This weekend the weather was perfect and the river finally finally warmed up enough for:

im-on-a-boat

I was ecstatic.

Renting a kayak from Thompson Boat Center puts you in the Potomac right at the edge of Georgetown, so you always have Roosevelt Island, all lush forest and wild deer, on one side, and on the other you either have Georgetown itself or Rosslyn, VA, both built-up urban zones.

other-boats1
This stretch of the river is also the main practicing area for all of the metro area’s many, many school crew teams, which is why you get this:

waterfront-wall

The river can get a little crowded at times (when I was there they were holding a crew race, and there was a lady on a bullhorn furiously screaming at people to get out of the way), and Saturday afternoons are obviously the most popular times to be there (motor boats also float by, but this is a no-wake zone).  But in my experience everyone is very friendly; it’s hard to be stressed out or take things too seriously when you’re on a boat and it’s a beautiful day.  And from the river you can get amazing views that you can’t get anywhere else.

Watergate, Washington Monument, Kennedy Center

Watergate, Washington Monument, Kennedy Center

One thing that I always long for after an afternoon of kayaking is a good place to get a cheap bite to eat.  But, alas, this is Georgetown after all.  There are a few places that cater mainly to the weekday office crowd, but the places that have the great views are mostly of the overpriced and uninspiring variety.  Although it’s a fun place to be so sometimes it’s worth it to spring for a beer and enjoy the sun.

"The Waterfront" proper

"The Waterfront" proper

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Right next to the Boat Center is the Swedish House, an interesting looking building I’ve always been curious about but never ventured inside.  It’s actually a fascinating space, housing the Embassy of Sweden, meeting spaces available for rent, lots of exhibition spaces (open Thurs-Sun 1-6 and free to the public), and, for now at least, a lovely little cafe.  The exhibitions are geared towards families and focus a lot on sustainable living and environmentally friendly thinking.  And then there is, of course, the mural heralding the achievements of the Swedish nation, from the enviable (out of a population of 9 million, 4.2 million Swedes have access to country homes), to the distinctive (Saab, Ikea, H&M), to the dubious (“Clogs are the ultimate Swedish summer footwear.”), to the…well…

abba
The cafe is run by a Swedish catering company located in DC.  All of the food is organic and you can get a (really delicious) cheese sandwich and a lingonberry drink for $7; the pastries are a specialty and are also really, really good.  And the space is, of course, impeccably designed and furnished by Ikea.

cafe-gron

Right now the cafe is only scheduled to run through June, but check back at the link to see if they’ve extended it!

Leave it to the Swedes to create a perfectly-designed, kid- and eco-friendly space with delicious cinnamon rolls, modern art and lovely water features.

swedish-house-entry

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I must admit to being a creature of habit in a lot of ways.  Every time we’ve gone camping in Shenandoah we’ve always stayed at Big Meadows campground, despite there being three other perfectly good choices available.  We’ve actually always stayed on the very same site, if at all possible.  Hey, if it ain’t broke…

Big Meadows is definitely the largest, most central, and most well-serviced of the campgrounds.  There’s a Visitor’s Center, a campstore/diner/souvenir shop, and a gas station right at the turn into the campground, close enough to be convenient, but the sites themselves are about a mile west of Skyline Drive so there is a little bit of seclusion.  Next to the showers there is even a shed to buy firewood and emergency rations of marshmallows (though the hours are unpredictable).  For the official camping season, which runs about mid-April through mid-October, tent sites can be reserved in advance at recreation.gov.  I won’t tell you which site I always go for, because it’s perfect and I want it.

For those who prefer a more backcountry, adventurous camping experience, this is definitely not your cup of tea.  But rest assured that no matter how many other human animals may be surrounding you, you will all always be outnumbered by deer animals.  Deer who are, by the way, neither people-shy nor camera-shy, in the least.

campground-deerThey’re beautiful enough to stare at.  And they’ll probably stare right back.

Outside the campground, of course, is the eponymous Big Meadow itself.  As I previously mentioned, this trip was quite early in the season, so the meadow wasn’t quite…meadowy.  But it was also completely deserted, which is a rare treat.  I can’t think of a better cure for cabin fever than sitting under a stand of lonely trees, gazing across a perfectly silent, perfectly empty meadow, breathing mountain air.

quiet-meadow

Or, in Aaron’s case, climbing those trees to soak up some sunshine.

climbing

First of all, some words of advice for anyone thinking about coming in from out of town for the events that make up the last weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival: DON’T DO IT.
Failing that, come early.  I’m talking not-yet-daylight early.  When we got on the road at 10am Saturday there was already 3 lanes of solid, standstill traffic for a good three miles on 66.  I’m sure it’s a lovely event, I’m just warning you.

After we made it to Shenandoah and picked out a campsite (see upcoming post), our first order of business was to find a trail, pronto.  We didn’t have too many hours of daylight left and our sedentary winter bodies did not feel up to a big challenge (at least mine didn’t) so we picked out a trail that was a short drive down the road, about 2 miles roundtrip up to a summit and back, described as “moderate”, and promised to have beautiful views.

The trialhead for the Upper Hawksbill Trail is just north of Mile 47 on Skyline Drive (its sister trail, the Lower Hawksbill, picks up at about halfway between 45 and 46).  Both trails lead to the Hawksbill Summit, which is the highest point in the park and offers 360degree views.  The Lower Trail also offers the option of joining up with the AT to get back to the trailhead.

First of all, my definition of a “moderate” trail does not quite jive with that of whoever wrote those trail descriptions.  It was short, yes, and smooth and rock-less mostly, but there were sections steep enough for me to need to pause (and wheeze and whine a little).  I’m a trail wimp though, I must admit.

Since it was so early in the season (it was only the second weekend that camping had been allowed in the park) and since apparently most of Virginia was squeezing into DC to look at some blossoms, we had the trail to ourselves almost the entire time.

lonely-trail

As you can see, spring comes a little bit later up here than it does everywhere else (they say it creeps up the mountain about 100 feet a day).  So we traded greenery and flora for some really spectacular silence and peace.  I think it was a fair trade.

Intrepid shoots, pushing slowly through the winter cover.

Intrepid shoots, pushing slowly through the winter cover.

And then you get to the summit, and the summit is…

well…

falcon-at-summitmountains-and-valleyObviously it’s impossible to take a single photograph of a 360degree view, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

allison-on-a-wall

At the very top of the trail there is a little picnic shelter, useful for keeping out (some of the) gale-force winds whipping around but still open to the view over the ridge.

shelterJust off the trail there is a nest of peregrine falcons.  The area all around it is cordoned off to keep us from disturbing them.  They still fly around to say hi though.

falcon

It’s a really, really lovely trail with a great payoff, in other words.  Highly recommended.  Or not.  Maybe I should really strongly not recommend it, so I can keep it all to myself (seriously, it was so quiet).

I can’t wait to see where our next adventure takes us.

edge-of-hawksbill

This weekend was the apex of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival here in DC, and with the weather promising to be gorgeous and the crowds gargantuan, Aaron and I did the only logical thing we could think of: we threw our tent in the car and got the heck outta there.

It’s officially the start of camping season.  We spent a couple of days at one of my very favorite places.

allison-on-a-cliff

More soon.

I may have mentioned this before, but I really, really love the water.  One of my strongest memories of visiting DC for the first time is seeing people jogging under green trees along the banks of the Potomac, while happy people paddled by in canoes and athletic people rowed by in shells.

I am so itchy to get into a boat.  My job now is four blocks away from the boat center I use to rent kayaks; during the slow months I try to leave early and boogie on down to the waterfront.  Paddling lazily around Roosevelt Island, that’s my happy hour.

The Boat Center doesn’t open for rentals until the water is “55 degrees F steady or at a positive trend.”  I’ve been calling practically every day to see if the water is warm enough yet.  Today they say the water is 52.  “We’re so close!” the attendant said, in a tone that either said “I’m just as excited as you are!” or “Please stop calling me!”

Hurry up River. If I go down there with a blowdryer and my office space heater, do you think that would help?potomac-rowers1

The cherry blossoms have just started blooming, which heralds both the end of winter (thank god) and the official start of Tourist Season.

I just finished reading a book about African art so I wanted to go down to the National African Art Museum to see if I could recognize things I had learned.  I could not have picked a more lovely day to do so.

african-art-museum

The cherry blossoms are obviously the Really Big Deal in D.C., but right now the magnolia trees are upstaging everyone and they are amazing.  I think we should have a Magnolia Festival the week before the Cherry Blossom one.  Most of the trees in town are still barren but the magnolias are so thick with pink and white you can barely see through them.

magnolia-blossoms

I have learned that I really, really love art from Benin.  All of the pieces I had seen before and loved are Edo style, or similar.

edo-womanedo-mask

Something about the distinctive chin, and those elaborate collars.  So far it’s the only style I can really recognize.

The African Art museum is a really lovely space.  There is an “African Cultures” permanent exhibit in the Natural History Museum too; it’s got a totally different vibe.  It’s vibrant and modern and busy and noisy and completely full of stuff and, since it’s in the Natural History Museum, it is crowded as hell at all times.  The African Art museum is probably one of the least visited museums on the Mall, it is quiet and serene and the focus is really on each individual piece.  It makes for a wonderful balance, actually.  I would highly recommend doing both just for a nice well-rounded museum-going experience.

african-art-interior-2

It was a lovely day to be on the Mall as well.  There were lots of kids, some with kites.  There were lots of people laying around on the grass.  There was a group of adults playing kickball in their chinos and polo shirts (no joke).

purple-jacket1

T.G.I.Spring

This weekend the cold and ice that was smooshing my soul and keeping us all cooped up inside finally let up.  The sky was clear and sunny and temperatures were up into the high 50’s.  And so, of course, I insisted we abandon all of our plans for productive activity and find a beautiful spot to run around and play.

So we headed to Great Falls, which is one of my favorite things about living in DC.  This was such a fantastic idea:

Up the Potomac

Up the Potomac

Unfortunately, pretty much everyone who lives in DC and has a car also had this fantastic idea (there was a 45 minute wait to get in).

great-falls-crowd-21

Still, we found a spot a little ways upstream and ate sandwiches and absorbed some late-afternoon winter sunlight (which is one of winter’s redeeming qualities).

winter-light1

Due to the intense crowds at the Falls proper, I didn’t get any good waterfall pictures, but that really wasn’t the point.  There’s plenty of time for that when February is nothing more than a fond memory.

There is something about good air that makes me long for a river.  By “good air” I mean that air that you get when the weather inexplicably turns from either 20 degrees or 90 degrees to 60, and the humidity lifts and there’s just the slightest breeze.  It makes me think of first day of school, as well as the last weeks of any given school year; it makes me elated and also antsy.  Since moving to DC it often makes me itch to go get on a boat.  Unfortunately boat rental places are still boarded up for the season, but at least I got some good Potomac time.

over-the-water

It was lovely.