Several tips where to have lunch and what to do if you are around D.C. and have couple of spare hours to get out of the town to see suburban life in little Mexico.
Feeling freaky on public transport
My first and only trip to the USA was relatively short but we managed to visit a couple of places. The low price of our flight ticket was caused by obscure flight combinations. We flew from Prague with a one day stopover in London, then to NY and back from Washington (actually from Washington – Baltimore which is a small local airport) via NY to London and from there to Berlin.
After having spent a couple of nights in Philadelphia, we decided to get to know D.C. a little bit. There were some compromises to be made, as accommodation in the centre was way too expensive but it didn´t seem too far. However, our airbnb host asked us with astonishment if we really wanted to stay at her place when we plan to visit Washington. And we on the other hand couldn´t understand why it should matter. It was three stops by underground from the main bus station and then just about 20 minutes by bus to her place. We found it completely adequate to spend some 30 minutes on public transport.
It was first then when we got on the bus that we realized it was not a common thing to do here. White people with baggage? We felt like a UFO. As it was impossible to purchase the tickets in advance, we tried to get them on the bus but had no change. The driver didn´t have change either and showed us simply further in the bus, looking at us like someone who doesn´t understand what the hell we want there. After a while, I started to feel whiter than ever.
It is quite commom that people use public transport in Prague and other European cities as it is pretty practical. You don´t get stuck in a traffic jam, needn´t look for a parking space and can have a glass of wine for dinner at a restaurant. It doesn´t say anything negative about your social status. When in US, you feel like a loser, low social class and you even feel that you are not authorised to using it as a white person. Really strange, especially because the buses were fine, people looked friendly and it was safe.
Bladensburg, Hyatsville, Riverdale…are actually towns that all look like one big suburb of D.C. Especially Hyattsville has more faces. Some are nice, some are not so nice. Surprisingly, number of samesex couples living here is double, compared to the rest of the US. This makes it a pleasantly tolerant place. Our part was visibly Latinoamerican with big share of black people. Our host was Afroamerican as well (no idea why you are not allowed to say black, I don´t feel offended by being called white either, although I am rather beige and black people are usually rather brown). And was living with her girlfriend in a cute wooden house, in a street that looked like from all those films about sleepy American suburbs. There was even an old cadillac parked outside and grey squirrels jumping on the trees. Anyway, our host gave us a very warm welcome and later we watched The adventures of Priscilla, the Queen of the Desert, which was really very relaxing and felt like home.
It is not about racism, it is a simple fact – places inhabited by black and Latino people are usually poorer. And I liked it there. Straight at the main street, next to the bus stop at the corner of Edmonston Road & Farragut Street (the bus goes unfortunately only like once per hour), was Taqueria la Placita. It couldn´t get more Mexican! A bungalow decorated with small figures of mariachi players was so full that people were queuing outside to get their tacos. And they were all locals. Well, the tacos definitely had to be good, I just didn´t have the patience to wait. There was also a shop straight next to it, selling groceries and equiped with an extra „hot corner“. No, they were not selling adult magazines there as far as I noticed, but there was a whole department dedicated to hot sauces and chilli peppers of all different kinds. Couldn´t resist and bought a couple of souvenirs. By the way, knowledge of Spanish is elementary here.
As we got hungry, we decided to find a proper Mexican restaurant. It was about 10 minute walk along the road to a restaurant called Alamo. Nothing special, however completely satisfactory for us. First door led to a bar full of Mexican dads watching sports on TV and drinking. Second door lead to a slightly timeworn restaurant. We got a basket of nachos and fresh hot salsa as a welcome which got refilled for free as soon as it got empty. This meant that we were not very hungry by the arrival of the first course. The food was good, pretty hot and portions were too big as expected in the USA. Margarita was authentically nice.
Still, there was a small place left for some sweet dessert so we stopped at a petrol station along the road and had some coffee. Mine was with hazelnut taste and lot of almond milk that you could choose for free from many other options. Yummy!
We had just one day to see at least something of Washington. We got out of the extremely spacious metro at the Capitol South station near the National Mall, which is a sort of long promenade with Capitol at one and Washington Monument at the other end. It was just one big museum with one bus after another coming and spitting out groups of children, pensioners, rednecks and other tourists, arriving to get some obligatory pics for their family albums. If you have ever read any of my articles, you will know I am not very keen on this. I left my travelmates and decided to give a chance to one institution in this touristy circus. The winner was the beautiful botanical garden with a conservatory. Very good choice indeed as the weather was still quite chilly. Entrance is free and you can easily find it with help of this map.
I was craving for common everyday city life and common people so I headed further direction centre which was quite nice. First I stopped at the Crime Museum (unfortunately closed since September 2015) to buy a promised FBI (or CIA?) hoodie for my friend and strolled a little around Chinatown, that is definitely worth deeper exploration. Then I decided to have a break and eat something. Well, when in the States, a hamburger is obligatory, isn´t it? I am not a big fan of this fast food, however the one I had at the chain restaurant called Fuddruckers was very well prepared with possibility to add as much fresh vegetables and different sauces as you like. As I later found out, my friends went there as well, just a couple hours apart.
Having filled my stomach (and of course not being able to finish the oversized portion), I decided it was time to go home to Hyattsville. I thought I could get some food for the following day at the supermarket next to the metro station. This experience left me very sad. The shop was meant for lower social classes probably (I feel sorry for them), as I was not able to tell what most of the food was made from. And I mean even cheese. You would have to read a very long text on the back of the package and be good at chemistry to find out. The fruit and vegetables section was offering a depressive sight of faded green objects wrapped in a lot of plastic. Luckilly, there was our Mexican quarter with tacos waiting for me.
And then there was only one last journey ahead of us, silver Amtrak train taking us to the airport and home to Europe…