Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 15: The Mountains

Photo of the Day: The Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley

Though I've lived in the urban jungles of New York for only 15 days, it already feels like it has been too long since I've had the chance to enjoy real nature. I was therefore especially delighted when my friend Aditi, my Washington, D.C. hostess and guide for weekend, suggested we drive out to the nearby Shenandoah National Park for a short dayhike in the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains. We stopped by a corner store at a small town called Sperryville and picked up some surprisingly tasty picnic supplies, including freshly baked bread, chicken salad with dried cranberries, hummus, and some of the best apples I've ever tasted. After breakfast, we settled on a short but steep three-mile walk to an outlook called Mary's Rock. The weather could not have been more beautiful as we began our ascent along the rocky, uneven trail, laughing and talking the whole way. After being spoiled by the spectacular views of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range all of last year, I wasn't as impressed by the stunning vista, but it indubitably was a lovely vantage point and a beautiful and serene spot to take a lunch. Having spent so much of my energies in the city, I'd forgotten how freeing and soothing for the soul a good walk in the woods can be.

In the evening, we returned downtown for an refined evening of culture. We ran through the National Portrait Gallery, which was a lot more fascinating than I expected due to the many iconic images and variety of mediums housed there. The gallery also shares a space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I got to wander its awesome displays of modern art (you can see some of my favorite installations below). For supper, we met with Stephanie, one of my oldest friends dating back to elementary school, and dined at Zaytinya, a swanky and popular Mediterranean cafe that served tapas-sized portions. We had a sampler of roasted red pepper, tahini, and hummus spreads on pita bread and carrot and apricot fritters with pistachios and pine nuts. For dessert, I had a Turkish coffee to help keep me alert the rest of the night, and Aditi forced us to try one of her favorites: apricot puree and Greek yogurt topped with sorbet.

To end the night, we watched a free showing of Twelfth Night by Washington, D.C.'s award-winning Shakespeare Theatre Company. It wound up being one of the best theater-going experiences I've ever had. Based on an online lottery system, we scored front-row seats, which allowed us to see and appreciate the tiny nuances in the actors' faces and gestures. Despite a running time of more than four hours, I loved every second of the play, probably the most broadly comedic Shakespeare performance I've seen. It had me literally at the edge of my seat and laughing out loud at the outrageous characters and situations--and all for zero dollars. Before heading home, we snagged some organic gelato at Pitango and also, in a fit of nostalgia, obnoxiously called up old high school friends and bombarded them on speaker phone.

I've taken a lot of pictures today and want to post them all, but I'll try to exercise some modicum of restraint. A selection of photos is shown below, but I will have the rest of them up on Facebook shortly.

The trees along the hike to Mary's Rock provided just enough shade from the warm afternoon sun, keeping us cool and comfortable.
Aditi found hiking through the rocky terrain tough on her knees.
We catch glimpses of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley through the trees.
These straight, spindly trees look like claws reaching toward the sky.
Shenandoah National Park is most famous for its fabulous display of autumn leaves. I probably won't make it down again for fall, but I do get to catch the first glimpse of the changing colors.
The mountains in the distance look like two-dimensional cutouts.
The magnificent view from the top of Mary's Rock.
Aditi gets very nervous as she scrambles over the rocks. There's a drop on the other side.
I'm king of the world!
The undulating glass-and-steel roof of the architecture award-winning Kogod courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery.
Aditi admires one of her favorite pieces in the National Portrait Gallery, a piece dedicated to the commissioner's dead wife.
Aditi admires a piece in the modern art gallery. I like how this photo looks a little bit surreal too.
This really exciting display of the United States, called "Information Superhighway," uses neon and televisions of varying sizes, each tuned into a video loop customized for each state.
Aditi and Stephanie enjoy the weather on the patio of Zaytinya.
Our pita bread and artfully presented olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Our choice of roasted red peppers and onion, tahini, or hummus spreads.
The carrot and apricot fritter with pistachios had a very unique flavor--very savory when I expected sweet.
One of Aditi's all-time favorite desserts.
Scored front-row seats to watch Twelfth Night by one of the world's premier Shakespeare companies!


  1. Wow, the view is spectacular!!How long /far did you hike?

  2. It was beautiful, but the most popular time is autumn because the colors are supposed to be amazing. Apparently the traffic gets crazy because everyone goes out to see the leaves change! My hike was about three miles round trip, and we went slow and took a long break for lunch at the top. I think in all, we were at the park maybe four hours, which include picnic and driving time.