Urban Garden in Adams Morgan
The end of the week found us exploring two very different kinds of neighborhoods with one thing in common: they both start with the letter A. Read on to hear about our Old Town Alexandria and Adams Morgan experiences.
On Thursday, Hubby and I biked into Alexandria on the Mt. Vernon Trail. The trail took us along a highway, down along the Potomac, across a pretty marsh area (where we saw a smiling woman sitting on a grassy bank, sketching, her lavender-colored bike parked a short distance down the path), and past an old industrial site with its rust and peeling paint juxtaposed against the blue river dotted with sailboats. Crossing a grassy, old railroad track, we found ourselves in Old Town Alexandria–a quaint, Colonial-era village. I forgot my camera, but if you’d like to armchair travel today, click HERE to go to the official website.
We parked our bikes at the foot of King Street near the Old Dominion Boat Club where the boats were moored and bobbing around. The Potomac is a wide, calm river, and watching the white sails cutting through the water gave me a pang of homesickness for Maine–the park in Belfast where we like to sit and drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, the Bangor Riverfront where we watch the fireworks on the 4th of July, Pine Point in Scarborough. Shaking off the longing for home, we made our way up King Street, past trolley buses waiting for tourist groups and well-dressed couples strolling along the brick-paved sidewalks.
After a week living in our neighborhood of modern, concrete high-rises and shopping malls and New Urbanist village squares, walking in an historic town felt cozy and familiar. Buildings here are two-stories tall, three at the most. Church spires rise into the blue, early-evening sky. Cafes offer sidewalk seating, black metal chairs and tables filled with people chatting and enjoying glasses of wine or mugs of coffee or plates of delicious food. For those who enjoy shopping, Alexandria offers boutiques and shops of all types. We passed clothing stores and shoe shops and even two wig emporiums.
For a few blocks, we wandered behind a couple of women wearing long, linen skirts and simple tops and the kind of flat, stocky shoes you see on women in Portland’s Old Port or strolling through L.L. Bean, and that feeling of familiarity hit me again. It must be the Colonial influence here that brings Alexandria closer to New England than other neighborhoods I’ve seen so far. The ladies crossed the street and we continued on, passing bakeries and an art gallery and pubs with an Irish theme.
Alexandria is a classy, well-heeled neighborhood. I felt a little conspicuous in my plaid Bermuda shorts and tank top and pink sneakers– fine gear for bike riding but not up to par with the coiffed and perfectly-made-up women heading off to meet friends for dinner at the bistro on the corner.
The sun sinking lower, we strolled back to the boat club and biked toward home and a glass of chardonnay out on the balcony before bedtime.
Mural in Adams Morgan
The following day, the Teen and I hopped on the Metro to Adams Morgan, a neighborhood not far from the National Zoo and a world away from the colonial charm of Old Town Alexandria.
Adams Morgan is known as a “gateway” community for immigrants, and because of this cultural diversity, the neighborhood is colorful, multilingual, and filled with every kind of food you ever wished to sample. I saw Greek restaurants and Ethiopian establishments, a falafel joint next to a Mexican eatery, an Irish pub and an airy bakery/cafe called Tryst with what looked like a fantastic assortment of cheesecakes and pastries as well as a full seating area with couches and farm tables and comfy chairs crowded into the space. We also spotted a well-known blues bar called Madam’s Organ, a place that sports a mural of a large-breasted, red-haired “Madam” along with its delightful word-play of a name.
To get here, we took the Metro to the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan stop and walked across the Calvert Street Bridge. Soon we found ourselves walking past gorgeous row houses painted in different colors and planted with tiny gardens–some quite lush and beautiful–behind iron-rail fences in front.
Adams Morgan Row Houses
The tree-shaded street gave way to the busy intersection on Columbia Avenue. We wandered around, absorbing the atmosphere, and looking for Tryst. According to guidebooks, this neighborhood has more independently-owned shops than what you usually find in D.C. areas. Sure enough, I spotted a natural food store on Columbia, a Peruvian goods store, and the shop in the photo below. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll know how intrigued I was by the name stenciled on the window.
The Teen and I were hungry and thirsty (it hit 90 degrees here Friday). I let the Teen decide where we’d eat since she is being such a good sport letting me drag her away from her friends and home this summer to spend eight weeks in the company of–gasp–parental units. So, with all those ethnic foods to chose from, where did we end up?
The Pizza Mart for a jumbo slice . . . something you see advertised around here all over the place. This was a hole-in-the-wall joint, maybe the size of my kitchen, with two short counters,five or so ripped, red-leather stools, and the largest slices of pizza you’ve ever seen! Seriously, I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t imagine a slice of pizza the equivalent of a 10″ from back at home.
The guy at the counter was friendly, and the cook delivered the pizza to the table on two paper plates. We were joined by a family chatting to each other in Spanish, gladly moving aside so they could grab handfuls of paper napkins and shakers of garlic. The pizza? Delicious. Good choice by the Teen. We felt like native Adams Morganites.
After lunch, we browsed a wonderful used bookstore called Idle Time Books where the owner had a lovely, lilting accent (Irish?) and the narrow, two-storied space was crammed full of reading material on every subject. I spent some time in the “writing” section and picked up a couple of paperbacks–one a memoir called THE JOURNAL KEEPER by Phyllis Theroux and the other issue 38 of GRANTA with a newly-discovered story by Raymond Carver featured and a theme called “Love Stories” which, of course, I couldn’t resist.
Photo courtesy of Idle Time Books website
If you are ever in D.C., I highly recommend making the trip to Adams Morgan and Idle Time Books. Then stop in at Tryst for a latte and a pastry and fit right in with the local literati. We were running short of time and our bellies were over-stuffed with pizza, so we had to forgo the cheesecake and cafe au lait and instead walked around a bit more before heading back over the bridge to Woodley Park.
Diversity statue in the park
The park/square was shady and full of vendors selling “fast” food and drinks beneath the tents–if you want to call homemade, authentic, regional foods wrapped in foil and colorful drinks dotted with ice floating in glass drink dispensers “fast.”
Bright paint on a sunny day
I love the color on the buildings . . .
. . . and the gardens in front of the row houses.
King in D.C.
‘Course surprises are always just around the corner, and it seems that Maine has a presence even in this quirky, diverse section of D.C. Oggling the gardens on Calvert Street, I looked down and saw this hardcover edition of Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS, just laying there in a garden plot like a missive from my home state.
All in all, the excursion to Adams Morgan was a success. Even the Teen enjoyed it. I think she felt comfortable up here where the people and restaurants are more laid-back–a little shabbier, perhaps, but with a very natural, easy vibe. I’ll be heading up there again, maybe mid-morning for a coffee and bagel at Tryst and another peek into the bookstore and a definite visit to Urban Sustainable, which we had to skip as the day was getting late.
As different as these two neighborhood were, I enjoyed each of them–Alexandria, for its familiarity. Adams Morgan for a shot of adventure. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.
As my Dear Reader, Mary Ann, mentioned in a comment, there are opportunities for exploration right around the corner from you own house. When is the last time you walked around the town next door? Or checked out the local tourist spot? This weekend, I encourage you to put on your walking shoes, grab your camera, and take a look around through a different lens. You may be surprised by what you see.