growing tobacco would eventually make the Founding Fathers wealthy, and one of them – George Washington – will dominate this journey.
After a stern warning, the officer on duty dismisses us. This is famous horse and wine country, so let’s take the edge with a tasting at a winery run by young Local couple Nate and Sarah Walsh, then make our way to Leesburg, the seat of Loudoun County, to tour the burgeoning art scene (Raflo Park’s innovative sculpture Park, vibrant murals on the King Street Bridge and a bronze military tableau in front of the city’s courthouse) before enjoying craft cocktails at the 19th-century carriage house The Docket and delicious lobster pasta.
On the way back to Fairfax County, it makes perfect sense to stop for an ax throwing session. The madness has waned here and Axes & Os (www.axandos.com) is a warehouse-style venue opened by (I’m not making this up) nurse Tara Hampton, who gives us a lesson (served with beer) and tells this amazed journalist that it’s a popular choice for hen parties, baby showers and divorce parties.
The mood music changes the next morning at the Workhouse Arts Center (workhousearts.org). In an inspiring repurposing of the past, this remarkable project has transformed the sombre Lorton Prison into a dynamic space that hosts exhibitions, performances and courses, and offers excellent studios for professional artists.
It’s also home to the impressive Lucy Burns Museum (named after the red-haired suffragist imprisoned here in 1917 for her passionate defense of women’s rights) and commemorates the dark decades and the troubling conditions the inmates endured.
Our final stop is Mount Vernon (mountvernon.org), the most visited historic residence in the country after the White House. George Washington lived here with his wife Martha until his death in 1799.
Originally built by his father as a farmhouse, it grew when the first POTUS added wings, colonnades, a dome and a portico overlooking the river, currently cloaked in scaffolding as we stroll through gardens and outbuildings populated by actors are demonstrating his agricultural initiatives. A slave hut, a blacksmith, a smokehouse, a first class education center and finally, movingly, his tomb complete the carefully preserved picture.
Then on to the capital he founded and named after him. It has been over a decade since I climbed a greyhound with my two daughters in NYC – destination DC. Then Washington was covered with snow. Now, in early summer, we’ve just missed the fabled cherry blossom season, but with its sprawling parks and reflecting ponds – the work of the great French urban planner Pierre L’Enfant, who is buried in Arlington Cemetery across the river – it always is still stunning.
The question is always where to start. You could spend a week at the Mall and visit the Smithsonian Institute’s (free) museums.
Last time it was the unforgettable Holocaust Memorial Museum. On this May day we are in the Hirshhorn (hirshhorn.si.edu). The cylindrical gallery houses one of the largest collections of modern art in the country. Many legends can be seen. Laurie Anderson’s wild exhibition silences us all with its overwhelming energy, while the infinite mirrored spaces of the 100-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are sensational with their endless vistas of spotted phalli and monumental gourds.
Barbara Kruger’s installation fills the lower lobby. The entire room is swathed in monochromatic and scarlet vinyl, covered with text that asks, “WHO IS BEYOND THE LAW? WHO CAN VOTE FREE? WHO’S SPEAKING? WHO SILENCES?” which is powerful and appropriate in this city, in these times. Outside, in the graceful sculpture garden, Yoko Ono’s Peace Tree dominates.
Down by the water I stumble upon the cool indie bookstore Politics & Prose and pick up a copy of Hernan Diaz’s novel trust (it will later appear on Booker’s longlist). Then it’s off the Wharf aboard the Monuments Tour, a 45-minute cruise that takes us along the Potomac and offers new perspectives on DC landmarks – the Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, the Washington Monument – before we are dropped off in beautiful Georgetown, our home, with its tree-lined sidewalks and cosmopolitan bistros and boutiques, among the protagonists of this powerful place.
Our last stop is Maryland, the capital Annapolis; However, we remain in larger Baltimore – known as Charm City. The nickname is immediately understandable. An unusual metropolis (many will know it The cable) it has maintained its credibility while dynamically modernizing itself.
Our stylish Canopy by Hilton hotel is located on Fell’s Point, a quaint corner of cobblestone streets lined with hip bars, vintage shops and shadows of the past. Edgar Allan Poe died and was buried (twice) nearby; Lady Day Way murals mark the spot where Billie Holiday played with her jazz buddies, and a giant bronze head commemorates abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who bought land here in 1892 to build tenements for African Americans.
If you are traveling with children, the National Aquarium (aqua.org) is considered one of the best in the USA and our gang spends a merry hour wandering its seven floors of rainforests, antipodean canyons and coral reefs, seeing a smorgasbord of sharks and a stunning collection of jellyfish. Then tour the pier’s historic ships, including a Pearl Harbor Coast Guard cutter and one of the last sail-powered warships of the US Navy – the USS constellation.
The East Coast’s best seafood comes from this gritty city. We feast on blue crabs before visiting the American Visionary Art Museum (avam.org) near Federal Hill, which offers a lively exhibition of so-called “outsider” — self-taught — art, while the City Museum of Art (artbma.org) has an impressive collection, including more than 1,000 works by Henri Matisse, put together by a pair of local siblings, the wealthy Cone sisters.
My busy, brilliant week has many joys: farmers’ markets, fried green tomatoes and mimosas at the acclaimed Miss Shirley’s Cafe, the Spring Jazz Series at Washington Canal Park, watching ice hockey on a giant screen while a tangerine sun sets over Capitol Hill. On the penultimate day, already in Anne Tyler Country, I stumble upon a book festival in downtown B’more (as the locals call it): The Lost Weekend hosts a variety of writers; among them Hernan Diaz.
Here’s to many more lost weekends in this magical place..
Madeleine was a guest in the Capital Region USA.
Package 1: by train with direct flights (Aer Lingus) Dublin to Washington. Two nights (room only) each at Archer Hotel Tyson s, AC Hotel Washington DC and Canopy by Hilton Baltimore.
Amtrak from Washington DC to Baltimore and private transfer from Baltimore to Washington Dulles.
From €1,328 per person based on 2 people sharing a room.
Package 2: by rental car (all taxes and insurance included) and return airfare (Aer Lingus) from Dublin to Washington. Two nights (room only) each at Archer Hotel Tysons, AC Hotel Washington DC and Canopy by Hilton Baltimore.
From €1,445 per person based on 2 people sharing a room.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/world/virginia-washington-and-maryland-fried-green-tomatoes-in-americas-historic-states-41938917.html Virginia, Washington and Maryland – fried green tomatoes in America’s historic states