Category:  Thoughts

An Intern's Guide to D.C.

When I first moved to Washington, D.C. four months ago, I had very little knowledge about my new home. Everything that I have learned while being here has come from personal experience. I would like to share the things I have learned with anyone else participating in the Washington Center’s internship program in the coming semesters.

First, a little history about the District. In 1790, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton chose the area that would become Washington, D.C. George Washington himself picked the exact location alongside the Potomac River. Currently, Washington, D.C. is 69 square miles; 675,000 people live in the District permanently, with over two million commuting every weekday morning, and six million people live in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Many people who commute into the city live in Arlington, Virginia. The closest big cities around the District are Crystal City, Virginia, which is 20 minutes away, Baltimore, Maryland is a 40 minute drive, and most places in Delaware are two hours away. When drafted, the United States Constitution stated that citizens of the District would be under the jurisdiction of Congress, therefore waving their voting rights.

In the winter, you can expect an average temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.  The average snowfall is 15 inches annually.  In the summer, the temperature typically lies around 80 degrees. Also, you can expect a lot of humidity.

George Washington commissioned Charles L’ENfant to design the layout of Washington, D.C. L'ENfant is the man responsible for the way D.C. streets are laid out. L’ENfant designed the city so that streets running East to West would be labeled by letters. For example, most lobbying firms are located on K Street. North to South, streets are named after numbers. An example would be how the White House resides on 16th street.

Even though L'ENfant implemented the structure that we follow today, he was never paid for his work. George Washington removed L'ENfant from his duties after a dispute and Charles L'ENfant spent the rest of his life fighting for the money he had earned. Long after his death, L'ENfant was given some recognition by having the most popular metro stop named after him, and his body rests in Arlington Cemetery.

If you like to go on long runs, it is easy to visit Charles L’ENfant. Beginning in NOMA, if you head towards Union Station you can pass: the Supreme Court, the Capitol building, the Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, the Washington Monument, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Reflection Pond, and the Lincoln Memorial in that order, before crossing into Arlington Cemetery. Running, the entire travel time should be about six hours to visit all of those sites and arrive back in NOMA.

Take my word for it, experiencing the monuments at night is an entirely different experience than during the day. I would recommend not visiting the monuments before 11:00 PM. Heading towards Farragut Square coming from the Lincoln Memorial are the White House and Eisenhower Executive Offices. When you first arrive, what you think is the front of the White House, is not. There is no front. To assure no official visitors are offended, there is no designated front, so no one is ever upset that they were brought in through the “back.”

Next to the White House is the Eisenhower Executive Offices. This building is home to the offices of the Vice President. If you would like a tour of the White House you must contact your local representative months in advance of your desired tour date. In the spring, the White House holds a garden tour in the South lawn that is free to anyone who acquires tickets. It will help to make friends with people who work on Capitol Hill.

At the end of the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue sits the Renwick Museum. Never wait in the long line for this museum that sometimes extends all the way to the White House on weekends. There are only four brief exhibits in this museum, none worth standing in line for. If you want to visit the museum, go during your lunch break. You will be in and out of the building before your sandwich is finished being put together across the street at Potbelly’s.

There are much better museums in the area. Most popular is the Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum is home to the Hope Diamond. Other museums in close proximity are the American History Museum, the Holocaust Museum, and the Air and Space Museum. Across from the Natural HIstory Museum stands the National Archives. Inside the Archives are original drafts to the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the American Constitution.

Eating is tricky in D.C. Chain restaurants do not exist, other than Potbelly’s. While here you are bound to expand your palate. Even fast food restaurants are hard to come by. If you want to eat out, you are going to have to try something new.  Your best bet at finding something you will like is Chinatown. It may be a little pricey, but it is all that you have.

The best American food restaurant is Fuddruckers. On Tuesdays, you can order two double cheeseburgers, two large fries, and two large drinks for $11.00; take advantage of it. The best Italian food in Chinatown is Vapiano’s. Nando’s is a very popular Portuguese chicken restaurant. If you like spicy food, I dare you to try Nando’s extra hot sauce.

I have not eaten at Cuba Libre, but it has the coolest restaurant decorations in town.  There are several Irish pubs in Chinatown. I will not bother offering a Chinese restaurant, because there are so many. I will suggest being hesitant about visiting the Chinese Garden. For ice cream, there is a Rita’s in Chinatown. Do not order a milkshake from Shake Shack, they cost around $7, and are not very good.

If you want good ice cream, go to Harris Teeter. I like to consider myself an ice cream connoisseur and Harris Teeter brand ice cream is the best that I have ever had. An added bonus is that it is also the cheapest. Harris Teeter brand ice cream is cheaper than Walmart brand or any corporate brands such as Breyer’s. I personally recommend the peanut butter or cake batter ice cream.

At first the metro is intimidating. If you are in NOMA, you are always headed toward Shady Grove on the red line. If you are anywhere else, you want to be on the red line headed towards Glenmont to go back to NOMA. Rush hours are consider 5 - 9:30 AM and 4- 7:00 PM. During these times, the average metro price will be $2.15 one way. Also during these times, the metro trains will arrive roughly every three minutes.

From 9:31-3:59 and 7:01 to closing, the base price is typically $1.75. However, trains can arrive as far apart as every 20 minutes. Getting on the trains during rush hour will be a fight every day. You will witness some nasty people. People will push you off the train, stand on your feet, and complain out loud. If the conductor announces, “There is a train right behind me,” take that opportunity every time. Almost always the second train that you have to wait an extra 30 seconds for will be empty.

If you have to leave the District at any point during the semester, you will most likely travel through Union Station. At union station there are buses, trains, the metro, taxis, bikes, almost every mode of transportation besides planes. The Amtrak sounds appealing, but I would highly recommend traveling by Megabus if you need to go somewhere. I took a two and a half hour bus ride to New Jersey for $5.00. Someone else I know went to New Jersey the same day, but decided to take the Amtrak and spent over $200 for a three-hour trip. The Megabus will even allow you to travel to Canada for $15.00.

Union Station is great for other things, too. The entire bottom floor is fast food restaurants and a Johnny Rockets. The third floor of Union Station is dedicated to stores such as H&M and Francesca’s. There is also D.C’s best souvenir shop directly above Victoria’s Secret. If you ever have to go shopping, you will most likely have to travel to Columbia Heights. It is helpful to know that the only Chickfila in the District is in Columbia Heights, which can be reach via the green line.

The biggest schools in the District are Howard University, American University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Gallaudet University, Catholic University, and the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Notice that most places around town are named after George Washington, so it is easy to get confused. Howard University is predominantly African American, and Gallaudet is a school for the hard of hearing.

Whether or not you are into sports, it will be of benefit for you to know about the local teams, because people will try to talk to you about them. Washington D.C.’s professional hockey team is the Capitals, and the Wizards are the district’s professional basketball team You will know when the Capitals or Wizards are playing, because the metro trains will be packed with people wearing uniforms headed to the Verizon Center.. Fedex Field in Landover, Maryland is home to the Washington Redskins, D.C.’s professional football team. Not far from FedEx Field is RFK Stadium where D.C.’s Professional soccer team, D.C. United plays.

When your advisors tell you to take advantage of every second that you are in D.C., do it. Visit every monument, and attend every hearing, networking event, and festivity this town has to offer. There is no other city like this one. Washington D.C. is a wonderful mix of convenience and abundant activities of city life, with the beauty of suburban life near at hand.

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