Have Friends, Will Travel

That’s pretty much what I should have named this blog: Have Friends, Will Travel. Most of my family and friends know that I’m up for a road trip (or a plane trip) at the drop of a suitcase. That’s a good thing!

Welmoed Sisson & Karen at Great Falls of the Potomac 2-13

My friend Welmoed and me

Last month, my youngest daughter Holly invited me to join her in Washington, DC. She was attending her first professional conference on her own, and she had an extra bed in her hotel room. DC is an eight-hour drive from here, and I love our nation’s capitol. And I love my daughter! There is always a good reason to see both.

The drive is not long, but it can be arduous, since the only way there is through mountains, no matter which route is chosen. At some times of the year the mountains can be treacherous, either from icy conditions, or from poor visibility from heavy snow or from fog. I got lucky this time. Even though it was February, temps were mild, and the snow on my way home, while steady, was light and the roads never got slick.

Since Holly’s husband is in the military, and currently stationed in Afghanistan, she was able to book a room at the Navy Lodge, which is part of the Walter Reed National  Military Medical Center complex in Bethesda. The Medical Center is situated along a main road opposite the campus of the National Institutes of Health, with a convenient and busy Metro station in between. The hospital is also known as the Bethesda Naval Hospital, and it’s where Presidents are generally treated medically during their time in office. Ronald Reagan was operated on there, and John F. Kennedy’s body was flown there for an autopsy after his assassination. Little known fact: Presidents pay for treatment out of their own pockets at this facility. Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy here, for the breast cancer discovered while she was First Lady.

Needless to say, security is very tight at this complex. We were required to submit our drivers’ licenses and other information to use the facility, plus show ID to get back in when we left. The Walter Reed Medical Center is one of the largest medical complexes in the United States, covering more than 113 acres.

The Navy Lodge here is only one of many that the US Navy operates, largely for families visiting military personnel being treated at the facility, or for military families in the process of moving to a new post. There are Navy Lodges operating in sixteen states in the US, and in three additional countries: Italy, Spain, and Japan. We heard many languages spoken in the lobby of the hotel, since military personnel from other countries are also treated here. A group of Georgian (formerly part of Russia) soldiers with amputated limbs were staying there while we were there.

Before I left for DC I posted a request on Facebook, asking if any friends in that area would like to meet up while I was there. A longtime, online friend, Welmoed  answered the call enthusiastically. Welmoed lives north of the city, and she picked me up at the Metro station near her home. Welmoed and I were both educators for a wonderful patterndrafting software company, Wild Ginger, but we had only seen one another in person a couple of times before. However, sewing folk like us, who have communicated online for around 15 years, always have something to talk about!

We had debated going to a museum, but I wanted most to see Welmoed’s fabulous home, Redwall, which she has talked about in a forum we both frequent. Redwall sits on six acres smack in the middle of a suburb of McMansions, a holdout from the clutches of a developer. It’s a brick Arts & Crafts style home, with too many features to count, really. But how many homes do you see with a cloister? The one at Redwall provides shelter from the weather between the main house and the garage, plus Welmoed’s wonderful sewing studio. One other outstanding feature at Redwall: it’s guarded by a large metal sculpture, an actual, fire-breathing dragon.

After the house tour, we drove to a local foodivore place for lunch, Founding Farmers. Too bad they don’t have locations outside the DC area; the food was fantastic–fresh, vibrant, and abundant. Neither of us could resist the basket of homemade potato chips, truly the best I’ve ever had. They also handmake fresh syrups for their drinks, which are also delicious.

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Both of us well-fed and ready to get a little exercise, Welmoed, a great tour director and host, then drove us to Great Falls National Park, on the Great Falls of the Potomac. The Potomac River, as it drops 77 feet in less than a mile to sea level, is forced through the narrow and rocky Mather Gorge. The dramatic rush of the water can be seen easily because of well-placed walkways over the various parts of the falls. It’s possible, if the water isn’t over the walkways, to saunter clear to the widest part of the river, through interesting hardwood forests, full of moss-covered boulders. Welmoed told me the woods are full of wildflowers in the spring. We kept hoping to see the locally nesting eagles, too, but no such luck. We did see a lot of turkey vultures, which are plentiful in the park.

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On the other side of the river you can see the rocky cliffs on the Virginia side rising out of the rushing water. Seven people a year drown in the Potomac here, and while we were standing there two people on the Virginia side were inching their way down, illegally and foolishly. Alcohol may have been involved.

The other interesting feature about the park is the Patowmack Canal, which was once known as the “Great Falls Skirting Canal”. Back in the day, the only way to navigate the Potomac all the way to the sea would have been the canal and its lock system. The canal was begun in 1785, and it took seventeen difficult years to complete. Black powder blasting, little used before the formation of this canal, was utilized to forge a passageway through the solid rock. Today, part of the canal is visible, and the park maintains a boat of the type that would have traversed the canal long ago.

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There is also a wonderful visitors’ center with a museum of facts about the geography, history, geology, and flora and fauna of the park. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even though I was only in the area for a couple of days, I got to see and do quite a bit. Holly and I had dinner at several wonderful restaurants, and we made a quick trip to the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian. Did you know that the Smithsonian Institute manages the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums, 9 research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world? And admission is mostly free, except for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City (which is closed at the moment). The National Zoo is part of this complex, as well. The National Portrait Gallery houses portraits of those who have shaped the United States into what it is today, from Presidents to poets, and in between. Next time I visit I’d like to see more of this museum. It’s huge, and we only got to see a small part of it. The woman at the desk told us, and I couldn’t verify this for sure, that all the artists represented in the museum were American. That’s pretty cool, if it’s true. Certainly, all the people portrayed in the paintings are or were American.

National Portrait Gallery

My visit to Washington, DC was way too short, especially my time with Holly. But her conference experience was a success, and we had a fun time together.

Next adventure, coming soon!

March 16, 2013. Uncategorized.

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