We’re back in the States for a couple of months, mostly for a pretty grim reason: I have an 11-year-old great-nephew in the closing stages of terminal cancer. So we’re on our way to Duluth for what is likely a final visit. First, though, we had to get back to North America. One of the joys of traveling the way we do is that when we decide to change continents we can hunt around for both departure and arrival cities and just take the best option. In this case the best option was to fly into Dulles Airport outside DC which is perfect, since Mark’s sister Jeanne and her family, along with our great friend Laura and her family, all live in the area.
And then – notwithstanding the otherwise sad reason for our visit and the fact that we’d just flown 12 time zones from Bangkok (yes, that’s the worst jet lag you can get) – we had an absolutely wonderful three-day visit. Part of the fun was just hanging out, spending time with our niece and nephew, both of whom are growing up into interesting humans. Who would have guessed?
And then there were the excursions. First up was a guided tour of the National Gallery, one of the Smithsonian museums in DC. Laura was selected for a two-year training program as a docent there and while she’s not yet finished the training it was still really interesting to have her take us around and show us several of her favorite pieces, hearing the back story that you’d never know without an expert guide. Unlike too many guides she didn’t just drone on and on so it was really a wonderful opportunity for us.
Another highlight was a little dinner party for what seemed like 40 people or so that Jeanne just threw together. Her family, Laura’s family, us, their friends Mike & Basil and Mike, even our old, old friend Grace and her husband Mark. So less than 40, but still a big crowd, and she just threw it together like it was nothing after we’d been out for a hike during the afternoon. Impressive.
Speaking of meals, we went to two really good restaurants in Vienna, both of which were notable. First up was Basin’s on Church, a nice restaurant with great cocktails where Jeanne had taken us once before. The difference this time was that her son Jamal is now the host there, acting all like a young adult and everything. The food was quite good but what really struck us is just how big the portions are. We’ve noticed before – and continue to be amazed as our U.S. travels continue – that portion sizes in American restaurants are just huge. Big.
At any rate, there was one other great restaurant experience, too, this one at a Vienna restaurant called Vienna. Set in a completely unassuming suburban office building just a couple miles from Jeanne’s house the restaurant was nothing short of spectacular. Not at all what one might fear from a suburban restaurant in a random setting, I thought it was great.
And finally, then there was a nice hike along the C&O Canal outside DC. Young Jamal had recently been there and showed us the Billy Goat Trail on a beautiful sunny late winter day. Very nice way to get outside a bit before Jeanne’s dinner party.
And then just that fast it was time to leave. From here we’re visiting Mark’s parents in Michigan before moving on to Duluth to see my family. We have a couple months in the States and so far it’s started out pretty great.