14 April 2013

April 11- April 12. 2013 Andrea's 24th Birthday Adventure!

So, after what seemed like an impossible week and a half of non-stop stress (none of which needs to be disclosed here), it was finally my twenty-fourth birthday on Thursday. About a month ago, Richard and I talked about what we wanted to do for the day, and I knew I wanted to get out of Pittsburgh for at least a day and just have some time to ourselves. At the suggestion of my friend Nichole, we decided to go to Washington, D.C. for a two day, one night power adventure of epic proportions!
Here, I'll break down the trip into portions, and at the end make comments. I assure you, it was a jam-packed forty-eight hours!

So, Wednesday night, we brought all four of the rattie boys over to Nichole's for babysitting. Early that morning, we set out on a drive to Washington, D.C. that took us something like five hours.

Are you ready for adventure?!

For some reason, this tank was being transported. There was another behind it.
 Our first stop upon arrival was the Smithsonian zoo, which is free to the public, but you have to pay for parking, and it's a lot of money to park. It's sort of like we paid for the zoo anyway.
It was a really large zoo, and it was bloody hot -- somewhere around 32 degrees Celsius (that's 90 degrees Fahrenheit) in the sun. It took us roughly three and a half hours to walk the whole zoo, with breaks and a small lunch break. We brought Richard's water bottle with us to keep hydrated, thankfully.
A bit tired, but we were happy to have made it to the zoo.

I''ve never seen a panda before. They are way cute.

This was a very friendly hermit crab.

This gorilla stood in this same spot for the longest time, before going for a nap in the tunnel behind her.

Coral Polyps?!
Jellyfish! It's hard to tell, but this species had lights pulsing up its body.

Sort of gives you a Lion King sort of feel, doesn't it?

Otters like cuddlesleep, too.

Just hanging out with my new pal, the really annoyed Komodo dragon.

After we completed our tour of the zoo, we drove towards our hotel, the One Washington Circle Hotel. Upon arrival, the valet helped us get everything out of the car to the concierge desk, told us everything we would need to know, and parked the car (Valet parking was really expensive, but it was way better than trying to find a spot ourselves in the busy D.C. streets). The man at the concierge desk could have been nicer. Although I am generally not opposed to quick and easy check ins, I slightly resented the fact that he didn't ask if we were familiar with the area, needed a map, or wanted information about where to eat. That said, I probably would not have noticed these things if the woman working with him hadn't been offering this information to the patron checking in next to us.
The room itself was beautiful. The hotel used to be an apartment building in its past life, so patrons rent suites, with bedroom, living room, and kitchen. One massive perk to this place was that they offered fresh coffee beans and a grinder, compared to the terrible tasting packets of ground coffee one normally finds in hotel rooms. 

We also had a balcony...

Which looked out onto the outdoor deck of the hotel's Bistro.

We stayed at the hotel that day for a few hours before heading out to dinner. There, we rested our feet, watched some television, had coffee and a shower, and decided where to eat. Prior to leaving for the trip, we had scouted out some locations, searching for various cuisine types and price ranges. At the hotel, we renewed our search and decided on a place called Ping Pong, which serves food tapas style, which is originally a Spanish term meaning "finger foods" or "snacks." Luckily, this place was just a ten minute walk away from where we were staying.
At Ping Pong, the idea is that patrons choose between three and four foods per person and check the boxes for them on a sheet of paper. The food is then made and brought to the table one by one, in a random order. They serve foods that cater to vegetarians, vegans, and individuals with gluten allergies.
Everything at Ping Pong was so delicious and appealing to the eye. The flavours were intense and extravagant, and it was apparent that the utmost of care is given to preparing each dish. It was probably the best birthday dinner I've ever had.

My drink: Passionfruit almond cooler. Who knew these flavours would be so delicious together?

Richard's drink: Mint and lime cooler. Absolutely tasty.

Andrea plate #1: Honey chicken puff pastry. They come glazed with honey and topped with a small slice of pineapple.

Richard plate #1: Honey chicken rice bowl. Served with water chestnuts, steamed broccoli, and topped with red pepper.

Andrea plate #2: Crispy duck spring roll. I've never had duck before, and it was absolutely delectable!

Richard plate #2: Beef and spinach dumplings. Super soft and flavourful.

Richard plate #3: Steamed sea bass dumplings. Light and elegant flavour. And who couldn't love those cute little carrot cubes?

Andrea plate #3: Spicy chicken dumplings. Not quite so spicy, but still absolutely tasty.

Dessert! Richard's is on the left: Egg tart with milk ice cream and honey. Mine was a Chinese brownie cake with sesame seeds, served with creamy butterscotch ice cream.

Doesn't it all look so delicious? Are you jealous yet? I am, and I ate the stuff!
After walking home from dinner, we drank the celebratory wine I'd bought. Nothing says birthday like drunk! Okay, so I didn't get drunk, but it was certainly yummy.

Ménage a Trois might be my favourite wine company ever. I've enjoyed every wine I've tried by them.

We ordered room service breakfast for the next morning. We don't have a photograph of it, but trust me, it was awesome. Also expensive. But hey, it was my birthday. And it's D.C.
After breakfast and checking out, we drove right into the heart of D.C., where the National Mall is. There, we did some pretty typical tourist site-seeing. Richard had never been to D.C. before, so we saw all the monuments and stuff (I had gone for my senior trip in high school, but didn't remember much of it).

Cherry blossoms are so beautiful. They were in the midst of the blooming season, and there were petals falling like snow. So gorgeous.

After the outside site-seeing, we went to the Museum of Natural History, where we stayed for a good long while, taking photos of basically everything. Here's a very basic set:

This portion showed skulls of various human ancestors and pointed out defining features.

This part of a forensic exhibit that showed the conditions of skulls as the result of various forms of death.

Gotta see my dinos! 

Mummy of a young child.

The Hope Diamond. It's really difficult to get a good photo in, because about 20% of the museum's patrons are surrounding it at any given time.

Finally, we were ready to have some lunch and head for home. On our way out, we stopped in a suburb called Chevy Chase (yes, really), where the zoo sits. We parked and walked around the area to find a place to eat, and stumbled upon a restaurant called Medium Rare. We stopped there because, well, beef of course!
This place had a prix fixe lunch menu, which is a complete meal offered at a fixed price. The menu here was bread to start, followed by a salad tossed in honey mustard vinaigrette, and an entree of steak cooked to order, drenched in their secret sauce and served with french fries. The best (and arguably smartest) part of this meal is that the entree gets served to you in two halves, so that you are always enjoying the meal hot.
Doesn't that just make your mouth water?
The meal was just awesome. The sauce was tasty and mysterious, and we were provided with some extra when the second half of the meal came, which we instantly drizzled all over our fries. Finished with a fudgy chocolate cake and coffee for me, and a hot fudge sundae and cappuccino for Richard, it was the perfect end to a fantastic adventure in the nation's capital!

This trip required a significant amount of planning, but a lot was also left up to the last minute. Since a lot of the things in the area are free to attend (including all of the museums), it's easy to plan a trip where the only expenses are a place to stay, gas, parking, and food! Thank goodness, because D.C. is a very expensive place, and food and parking was certainly costly. I recommend having money or a cleared up credit card set aside for this trip.
Here, the food is top notch, or at least, everything we ate was. This is a fantastic place for people to exercise their palate, and try new foods. I know I ate some things I've never had before, and it was a total pleasure eating foods I was familiar with that had an interesting twist.
Driving in D.C. is TERRIBLE. There are way too many cars, people walking, and bicycles in the way. Although it is entirely possible to make your way through the streets, it's stressful. Since we got lost trying to find a few places, we got honked at a lot. Prepare yourself.
When we were looking for hotels, we found a lot of cheap places, but they were all in the outskirts of the city. Although One Washington Circle was on the pricier side, there was a lot to see and do in the immediate area. If you can afford it, I would suggest trying to get a hotel in the midst of things.
Get or bring or find a map! It's helpful. Trust me.
If you can't make it to D.C. for distance or financial reasons, try somewhere else. We didn't even decide on D.C. until we had some pretty extensive discussions. Anywhere you've never been is eligible for an adventure. Save up and go somewhere new. Explore and try new things!

We took way more photos than we can share with you here! If you want to see the rest of the photos from our adventure, follow this link to our Dropbox folder full of adventure goodies!

Thank you for reading about our latest adventure on the Endorphin Walrus. We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

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