Friday, May 28, 2010

Monday: Freedom, Free Art And Family

Because we got very little sleep on the redeye, we slept in on Monday and headed into the district around noon. I was supposed to meet a good friend for lunch but he got surprised with a last minute assignment from a partner at his firm, so Josh and I were on our own for lunch. I was originally going to go to Old Ebbitt’s Grill for lunch which is a historic restaurant near the White House, and we decided to still head over there for a very welcome meal. We started off with calamari and mussels, I had the very highly recommended fish and chips, and Josh had the almost equally praised trout. We walked away thinking that other than the calamari, everything was overrated and definitely overpriced. But that’s kinda D.C., isn’t it?

Walking to and from the restaurant we travelled both along the mall and Constitution Ave. We walked by the capitol, and the offices of many of the departments of the Executive Branch. We also got as close as we could to the White House, which is not close at all. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in our Nation’s capitol and I was too young or absent minded to remember some of these great buildings. However, being much older and wiser, I can truly appreciate the history that took place there and based on the enormity and architecture of these structure, I fully agree that our founding fathers were attempting to establish a modern era Roman Empire.

We headed over to the National Gallery of Art, which I was surprised to learn was free to the public. It is an outstanding collection and featured paintings by two of my favorite artists of all time: Edward Hopper and Pablo Picasso.

After that, I left Josh at the Arlington Cemetery and went back to Kim’s place to wait for my cousin Phi Nam to pick me up. It’s been six years since I’ve had a chance to visit family on the East coast and there are a lot of people I haven’t seen in that time. We headed over to my grandparents’ apartment and had dinner with them and my mom’s cousin Co Zung. Everyone brought food and my grandma, Ba Noi, made food (against strict orders). So we had quite the feast.

Phi Nam’s brother Quang came over after dinner and brought his wife, Shana, and their two beautiful children, Nicholas and Talia. I had never met any of them, so it was really fun. My uncle and aunt came over to watch the kids, while we all went out for drinks after dinner along with my other cousin Cu. Towards the end of drinks we were joined by Co Zung’s brother Co Hung, and it was a great evening of swapping stories and catching up. My favorite part was learning how people have mistaken Cu for being Korean while other people have thought Quang was black… And they're brothers! It was a really nice evening, and I will have to come back soon with Cath so she can meet them all.

Tomorrow’s agenda: Tour Nationals Ballpark in the morning and head up to Baltimore in the evening for an Orioles’ game.

Sunday: Everything Would Be Better If It Was Topped With Cheese Whiz And Fried Onions

We got into Philadelphia really early on Sunday morning (before 6am) and had about five hours to kill before going to the ballpark. We wandered around the city for a couple of hours and got to go by some of the historical sites in the formation of our Nation’s government and constitution. Unfortunately, there’s not many (any) museums open early Sunday mornings, so we ate breakfast and headed back to the train station to try to sleep on their luxurious hard wooden benches.

My first impression of Philly: a little grungy and inconvenient to get around. Of course, we were mainly in their subway and I’ve been spoiled by New York, which is a little less grungy and a lot more convenient to get around. We did not get a chance to walk around Broad Street so the next time I’m in the city that will be on my list.

We headed to Citizens’ Bank Ballpark which is on the south end of town and I was very impressed by the site. I’m a fan of putting ballparks near the city center, which most of the revival era ballparks are, but I completely understood why they put Citizens’ Bank on the outskirts. The space is wide open and very clean, and the walk up to the ballpark was a welcome change from what we had found so far.

For full disclosure, I must admit that I am biased towards Coors Field. Working there for a year and living blocks away for two years made it next to impossible for me to fairly compare any other ballpark. Of the revival era ballparks I have visited in the last decade (Rangers, Dbacks, Giants, Padres) none compare to the ballpark which I have come to call home.

That being said, I am very impressed by Citizens’ Bank. It is baseball lovers’ park. There are many things to appreciate: the park is huge but still feels intimate, there are great food options, monuments paying homage to Phillies’ great baseball history, landscaping that pays attention to small details, and a very exciting atmosphere. Of course, that atmosphere may have been the byproduct of a Phillies team that is very good as of the last few years playing against one of the most popular franchises the Boston Red Sox (most of their fans are bandwagon jumpers by the way.) One thing that I think the ballpark does better than Coors Field is standing room only facilities. We purchased (relatively) cheap tickets in the upper deck and spent most of the game wandering the stadium. The concourses are lined with railings to put your food and drinks on and enjoy a great view of the game. One thing that they need to improve on is the signage, it was very difficult to find the scoreboard that had the current balls, strikes, and outs which seems to me a little absurd.

The food options were great. We headed to Ashburn Alley before the first pitch and had the choice between two famous cheesesteak purveyors: Tony Luke’s and Campo’s. Now if my memory is right, Tony Luke’s was in Ashburn Alley when they ballpark opened but Campo’s only recently replaced another popular cheesesteak stand. We decided to follow the crowd and got a couple of cheesesteaks with the requisite cheese whiz and fried onions. The amoroso roll was great but the meat was bland and the whiz was lacking. So I was a little disappointed. Though my stomach was soon satisfied when we discovered Crab Fries from the Chickie's & Pete's stand. We couldn’t figure out beforehand if they were fries made out of potatoes or crab, but we soon discovered that they were traditional French Fries seasoned like crab (I’m guessing a generous sprinkling of Old Bay contributed.)

The game was as good as it could be considering I pretty much hate both teams: the Red Sox knocked the Rockies out of the 2007 World Series (and they are the Red Sox) and the Phillies knocked the Rox out of the 2009 Division Series. I did get to see one of the best pitchers in the game throw, Arvada West’s Roy Halladay. Boston countered with the veteran (old) knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. To everyone’s surprise Doc Halladay got shelled and Wakefield through a gem. Here’s the game report.

Back on the homefront, the Rockies beat the Royals for the second straight game, so I’m saying they’re 2-0 on our trip. Our boys are back to .500 and creeping up on the rest of the NL West.

After the game we headed back to the train station to catch the Amtrak to Washington D.C. where we spent Sunday night with Kim watching the Lost season finale. I will say this one thing about it: BEST ENDING EVER TO THE BEST SHOW EVER.

On Monday’s schedule: a free day in D.C. to sightsee and catch up with family.