Stalking Olivia Pope – aka a few days in Washington DC

I have been lucky enough to do 3 US cities in the last 6 months! Back in October the husband and I went to New York for a few days and then I had a girls’ weekend in Chicago in December. So I went for a hat trick with Washington DC last week!

Washington preparations
Washington preparations

We had a fab time in New York and we try to get away for a few days every 6 months or so just as ‘us’ and without the kids in tow. For us, midweek works best, as the children have all of their normal routines and so don’t really have time to miss us! Our fabulous nanny stays – and the kids love it that she’s having ‘sleepovers’ – and we know they’re in safe hands. So we were deciding where to cash the airmiles in for this trip – and we both LOVE the TV show Scandal (if you haven’t watched it – then you can get the previous series box sets on catch up TV!) which is set in and around Washington DC – so that is where we decided to visit!

My major problem throughout the trip was remembering that it was the Obamas that live in The White House and not Fitz and Mellie!!

So here are my highlights – and compare / contrast with other places in the States.

Scandal spotting

It is a well known fact that customs officers / border guards DO NOT HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR – but of course that didn’t stop the husband telling the official that was checking our passports and ESTAs that we were hoping to spot Olivia Pope (the leading lady of Scandal!) But thankfully we weren’t deported before we’d even collected our bags!!

A lot of the action in Scandal takes place on benches outside the White House. After much walking about we couldn’t find the exact locations – and suspect it’s in the bit that is fenced off unless you’re important – but we re-enacted as best as we could…

Pretending to be some kind of spy.....
Pretending to be some kind of spy…..

We also took advantage of the fact that the US are 5 weeks ahead of us in the UK in terms of viewing – and watched those episodes on our computer in our hotel room whilst sampling the mini bar – living the dream for parents of small children – uninterrupted TV with a plentiful supply of booze and snacks!

The White House

This is possibly the most iconic building in the United States – and so is obviously a must see (and a must selfie!)

White House selfie
White House selfie

We were both surprised how small it is (relative to ‘Buckingham Palace’ or such like) – although the husband’s comment that it looked like ‘a big house in Barnt Green’ was perhaps under-selling it a bit.  Having said that the husband is renowned for being disappointed by landmarks.  He was concerned the Sydney Opera House looked dirty, and the Burj Al Arab looked dated!!

I was surprised how close you can get in terms of being able to see in.  If Fitz and Mellie Barack and Michelle were having a glass of wine on their balcony – you could TOTALLY see them from the street – weird!

The rear of the White House
The rear of the White House
Look - you can see onto the balcony!!
Look – you can see onto the balcony!!

We weren’t organised / special enough to get a tour (Charles and Camilla were there instead – and we were asked a number of times by barmen / taxi drivers if we knew them!!) but the nearby Visitor Centre was very informative and actually quite emotional.

History

OK – so the US is not renowned for it’s history (which is why when we go to Stratford Upon Avon, just down the road, it’s crawling with Americans!) but if you want American History then DC is a great place to go.

Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue
Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue

The different monuments and memorials – The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial amongst others, were all really moving and it was interesting to see them at day and then amazingly lit up at night (something you also see in Scandal!!)

The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument

We did a bus tour (in fact we did 2, as the one we’d pre booked was rubbish – so we did a Big Bus one instead #toptip) and this made sure that we saw lots – and also got lots of information about the city.

Going out to the Arlington National Cemetery was incredibly moving – the acres and acres of graves take your breath away.

A very moving sight
A very moving sight

The tomb of the unknown soldier was particularly poignant – especially with the Pentagon viewed in the background.

The tomb of the unknown soldier
The tomb of the unknown soldier

The husbands OCD was impressed by the precision of the matching white headstones that go on for miles and miles (but he did struggle with the more higgledy piggledy ones).

Higgledy piggledy graves
Higgledy piggledy graves

I also hadn’t realised that despite remarrying, Jackie Kennedy Onassis was buried beside JFK.

The Kennedy graves
The Kennedy graves
Looking back towards DC from Arlington
Looking back towards DC from Arlington

Museums

There are A LOT of museums in DC – and you could probably spend a week and not see all of them (and we had shopping to do, bars to drink in and Scandals  to watch!)  Having taken recommendations from friends before, we went to the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of America History and the International Spy Museum – all of which were really interesting.

Girl power plane
Girl power plane

I am only ‘slightly’ disappointed that we didn’t go to the National Museum of Natural History where Olivia’s Dad works as a cover for his B6-13 activities……..

Georgetown

This area has a really different feel to a usual big city.  The shops are great (the hotel recommended a toy shop which was brilliant) and it feels very ‘trendy’!  The waterfront area looks up and coming – but there was a lot of building work going on – and we had our worst meal of the whole trip at a restaurant there that had been recommended as ‘the place to eat’ by a taxi driver!  Lots of the houses have had famous residents historically and the architecture is really interesting.

The waterfront at Georgetown overlooking the river
The waterfront at Georgetown overlooking the river

Living like a local

One of the husband’s friends from when he was growing up moved to the States 20+ years ago – and they haven’t seen each other since.  He now works and lives near Washington.  We met him at his office and then he took us to meet his lovely wife and son at their house (complete with British bar in the basement!) and we went out for dinner with them.  It was lovely to see the ‘real’ side of the city and it’s surroundings and how the locals live – and not just do ‘touristy’ stuff.

The Stegg and Flower English bar!!
The Stegg and Flower English pub!!

Walking

I had a Fitbit for my birthday, a few days before we went away, and it was worn AT ALL TIMES.  We walked a lot – particularly the day we went to Arlington National Cemetery – that day we managed over 22,000 steps.  And up and down the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial – boom to the ‘floors climbed’ stat.

The steps!
The steps!

The husband did get a bit annoyed that I insisted on walking everywhere just to get my steps up (kind of the point of the Fitbit that he bought me!) and by the time we flew home his feet were covered in blisters and his legs and back were aching ridiculously – whoops.

It was also interesting to see how undisturbed my sleep is in a hotel and even on a plane, compared to at home with the pesky kids!!

Overall we loved Washington DC.  It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of New York or Chicago – but I felt safer there (possibly the men everywhere with ‘Secret Service’ on their vests helped with that – although clearly they aren’t very secret!!) and it was great to be able to see the sky.  We will definitely be back – and just maybe we’ll bump into Olivia Pope and Associates ……

Book Review: You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

I have friends in high places who let me have top secret things. This makes me sound like Olivia Pope in Scandal – just without the amazing coats, shoes and sex with the President of the US!! (By the way, if you haven’t watched Scandal – then have a box set gorge – it is brilliant. In fact, it may have to have a blog post all to itself sometime soon!)

So – back to the top secret things. The aforementioned friend works in the book industry (more about her here) and so let me borrow a copy of a book not released until next month (blog post embargoed until October) and the sampler of a new book by Mhairi McFarlane ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’. It was only the first few chapters but I LOVED IT – this is what Amazon has to say about it so I’m not ruining any surprises:

“Delia Moss isn’t quite sure where she went wrong. Everything was going smoothly. Ok, she had a slightly rubbish job working for the council and she hadn’t seen her best friend Emma in god knows how long, but she’d been working up to proposing to Paul for months. This. Was. It.

But with one annoying little ‘beep beep’, Delia’s life is turned upside down and rather than stick around and commit GBH by punching her cheating scumbag boyfriend (who still wants to be with her) in the chops, she decides the best thing to do would be get some head space and leave for London.

But a new city is never going to be the answer, and with a dodgy new job in media PR, where a suspicious yet devastatingly handsome journalist seems to be sniffing around and endangering her job, Delia can’t run forever. Where did the old Delia go? And can she get her back?”

I literally CAN NOT WAIT until 6 November 2014 when it will wing it’s way to my Kindle.

Anyway – the secret sampler thing totally worked as marketing, as I obvs went and downloaded Mhairi McFarlane’s first book ‘You Had Me At Hello’ immediately – and I loved that too!!

You had me at hello

It is written totally in the style I would love to write if I ever do brave the book writing thing, and as if the narrator (Rachel in this case) is chatting to you, the reader, as her mate.  I guess the fact that I’m a similar age to the author (OK, just the other side of 40 to her!) means lots of similar reference points.  It flicks between the present day and uni days with ease and is a fabulous mixture of romance / humour / good guys v bad guys and some real laugh out loud moments (where you accidentally wake your husband up when you’re reading in bed way too late!)   There was a slightly ‘close to the bone’ moment for me when a character said that Rachel, having not seen her since uni, could be 15 stone and shouting at her 4 children – yep, anyone from the University of Southampton class of 1995 – that’s me now!!

It was a great read – and I’d love to know what happens to all of the characters next – which I think is always the sign of a good book – leave them wanting more (possibly the sign of a good ‘lost love’ too?!)

Oh – and you can be as lucky as me and read the first few chapters of ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’ as they are at the end of the Kindle edition of ‘You Had Me At Hello’!