Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Off the beaten path…around DC…

"Life's a journey, not a destination..."

Every once in a while (not as often as I would care for), I take a “off the wall” (unexpected, i.e.) trip that kind of seems to spring from nowhere. Some people ask me “why there?” or “why with that person?” – but I don’t have an answer, other than: pure curiosity. And those trips always open up the door for so many surprises that enrich your life so. Even the failed ones are not failures, but good, valuable lessons that you’re fortunate enough to experience.
I always look at an upcoming trip as probably a painter in front of an empty piece of canvas: I have kind of an idea of what’s coming, but no clue what the end product will be like. These unexpected trips, however, have no idea behind them. Just the tools, and the open mind. And they’re often the most fun, too.
This past one was in the DC area, and it was definitely not in the failure realm. A friend of mine wanted company on his visit to Alexandria, VA and Silver Spring, MD.
Here are some of the things I will always remember from this trip:
- Alexandria’s enormous high schools; I have never seen schools that are bigger, more college-looking in my life! They are HUGE! Mostly brick, and spread on hundreds of square feet of land; I guess they want you to feel the seriousness of education and the weight of it too. Intimidating would be the word!
- Alexandria is so rich of history; almost every neighborhood is full of historic houses, and narrow streets, like back in the day; you have the feeling all the people live in museums; the houses are old colonial style, mostly, and you can take the cars away, replace them with horse drawn carriages and you step back some centuries and dream! The air smells of history and the land is soaking in it; you feel it at every step; who said America is the New World?!
- The ‘Old Town’ in Alexandria will always remain in my mind, because of the Torpedo Factory, a former, well, yes, torpedo factory now turned into an art gallery and shop. The railings of the main staircase feature every art present in the building; the shops are not only stores you can purchase the art, but also ateliers where you can watch the art being made; anything from metal sculpting to oil painting and custom jewelry is on display. The waterfront nearby features gourmet foods, European footwear and what do you know: rescue … birds for adoption! I for one am familiar with the adoption gatherings from Pets Mart every Saturday, where they would have kitties and dogs, sometimes bunnies, but parrots and macaws ??!!– I never knew they could too be “rescued”. Beautiful sidewalk “bump-into”, I might say.
- I was also to witness my very first ever live soccer game on this trip. Washington United took on the Colorado Rapids, to only be able to tie in the end, a 1 all score. To me, it was a milestone. I grew up watching soccer, as the national sport in Romania; a sport (there) with no season, because it’s played even in the bitter cold winter. But I have never been on a stadium and watched it live. I loved it, and let me tell you: soccer fans are so much more fun and so much more exciting than baseball fans! Yeah, I know, there is not as much scoring, but who needs it when the vitality of the game itself is enough to get the crowd going?! I wished only that my family could have been there to watch with me.
- An interesting discovery was that Polish people are just as Balkan as Romanians, although further North in geography. I don’t mean to generalize or over-simplify, but certain people do display certain common characteristics when they belong to the same national group. And that is just a fact. Interesting it was that Polish and Romanians have so much in common: certain things that I have labeled for years as “Romanian” were to be displayed this weekend by this very chirpy and welcoming young lady from Poland. A wonderful hostess and cook, a determined and at times demanding wife, and an overprotective “mom” to her pet, all tied together with a generous laughter and a happy and warm spirit made me feel right at home. A simple-minded yet sophisticated system of values were very familiar to me too, as well as a disarming honesty which sometimes Americans find hard to grasp. A rare find, I would say. Very unique and refreshing.
- In an Arlington diner, we discovered you can order two eggs and ham, or two eggs and bacon, or two eggs and sausage, or two eggs and ... "scrapple". Aside the fact that it's a funny word to say, I felt like the people who put together the menu got tired of all the boring things that they could figure out to pair up with the eggs, and made up a new one : "Eh, have some bacon, sausage, ham, throw some scrapple in there, or something ...". We had to ask what scrapple was and the nice waitress with the piercing blue eyes served us 3 pieces of the mysterious food as samples: "After they're done making the ham and the bacon, she said, whatever meat of the pork is left, they grind it and turn it into scrapple" - it tasted like sausage patties, only with more flavor and spice. Definitely not recommended if you're watching your cholesterol, I'm pretty sure.
- For dinner one night, we went to a Central American (“El Golfo” in Silver Spring, MD) restaurant where you could find foods from anywhere in South America. If it’s one thing I completely love about the bigger metropolitan areas of the big cities is the diversity and cosmopolitanism of the foods. The food was incredible! I have never seen burritos and rice done that way in my life. Tasty, and gourmet, yet affordable; linens on tables and in your lap, and incredible service. It was definitely the highlight taste bud-wise!

No, we didn’t get to visit “THE” city of DC, but the only regret I had at the end of the trip was not having spent more time on the water, in the galleries, and scouting out more yummy treats. Reasons enough for a come back, I hope.
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