Washington, D.C., Lancaster, Wilmington, and Annapolis

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More than a month has passed since my last post, and I’m sorry to say I have not been “on the go” in Iowa at all during that time. In fact, I’ve mostly been at my desk, planning, scheduling, researching, editing, and writing – all the things that go along with publishing a magazine and putting together a 50-state project for the Iowa State University Alumni Association.

However, the project has taken me OUT of the state of Iowa and allowed me to see much of the country. Case in point: I just returned from a trip out east to Washington, D.C., Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland with my project buddy, photographer Jim Heemstra, above. Though the trip was mostly spent working – and traversing D.C. traffic – we did take advantage of a few tourist and historic sites:

LANCASTER, PA.

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IMG_5518Lancaster is worth visiting for many reasons. I especially recommend visiting the Lancaster County Amish or “Pennsylvania Dutch” (really German) farmland and small shops and bakeries. One of the highlights of this area for me (besides the giggle-worthy “Welcome to Intercourse” town sign) was seeing groups of Amish children, all dressed in black with their hats and lunch pails, walking to their one-room school houses. Photographing the Amish is discouraged, but when you see scenes like that, you just really want to grab your camera. I did take a few photos (from a respectful distance) of Amish farmers plowing their land with teams of horses and mules, above. The whole area is very picturesque and charming.

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IMG_5547In Lancaster, there’s wonderful old architecture and the country’s longest-running public farmers market, the Lancaster Central Market. We arrived at the market very early on Saturday morning as many of the vendors were just setting up. It was painful not to be able to buy more food – everything was so tempting: baked goods and produce, specialties like shoo-fly pie (right) and “whoopie pies,” jams and jellies, dried noodles, prepared meals, ethnic foods, coffee, flowers…just everything you could want.

WILMINGTON, DEL.

Delaware is one of those states that doesn’t seem very interesting until you go there. It sort of gets swallowed up by adjoining states. But it’s got some neat history. In fact, it was the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, technically making it THE first state.

Wilmington seems to be the credit card capitol of the world, and it’s surprisingly affordable. We stayed downtown in a very nice Sheraton for just $79 a night (plus extra for parking and wi-fi). There’s a cool area called Loma (short for Lower Market Street) with shops and restaurants and bars and a history museum. We ate at Loma Coffee, a good place for lunch, and the Chelsea Tavern for dinner, both on Market Street. We also found a really great Whole Foods Market on the north side of Wilmington, with possibly the best bakery I’ve ever seen at Whole Foods (and I’m a Whole Foods groupie).

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One of our assignments was a story about a high school crew coach, so we spent a lot of time at the Christina River. I stayed safely on shore while everyone else was in the water. I’m pretty sure I had the best view, above.

Just north of the city, in Chadds Ford, Pa., is the Brandywine River Museum, home to a superior collection of art by N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth as well as some other fine American artwork. The museum itself is interesting for its mix of modern and rustic architecture. Tickets are $12 for adults.

ANNAPOLIS, MD.

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Another very historic state, Maryland may be best known for its crab cakes, two of its cities (Annapolis and Baltimore), and for surrounding Washington, D.C., on three sides. We spent a full afternoon in Annapolis – a quintessential American city. The combination of historic architecture (including the Maryland State House), U.S. Naval Academy, and the Chesapeake Bay make Annapolis a wonderful place to visit.

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We ate at Chick & Ruth’s Delly (“Crab Cake Central”), apparently famous to viewers of The Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. I don’t watch The Travel Channel and I don’t eat crab cakes, but I thought the restaurant was fun. It reminded me a lot of Carnegie Deli in New York, sort of a crowded, messy combination of touristy and authentic. I will say that Chick & Ruth’s is much more crowded and messy than Carnegie Deli; in fact, two words kept playing over and over in my brain as I squeezed between tables and around stacks of stuff: “Fire marshal.” The menu was huge, mostly stuff I don’t eat. But besides crab cakes, they’re also famous for their six-pound milkshakes. I ordered a normal-sized chocolate malt and found it delicious.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

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IMG_5756Of course, there are thousands of things to do in Washington, D.C. We didn’t have much time, so we had to be choosy. One morning (a Sunday) was blissfully unscheduled. So we walked around the Tidal Basin and spent some time with a few of the monuments: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial (above), and Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial (left). It was the start of the annual, famous Cherry Blossom Festival. But there were no cherry blossoms, just gray sky and sharp wind. All around us were disappointed tour-bus visitors. The next day, it snowed, so I can only imagine the unhappiness.

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We also had some free time on the day we flew out of D.C., so we headed for the Newseum. This is a great place to spend a whole day – but it’s also good for a two-hour tour of highlights. We focused on the Pulitzer Prize-winning photography, “G-Men and Journalists” FBI exhibit, and the Journalists Memorial. The rest we walked through quickly: The Berlin Wall and 9/11 exhibits, First Amendment gallery, and historic front-page newspapers. There’s also some digital and interactive stuff that would probably appeal more to younger viewers. Don’t miss the outdoor terrace on level 6 – it may offer one of the best views in the city. Tickets to the Newseum are $21.95 plus tax for adults.

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After a couple of hours indoors, we walked to the Capitol, above. I doubt I’d ever get tired of seeing this building. It’s just magnificent – from blocks away or up close.

My feet were tired by this point, and I was hungry. We were working our way to the National Portrait Gallery, which is not far from Chinatown and lots of restaurants. We found a good one, though it was not Chinese: La Tasca Spanish tapas restaurant. Really yummy.  (Another good restaurant, if you’re in the city, is Founding Farmers. We went there for lunch on our first day, and the food was fresh and delicious.)

The last thing we did before leaving the city was go to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, which share the same building.

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The Portrait Gallery (above) is amazing. Portraits range from historic (think George Washington) right up to today. Some of the faces are world famous, some are completely unknown. But all are wonderfully photographed, painted, or drawn. The stories behind the portraits are as interesting as the portraits themselves. It was fun to see portraits of Iowa State grads George Washington Carver and Carrie Chapman Catt — right in the same room.

On the other side, the American Art Museum also features terrific art, mostly two-dimensional and very approachable. No Museum of Modern Art stuff here. It’s mostly just good, solid paintings.

As part of the Smithsonian, both museums are free to the public.

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