The Leprechaun, The Rainbow, and the Pot o’ Gold

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So I had a wonderful time in Philly with big sister Melanie, but sadly she had to go home to her husband and children and job and left me all alone.  But no worries, baby sister Shannon and friend Ashley were coming to visit next!  Alone no longer!

Shannon and Ashley flew into Dulles while I was at work and I met them in Arlington to celebrate their arrival.  We opted to meet some of my coworkers at Rock Bottom Brewery, where we made the delicious discovery that draft beers were $1.50 on Wednesday nights.  WHAT?  So we had a lovely dinner, the girls got to meet some of my colleagues, and we had a great time catching up over many glasses of Fire Chief Ale.

I went to work the next morning (why must I always go to work?) while the ladies went out and explored DC, or as they called it, “The Capitol”.  (Hunger Games reference.)  They took about 8 billion selfies (quite the Snapchatters…I still don’t even really understand what Snapchat is?  Is it supposed to be two words?  Snap Chat or snapchat?)  in front of various national monuments, my favorites are as follows:

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Weirdos

They had an awesome, jam-packed day and walked all over the district, so that night we stayed in (MY FAVORITE, NO I’M NOT KIDDING) and watched movies and got Italian food delivered straight to the room.

I talk a big game, pretending I like living in big cities because of the culture, the mass transit, the mass of people all around.  I’ll be honest with you, the best perk is delivery food.  Not even slightly kidding.

So, anyway.  The next day the girls discovered Georgetown while again, I went to work.  They loooooved the area, did some eating, shopping, and people watching, and I picked out a nice 7 Million Dollar penthouse for Shannon to live in when she becomes a rich and famous doctor.

That night we decided to go big since we stayed in the night before, and we were introduced to the deliciousness that is Ray’s the Steaks (and I’m not just talking about the clever name.)  Food was incredible, steaks come with family style creamed spinach and mashed potatoes (unlimited!) and we also split one order of a cast iron mac and cheese that would make you weep.  Shannon selected a bottle of red wine for the table, and my status of “not a wine person” is still accurate.

***

The next morning we braced ourselves for the Shamrock Crawl, a HUGE barcrawl throughout Arlington that was within walking distance of my apt.  We dressed in our best Irish gear and followed the masses to the bars nearby to meet our friend Paul.  We hopped to a few bars, but ultimately the lines got SO long that we decided to settle on one bar/grill, and just hung there for the day so we wouldn’t spend half of the day waiting in line to get in.  (Everything was 1 in 1 out by about 4:00pm.)  Check out the line outside Rooftop:

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They were smart and sold beer to the people waiting in line in the beer garden

We made some friends with some ladies who had snagged the best booth in the bar, and we sat around with them, people watched, enjoyed $2 Yuenglings and had a great time, despite the lack of Irish music being played.  As the hours passed by, we headed to Adams Morgan for some karaoke at Muzette with some of my coworkers.  I had NEVER done karaoke like this before, we literally were ushered into our own private room and we spent the next two hours passing around the mic, picking any song that sounded fun, and had many sing-alongs as a group.  I’ve gotta say I think I prefer the traditional karaoke bars, but if I feel like giving a private concert for $80 an hour I know where to spend my $$.  By this point in the night we were spent, and took a cab home to sleep and sleep and sleep.

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Woke up the next morning, sad that Shannon and Ashley had to head home that day.  After the bar crawl, we found ourselves craving less than healthy food options, so we strolled down the street to Wilson’s Tavern to eat some lunch.  We decided to just split some appetizers, and (no joke) this was our menu:

Cheese Sticks * Bacon Cheese Fries * Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla * Mac and Cheese

regret nothing

The girls flew home that afternoon, and I was so sad to see them go, ladies thank you for coming to see me and helping me explore the area!  And thus ended my streak of non-stop visitors.  Sad for my heart, but good for my health, as I need to stop going out to eat.  Maybe I can try to eat some plants and other things that come from the earth.  Seems like a solid plan.

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G-G-G-Going to PHILLY!

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So anyone who follows How I Met Your Mother knows that in season 1, the gang goes to Philly.

So Melanie decided to come visit me, and asked if I’d like to take a road trip over the weekend.  We looked at our options and decided we’d spend a day in Philadelphia, exploring the city and eating cheesesteaks.  So we hopped on the interstate and began our journey.  Here’s a funny little quirk about traffic on the East Coast.  Throughout my life, whenever I’ve run into stopped traffic, it tends to be due to an accident, construction, lane reductions, things on fire in the next lane, etc.  Here things just stop for NO REASON.  Our journey to Philly was no exception, we were caught in crawling traffic for over an hour, and then it just dissolved randomly.  I will never think that’s ok, and I will never get used to it.  Do better, East Coast.  Also, I would like to mention that tolls are the devil.  An $8 toll?  EIGHT DOLLARS?!  To drive on a street?

So we FINALLY got to Philly, and my GPS in its infinite wisdom decided to drop us near the sports complexes in South Philly, where we were greeted by traffic for the Georgetown/Villanova game.  GAH.  So then we got past that mess, and made our way through the south part of the city and up towards the city center where our hotel was.  This is when I saw ANOTHER strange situation: in South Philly people just park right in the middle of the road, right in the median.

That string of parked cars? Yeah they’re in the median/turn lane. Facing different ways too. Totally bonkers.

I had never witnessed this before, so I asked a buddy of mine who grew up in PA and he explained to me that there was an entire TV show dedicated to this phenomenon on A&E: Parking Wars.  It all makes sense now.

So we FINALLY get to the hotel, and find that the parking garages in the area are booked, the streets are full of people, and the neighborhood is basically going crazy.  Why?  Oh, because the Philadelphia Flower Show is in town.

So, we FINALLY find a parking spot (after leaving my poor Camry at what seemed to be a pretty questionable parking garage, where I neglected to even check the price before handing my keys over to a complete stranger), we dropped off our bags at the hotel, and decided that we needed a cheesesteak and we needed it now.

Instead of opting for the famous Pat’s or Geno’s for lunch, we decided to walk to the nearby Reading Terminal Market to choose from the HUGE number of merchants that were selling everything from sandwiches to smoothies to jerky to homemade doughnuts to gyros, you name it, you could find it there.  And we did.

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A little crowded

A little crowded

So we elbowed our way through the crowd and made our way to Carmen’s for a well-deserved cheesesteak.  So having done my research, I knew exactly how to order my cheesesteak so that the nice people in Philly would not mock me for my etiquette.  For instance, you don’t say you want a “Philly Cheesesteak” because that is a given.  If you want onions, you say “wit”, for no onions, you say “without.”  If you want cheese, you should specify what kind in an abbreviated manor (for instance, mine was Cheese Whiz…not even sorry…and I ordered it as WIZ WITHOUT.)  Melanie ordered PROV WIT.  Both were outstanding.

The line was impressive but they were quick!

The line was impressive but they were quick!

How they kept track of your order, they'd call out your card when your order is up

How they kept track of your order, they’d call out your card when your order is up

Favorite moment: girls on the bar next to us asked for a fork.  Woman behind the counter was HORRIFIED.

Favorite moment: girls on the bar next to us asked for a fork. Woman behind the counter was HORRIFIED.

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So we thoroughly enjoyed our main course, and made our way around the market for more goodies.  Ate the BEST doughnut of my life at Beilers (warm apple fritter, OMG) and bought some homemade candy from the nice Amish booths we found.  Food everywhere, if you’re in the area go spend a whole day there, just maybe don’t pick a Saturday when the flower show is in town.  Oh and if you are looking for a good gift idea for me in the future, this will do just fine:

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SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY

So we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown, seeing some pretty gorgeous buildings, interesting statues/sculptures, and a lot of annoying skateboarders.

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City Hall, kept getting shooed away from the building as they were shooting a movie or TV show there

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Purdy church

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Brotherly Love

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A church? Opera house? Nope, this is Macy’s

I scored a pretty excellent deal at the Loews Hotel so we went back to the room to rest up, get pretty, and head to dinner.  After a lovely dinner of Thai food at Spice 28 (best green beans EVER!) we headed to the 33rd floor of our hotel to have a cocktail and take in the view.  IMG_3196

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So either this telescope was broken or neither of us were smart enough to use it

So we were finishing up our drinks, then out of the corner of my eye I see a group walk into the bar…and I gasp.  In walks Maulik Pancholy.  Who, you ask?  Well he plays Jonathan, Jack’s assistant on one of my favorite shows of all time: 30 ROCK!!

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So, did I go talk to him?  Did I get a photo of him or with him?  Am I even 100% sure it was him?  Well.

No.

But I’m PRETTY SURE and therefore I’m sticking with it.  He was wearing a tux and was with friends and his mother I think and the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt his evening, so I took a mental picture and left the bar, armed with my awesome story of how I’m pretty sure I think I may have seen a not very well known celebrity.  I have a fabulous life, you know.

UPDATE: After a mild bit of Twitter stalking, I have confirmed that yes indeed, Maulik was attending a gala in the hotel that night, and as I expected, he was there with his mother.  I SAW A CELEBRITY and I’m glad that I wasn’t crazy for thinking it was him.

***

So the next morning we did the standard iconic Philly historical stuff, including seeing the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the site of Benjamin Franklin’s house, etc.  Overall it was great to see these historically significant places and I’m glad we did it.

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I really wanted to lick the Liberty Bell, but did not. Maybe someday.

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Independence Hall

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‘MERICA!!

So we spent a good part of the day in Philly, then decided we’d had enough and it was time to head back home.  It was a short trip but I’m glad we made it.  I’m  happy to use these next couple months seeing cities on the East Coast, this one is marked off the list.  Thanks to Mel for coming to visit and going on this little adventure with me, see you at Easter!!

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In and around DC

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So I moved to the DC area in early Feb, and it seems that I’m spending every waking moment in class, doing homework, reading, doing post research, etc.  But I managed to fit in a little sight-seeing around the East Coast in my free time, my mom and Nate visited and we explored a bit and ate some awesome things.  That really why I travel, so I can eat things.

So we found ourselves with a 60 degree day, and decided to spend it at Mt Vernon, George Washington’s home.  And wouldn’t you know it, we showed up on “The General’s” 282nd Birthday.

The back of the estate

The back of the estate

The trip was actually pretty insightful, for instance I had no idea that Martha was a widow when she met Mr. Washington, and that George never had any legitimate children of his own.  The main house was broken up into several smaller rooms, my favorite was easily the casual dining room, with its bright green walls and black and white checkered floor.  Mark my words, if I ever find myself owning some kind of grand estate, I will be decorating one room in this fashion.  (Sorry, no photos, they weren’t allowed.)

Some other highlights for the trip were the “Dung Repository” (compost pile) and the “Necessary” (outhouse.)   Again, my apologies for the lack of photos, but did you really need to see those?  Use your imagination.

***

We took the rest of the afternoon and headed briefly to Arlington National Cemetery.  I tell you, this place gets me every time.  The sheer number of headstones, seemingly going on for miles and miles.  A completely humbling and stunning experience, if you’ve never been, make sure you add this to your next trip to the area.

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JFK and Jackie Kennedy are buried at Arlington as well, marked by an “Eternal Flame,” similar to the one marking the French Unknown Soldier in Paris.  The site was chosen based on a statement that JFK once made, stating that the view of DC was so magnificent that he “could stay forever.”  Below is a photo of the grave (with stones from Cape Cod), after that is the view of the District from the grave site.  Pretty fitting, if you ask me.

Kennedy Graves and the Eternal Flame

Eternal Flame

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We made it just in time for the final public Changing of the Guard, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  If you want to learn more about these guys, this link has some great info.  https://tombguard.org/society/faq/  There is a ton of misinformation floating around about the Honor Guard (rumors that they can’t swear ever again, that they live under the tomb, etc), the guard does an amazing job maintaining the dignity of such a position.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

***

The next day we headed to the basilica, with the very long title “Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”  Apparently this is the largest Catholic Church in North America, and while the tile work was certainly gorgeous, I’m sorry but I gotta give the edge to the St. Louis basilica here.  Though there was one section that I really loved, one of the little side chapels.  We lit a candle for Uncle Dean after mass and took in all of the amazing details of the church.

IMG_3048** Side note: as we were leaving I saw Newt Gingrich leaving his SUV and walking into the church.  Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but I tend to think older political types look preeeeeeetty similar so I asked my mother to confirm, she decided indeed it was Newt.  We were vindicated when some tourists asked for a photo with him a few moments later.  Oh Newt.  What a great name.

We then headed for Annapolis, Maryland, to enjoy another gorgeous day, and to maybe eat some crab and see some boats.  We headed to Galway Bay Irish Pub, partially because they had good reviews but mostly because I like things that remind me of my trip to Galway, Ireland.  We enjoyed some Guinness and some seafood.  As it turns out, I really don’t care for oysters, even when deep fried.  Boogers, they look like boogers.  However, the scallops were fab.

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We walked around the area, not sure if it’s called Old Town or Downtown or Cute Red Brick Street area, but we picked up some locally-made pottery, and strolled along the pier to look at all the sailboats.  Every time I see a large group of sailboats, I will forever refer to it as a Regatta Gala.

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Rachel: What kind of a regatta gala starts at night?
Monica: The fake kind.

I have kind of a deep-seated anger about boat shoes being worn in the Midwest, but as it turns out Nate was wearing them this particular day, and I complimented him on his appropriate choice of footwear.  See, I’m not a hater, I just think that boat shoes belong on or around boats.  Not cornfields.IMG_3062
Sadly I had to work the next day, so I didn’t get to join mom and Nate on their museum visits, but they really enjoyed the Natural History Museum and the Newseum, so I’ve got those on my list.  We headed out to the District one night, and decided to hit up Billy Martin’s Tavern, a Georgetown institution made famous when JFK proposed to Jackie in one of their booths.  (Side note, our waiter said that people reserve that particular booth all the time to propose to their girlfriends, in his words “It still works!”)  I enjoyed a GREAT porkchop with swiss chard, sauteed apples and potatoes.  Worth the hefty price tag.  There was also a Truman booth, a Madelaine Albright booth, etc.

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Porkchaaaaaps

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On the way back to my apartment, we swung by Georgetown Cupcake for a little sweet treat.  This spot has a special place in my heart, when I came to DC for my interview my family had sent a dozen up to my hotel room so they’d be waiting for me, with little green four-leaf clovers on them.  So it seemed only fitting that I get a cupcake the night before Flag Day!  I enjoyed a Chocolate Lava Cupcake for breakfast the following morning and then got my Sarajevo flag later that day.  Coincidence?  Doubt it.

My family headed home the next day to make it back for my Uncle’s services and I was so sad to see them go, and also so sad not to be going myself.  Family, I’ll be home for Easter so I hope to see you all then!

Happily I have my big sister Melanie visiting me this weekend (g-g-g-going to PHILLY!!) and later next week, my little sister Shannon and her friend Ashley will visit as well (WOO!!)  I love my family and the fact that they don’t mind trekking across the country to come see me.

So, enough procrastination, back to dumb things like laundry and paying bills.  Thanks for reading!

Flag Day

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So the big day finally arrived, Flag Day!  I gave my list of preferences to my Career Development Officer (CDO) and reminded her that she held my fate in her hands like a tiny bird…she laughed and assured me that whatever happened, I was going to have an adventure.

So we showed up on Tuesday, filed into the wood lobby of the Foreign Service Institute, and waited for the news.

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I sat patiently (or not so patiently) as our speaker randomly announced the nation’s flag, the name of the position, and then who would be assigned there.  I heard as my top posts were announced, as well as my bottom ones, and realized that my #1 hadn’t been announced yet.  As luck would have it, fate smiled upon me that day and I literally did a Tiger Woods fist pump (I wish I was kidding) as it was announced that I would be heading to Sarajevo!!

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So, if you’re like most of my friends and family, when you hear the word Sarajevo, your head immediately goes to the early 90’s, when the city endured the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.  In fact, if you Google Sarajevo, this is the first photo that will pop up:

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However, modern Sarajevo has become quite different in the 20 years that followed their terrible war, and the city is recovering and trying to look forward.  From winding roads full of Cafes, to Olympic skiing, to cultural events and museums, the city is ever-improving.  There are currently protests against the local government taking place by Bosnians who are tired of low employment rates and wages, but thus far I am optimistic that it would be a great tour, and I’ll be perfectly safe.  In fact, please visit me!!!  Bosnia has tons of stuff to do, and if you look at the location on a map, you’ll realize that I am VERY close to the following places:

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Montenegro

Budapest, Hungary

Istanbul, Turkey

Transylvania, Romania (Yes this is Dracula’s castle…)

These are just to name a few!  There are so many other places that will be a short drive or plane ride away, and I’m so excited to explore a part of the world that I hadn’t yet dreamed of.  I’ll follow up with some specifics on Sarajevo at a later date (including some of the hardships I’ll face) but for now, I’m thrilled with my future post, and look forward to my arrival in late July 2014!

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