My Solo Escape to Washington DC // Monuments, Museums & M Street
As I made my way to the train station in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia I was notably relaxed. Despite all my travels over the years, air and road travel still gives me some level of anxiety – either waiting in an endlessly snaking security line or attempting to sit calmly in the nightmarish traffic that plagues 95. It all amounts to a lot of uncertainty and time. As the train chugged slowly to the platform at 8:52AM, I found the opposite to be true and simply climbed aboard less than five minutes after arriving at the Amtrak station.
While I’ve ridden rail services extensively in Europe, this was my first experience aboard a stateside train. I knew the drill though and instinctively made my way to the cafe car. As the train slowly eased out of the station, I unpacked my things and grabbed a hot coffee. The goal for my morning ride was to catch up on client work and photo editing, though I didn’t properly account for one massive distraction: the rolling Virginia countryside on the other side of the glass.
As the train made brief stops in Culpepper then Manassas the topography undulated then flattened as we chugged northeast. Nearing DC, chatter picked up in the cafe car as travelers anticipated de-boarding, myself included. A jovial dad shared that he was taking his sons to New York City for the first time, his boys could barely tear themselves from the glass to pass along beaming smiles. What an adventure they were on! But the truth was, I was on my an adventure too!
From 2008 – 2013 Washington DC was home. As a resident I joined hundreds of thousands to watch Obama’s inauguration on the National Mall, I’d given directions to many, many tourists seeking the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and I’d daydreamed about a healthy blend of career success and lottery winnings in order to buy my own row house in Georgetown.
For my solo getaway back to my old hometown my mission was a simple trifecta of museums, monuments and a long M street stroll. Two and a half hours after boarding, the train pulled into Union Station. I permitted myself a few lazy swirls in the center of massive lobby to appreciate the grand space then headed down to Louisiana Ave on foot en route to the National Gallery of Art.
I spent the afternoon in the gallery with a vivacious guide named Molly from MuseumHack. The MuseumHack mission is to replace the boring and monotone associations we have of art history with captivating backstories of the artists and their painted subjects. It was so much fun, I’d definitely recommend their tours to museum lovers AND loathers alike.
Afterwards I roamed the pantheon-inspired domed rotunda in the center hall while workers prepared the space for a major gala that evening. I drooled over the flowers and dismissed myself, half-pretending that my invite was lost in the mail.
The following day I logged a hefty amount of time on foot. In the morning I took a long stroll around the National Monument, down the Reflecting Pool, a slight detour to the Vietnam War Memorial, and finally concluded at the Lincoln Memorial. DC’s monuments are conveniently near one another but have never cease to surprise me with their scale and expanse. Good walking shoes are critical!
Recalling my own middle school class field trip to DC, I had to laugh as I witnessed the school groups collide at Lincoln’s feet. The magnitude of the monument is humbling and inspiring but for some, it’s a great excuse to joke and play outside of classroom!
I grabbed an Uber and beelined it to Georgetown. A self-proclaimed taco-afficiando, I ducked in Chaia for lunch – an up-and-coming “farm-to-taco” establishment along the canal just behind Patagonia. Woah my yum! Try the mushroom taco when you go!
With the needed sustenance was acquired, I followed my daydream through the backstreets of Georgetown to witness the epic showdown of some of the prettiest row houses in the world. Oh yes, 3 million won’t even get you in the door of most, but we can all dream can’t we?
I followed my lens to Tudor Place, a historic home and estate on 31st Street. Wandering through the lush property gardens, I did what any basic millennial would do: sipped on a Starbucks latte and took a selfie!
My time in the city wrapped up just as I was finding it’s rhythm. Washington DC has so much to offer visitors – families, groups, or solo travelers, like me. Back at Union Station a few days later, my transfer home was swift and efficient. Traveling independently allows more than just relaxing by a huge window with a evolving landscape but a chance to learn, roam and adventure!
Considering planning a solo journey? So much more than just a means for transit, traveling with Amtrak is a travel experience, in and of itself. The Crescent Line dashes across the US daily from New Orleans to New York City. My leg from Charlottesville, Virginia to Washington DC can be as little as $25 each way – equivalent to 8 Chaia tacos OR half a day in a DC parking garage.