The Washington D.C. Travel Review: Pride and Presidents
In the USA they say that politics is simply showbiz for ugly people. They say it, but they don’t mean it. Because, unlike Albion, where Parliament really is the spiritual home for the aesthetically-challenged, US politics is a global stage where glitz, glamour and a bit of jazz hands are the name of the game. And its players are stars.
Unlike their less-slick brethren in Britain, American law-makers are commonly to be found with perfectly moulded teeth and hair, stuck onto firmly ironed skin, placed inside impeccably tailored suits, and then media-trained to within an inch of their lives. These political creatures live for the flash of the camera and the allure of the adulation.They are the De Niros of democracy, the Spielbergs of the Senate, the Lorens of liberty, shining brightly, adored by half the population, and loathed by the other 50 percent. Those at the top stay there because of their star-power, and the young wannabes who prize their influence gaze enviously up at them.
And where do these starlets with dreams of power in their eyes go to make it big? Where else, but the Hollywood for the politically-motivated, Washington D.C.
As every waiter is impossibly good-looking in Los Angeles, so every cafe in D.C. is staffed by political doctorates and uncorrupted dreamers. And, like its Californian cousin, the aroma of success fills the air with glorious abandon, seducing newcomers with its promises of hope and fulfilled ambition.
There are fundamental differences between Capitol Hill and its Hollywood counterpart, most obviously that Washington has that rare feel amongst major world cities in that it exists primarily to rule.
It’s the second most visited tourist city in the US after New York, but, make no mistake, this is a town where stuff happens, and it rarely feels touristy. In fact, in the same way it doesn’t take a pure and irreproachable candidate long to succumb to the corporate political machine, so it takes D.C. outsiders no time at all to shift into a local mindset, as walking around Washington feels like living there. The most notable thing about being in Washington as opposed to most other US cities is the sense of history and purpose, with some of the most magnificent and well-intentioned buildings and monuments you would see anywhere.
From the splendour of the Lincoln Memorial to the powerfully-affecting Martin Luther King tribute, a feel of lineage and place surrounds the city, with the wide boulevards intersecting some of the world’s most iconic modern sights, and an astonishing number of museums providing a learning experience unlike many others.
As with all aspect of the entertainment industry, the underbelly is well hidden in plain sight, but visible by taking just one wrong turn, but it must also be said that the much discussed crime rate is also kept mostly away from the main public areas, and it feels like a safe city.
Overall, Washington D.C. represents an unusual but thoroughly enjoyable short break, and is a city built on the American Dream, presenting a platform of patriotic virtue, whilst hiding the less savoury behind a facade of makeup and showmanship.
And that’s showbiz, baby.
If there’s one thing you can say about American cities, it’s that they’re never short of luxury hotels and Washington is no different. This is a city for visiting dignitaries, and they know how to cater for the top end of the market.
The best place to stay is the Four Seasons, which is located near enough the main sights you’ll want to see, but enough of a distance from the throngs of tourists to maintain the kind of Obama cool that you’ll be wanting to project. It’s also the nearest five star hotel to the White House, and is walking distance from downtown, where the main nightlife happens.
It seems only appropriate that when in the Rome-inspired city you indulge suitably, and it’s worth booking the Royal Suite in the pleasingly coincidental West Wing of the hotel. Here you’ll find the biggest suite in town, with a stunning roof terrace, a palatial marble bathroom, and around 4,000 square feet of contemporary yet classical decor, with just the hint of an art deco finish.
It’s calming, luxurious, and just a few blocks away from Barack, so there’s really no excuse to not pop by and say hello to the man they call POTUS.
Anyone who has seen any kind of US political drama understands that business gets done over lunch. Or dinner. Or, maybe, breakfast.
Food in Washington matters, which is just as well as there are more choices for a foodie connoisseur than you could wave a constitution at. It’s hard to pick an absolute best, but make sure you visit The Inn at Little Washington, for something truly special.
For those who enjoy Heston et al’s fun with food, you’ll love the little quirks and wit they serve up here, including the ‘world’s smallest baked potato’ and a robot cow to serve cheese. It’s all exquisite, but make sure you try the tasting menu, with the macaroni and cheese something far more than the sum of its parts.
It’s a bit of a trek outside the city centre, but you’ll be glad you made the effort.
In a city of corporate white collars and sharp suits, the Chi-Cha Lounge stands out from the crowd in its somewhat incongruous setting of former fire station turned latino hotspot.
Latin jazz is the soundtrack to your nightlife here, with warm decor and hospitality making this a home from home, where all comers are welcome.
Make sure you try the signature cocktails here, with its elements almost as much of a mystery as why it tastes so good, and how did you get home last night.
For decades NYC has been the go-to destination for US shopping weekends, but Washington is challenging the Big Apple’s dominance over retail therapy.
Downtown is full of boutiques and department stores, but the real value is in the shopping outlet centres, and Premium Outlets is the undisputed number one shopping stop in not just the Washington area, but across North America.
Just a short trip out of the D.C. centre, Premium Outlets has three centres filled with designer stores at outstandingly low prices, including Gucci, Calvin Klein and Coach.
For those wanting a more culturally enriching shopping experience, hire a car and head down the coast to the historic Civil War town of Williamsburg, which has kept its authentic charm from days of old, and which hosts an expansive luxury Premium Outlets centre.
There really are a lot of things to see in Washington, and it’s a delightful experience to wander around a corner only to see an iconic building you once saw in a movie.
To get the most out of the city, a tour is recommended, and there are very decent bus and segway tours. However, Washington is a city made for cycling, with its many flat parks and byways, and there are Boris-bikeesque bicycles dotted around that are a perfect way of getting all the photos you’ll need.
Understandably the famous gates outside the White House get very busy during the daytime, but early in the morning and in the evening they are very quiet, so it’s advisable to plan your getting about.
Say goodbye to the hassle of airport parking with the brilliant Pronto Parking, who will collect your car at the passenger drop-off point, before valeting it and returning it to you from the same place.
Virgin Atlantic fly from Heathrow to Washington Dulles. Make sure you upgrade to Virgin’s award-winning Upper Class, and get to the airport early to enjoy the unique hospitality of the Virgin Clubhouse, with its private members’ club feel.
Main image above copyright: FreeImages.com/David Lat