Tag Archives: walking tour

A tourist in my own city

15 Oct

We’re having an amazing fall (read: 70 degrees and sunny) in DC, so I’ve been taking advantage of the weather by playing tourist. For my nerdy self, that means one thing: WALKING TOURS.

Last weekend I tagged onto a walking tour of Embassy Row, which felt a bit lazy since the starting point was a ten minute walk from my place. While it may sound dumb to take a walking tour of your own neighborhood, I wanted to do it because whenever I have visitors, I find myself making up stories in response to their questions. I thought it might be helpful to equip myself with a few facts for a change.

And man was I ever equipped! I learned a ton. Here are just two highlights to tease you into attending your own tour:

  • Embassy Row was originally called Millionaires’ Row and was where “new money” built their homes – and it became Embassy Row after the crash of the stock market, when many residents were forced to sell their homes (and foreign countries were the only entities flush with cash to purchase them).
  • Westinghouse lived here when the whole AC/DC battle was going on with Edison and he spent $1m of his own money to defend a guy on death row in NY to try to prevent the electric chair (with his current) making its debut (and generating some pretty horrible PR for his cause). It goes without saying that his house was pretty fantastic.

Excited from all that I learned on that tour, this weekend I signed up for a walking tour of Georgetown. Unfortunately, the guide had an artificially boisterous delivery style and over-the-top vocal projection, so listening to him made me cringe. I felt like a legitimate tourist as he yelled history at us on the otherwise quiet streets of Georgetown, so about halfway through the tour, when the group turned left, I turned right and walked home.

If I’m being fair, the guide was only part of the reason I bailed. My feet were hurting because I’d already walked seven miles that day because I’d stumbled upon something called “Do the Loop,” which was an art event in which several museums and galleries in upper Northwest opened their doors at no charge for the day. I used this as an excuse to check out the Kreeger Museum up on Foxhall Road, and I was impressed with the collection, which included many Picassos, Monets, Renoirs – and even a small Calder mobile.

As fantastic as the collection was, I was actually slightly more intrigued by the museum building itself, which had originally been designed and built as the private residence for the Kreegers (president of GEICO back in the day) – with the stipulation by the architect (Philip Johnson) that they leave it as a museum one day. Imagine living in a home designed to one day become a museum? It was fun to roam around and imagine decorating it for entertainment back in the 70s.

So… not much pith in this post, but if you find yourself in DC and looking for something to do, perhaps this will give you some ideas. And if you have an obnoxious tour guide, hopefully you’ll feel fine turning right when he goes left. Because he deserves it.

The walking part is actually somewhat important.

15 Feb

Lincoln - pundit.com

I enjoyed my first DC walking tour so much that when we woke up last Saturday, I asked Alan, “Want to do the Lincoln Assassination Tour with me this afternoon?”

Alan, being both indulgent of me and a history lover, promptly pulled out his  phone and reserved two slots on the 4:30pm tour for us. It seemed like a clever plan at the time, but as the day wore on, it dulled a bit.

Alan needed to work for part of the day, so we decided to meet back up at 4pm and walk down to the White House together. As we shoved off from my place, Alan noticed me taking the stairs gingerly, almost sideways, at half my normal speed. “What’s going on?” he asked.

I’d done BodyPump – the intensive full-body lifting workout – at my gym the day before, the first time since Christmas. I felt a bit sore when I woke that morning, but nothing monumental. With each passing hour, however, my muscles contracted. By the time Alan returned in the afternoon, I was a bit crippled.

“Do you think a walking tour is a good idea?” he asked as we set out. I couldn’t even answer. It had seemed like a good idea, but now that I was actually trying to get somewhere on foot – not so much. But we’d RSVP’d, so there was no backing out.

As we walked down 16th Street, Alan kept checking his watch. That’s usually my job, because I’m preoccupied with punctuality. “Are we going to make it on time?” I asked, lumbering along like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man.

Alan looked at me for a moment. “Not if we continue at this pace. Can’t you walk any faster?”

I already thought I was in overdrive, but apparently not. This was a role reversal if ever there’d been one. Usually Alan is nudging me, asking if we can PLEASE slow down so he won’t over-heat.

We eventually arrived at Lafayette Park, where a group of a dozen tourists were gathered around the guide, who was patiently waiting for the late-comers to trickle in. Rather than blend with the back of the group – as I would’ve done – Alan walked directly up to the guide (same guy as last weekend) and announced to the group, “Sorry we’re late.” Then, gesturing to me, he continued, “She did a new workout routine and can’t really walk.”

Awesome. Let’s just put it out there. I gave a feeble wave to everyone as if I were a minor celebrity and loped off to lean against a post. Alan found me and sheepishly said, “Sorry about that. I guess I didn’t need to explain that to everyone.” Um, yeah.

So the tour started – and we stood in one place. As we stared at the White house, the guide set the stage.  And we kept standing – in the same place. The guide told us about the entire cast of characters, the Civil War, the grand assassination plot – and we kept standing right there. At some point, Alan leaned over and whispered, “I thought this was going to be a walking tour?”

It’s a lot to give people a two-hour lecture while standing in only six different spots. The information was great, but the tour needed to MOVE more. Especially because it was approximately 20 degrees and windy out. Everyone was rubbing their hands together, snuggling their mates, and generally trying to create a bit of body heat while basically standing still.

And that’s when I realized: I love walking tours, but weather is kind of an important factor for enjoyment. As the sun set and the temperature continued to drop, I started to become mentally surly. Although the guide was sharing good information, I would’ve tipped double if he’d scrapped his script and bottom-lined it so we could get out of there.

Lesson learned: I like walking tours – but only under the right conditions. Like when I can actually walk.

MEOW.

MEOW.

Have I mentioned? I happen to like walking tours.

2 Feb

Image Source: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/washington-dc-tours

While you were at the gym, honoring your New Year’s Resolution, I was quietly tackling a couple more items on my 40×40 list. In this week’s update:

#7 – Take an official walking tour of DC. 

This weekend I took my first ever guided walking tour of DC. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I love DC and I love walking tours. I’ve just never made time to play tourist in my own city. Coming out of two weeks of near-zero temperatures, today’s balmy 52˚ forecast made me think the timing was right for a walking tour. And it was.

I joined DC by Foot for a “pay what you want” walking tour of the National Mall. I was hoping for a neighborhood tour, but they run a limited schedule during the winter, so the Mall was the only real option that worked with my schedule.

I’ve logged many hours on the Mall doing things that most tourists would find pretty cool – attending the Library of Congress’s Book Festival, playing kickball, watching a kite festival, enjoying Screen on the Green movies, witnessing presidential inaugurations, rallying against the Keystone XL pipeline – so I was worried I’d find the tour a bit disappointing.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fb/Jefferson_Pier_and_Washington_Monument.jpgThere were two things I saw on this tour that I had never noticed before: One was was the Jefferson Pier. It’s a small marker just west of the Washington Monument, indicating the original intended location of the Washington Monument – AND the prime meridian that L’Enfant proposed. Interestingly, while the meridian idea never took off, apparently whenever NASA measures distance in the universe, they use the Jefferson Pier marker as the starting place. Pretty cool.

The other thing I’d not noticed: The “graffiti” on the back of the WWII Memorial: Kilroy was here. Although I was familiar with the expression, I hadn’t heard the story of its suspected origin before.

Legend has it, prior to WWII James Kilroy was a rivet inspector in a shipyard in Massachusetts. At the end of each shift, he scribbled “Kilroy was here” to indicate where he’d left off. During the war, sailors started finding this phrase all over their ships – and when they compared notes with other sailors, they found that Kilroy had been there, too. Since it seemed Kilroy was inexplicably omnipresent, people took up scrawling the phrase wherever they went, helping Kilroy cover the globe – and bathroom stalls.

In any case, pretty cool that it became so linked with WWII, that it’s there, etched on the back of this memorial.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

In addition to the knowledge I picked up along the way, I enjoyed a few of the unscripted aspects of the tour. For example, when we kicked off, at the highly trafficked corner of 15th and Constitution, our guide made a point of saying that was usually the noisiest place on the tour. His words must have jinxed us – because for the rest of the tour, we had hundreds of Canadian Canada Geese pass over us, honking more fervently than the DC drivers.

[Note: My original post called them Canadian Geese, but my dad, the ornithologist, told me I’d made one of the most common mistakes in birding. Apparently they’re Canada Geese. I don’t even want to figure out the mechanics of this grammatically.]

And when we were standing by the Washington Monument, a young guy walking by interrupted our tour to ask , “Do you know how many flags there are circling the monument?”

“Fifty,” our guide answered confidently.

“Really?” the guy asked, “Because I heard it was like 54 or something – the states and the territories?”

“Nope,” our guide said. “I’ve counted them.” The guy thanked him and started to walk away. Our guide continued, “Do you know what the other question I get here a lot is?” The guy shook his head. “How do they get them to all fly in the same direction?” our guide offered.

The guy stopped and stared and shook his head. “Whoa – you’re right. Now that I look at them, they ARE all going in the same direction… why is that?”

“The wind,” our guide said. The guy smacked his head. “You got me! Man!”

And that’s why you should always join the tour and pay what you can. Otherwise, you’ll be shamed.

Walk this way! Or not.

13 May

This photo (St. Paul & The Millenium Bridge, as seen from the Tate) has nothing to do with this post, other than that it's set in London and I took it.

So I’ve posted about some of the walking tours I’ve done this week… Yes, I’m a nerd and — to top it off – I tend to scribble notes when I’m on the tour. Bite me. Moving on…

Let me tell you about the sociology of the Walking Tour. For starters, I’m the YOUNGEST person. On every walk. Nevermind that I’m closer to 50 than the legal drinking age. Every time, I look around and think, “Sweet! I’m on a tour with my PARENTS.”

I always marvel at how fast the guide walks, because I tend to be a fast walker and s/he is usually traveling at my pace. Maybe the strategy is to leave the weak behind and reduce the flock by 50%. (Alan has observed, however, that it’s a specific type of person who takes a walking tour… they tend to be thin and healthy, regardless of age. So maybe there’s not much whittling to be done.)

Continue reading