High Tea & Tour at the National Cathedral; Washington D.C.

Yesterday a childhood friend and I had High tea at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.; it was a very interesting tour with a tasty snack at the end. Unlike most high teas, the portions are just enough to satiate your hunger while leaving you more than enough room for dinner.

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As is our ‘tradition’ whenever my friend Gina comes to town, we go to high tea. Last time I was in D.C., Cheryl, another childhood friend who lives in the general area, suggested that our BEST choice was this one at the National Cathedral — but seating is highly limited so that by the time Gina had finalized her travel dates they were already fully booked and we ended up at Lady Camellia’s in Georgetown instead. However, SINCE I was going to be coming back to D.C. again this week, I suggested to Cheryl that this time she and I should do it together.

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When at first you arrive at the Cathedral, the first thing you’ll notice is the update on the post 2011 earthquake repairs to the only recently completed Cathedral (1990), and a plea for funds so that they can complete the job. Personally, while construction had begun in 1907, I have to wonder why as it progressed modifications had not been instituted to keep it up to modern earthquake standards.

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When you enter the Cathedral at the check in counter you tell them you’re there for the high tea, and they don’t even bother to check a ticket or compare your name to a list. (That said, one way to get in and avoid admission on a weekday is to time your visit to when folks would be arriving for the tea, and just say that’s why your there.) Once you are inside the church proper, you are immediately impressed by it’s grandness, which is on par with some of the greatest medieval built Cathedrals of Europe, but with a lot of very modern touches (earthquake proofing construction not being one of them).

Notably, the stain-glass windows are on the whole far more modern than what I would have expected. One of them, which I could not get a good shot of, is devoted to the exploration of space, and includes a moon rock provided by NASA. And many of the windows have a sort of ‘cartoonish’ aspect to them, rather than the sort of classic stained glass you normally see in churches.

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My favorite window however was fairly traditional… and pretty clearly devoted to Jews and the old testament:

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About 30+ people had shown up that day for the tour and tea, and first they spoke to us about the Cathedral

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and then of course showed us some of it’s high points.

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if you look very carefully you’ll see mine and Cheryl’s reflection in the mirror, I’m wearing red

HOWEVER, as Cheryl had already done the generic cathedral tour twice before, I had signed us up for their “Nobel Prize” tour, which highlights aspects of the church devoted to that; this is a tour only offered a few times a year, and these are some but by no means all of the details they pointed out to us…

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This corner includes an image of Mother Teresa who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979
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While Elenor Roosevelt never won the Nobel Peace Prize, she was nominated for it three times
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Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, this area of the church is devoted to him and includes a sculpture of the prize itself
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A window devoted to the United Nations whose combined agencies and funds, etc., have won the Nobel Peace Prize eleven times
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The actual crypt of President Woodrow Wilson who won the Nobel Peace Prize of 1919 for his work in trying to form the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) and his wife
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And this is of course is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. While at it Cheryl and I talked about how he had come to the village green of our home town of Winnetka in 1965 to speak about how segregated the great Chicagoland area was. When my parents tried to buy a home in the area realtors would not show us any because we were Jewish, and when my parents on their own found a home for sale by owner and bought it, petitions went out the next day in protest that Jews were moving into the neighborhood. The first blacks to move in was a bi-racial couple where the wife and mixed race daughter stayed hidden from the realtors till after the sale had been completed.

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Kneeling cushions devoted to Nobel Prize winners, and and other notables. While Ben Franklin obviously could not have won the Nobel as it was not created till well after his death, he did win the Copley Medal for his work with electricity, which is given out the UK’s Royal Society, and was an early equivalent.

After the tour they took us all upstairs to have our tea. Cheryl and I were lucky in that we had a window seat:

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While very tasty, as you can see the sandwiches and desserts are for the most part “finger food” or appetizer sized portions, so our hunger was soothed, but the meal wasn’t filling enough so that we had no appetite for dinner.

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This was the view directly out of the window we were seated next to

After our tea was over, we explored the top floor and the windows other groups were sat next too, taking in the various views offered

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Note the capitol building and the Washington monument

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In this image you can also see the Vice President’s mansion and the Jefferson memorial

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After the Tea we went down into the basement of the Cathedral, which the tour had not gone to and explored it…

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the basement gift shop
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Things for sale in the basement gift shop
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Apparently one of the Gargoyles on the building is the head of Darth Vader, and as a way to make money to fund the repairs, you can buy a duplicate of it

In addition to the massive gift shop the basement holds more crypts, chapels, and is something of medieval architectural delight

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Lady Camellia’s for High Tea; Washington, D.C.

Lady Camellia’s is a cute little, as in tiny, Tea shop in Washington D.C.’s GeorgeTown area that is popular with the ladies. Because of the size (all of four, or maybe five tables?) of the place, I strongly suggest making reservations.

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As some of you may have noticed, my friend (best friend from first grade) Gina and I have developed a tradition of doing High tea. Along my travels she, from time to time, will come and visit me for a few days and I’ll tour her around the area. The First time she came I was in Orlando, and I had REALLY wanted to try the high-tea at Disney World’s Grand Floridian (high tea being something you really shouldn’t do alone), so I planned to do it with her when she visited. The 2nd time she came for a visit I was staying on Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada, and there one of the “THINGS TO DO” in Victoria (according to all the web sites) was to have high tea at Butchart Gardens … and since Gina loves gardens (me not so much) we did that… at which point we agreed to make a tradition of it … namely, that I should find us a high-tea at every stop (if available).

Now one of the things that drives me a bit bonkers about Gina…

I love her, I do… in first grade I wanted to be her (in some ways) … and to this day I STILL wish I had a bit more of her in my personality (she’s a much more genteel sort of a person than I am… so I often envy her social skills, not to mention that I think she’s WAY better looking than I am, she would disagree, even though we’re from time to time mistaken as sisters. I also trust her implicitly… which is something that I’m almost incapable of with most people; as in I would, and essentially have, trusted her with my life. But, that said….

Gina does regularly get on my nerves in some respects …. and for the purposes of travel her refusal to ever plan ahead by more than a week or two makes me want to tear my hair out.

From a tourism perspective, the BEST high tea in D.C. according to another childhood friend, Cheryl (who I’ve known since 2nd grade) and who now lives in the D.C. area, (as well as more than few on-line sites) is the Tea and Tour package offered by the All Hallows Guild on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at the observational level of the National Cathedral.  HOWEVER, tickets for that are limited that, you NEED to book this well in advance…. like WELL in advance. So by the time Gina had finally made up her mind about when she wanted to visit, they were already all sold out. As such, even though this is what I had wanted to do — and hope still to do at some later date, I had to find an alternative.

Happily, there are more than a few high teas in the D.C. area, and I ultimately settled on the highest ranked on on Yelp, Lady Camellia’s.

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All in all we were happy with our Tea… we found the tea itself (as in our chosen brews) to be more flavorful than at the previous locations… but offerings of scones, cakes, and sandwiches — while tasty — didn’t quite hold a candle to awesome offerings at Disney’s Grand Floridian… that said, and to be fair… the Floridian’s tea Cheshire Tea had cost almost double for a not that dissimilar menu

Grand Floridian’s Cheshire Tea: $48.00/per person
Selection of exotic fruits and imported cheeses
Medley of Finger Sandwiches accompanied with Berries, Cheese and Lavosh
Buttery Scone and Jam Tart
Choice of delicate House-Made Pastries, Strawberries and Creme, or English Trifle
Choice of tea

while Lady Camilla’s Full Tea option cost us $29.00/per person
1 pot of tea
2 scones or 2 croissants or a mix
4 pastries of choice (selection varies daily)
2 tea sandwiches of choice:
Cucumber, Egg salad, Brie & Apple, Smoked Salmon & creme fraiche

(we decided we didn’t want their $36 High Tea with an entree menu option, thinking, rightly as it turned out, that it would be way too much food)

This time however, Gina and I were not alone… I decided to invite along (with her permission) my Airbnb host, who was a very nice recently divorced guy who didn’t seem to get out of the house near half enough… who kindly drove us to the teashop.

IMG_0725 And on that topic, Be Warned!!!! Georgetown has NO rapid transit, none… Thise, to paraphrase the guy who first told me about this (an Airbnb host I had had while down in Miami), “was designed intentionally in order to keep the riff-raff out;” as such, you have to either get to this tea shop by some sort of private conveyance (like a kindly Airbnb host), or by foot from the closest metro stop (about a quarter mile away).

After the Tea, my Airbnb host headed home to welcome a new guest that was arriving that day (he has set up FIVE bedrooms in his home, in addition to his own) while Gina and I set ourselves on a 8 mile (21,235 steps — thank you apple watch) hike around the tourist center of D.C.

Cherry blossoms in D.C.– or one more item off from the ol’bucket list (with comparisons to S. Korea)

My whole life I’ve always wanted to see Japanese Cherry blossoms in bloom, and in particular wanted to see them in Washington, D.C.. I am a Japan-o-phile, almost by trade, and I’ve “lived” (or more rightly had extended stays) in Japan, but never in the spring, and as such have not until this week actually seen Japanese Sakura in full bloom

This feeling of a deficit in my lifetime experience is even more odd when you consider that I’ve lived in Korea for two and a half years; not only that, but I was working (as a professor) at the Kyung Hee University Campus in Seoul, which is renowened as one of the best cherry blossom viewing locations in the city.

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The view from the front steps of the Business School, where I taught courses for the Marketing Department
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Multiple images taken from around the KHU campus

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Not to mention I made regular visits to the Lotte World Amusement park (World’s largest indoor theme park (and yes, of course I had a season pass), which is one of the other “go to” viewing locations in Seoul during the few fleetings days of Cherry Blossom season.

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See the Disneyesque wonderland in front of the gargantuan “forest” of 56 identical apartment blocks? That’s the outdoor section of Lotte world. The Indoor section is across the bridge and in that big white building off to the rightIMG_9972

Just like DisneyWorld’s Magic Kingdom, Lotte World sits alongside a man made lake, around which are planted a massive quantity of Cherry trees. While there is an entrance fee to the section of the Lotte park where the rides are, pedestrians are free take the path that circles the lake, making this another favorite spot for the residents of Seoul to enjoy the cherry blossoms.IMG_9973

While I won’t go into it here at length, but every time I entered Lotte World I was always wondered how Lotte managed to NOT get sued by Disney for infringment (the extent to which the former is almost a mirror image of the latter is almost laughable); but, I ultimately decided that the sheer size of the Lotte corporation — or to use the Korean term, Chaebol — which is a multinational in it’s own right just like Disney, probably has a lot to do with their immunity from Disney’s legal team.

For some reason, as I was in Korea and I regularly walked to work along paths that quite litterally rained cherry blossoms on my head….IMG_4138

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those trees never looked “quite right” to me, as they were willowy, and looked more like regular cherry trees, rather than the thickly gnarled wood and blossom heavy branches that hung with twisted beauty, as depicted in Japanese paintings. And therefore, these Korean trees never filled my personal need in me to see that beauty in the real world.

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As such, I still LONGED to have that experience before I died, and part of how I timed my current trip to D.C. (arriving on March 18th), was that I  should have arrived WELL in advance of the cherry blossoms (normally early to mid April) …

Can we say Global Climate change?

This last winter while I was in Florida, avoiding normal “cold” of Chicago’s winter, and the the folks back home were busy playing golf in Feburary, and walking around in shorts… while we snowbirds down in Florida had maybe one or two days that actually made it into the low 70’s. Washington D.C. was also uncharacteristically warm, so that friends of mine who had to be there for work in late Febuary were commenting on how trees were already starting to blossom, and everyone was talking about how the cherry blossom season was most likely going to be over a month early this year. ARGH!!!!

The weather gods were however on my side, and early March brought with it a dive in the tempretures and a late nor’easter complete with snow, followed by alternating warm and freezing days, so that the risk then became that of the cold damaging the blossoms that had started to bud too early.

But, as luck would have it, I was FINALLY able to get my cherry blossom fix in a way that was fully satisfying, albeit FREEZING COLD:

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Don’t let the Sunny skies fool you, what the pictures don’t show was that while the temps were in the mid 50’s (Ferinheit) there were wind gusts of almost 60mph so that it felt more like sub freezing; and there are lots of pictures (not shown) of me holding on to my hat for dear life.  As it was in the 50’s I had not thought I needed gloves, so that by the end of the day my fingers had frozen were frozen so solid that I could no longer manipulate the buttons on my iphone

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After I’d had my fill … or more to the point I could no longer move my fingers enough to take any more photos … I headed to a Japanese inspired resturant that my friend in Dalton, GA (who used to live in D.C.) STRONGLY suggested I HAD to try…

Teaism is a teashop/resturant chain with three locations in the D.C. area, and rotating seasonal menus, that offers up popular and highly affordable dishes. The one I went to was in Penn Quarter  and proved to be very tasty. 

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Ochazuke: A very traditional Japanese dish of rice and tea “soup,” served with your choice of pickled plum/ salmon or shrimp (I opted for the salmon)

O’chazuke is something I’ve never seen served in the U.S.A., but have had before on my trips to Japan. It is a VERY old and traditional Japanese dish that became popular in the Heian period (794 to 1185 A.D.)