I instantly fell in love with Paris. I was 16 and it was the first time I went to a metropolitan city with a bunch of friends and without any grownups worthy the name. Sure, our teachers were there, but the 1am curfew was barely enforced and there was vino a plenty during dinner - after all, it was Paris. I fell head over heels and was convinced I'd move there after finishing college.
But then I visited London. I'd turned 18 three days before and my best friend and I celebrated by going for the weekend. We stayed in a surprisingly nice hotel in Bayswater, visited all the vintage shops in East London, drank pints in Camden and giggled the way only 18 year old girls do. It was glorious, and I ended up going back once every eight weeks before finally moving to London permanently seven months later. Paris never happened, but London did.
I've visited loads more capitals since, seen new continents and new shores. Nothing's felt like Paris did when I was 16, or like London first did when I was 18.
But then I visited Washington DC. It wasn't like Paris, and it wasn't like London. It was something else. It was clean, beautiful and calm. It instantly felt like home. We only spent about 36 hours there, so I clearly don't know it, but it's the first American city I could see myself live in. It's not pretentious like LA, dirty like NYC, or rugged like SF. It's just... nice. Beautiful, even. This is what we got up to during our 36 hours in the District of Columbia:
During our first evening we went to Le Diplomate. It's a French brasserie on Q street, with the most delicious steak tartare you can imagine, and great foie gras too. I'm not sure how many restos of the kind there are to find in DC, but it's very Lower East Side or Hackney (depending on your metropolitan city reference of choice). It's also not that pricey (unlike most things in LES, for instance).
Our second evening we went to Fiola Mare, a seafood restaurant on the seafront in Georgetown. Unlike Le Diplomate, this place was very pricey indeed. The food was exquisite, though a person in my company ordered lobster ravioli for $50 and was less than happy when he was greeted by five(!) pieces of ravioli. It was one of those experiences where fine dining equals less is less... than you'd ever be able to imagine. It was an interesting experience, though I wouldn't go back. The Secret Service was waiting outside so you can imagine the clientele.
Both days we had breakfast at our local cafe Big Bear Cafe - a lovely little independent coffee shop a five minute stroll away from our AirBnb. Rich coffee, crunchy granola, and yummy donuts. What more do you need?
I wasn't prepared for how great the monuments and memorials were going to be. In one way I'm really happy it's taken me 26 years to visit DC, as I'm not sure I would've appreciated the monuments as much when I was younger. Some of them were truly spectacular - my favourites were FDR's and the newest one, MLK's. They banged up 14 of some of his most profound quotes on a granite wall and some of them left me teary-eyed, which I think is only appropriate.
If MLK's memorial makes you think about the Black Lives Matter movement, and the racial inequalities that still stand today, FDR's memorial made me think about contemporary neoliberalism and how the world truly seems to have forgotten about any alternatives. Grim. And impactful. I felt like I could've spent forever there.
We walked 10 miles in eight hours in DC. We got to see all the big sights (including, of course, Barry OB's little crib) and from what we saw, DC was beautiful. I described it as a clean San Francisco, and that's what it felt like. I'd love to go back - if I'd known I'd love it so much I would've happily sacrificed a day or two in NYC to see more of DC.
What makes us love a city? I don't know. With Paris and London I think it was me tasting real independence for the first time, and perhaps that's what intrigued me more than anything. But naturally, ten years later, it's bound to be something else. With DC, I think I loved the feeling of community in the neighbourhood we lived in. People greeted each other on the streets and everyone seemed to know each other. It felt homely, it was beautiful and somehow, it just seemed to make sense. I'd recommend everyone to go.