Posted in WashingtonDC

Visitor from Haiti!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might’ve seen me mentioning my friend AF every now and then. We’ve known each other since childhood, and she’s visited me at every one of our overseas posts since we joined the Foreign Service. Back at the beginning of 2020, she joined the FS herself as an OMS. And her first post was Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Being a hardship post, the folks in Haiti get a few R&Rs during their two-year tour, and AF kindly chose to spend a week with us on her last R&R. It’s always awesome to see her, but this was the first time that we had so much crazy work stuff in common to talk about as well! But we also wanted to get out and do some fun things in the DC area.

So I took a few days off, and we scouted out some sites. My son was in camp from 9am-4pm, so we had a decent window to explore each day and have lunch before heading back home. The main things that we visited were the National Cathedral, the Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of the Bible, and the Winery at Bull Run.

Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington

The beautiful Neo-Gothic Architecture of the National Cathedral.

(aka) The National Cathedral has been on my list for quite a while. It’s almost hard to believe that we hadn’t visited it yet. It’s a stunning Neo-Gothic building with an incredibly long official name constructed in 1907. It’s the second largest cathedral in the US and has its own little underground parking garage for around $6.

The Bishop’s Garden.

The day that we went, we decided to tour the outside first, which was impressive in itself, and the detailed limestone carvings were amazing. Plus there were places I wouldn’t even have thought to look for, like the Women’s Porch added in 1941, the Cathedral Cloister Courtyard dedicated in 1969, and the Bishop’s Garden that was modeled after medieval walled gardens in Europe. And, of course, there is the famous Darth Vader gargoyle, but it was too high up to see clearly.

Some of the amazing limestone carvings in the Cathedral Garth Colonnade.

Sadly once we’d finally circled around and reached the front door, there was a small sign on it saying that it was randomly closed for the day. I’d even checked the website that morning to confirm the hours, so that was a bummer, and the interior still remains on my list.

More to come…

Posted in WashingtonDC

Afternoon in Occoquan

There’s a cute little town nestled in the southern suburbs of DC called Occoquan. I had been going back and forth about visiting because it was one of the few places that I’d gone with my ex-husband when we lived in DC in 2008. But they say the best way to replace a sad memory is to make a new one.

Victorian Condos in Occoquan.

So I took my kiddo down for lunch and an afternoon wander around. Fewer than 1,000 people live there, and the name is Algonquin for “at the end of the water.” There’s been a colonial town there since the mid-1700s, and the Occoquan Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places with lots of cute Victorian shops, restaurants, and a spendy condominium complex.

I was planning for us to have lunch in the Secret Garden Café. But apparently the “secret” had gotten out, and there was a 45-minute wait for lunch. But there was lovely backyard seating available at the restaurant right next door, so we stepped back onto the sidewalk and down one door to the The Spot on Mill Street, which had been voted Best Coffee House in Northern Virginia three years running…according to their website.

The Spot on Mill Street.
Relaxing on the covered back porch.
Tasty chicken salad.

The menu wasn’t quite as interesting, but it was probably better for the 11-year-old since there were cheeseburgers involved. I had a decent chicken salad and a Northwest Flanders sour ale, which was pretty good. We also had more shade from the sun than the neighboring yard, and we got to watch a bird building a nest next to the air conditioning unit. Free entertainment!

After lunch, we made a mandatory visit to the NazBro Chocolates and Fudge shop and Mill Street Sweets. Once our bag was overflowing with treats, we wandered down to the end of town to admire the LOVE sign and the view of the Occoquan River from River Mill Park. Then we slowly made our way back through the pretty condos along the waterfront to the overcrowded parking area.

Inside NazBro Chocolates and Fudge.
The LOVE sign in River Mill Park.

And now I have a LOVE-ly new memory of Occoquan. 😉

Posted in WashingtonDC

Vikings Revisited

Colorful ship at the Manassas Viking Festival.

I’m always on the lookout for a good festival to make an annual tradition. So far one of the contestants is the Manassas Viking Festival! This is only the second time we’ve been, and the first time was back in 2019, so it hasn’t exactly been annual. I believe it was cancelled for 2020 due to COVID, and last year it fell on Mother’s Day when we already had plans for baby goat yoga.

And honestly, I wasn’t terribly motivated to go this year since it was mostly vendors that we’d already seen before and not much in the way of interesting food. But the kiddo really wanted to go because he wanted a souvenir sword.

He chose one of the painted wooden swords at the bottom of the photo.

So we drove on down to Manassas since it’s only half an hour away, and the event is free. We cruised around for a while trying to find a parking spot and eventually ended up right next to the spot that we’d parked in three years ago. Kind of a random coincidence.

We probably spent two hours there altogether, which was enough time to peruse all the vendors, admire the Viking ship, and shop for swords. A finally settled on an affordable wooden model and was then ready to go home.

Some creative cups and crafty weavers.

We peeked around a couple nearby streets in downtown Manassas looking for a good lunch spot, but everything was pretty crowded due to the festival. It is a cute little town though, so maybe we’ll have to inspect it more closely one of these days. We’ll see if we make it back next year!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Finding Holland

Rows of tulips at Burnside Farms in Nokesville, VA.

Another month has passed, and we’ve had a couple of adventures. As you may have guessed from previous posts, there are lots of great farms and festivals in Northern Virginia. Now that things are warming up, it’s time to get out and about again!

I’m always excited and impressed when I find new things in the area that remind me of something overseas. I came across a couple pics of a tulip farm in Nokesville, which is only about 35 minutes away, that reminded me of the vast fields of tulips in Holland. Granted, it was on a much smaller scale, but I wasn’t disappointed!

Large wooden Dutch shoe and amazing yellow fringed tulip.

I figured my video-game obsessed tween wouldn’t be quite as thrilled as I was, so I took the afternoon off from work on a beautiful sunny day and drove down to Burnside Farms around lunchtime. And it was so lovely! The flowers were absolutely gorgeous and came in all shapes and colors. A single adult admission was $20 and included five tulips. Each tulip after that was $1.

I spent a good hour wandering around the fields and admiring the flowers…gently picking the occasional bloom here and there and adding it to my little white basket that I found in a pile at the entrance.

Five tulips included with admission.

They also had a pretty cool play area for kids that A might have enjoyed when he was younger. I was actually a bit sad for a while thinking about the fact that he was growing up so quickly, and I wouldn’t be able to drag him with me to everything anymore. But I let that pass and just focused on enjoying the moment.

Me…enjoying the moment.

When I went to check out and pay for my tulips, I had a brief conversation with the cashier about how relaxing and meditative the experience was. And she said that people always look much calmer when they leave than when they arrive. It wasn’t crazy crowded like the Keukenhof in Holland, but there were still quite a few people…and they all seemed to be calm and happy and in a good mood.

I might have to make this an annual event. 🙂

Posted in New England

Foodie Fun in Boston

Whole lobstah with corn on the cob.

Food tourism was big on my list while we were in Boston. Since I had an 11-year-old in tow, I wasn’t aiming for five-start dining. But I did want to patronize a few historic pubs and restaurants. My favorite turned out to be the Union Oyster House in the North End.

According to the fantastic website, the building was erected in 1742, and the first shop was owned by Hopestill Capen who imported silk and dry goods. In 1771, printer Isaiah Thomas published his newspaper “The Massachusetts Spy” in one of the upstairs rooms, and a few years later it became a pay station for Federal troops. Louis Phillippe I lived on the second floor in 1796 and taught French while waiting to return to France after being exiled. In 1826 Capen sold his dry goods store to Atwood and Bacon who turned it into a restaurant and oyster house.

On the day of our visit, I had half a dozen freshly shucked local oysters on the half shell and a lovely lunch of Sautéed Shrimp & Scallops served with a sundried tomato cream sauce over rice. And my dining companions had a nice plate of fish and chips and mini cheeseburgers for kids.

Local oysters at the Union Oyster house.
Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops…yummm.

A couple of other not-so historic restaurants that I enjoyed were Fajitas and ‘Ritas right around the corner from our hotel. They had a fantastic selection of tacos and margaritas and some voluptuous tomato art on the wall that caught the full attention of my tween-age boy.

We also had good food at the Cask ‘n Flagon across from Fenway Park with lots of baseball memorabilia on the walls. I had a super yummy Blackened Chicken Salad, and A had an oversized (and overpriced) plate of fish and chips because the waitress didn’t realize I was asking for the kids’ portion, and I wasn’t paying attention when it arrived.

Attention-getting mural inside Fajitas and ‘Ritas.
Yummy tacos with chicken, red cabbage, radish, and a lime cream sauce with beans and rice.
Blackened Chicken Salad at the Cask ‘n Flagon.

But we did have some disappointing food as well. A had heard about Regina’s Pizzeria, established in the North End in 1926, from one of his teachers before we’d even left DC. So we stopped by for dinner while exploring the North End on our second day. It was super crowded, and the staff was a bit harried and unsmiling.

They put us in a booth in the corner right by the entrance to the men’s bathroom, and the door was so thin, we could identify who was and wasn’t washing their hands. And the pizza just wasn’t that great. Granted, I’m not a fan of thin crust to start with, but the whole thing was kind of dry and overcooked. I wasn’t impressed.

Regina’s Pizzeria in the North End.
Regina’s after the crowds had cleared out.

Another big food item on my list was lobstah!! Again, I wasn’t shooting for anything too fancy. So when I came across the Boston and Maine Fish Company in Quincy Market, I thought that would be perfect. Our first time there, we each had a whole lobster (cut in half) served with corn on the cob. I was so excited!

And it was the worst lobster I have ever had. Just like the pizza, it was dry and overcooked…and completely flavorless. Hoping that it was a one off, I went back a couple days later for lobster rolls. Same thing. They were dry and awful. I was so surprised and disappointed. But I am now even more thankful for Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls in Reston, Virginia. I could eat those all day.

Boston & Maine Fish Company in Quincy Market.

The only other thing I was hoping for was a Fenway Frank. You can buy them all over Fenway park during gametime, but we didn’t have much luck the day of our tour. During our entire week, we saw ONE street vendor advertising Fenway Franks, and it was the day that we first arrived. We’d already eaten some mediocre pizza by the slice (seemed to be a theme) at Sal’s on the edge of Boston Common, so we weren’t terribly hungry.

But the determining factor was that the vendor only took cash…and I had a grand total of $3 in my wallet. So we never had any Fenway Franks, but we did have some random sausage from a street vendor on Washington Street, and it was pretty tasty! Although I wouldn’t recommend eating them if you’re going to be in an enclosed space around people for the next few hours. Know what I’m sayin’?

The only Fenway Frank vendor we encountered.

We only got a chance to try one historic Irish pub, JJ Foley’s, while we were there. Although I’m not sure how historic it was as I’d confused the branch location that we went to with the original location in the South End. The South End location was built in 1909, was the oldest family-owned pub in Boston, and had a fairly extensive menu. The one that we went to seemed oldish but only had half a dozen food choices written on a chalkboard on the wall, and it felt slightly less child friendly than the other one had advertised.

But the bartender was kind enough, and the food was decent…your typical pub food…burgers and fish and chips. Needing a Guinness in an Irish pub, I ordered a Black and Blue, which is half Guinness and half Blue Moon, and wasn’t disappointed. The best moment was when I told our bartender (who was also doing the table service) that we were heading to the Boston Tea Party Ships next to throw tea in the harbor. And one of the guys sitting at the bar yelled “too soon!”

Interior of JJ Foley’s downtown location on Kingston St.

So our food experiences were hit and miss. We saved money by bringing some breakfast pastries in our luggage for the hotel room since I didn’t want to spend our first couple days hunting for grocery stores. But we did have a Dunkin’ Donuts right around the corner, and A begged for that most days. The hotel also had a coffee shop in the ground floor, and I enjoyed a lovely chai tea there with our awesome visitor from New Hampshire. 🙂

Posted in New England

Spring Break in Boston!

Paul Revere’s house in the North End of Boston.

After 18 months of hanging out in the DC area, we finally got on a plane! And went to Boston for Spring Break. Surprisingly, the choice to go to Mass was my son’s. I was going to take a week off to take him to Orlando and go to Disney World and Universal Studies, partly because I wanted to check out Harry Potter and Star Wars. But when I suggested it to him, he said he’d rather go to Boston. Fine with me! I love Boston.

So I bought two plane tickets and boarded the dog for a small fortune. I usually book our holiday accommodations through Booking.com. You can read about our AirBnB hiccup here (although technically it wasn’t an AirBnB. It was just a private rental company). But once we sorted that out, everything went really smoothly.

Our new accommodation was called The Godfrey Hotel. It was more than I wanted to spend, but it wasn’t completely outrageous for downtown Boston. It was a beautiful hotel with excellent reviews, in a great location less than two blocks from Boston Common. It was super convenient, surrounded by restaurants and two T stations, and was pretty much walking distance to everything downtown. And most importantly, it was immediately available when I tried to book on my phone at baggage claim.

Our spacious room at The Godfrey Hotel.

I thought about doing the hop-on-hop-off trolley tour to find our way around the first couple of days (sadly they don’t have the Londonesque double-decker buses that some big US cities use). But it was going to be $80 for an adult and a child for two days. So instead, I opted for a 7-day unlimited Charlie Card from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, aka the “T”, for a whopping $22. Kids 11 and under are free, but they don’t get any kind of ticket, so you just have to shove them through the doors ahead of you. Good thing they don’t use turnstiles anymore.

We arrived on a Sunday and departed on a Friday, which made for a slightly cheaper return ticket and gave us two travel days with four solid days on the ground. Our big highlights, in chronological order, were a Duck Tour, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum (where the kids got to throw fake tea in the harbor), a tour of Fenway Park, the New England Aquarium, the Freedom Trail, and a visit with an Antarctic friend who came down from New Hampshire to spend the day with us. It was a pretty awesome trip!

Our first outing, the Duck Tour, was a blast. We’d been on one in London, but A didn’t remember it. So he was pleasantly surprised when we left the streets and drove straight into the bay. We had a self-proclaimed witch from Salem as our tour guide, and the weather wasn’t too bad for spring in Boston.

Our flamboyant Duck Boat, “South End Sara”.
Passing another Duck Boat in the bay.

I think I enjoyed the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum the next day more than A did. But he did have fun throwing fake tea into the harbor, pulling it back up, and throwing it in again. I’m hoping that that combined with the Freedom Trail really helped this period in American history come alive for him. And the Freedom Trail itself was pretty cool. Lots of amazing cemeteries, churches, state houses, the site of the Boston Massacre…all made even more special because we got to walk it with our visiting friend!

The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum on a gorgeous sunny afternoon.
Kids throwing fake tea in the harbor.
(Incidentally I spent the summer of 2004 temping in the gray building across the water.)

The kiddo’s favorite activity was the Fenway Park tour. I think it helped that he’d joined our local Little League for the first time this spring, so he currently has a keen interest in baseball. We’d purchased tickets for an actual game, but it ended up being postponed. Probably a good thing too…the Wednesday that the game was originally scheduled turned out to be our only day of drizzly weather, and A ended up with a migraine in the afternoon. So, after a brief trip to the New England Aquarium in the morning, he was down for the count the rest of the day.

A’s first view of Fenway Park!
Historic mural inside Fenway Park.

The aquarium turned out to be quite a bit smaller than I thought it would be. A wasn’t particularly captivated by it and was in a rush to get through so he could buy a plush seal from the gift shop. So I probably wouldn’t pay to do that again. But they do have sea dragons, which I love.

Weedy sea dragons!!
View of the top of the 23-foot-deep Giant Ocean Tank.

We also enjoyed some random things like the famous Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston Common. They’re often clothed or decorated according to a theme. When we were there, they were covered in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. We also searched out the Edgar Allen Poe statue next to the Common, took a walk through Back Bay, and spent some time exploring the amazing Romanesque Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston Common dressed in colors of the Ukrainian flag.

The church was built in 1877, and the interior feels very medieval European with dark, brooding, rich colors. My favorite little detail was that a few of the stained glass windows had been painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones of William Morris. I’ve always loved the romanticism of Pre-Raphaelite anything and became a big fan of William Morris patterns and textiles when we lived in London. So admiring a William Morris window in Boston made me all warm and fuzzy.

Trinity Church in Copley Square.
Romanesque interior of Trinity Church.
Beautiful William Morris windows by Edward-Burne Jones.

After a few days in Boston, A was ready to go home…lol. But I feel like it was the perfect amount of time. Not too rushed and we still got to see and do everything on our list. So we had a pretty great trip! The next post will be all about the food.

Posted in Uncategorized

PSA – Beware of SoBeNY Accommodation!

Since I wasn’t able to leave a review, I thought I would use my own public platform and give folks a warning about the hospitality company called SoBeNY. Their website is SoBeNY.com, but I found them through Booking.com while planning our trip to Boston.

Here are a few red flags that came up while booking:

  1. They wouldn’t give me the actual address of the property. Even though they’d already taken full payment when I booked, they claimed that they do this because it is in a residential building and they want to protect the privacy of the other residents. They said they would provide it on the day of travel. The address they do provide on the Booking.com page is not their address…it is part of Tufts Medical School.
  2. They have multiple properties listed at fraudulent locations around Boston (aka Chinatown and Theatre District), but they are all actually in one building. I asked about a different location, and they told me that they do this because Booking.com won’t let them list multiple addresses. So they freely admitted to falsifying their Booking.com listing. And why do they need multiple addresses if it’s all in one building?
  3. They ask that you do not, under any circumstances, approach the front desk at the property. This makes me wonder if the building owners are aware that there are people commercially renting the rooms in their building.
  4. You have to upload your drivers license to their private portal. I hear that AirBnB also does this, so I guess it’s not a big deal. But it plays into what happened later.

The day before we flew, I again asked for the address. They again said they would provide it on the day of travel. On the day of travel, I asked if they could give me the address before we left for the airport at 9:30am, so we had somewhere to go when we landed. They told me they would give me the address…at 3:00 when it was time to check in. WTF?? I sent one more message begging for the address and then got on a plane.

While we were in the air…THEY CANCELLED OUR RESERVATION. They claimed that they were “unable to verify” my information…even though they had already taken full payment, and I’d uploaded all my documents to their private portal and was “verified” back in February. I questioned this reason and, rather than attempting to further verify my documents, they said I would get a full refund. (They had also tried to charge my credit card again for some reason, but it didn’t go through…even though Booking.com had all my current card information.)

At this point, I figured it was all a scam and was only concerned about getting my money back. So I politely asked how long this would take, and they said 1-2 business days. After two days I received an email saying that: “Unfortunately, the credit card processor that you have been charged on is terminated and we are unable to issue a refund directly to the same credit card used for this reservation’s charge. This would not happen currently on the current processor we are using but we don’t have the ability to refund the original card processed.” Sounded like another load of crap to me, but they suggested that I go through my credit card and have them reverse the charge, which I was more than happy to do.

The only good things were that their customer service seemed to respond quickly…but since it was all total BS, efficiency didn’t really matter. And they did seem to be legitimately interested in returning my money. I made a point not to cancel the reservation on my end through Booking.com in case they decided to nail me with the cancellation fee and let them do it directly themselves. And, of course, since it was cancelled, I was unable to leave a review. I’m sure the reason they have such good reviews online is because they cancel on anyone that asks questions or requests information.

So I hope that this little blog post will help future travelers considering this property and save them any stress or inconvenience that may occur. I was a bit nervous about trying to find a new place since it was Sunday before spring break, but I was able to successfully book a lovely property in a regular hotel via Booking.com on my phone at the airport…and they actually gave me the address.

Posted in WashingtonDC

March Madness

Well, the month of March pretty much flew by. And it was the most active that we’ve been in years! (Not counting moving between countries.)

I’m still working from home, but we had lots of fun adventures. For starters, my son joined our local Little League. He’d expressed an interest in baseball, and fortunately he’s still young enough to participate even though he has zero experience. If he wants to continue, he can probably go for one more year, and then it gets competitive. But for now, he’s learning, and playing, and being part of a team, which I think is fantastic. And I am now a baseball mom, which is something new and fun for me too!

Little League!

Another exciting thing that happened in March was that my brother got married. If I’ve ever mentioned being an only child on the blog, technically both are true. My parents divorced when I was two, and my mom raised me. But my dad remarried and had two more awesome kids, so I do have half-siblings. My brother moved out to the DC area from California last year to be closer to a lovely lady that he was dating, and they got married last month in Fredericksburg.

The whole family came out for the ceremony, so it was great to be able to spend some time with them. We also did a few fun touristy things in Fredericksburg…checked out the historic downtown and wandered through the battlefield and visitor center. I’m about 15 years older than my brother, so he and my sister and her husband took A to a local adventure park, and I got some quality time to catch up with the parents. After the ceremony, the family came up to our place for the evening, and then it was off to the airport for an early flight in the morning.

Downtown Fredericksburg.

Back in DC, spring is finally starting to arrive. We’ve had a pretty good winter with a few decent snowfalls. I’ve kept our house between 60-65F and spent the last few months cuddled up in sweaters and blankets and drinking tea. So I feel like my winter criteria has been met, and I’m ready to move into some warmer temps and get out and about more.

I realized the other day that, since we were only in Switzerland for fall and winter, this will be our fifth consecutive DC spring in a row! I feel like we’ve had a pretty comprehensive view of cherry blossoms at various locations over the years. I still avoid downtown since it’s so crowded, but we might have to get down there again eventually.

This year, I wanted to check out the blossoms at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. We went a bit too late last year, and most of them were gone. But DC did a strange thing…they announced peak bloom kind of early. Peak bloom is supposed to be when at least 75% of the buds have blossomed. When they announced peak bloom, the trees in our housing complex hadn’t even hit 25% yet. A friend surmised that they announced it early to keep all the crowds from appearing on the weekend.

So I popped over to Meadowlark one day, and the trees at the top of the hill were in full bloom, but the ones at the bottom around the lake weren’t quite there yet. It was still a lovely sight even with the overcast skies. But I’d have loved to have seen the Weeping Cherries in all their glory…maybe next year.

Cherry blossoms at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

Our last March adventure was a visit to the Immersive Van Gogh Experience. I had seen it advertised in Lausanne when we were in Switzerland. But I just didn’t make it a priority. It’s been here in DC for a few months and was extended into May due to popular demand. So I finally went online and bought a couple of tickets.

The experience was pretty cool. It was a bit smaller than I expected…only three real rooms, but the exhibits were neat. And of course, the main thing that everyone comes to see is the big room with giant art projected on all four walls. That part was impressive. They’d done a lot of work to animate the pieces and make interesting transitions between them. I really enjoyed it. The presentation is on a loop, so if you come in somewhere in the middle, you can sit through at again as many times as you like. I’ve read that each rotation is 35 minutes, but it didn’t feel that long to me. I probably could’ve soaked up a few more, but once was enough for the 11-year-old.

Hanging out at the Immersive Van Gogh Experience.

I think the price was a bit steep considering we’re in a town full of free museums, and the online ticket purchase was kind of annoying. I actually had to do two separate transactions for a child and an adult ticket. I asked customer service about this, and they confirmed that you have to make two separate purchases…and be charged two service fees. What century are we in that a system can’t handle two different yet basic transactions? So after fees it was $50 for me and $28 for the kiddo. I was happy to finally be able to see it, but I probably wouldn’t pay to go again.

That’s it for March! Next post will be all about our spring break trip to Boston!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Afternoon Tea, Take Two

Tea tray and pot of mint tea at the Mandarin Oriental.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I love afternoon tea. The display is just so dainty and elegant, and the desserts are creative and beautiful. Not to mention that it all tastes so yummy. It just makes me happy.

I hadn’t been to tea in quite a while when I went in January with my son for my birthday. So imagine my delight when I received an invitation to go again in February at the Mandarin Oriental with some girlfriends that I worked with in London. Yay!

My son is just getting to the age where I almost feel comfortable leaving him alone for a couple of hours on his own, which is a big step for me. In the state of Virginia, you’re allowed to leave a child aged 11-12 alone for up to three hours during the day (but not after dark).

He pretty much just plugs into his laptop, games with his buddies online, and doesn’t even notice that I’m gone. Every now and then we check in with each other via Skype video to make sure everything is okay. And now that we’ve been in our new home for a year, he knows our next-door neighbors and could always pop over if he needed to. So off I went to tea!

The hotel is part of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, which has 33 properties around the world. This one was built in 2004 and has kind of a French look with a mansard roof…especially from the river where it could be mistaken for a view from the Seine in Paris.

View of the Mandarin Oriental from the Potomac (photo from Tripadvisor).

Tea was served in the Empress lounge just off the lobby looking out onto the Empress Garden. We sat right by the window, which was nice for about five minutes. But I’m not a sun bunny, so the glare quickly became too bright and the heat too intense. I was happy that I had worn layers and a light blouse but was still sweating by the end of it.

The Empress Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental.

The food and the company, however, were fantastic! And we had a harpist to create mood and ambience. I would list all the fun sandwiches and desserts here, but they’re all spelled out on the menu card below. The scones were different though…one was standard, and the other was Toasted Black Sesame, which was a dark grey color. The color wasn’t terribly appealing, but it still tasted great covered in jam and clotted cream. And for some reason, they put the sandwiches on top and the desserts in the middle, which totally messed with my self-diagnosed OCD.

Afternoon Tea menu card.

Parking near the hotel is challenging, but for afternoon tea they will validate your valet parking, so it was only $12 down from $29. If you use Google Maps, do be careful, it tends to dump you at a weird location at the base of the hotel on Maine Ave with no way to enter. If this happens, just keep making right turns until you end up at the entrance on Maryland Ave. Enjoy!

Posted in WashingtonDC

A Somewhat Snowy DC Winter

Not much has happened since my last blog post. We’ve had a few small snowstorms. The biggest one was the one I posted about back at the beginning of January that trapped a few hundred people overnight on I-95. I make a point of staying off the roads in inclement weather around here. I’m a pretty decent winter driver, but people here cannot drive in the snow.

We’ve had a couple little storms since then that left less than two inches but were enough to reschedule my son’s Little League tryouts three consecutive weekends until they finally moved it indoors. Happily, we haven’t had any other shifts to virtual school since that first week. But they won’t let the kids play outside at recess if it’s below 32F, which frustrates him to no end.

I left the Christmas tree up as usual all through January and have yet to take the wreath down outside. I like lights in the winter regardless of holiday status. It just makes things more cheerful in the dark.

My most exciting project at the moment is my current attempt to get healthy and lose weight. I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution about it, but I was very inspired by my colleague and fellow blogger, Collecting Postcards, who lost an amazing 100 pounds last year.

I also have a ton of food allergies that I basically ignore because I don’t like to cook and just eat whatever’s easiest, so I have hives pretty much all the time. I went to an allergist many years ago, and they said I was allergic to preservatives but didn’t have a way to isolate which ones. So I’m working on eliminating my processed foods.

I bought an air fryer and a smoothie blender that my 11-year-old is currently obsessed with. He makes a mean chocolate-banana milkshake. Since I started working on losing weight last month, I have lost five pounds, which is nice.

Other than that, we’re just kind of hanging out. I gave my kiddo a gaming laptop for his birthday last year, and he was recently invited into a social group of 6th grade gamers at his school. So he was incredibly stoked about that and spends as much time as possible online.

Speaking of online, I’ve kind of drifted away from the Hallmark Christmas movies that I’d retreated into after my divorce and gotten into watching European crime dramas. Wonder what Freud would say about that. Between Netflix, Britbox, and Prime Video I’d recommend the following, if you’re into them: Trapped (Icelandic), Shetland (Scottish), Deadwind (Finnish), The Killing (American but based on a Danish series), Mare of Easttown (American but tricked into thinking it was British because of Kate Winslet), and Top of the Lake (New Zealand).

For crime/sci-fi combos, I liked The One (British) and Altered Carbon (American but based on a British book). And, of course, I binged my usual sci-fi favorites this winter…Lost in Space, The Expanse, and The Witcher…and will eventually be catching up on the current season of Outlander and A Discovery of Witches.

So there you have it. This is what I do when I don’t travel. I watch a sh*t ton of television, eat processed food, and daydream about future vacations. Hopefully we’ll go somewhere fun sometime soon!