Monday, October 28, 2013

A Denver Weekend in D.C.

The capital building sits luminously in the distance as we make our way onto the grassy field of the mall. We pick the perfect spot, line up together and wait for our cue. One...two...three...jump. We leap high in the air, creating a blur of orange and blue, before landing and quickly hopping up again, numerous times. This is the process one must take to get the perfect jumping picture. You have to try different poses and angles, make sure the light is just right. And, most important, have fun with it!

Achieving the perfect jumping shot was one of the tasks on our D.C. to-do list. The others included a beer fest, watching the Broncos at the only Denver bar in the city and, of course, spending time with each other.

I hadn't been back to D.C. since eighth grade, when I visited for a class trip. This time, I went to visit my friend Hannah who lives in Arlington with her fiancé Jason. She's getting her phd at Georgetown, and is planning to graduate in May, so I knew the opportunity to see her was running out. My friends Elise and Emily also decided to come into town, making it a mini-GC reunion.

I arrived late afternoon on Friday, followed shortly by Emily. Hannah and Elise picked us up from the airport and we headed back to Hannah's apartment. It was weird being back in D.C., because even though it had been over 15 years since I'd been back, I remembered it very vividly, at least the parts of the city I had seen. What I really looked forward to was seeing some different parts of D.C. and Arlington. When we arrived, we poured ourselves some drinks and dove right into updates on our lives, and it felt as if I'd never spent a day away from them. It was so easy to fall into the conversation, discussing intimate, important details, with no inhibitions and no risk of judgement. Something I really appreciate about these girls.

That night, we went to dinner in DuPont Circle, an historic district in northwest D.C. anchored by a large traffic circle. We took one of the bus lines (only $1) over the river to DuPont, and walked over to the Luna Grill & Diner. After a delightfully filling meal (try the Jambalaya Penne Pasta, yum!), we walked around the neighborhood to check out the bar scene. We went to Buffalo Billards, a huge sports bar with shuffleboard, pool tables, skeeball and plenty of televisions. We played a few games of shuffleboard before realizing we were some of the oldest people there, so we decided to call it a night. After all, we had a big day of drinking ahead of us.

The next morning, we took part in Jason and Hannah's Saturday morning tradition and had brunch at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, a cute little bagel shop just up the road from their apartment. This is a clearly a neighborhood favorite, as it was packed when we arrived. We got in line, ordered our bagel sandwiches (I got the Lox, onions and eggs breakfast sandwich--delicious!) and proceeded to devour our food in near record time.

Then, I got my first experience riding the D.C. metro. Now, let me just preface this by saying that I really like Chicago's public transit system, it's efficient and convenient. But D.C.'s transit...amazing. It's so clean and spacious and very easy to use. It can pretty much get you anywhere you need to go, with the exception of a few areas--but that's similar to Chicago. We took the Orange line to Metro Central, transferred to the Red Line and took that to NoMa, home of the Snallygaster Gargantuan Beer Jamboree.

Hannah and Jason have gone to this every year since they moved to D.C., so we were happy to take part in yet another of their traditions. Snallygaster is described as "an epic day of inimitable imbibery and monstrous merriment," and I can certainly attest to that. It cost $10, which included admission and a mug. Once we had our drink tickets, we headed into the fest for a long afternoon of drinking, and it was a blast. I tried a ton of great beers (including the Game of Thrones draft), Emily and Hannah played a game of bear pong (which is basically a large-scale version of the traditional college game) and we had a crazy dance party with hundreds of other fest-goers.

Four hours later, we left the fest and headed back to Arlington, where we had a low-key evening.

Sunday, we pulled on our Broncos gear and headed out for the day. Hannah took us over the river to Georgetown and showed us the campus. It was gorgeous. Colonial-style buildings, cobblestone streets and treelined paths, bright colorful homes and a peaceful vibe. It almost made me want to move there. We walked around Georgetown, which has a great shopping district, and we gladly took advantage. Hannah took us to one of her favorite lunch spots, Tackle Box, D.C.'s first and only lobster shack. While we should have got lobster, none of us decided to go for it this time. I got the Tackle Box Meal with Blue Fish, grilled zucchini and lemon garlic aioli (highly recommend). Everything is fresh and cooked to order, and I would definitely go back again.

After lunch, we walked along the river toward the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. We hung out there briefly and then made our way through the World War II Memorial, past the Washington Monument and over to the Old Post Office Building, which has been transformed into an indoor mall. But it still has the original bell tower, where you can get an unobstructed view of D.C. (at no cost) Jason was waiting for us there and we all went inside to check out the view.

After that, we headed over to the mall to knock another item off our list. It was here we took our jumping pictures. As I mentioned before, it takes a long time, and many tries, to get the perfect shot. But I think we got it.

Next up, we headed over to the last stop on the itinerary, Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, the only Denver Broncos bar in D.C. Hannah has been raving about this place forever, and, after visiting, I can certainly see why. The vibe here is immeasurable. The whole crowd performs the chants done at Mile High Stadium (Not it's official name anymore, but it will always be Mile High to me), there are Broncos shots (blue and orange), everyone is decked out in their best Broncos gear, there are free jello shots at half-time and everyone is super friendly. And even though the Broncos lost (definitely the low point of the trip), it was still a ton of fun hanging out for hours at the bar, cheering on our favorite team together.

We left the bar after midnight and made our way back to the apartment. Emily and I packed up most of our stuff since we had super early flights, and then crashed for about three hours before heading to the airport.

Washington, D.C. was definitely fun the second time around, and I would love the chance to go back and see some more of the city. Maybe check out some of the monuments again, refresh my memory a bit more. But what I really appreciated about this trip was that I got to enjoy it with my friends, even if it was only for a couple days. It's these brief moments that we'll truly cherish, because who knows how many more of them we'll get to do. More weddings are in the future, and soon kids will join the picture. But, for now, we are taking every chance we get, and living every moment to the fullest.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lessons Learned


Life is a perpetual lesson.

I suppose this is a truth I've always known, but it wasn't until last night that it really sank in.

I attended the opening night of Chicago Ideas Week--seven days packed with lectures, labs, workshops and networking opportunities with some of the most influential and thought-provoking people in the world. The theme for the night was Lessons: The Choice is Yours, and it featured five very different, and very inspiring, speakers: Ben Rattray (Founder & CEO of change.org), Catherine Hoke (Founder & CEO of Defy Ventures), Tig Notaro (Writer & Stand-up Comic), Josh Kilmer-Purcell (Author and co-founder of Beekman 1802) and Malcolm Gladwell (Author and Staff Writer for The New Yorker).

Each one of them had a lesson to share, something they had come across in their own lives that was impactful enough to change their perspectives, alter their paths, open new doors. As they spoke, I let every word unravel in my mind. For them, it was usually one event or story that changed things, sometimes it was simple, sometimes not. But those pure things had presented an unexpected lesson for these people, and it made me think about all the seemingly inconsequential events that have happened in my life and what lesson I might have missed.

Now, as a writer, I consider myself to be pretty astute, especially when it comes to these kinds of observations. However, after thinking about it all night, much to my chagrin, I missed a lot.

Not surprising, most of my life lessons have happened while traveling. What's unexpected is how and when those lessons came about.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery
The first memory that came to mind was of my eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. and New York. (Not really sure why, but it probably has to do with the fact that I'm writing a freelance article about student travel.) I remember being at Arlington National Cemetery, and our class was going to present a wreath to the tomb of the unknown soldier. Prior to leaving for the trip, my English teacher asked if I wanted to be one of four representatives to offer the wreath, and I gladly accepted. She told me to pack a nice outfit for the occasion. Being a bit of a tomboy, my nice outfit consisted of fitted khakis and a button down collared shirt (I can't even remember the shoes I wore).

On the day of the ceremony, my principle stormed up to me and asked if that was really what I was going to wear. Sternly, I said I didn't have anything else, and that these were the nicest clothes I had brought. He was mortified. The other girl was wearing a plaid skirt, tights and buckled black shoes--with a heel, of all things. My appearance mimicked the boys, who wore slacks, buttoned shirts and ties. It was the first time I'd ever stopped to think about my wardrobe and what it said about me. It was also the first time a teacher had ever made me feel ashamed of how I looked. Regardless, I stood proudly with my classmates and handed off the wreath to the uniformed guard, who placed it in front of the tomb. My principle apologized for making me feel bad (followed quickly by a 'you could have at least worn heels'), and I went about the rest of my day trying to forget the whole thing. It was my first lesson in dressing to impress.

Throughout high school, I made more of an effort with my clothes--although dresses were still my least favorite thing to wear. In college, I didn't have to dress up, but every once and a while I made it a point to look a little nicer. And somewhere along the way, I really started appreciating what clothes could do for my self confidence. I even started wearing dresses on a regular basis. My perception of myself started changing. To this day, I make sure I look my best for important meetings, interviews and work, when I'm required to leave the house. It shows people you are serious about your career and your life. I will say, however, that the lesson I learned in eighth grade did not turn me into a shallow person. It taught me about expectations--other people's and my own.

So many other travel stories have drifted through my mind today, and all the different lessons that came outside the classroom. I would love to tell them all and analyze the ways they changed my life, but that would take way too long. (Perhaps I'll save it for my book.) But it has reinforced my belief that travel is essential. It broadens our perceptions of the world, introduces us to different cultures and ways of life, it propels us forward and challenges our ideas. It is a cog in the ceaseless learning process. And I look forward to the many lessons it still has to teach me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Seeing the World from the Race Course

Runners weaved through Chicago's streets, waving at and cheering along with thousands of spectators, pushing themselves as hard as they can to reach that finish line. And as difficult as it is to run 26.2 miles, the beauty, vibrancy and excitement that surrounds them on the course, helps make the journey a little bit easier.
Chicago Marathon. Credit: AP

The Chicago Marathon loops through more than 20 different neighborhoods, exposing runners to the wide variety of cultures and colors in the city. From the modern greeneries of Millennium Park to the vintage brownstones of Old Town; the rainbow banners of Boystown to the architectural gems of the Loop; the vivid artistry of Pilsen to the oriental monuments of Chinatown. All ending with the final turn  that will take them to the finish line in iconic Grant Park. In one day, you can experience a remarkable amount of the city.
Running through the loop. Credit: AP

I've never been interested in running a full marathon, but I do like the idea of using a race as a reason to go somewhere new and get to see a city from a different angle. Luckily, I have others who share that sentiment. My boyfriend and I signed up for a half marathon in Nashville next April, and I cannot wait to visit the country music capital of the nation. The course starts next to Vanderbilt University, runs down West End Avenue and past the Country Music Hall of Fame, through various neighborhoods, past Bicentennial Park and ends across the river from City Hall. I'll definitely see a lot while running, but I'll see even more when I get the chance to explore Nashville after the finish. Since the race is on a Saturday, we can spend the afternoon being tourists, checking out the attractions and learning more about the city.

I hope to do more trips like this, where I can combine a race with a small vacation. Because I really think it's a wonderful way to experience a new place.

A marathon--or any race length--opens you up to a different world, whether it's in a new place or if you've been there before. As a runner, I can say with confidence that each stretch of the path is different, despite running it numerous times.