Weather in DC

Standard

DC’s weather has been quite the mystery – hitting the high 80s this week after a sharp dip to the 40s the week before. While I’m glad for warmer weather and the freedom to walk around without having to put on a thick coat, it has been a sweltering week. Taking advantage of this week’s weather, I decided to hit a few ice cream shops that were recommended to me by full-time students and professors even.

 

The Orange Cow

This place serves premium, homemade ice cream from a food truck. I know the irony is strong in this one, but the ice cream was phenomenal – totally worth the walk in this heat. I couldn’t find the exact location of the food truck online, but it’s orange in colour and was along E Street. The most popular ice cream flavour was Coffee Oreo – just the perk me up needed to walk from the truck to my apartment.

 

 

Thomas Sweet

I basically chanced upon this one evening while walking home from Georgetown – there was a long line outside this shop with huge green umbrellas and that was when we knew we had to get in line (being the tourists that we were). This ice cream place had literally one of the largest flavour selections I’ve ever seen and they allow you to sample it (which probably explains the long line). It’s located deeper in, beyond the main shopping street of Georgetown on P Street, between Wisconsin Ave and N 32nd. I got the milk cone dipped in rainbow chips while my companion got the rum and raisin (real raisins!!). They were both incredibly satisfying and I think I may go here instead of Baked and Wired for sweet treats the next time I’m in the neighbourhood.

Momofuku Milk Bar

Definitely be prepared to wait in line for this one. Located in CityCentre DC, Momofuku milk bar is the dessert branch of the ramen bar of the same name (they’re right next to each other, which makes ice cream and milk shakes the perfect dessert after downing your piping hot bowl of ramen). Besides ice cream and shakes, the small storefront also sells an assortment of pastries and I highly recommend the birthday cake pops. Its most famous outpost has got to be its cereal soft serve, which is simply phenomenal because it is both soft and creamy, yet firm and crunchy. However, the prices can be steep at this location, with a soft serve coming in at seven bucks with a cereal topping, and nine dollars for a milkshake.

I know it’s an indulgence, but the weather provides the perfect background to have ice cream for dessert. Side note, my exchange semester is quickly coming to an end – there are approximately 3 more weeks to finals and the end of the semester. I’d better find more places to eat/drink/explore in DC before then.

Preparing to Leave and Preparing to Arrive

Standard

As the exchange program begins to enter its final phase and people start to make plans for the summer, it hits you that you are just not ready to leave. You have made a home for yourself in the dorms of Foggy Bottom – between your routine, your friends, and late night trips to the Lincoln. However, as one exchange group gets ready to leave another is getting ready to arrive. Here are just a few pieces of information I wish someone had told me before arriving!

Transport
As most people in the exchange program are from cities with extremely efficient subway systems, the DC metro does not exactly fair well in comparison. It’s great for getting yourself from A to B but it is not something you will use on daily basis.

Do not fear! Uber in DC is ridiculously cheap that it works out better catching a ride than waiting for a subway. If travelling in groups make sure you fair split it!

Money
American bank accounts are very straightforward to set up and if you head up to Bank of America they will give you your own personalised George Washington debit card. Although a lot of students didn’t set up accounts it makes like so much easier. Exchange rates can fluctuate so it’s easier to be using American dollars. Also, with an American card you can use the app Venmo and save yourself the hassle of keeping tabs.

Food
Food in DC can be expensive. However, there are cheaper ways to go about it. It is worth doing a trip early on to either Safeway or Walmart to stock up on supplies that will last you a long time. Group cooking also makes like 100 times easier. Once we had settled into our group we decided that it would be one person’s turn each day of the week to bulk cook dinner. That way you only have to buy and cook once and yet get a homecooked meal every night of the week (results may vary depending on whether or not you or your friends can cook!)

Packing
Depending on the time of year you are coming to DC do not buy a whole new wardrobe for weather that may never arrive. Luckily, winter never really arrived this year and I was spared having to spend hundreds of dollars making sure I didn’t die of hypothermia. I’m just glad I didn’t buy snow boots before I arrived!

Bring two suitcases! It may be a hassle to lug from airport to airport but trust me five months is long enough that you are better off bringing more than you need. I only brought one and there are so many things I wish I had with me.

Bring toiletries! I expected toiletries to be the same price as the UK. However, they are about three times the price here. Stock up on face wipes, dry shampoo and any kind of medication you may need over the course of your time here.

Tax and Tipping
Have fun with this one! I still haven’t fully grasped how it works and it normally just ends up with a bunch of confused foreigners around a dinner table trying to do math. It’s just something you have to accept. Tax is not included in the price of anything and is typically 10% for restaurants, bars etc. Tipping varies but around 15% and 20% is fine.

Travelling
Travel within the US is more expensive than Europe. However, check out skyscanner for cheap flights (search everywhere at any time for really good deals) and you can find some good flights.

Megabus will get you up to Baltimore, Philly and New York cheap enough. Don’t bother flying or taking the train as it is so much more expensive.

Phone
Phone contracts are notoriously expensive in the US. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive. Check your home providers deals for overseas use as it might be cheaper. I currently pay $27.50 for 2GB with T-Mobile (although there are some better deals).

Most importantly – just go have fun!

April’s Here

Standard

This week, I ticked an item off my bucket list – seeing John Mayer live. Growing up in Singapore, we were never really on any musicians’ road map and being able to be in DC while he’s on tour has made me really thankful for this exchange opportunity.

Having listened to his music since middle school, he’s formed a huge part of my life since. The setlist last night was more than what I could ask for – 21 songs, including tracks from past albums and his latest release combined with the stellar seats at Verizon Center. It was indeed money well spent.

 

DC’s weather has been increasingly fluctuating – from skipping outdoors in a T-shirt and jeans to running against winds that seem to keep me from standing my ground, it has been a weird couple of weeks. We officially welcomed Spring last week, but hints of winter remained.

When the weather doesn’t go my way, I turn to food for solace and comfort. This week, I got together with the friends whom I spent spring break with and we had dinner at Bistro Bohem.

Located in a cozy corner on U Street, the store front had ‘bistro’ painted in large blue letters on the wall. The menu included classic eastern European fare, with several fusion dishes and it was actually pretty affordable, coming in the under $20 range. I had the beef goulash, which was served together with Czech dumplings. Czech dumplings are a funny thing – they’re like this cross-breed between bread and rice. The schnitzel came highly recommended and came with 2 sides of choice. I also ordered a cup of mulled wine – I believe this is the first time I actually saw mulled wine in DC.

 

In an effort to save money, I started to cook again and fortunately, I found an Asian supermarket that carried the taste of home. I’m not sure if this is the nearest one to GW, but as I was in Virginia over the weekend, Arlington has one called Good Fortune Supermarket and it is huge – it had practically everything I could find back home. Since it was pretty far from Foggy Bottom, I found myself lugging home groceries enough to last me a week.

The semester is ending and the realization that I should start saving up to travel has now hit me real and hard so I foresee myself cooking for the whole of next month! Also having a sudden mindful moment that exchange is going to end soon, what with the invitations for farewell parties and transcript submissions.

That’s all for now.

 

STUDY Abroad

Standard

I guess you could say this week really put the study in study abroad. I guess the professors are trying to tell us that spring break is all but a faint history and it’s time to return to the daily grind.

That being said, I managed to take time out to explore last weekend. As April commences, we bid goodbye to winter and open our arms to spring. DC’s annual cherry blossom festival had its opening ceremony this week and it was nothing short of amazing. Thereafter, we took a walk along the Tidal Basin, past several monuments and admired the pink and white blossoms.

The reason for DC’s cherry blossoms dates back in history – Japan gifted DC with 3020 trees in 1912 after the first batch of 2000 sent in 1910 got infested with disease and pests. Since then, countless First Ladies have commemorated the start of the festival by planting their own cherry blossom tree. The one’s that we are seeing now are of the Yoshino variety but in another two to three weeks, the Kwanzan variety will start to bloom, giving DC residents and visitors a second chance to admire the majestic flora.

I was actually surprised to see that many of the blossoms were white in color, as opposed to the pink ones I had seen in Japan . Nonetheless, the paler color gives the surroundings a pure aura and are great for taking pictures too! While at the Tidal Basin last weekend, I actually met many people visiting from out of state, proving how popular the festival is. While our visit was short, we managed to capture some great graphics!

This week, I also took a trip to Tysons Corner in Virginia and it’s basically a huge mall where you can find practically everything. I went there for one very specific reason: Kung Fu Tea. Back home, whenever I craved it, I simply had to walk to the opposite street to get me some boba milk tea. In DC, it’s a lot more difficult to get hold of a decent cup of bubble tea and thankfully Tysons’ is an approximately 30 minute journey on the Metro, great for a quick getaway in between classes. The mall is also home to the only Uniqlo in the DC region, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for jackets or even basics that are of a great quality at an affordable price. I will stop talking about this now because this post is starting to sound like an advertisement.

Thereafter we headed to Dupont for tea and dinner. For now, it’s back to the daily grind at Gelman Library.

On the Road Again – Roadtrip 2017

Standard

This weekend we rented a car, hit the open road and headed down south for the great American road trip. We stocked up on snacks, blasted some Johnny Cash and began the eight-hour drive to Bristol, Tennessee. We decided on our way to stop at every random roadside attraction – from the tacky to the spectacular. First stop was the Luray Caverns, followed by lunch at the Pink Cadillac Diner, we checked out the coffee pot house and got lost looking for foamhenge.

A small town of 30,000 Bristol isn’t your typical tourist destination. Known as the birthplace of country music we were in town visiting some friends of a friend. The South fulfilled every expectation and stereotype I had hoped for. Southern hospitality, fried chicken, more churches than I could keep track of – it was a world away from DC! On Sunday we did the one thing you have to do whilst in the South – go to a shooting range. Politics aside it was something on my bucket list whilst I’m in the US. For $50 we shot everything from a 22, revolver and a rifle.

We left Tennessee and headed to Asheville, North Carolina. We only had a night in the city and as Sunday isn’t the liveliest of times in the South we decided the best way to make the most of our time was to eat our way through the city. We had the best Spanish tapas at Cúrate and Jamaican food at Nine Mile. Everyone we had encountered in our travels had been exceptionally friendly (even by American standards) and North Carolina was no different. All the staff and strangers we met told us the best places to go and wanted to know what brought us to America.

Monday afternoon it was time to say ‘goodbye’ to the South and begin the 450-mile journey back to DC. Monday night also happened to be the final of NCAA March Madness where the Gonzaga Bulldogs faced off against the North Carolina Tar Heels. As we made our way up the I-40 we passed the exit for Chapel Hill and made the split decision that this was something we didn’t want to miss. Twenty minutes until game time, we pulled in and scoured the town for somewhere to park and watch the game. The whole town was out and people were spilling out of every bar and restaurant in town. We managed to find a spot in Imbibe and took a seat amongst hundreds of other Tar Heels fans.

It was a close game from start to finish and the emotion of the crowd alternated between elation and disappointment. Within the final 30 seconds, the Tar Heels gained a 5 point lead and secured their 6th NCAA championship. The whole crowd erupted into celebration and exploded into the streets. Tens of thousands of people began pouring into the main street in Chapel Hill. People climbed up into trees, traffic lights and lamp posts. Fireworks and flares lit up the sky as frat boys carried a couch into the center of the crowd and proceed to light it on fire. It was like something out of a revolution that just by coincidence we were fortunate enough to experience.

After joining in in the celebrations it was time to head back to DC. We were only halfway to DC and still had 270 miles to go. We pushed through and finally arrived back home at 6 am. If you get the chance I highly recommend visiting the South. It was so different from DC but it helped me understand just how diverse America (and its politics) is.

Spring Break – continued

Standard

Fresh off our Yosemite hike, we immediately drove back to LA where we took a well-needed rest for our next adventure – traversing through the canyons. We planned on visiting Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon over the next 3 to 4 days and combined, it was one heck of a drive.

Situated in Utah, Bryce Canyon is known for its crimson-colored hoodoos, or spire-shaped rock formations. We drove to sunset point, which as the name suggests, is famed for its aerial views during sunset of the canyon. As we had time to spare, we actually chanced upon another lookout point called Cedar Breaks National Monument and I reckoned this was my favorite spot in Utah not simply because of its picturesque views, but also because of its coincidental nature on our trip. Of a high altitude and bordering a ski resort, we were not dressed for this – half of us were wearing shorts because of the 90 degree AZ weather while we were driving in. Nonetheless, as we clawed knee deep into powdery snow and as the winds blew our ears numb, the view and the ensuing pictures were worth the effort.

Next up was Antelope Canyon. Do note that you’ll need to engage a tour when visiting Antelope Canyon as private campers or visitors will be barred. This formation was surreal – it actually looked like something out of Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones; I half imagined Orcs to be marching behind us as we descended into the Lower Antelope Canyon. The tour guides were really helpful, constantly pointing out the different shapes and creatures morphed by the rock formations (although I didn’t understood like half of them, it was still fun to hear).

 

The final one is perhaps the most famous of all – Grand Canyon. The rock formation in Grand Canyon is unique due to the many layers of red rock, revealing the conditions it has weathered through millions of years. While we did not have much time at our last stop, the scenery was indeed breathtaking; I also managed to mail out several postcards from the gift shop right outside one of the lookout points.

Oh and since Horseshoe Bend was a 20 min drive away – it didn’t hurt! I mean, what is 20 min more of driving when we’ve been driving for weeks, am I right?

 

Many of my friends back in Singapore chose Europe as an exchange destination because they felt it had more to offer in terms of nature. After traversing 4 national parks in a week, I don’t think I’ve been more humbled by what Mother Nature has to offer – I’ve definitely made the right decision in coming to the United States and using Spring Break to get away from city life and into the arms (literally, in Bryce Canyon) of Gaia.

I’m thinking of doing part of the Appalachian trial in West Virginia before the semester ends. Anybody interested? (Hint: I need a driver though)

Back to the daily grind for now.

Springtime in DC

Standard

This week we officially said goodbye to winter and welcomed in the spring season with warmer weather and cherry blossoms.

An old friend of mine was in town for the weekend and we decided to make the most of the springtime and explore the local areas that surround DC. Old Town Alexandria is just a short fifteen-minute car journey that takes you outside DC into the state of Virginia. It still blows my mind that within such a short period of time I am able to hop between states. That is one of the great benefits of living in DC, you have access to so many different places.

Our first stop in Old Town was lunch. We headed over to Caphe Banh Mi for some Vietnamese food before stopping at Dolci Gelati for dessert. I ordered the grilled lemongrass chicken and had the cookies and cream and bacio gelato, both of which were absolutely delicious.

We spent the afternoon just wandering the streets, popping in and out of all the little boutiques and antique shops. Founded in 1749, Old Town resembles a miniature model railway town. As George Washington’s hometown the area is full of history, old red brick buildings line cobblestone paths.

 

We headed down to the waterfront and stumbled into the Torpedo Factory Art Center. In a small colonial town, I wasn’t expecting a showcase of modern art. On each floor in the factory artists were creating, exhibiting and selling paintings, sculptures and photographs. My personal favourite was Alvena McCormick, an American artist who had been painting since the age of three.

 

After a day of shopping, food and art we made our way back to DC for dinner. We hit up Jaco Taco in Georgetown and finished it off with a cupcake from Baked and Wired. As it was the first warm day of Spring everyone was out in the city and the lines for both Georgetown Cupcake and Baked and Wired were wrapped around the street. Although it is definitely worth waiting 20 minutes for a cupcake I’d recommend not queuing up hungry!

Despite having a very mild winter I am looking forward to making the most of the warmer weather before I have to return to the cold.