Washington wasn’t even on my bucket list but when the Home Exchange offer came in to trade my cozy flat for a posh condo overlooking Kennedy Centre and the Potomac River, I agreed without hesitation. And after a week in the U.S. capital I’m glad I said yes — Washington is beautiful, as tourist friendly as it’s possible for a city to be and the condo was superbly located in easy walking distance to the National Mall monuments, museums and galleries (all free!) and just as close to glamorous Georgetown with its excellent shopping, restaurants and dignified, historic homes.
The condo was enormous, two conjoined units merged into a spacious two bed plus den with two full baths and a combined living/dining room large enough to hold a baby grand piano. There was more than enough room for me and my travel companion Nicola, who joined me for half the week.
We arrived late on Saturday afternoon and made our way to the Mall in an effort to get our bearings. We got to Union Station in time to catch the last Monuments by Moonlight tour, which gave us a nice overview and a good whack of presidential history. Yes, in Washington, it’s the presidents who grab the spotlight, hence the Washington Monument (under renovation), the Lincoln Memorial (top pic), the Jefferson Memorial (above), the Madison Building, it goes on and on.
The next morning we headed off in the other direction to scout around the Sunday Georgetown Flea Market. The flea was fun if unspectacular and high enough up Wisconsin Avenue that the walk back down the hill took us past numerous antique and decor stores including the beautifully styled Jonathan Adler shop, below.
Nicola and I found two fantastic consignment stores, TARI and REDDz Trading where we reaped a bumper crop of uppity labels including Prada, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers and Barbour (me) and Betsy Johnson (her). We teetered back to Virginia Avenue loaded with bags and ready for fall.
We also ducked into Metro, D.C.’s most notable dealer of vintage 20th century furnishings and accessories. I didn’t get prices on the fab chairs in the window, above, but the Laurel lamp, below left was priced at $450 and the awesome walnut and marble side table was $1,000. Metro may be one of the country’s best sources for mid-century treasures but the shop is a cacophonous pile, too small for styling and a challenge for the buyer who needs to slow down and really scour the stacks.
Between the heat and all the walking our feet were begging for a break. An hour or two later we were ready for some fine and decorative art and we found both at the National Gallery. We toured a small Edvard Munch exhibit and really enjoyed Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes 1909 – 1929, which pulled together a battery of early 20th Century greats from music, dance and art including Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Satie; Nijinsky, Nureyev and Balanchine; and Léon Bakst, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani and Léger, among others.
The National Gallery was brimming with spectacular art including the largest Alexander Calder mobile I’ve ever seen (below), done the year the artist died (1976); I liked it so much I purchased a mouse pad bearing an image of the work.
I especially enjoyed Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection, featuring some of the finest examples of Federal furnishings ever produced (1700 – 1830).
Elsewhere there were bronzes, marbles, paintings and prints and an impressive collection of Asian antiquities including exquisite Qing and Ming dynasty vases. The vignette below provides the perfect illustration of how one item, different from the others, can set off a display to tremendous effect.
By the end of the day our feet were pulverized, swollen and sore and in desperate need of a day off. And so we decided on a driving trip for our next adventure, a journey to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in neighbouring Virginia. Highway construction turned the 2.5-hour drive into a 3.5-hour ordeal but we made it eventually and enjoyed the light-filled house with its clever inventions and Jefferson’s copious treasures and books.
Seeing Jefferson’s library was the perfect precursor to our next major attraction, the Library of Congress, sometimes dubbed the most beautiful building in America. Completed in 1897 at a cost of $6 million, the building is a soaring song in marble, a temple of knowledge featuring mosaics and statues of great thinkers and creators in all the arts from Minerva to John Stuart Mill.
From the Library of Congress we had lunch and then enjoyed an afternoon of art, beginning at the Canadian Embassy with Bill Reid’s extraordinary bronze, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (below).
Designed by Arthur Erickson, the Canadian embassy (below) is on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the first of several sculpture gardens we enjoyed featuring works by Rodin, Henry Moore and Roy Lichtenstein, among countless others.
One of my favorite pieces was The Great Warrior of Montauban, below, by Emile-Antonio Bourdelle.
I’m going to cap this little tour there and continue tomorrow with a wrap-up of my week in Washington.