The last 3 weeks have been absolutely unreal! You know when you are so excited you cannot sit down, rest or sleep? Yeah, that was me for a whole 3 weeks! Since my niece passed away in March, I just felt like my mother needed to catch a break man! So without much thought, I booked her a flight here, with plans to give her the time of her life.
Mind you, visiting the US from South Africa is a whole process so even though the ticket was bought, that didn’t guarantee that she would be able to come.
The Universe was on our side though because she got her VISA approved and she was headed to the US. I hadn’t seen my mother in 4.5 years so I just already knew that this was going to be big. What I didn’t expect was this vacation healing me instead, when the whole point was to heal her!
I had been walking around for so long thinking I was totally fine, I was just being dramatic about certain things. But when mom got her and I got to spend time with her, I realized that I had been living the epitome of a ‘WTF’ life!
Chile, anyway… When she got her, I gave her an iPad, Bourbon instantly fell in love with her and the best part? She brought me 10 slabs of my favorite chocolate!
Oh man, come on… We don’t have much time for anything else — I want to show you everything we got up to!
What better way to start a Washington D.C. trip than seeing the White House? After all, it is the capital of the whole country!
Right next to the White House is the Renwick Gallery! There are 2 ‘trendy’ exhibitions currently at the gallery — the colorful fiber installation by Janet Echelman and flickering neon lights written ‘This present moment used to be the unimaginable future’ at the Ted Slavin family gallery.
Washington D.C. also has its mini NYC 5th Avenue! The CityCentre is where you get motivation to work hard because everywhere you turn, there is a luxury brand store calling you in. Not only that though, on Palmer Alley, but there are also seasonal decorations up for display which make for great pictures!
First off, exploring the National Mall during a hot summer day is something I do not recommend — we were getting fried! I have come to realize that no matter the day or the day, Lincoln Memorial is always packed! We also got to explore the ‘hidden’ bookstore and the underground! Don’t miss out on those!
Korean War Veterans Memorial
If you don’t go the route of the Reflective Pool (which is also perfectly visible from the Lincoln Memorial steps), I suggest you take that slight right towards this memorial. The best part — this is one of many that are open 24 hours a day because it’s outside!
Martin Luther King Memorial
One of the coolest-looking memorials! MLK’s statue stands 30 feet tall, looking over the Tidal Basin. You can also find all of his famous quotes from speeches along the walls of the memorial. Also, while you are here, walk over to the water and you will see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (I still haven’t figured out how to actually get there).
World War 2 Memorial
I laugh every time I go past this memorial because it brings back memories of my trip from NYC to DC with my friend Bucie. We were so tired from all that walking and being torched by the sun, we tapped out right by this museum and Nadine had to come to the rescue! At this memorial, you will find all the U.S. states written all around, with the beautiful water fountain in the middle.
Now don’t let this monument fool you, everywhere you see it, it looks so close… until you actually try to walk up to it. Oh, we were walking to the gates of hell — there is no shade all the way until you get to the monument itself. When we finally got there, we were so tired that we didn’t even think about taking pictures, we just leaned on it and stood there in silence for a while. You also get amazing views of the National Mall from here!
We started the day with a walking trail I recently discovered, which is right by my apartment. It’s nice and short — ‘the aim is not to sweat’!
We got back home and I just had to give Mom a tour of my favorite shopping center. Why is it my favorite, you ask? It has Dollar Tree, FiveBelow, Michaels, HomeGoods, Ross and Target. We shopped until we dropped (with like $50 lol jk jk).
One of my favorite food experiences — hibachi! A hibachi restaurant is a type of Japanese restaurant where chefs cook food on open grills right in front of you. It’s definitely an entertaining culinary experience. The menu typically includes a variety of grilled meats, vegetables, and fried rice — all of which is done right there and then.
Mom had her first metro ride which is also a must-have experience around here because it is just so convenient, I always prefer it over driving! You should too because if you decide to drive anywhere in the D.C. area, you will arrive at your destination, grumpy and still shaken from the 6 accidents you almost had, you will then spend 16 minutes looking for parking. When you find a spot, you will have to spend the next 5 minutes making sure that you can park there, you will pay for parking and come back to a $200 parking ticket. Yes, that was a trauma dump!
Dulles Airport Plane Pull Festival
Apparently every year there is this festival at the airport! It’s totally free and family-friendly (maybe too family-friendly for me because there were way too many kids). It was a pretty cool experience though — you get to explore the insides of various planes, there are tons of freebies, there are food stalls and the best part was the different organizations participating in the competition to see who can drag a whole airplane the furthest in a set time.
Tysons Corner Mall
This was a fun reality check for my mother because the previous day I showed her where I shop (where everything is super cheap), then I showed her how much stuff really cost so we went to the mall and she was stunned! She also got to see the typical mall stores of America like Macy’s, Bath & Body Works and Cinnabon, just to name a few.
Charleys Philly Steaks
Before we left the mall, I just had to make sure we grabbed a Philly cheesesteak. She definitely enjoyed that too!
On our way to Planet Word, we bumped into a flea market and we just couldn’t help but stop. I was introduced to so many cool creatives and cool companies like The Rounds (who also gave us a free tote)! Some creatives mentioned that they would be at the H Street Festival so we added that to our calendar of course!
Oh, this is 100% one of the best museums in D.C. (especially because it is also FREE)! I would say, “How is this place free?” like how we all did on Twitter but I think we all learned our lesson there. Part of the reason why I absolutely love this place and have been here 5 times already is because I am a writer but also, I love immersive experiences! We had entirely too much fun here!
It’s funny because back home in Pietermaritzburg, we also have a ‘Chinatown’ but the wayyyy it’s so different from this one, I have to laugh! Chile, anyway, so… D.C.’s Chinatown is where you will find that popular Friendship Archway which I have also seen in Boston and Philly. This area is historic with Chinese stores and some typical American stores (written in Chinese).
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Although we were basically in and out here, we did get to see quite a lot! Mom got to see the stunning courtyard which is always perfect for pictures but I was actually bummed that the main part I wanted to take her to (Modern and Contemporary Art) was under construction!
Nandos is the only South African restaurant in the U.S. and luckily for me, I live in one of the only TWO areas where there are Nandos locations (Chicago and the Washington D.C. area). What I absolutely love though is the fact that whichever Nandos you go to here, they are always playing South African music!
The real shopping
I took Mom to TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Burlington! Maybe we shouldn’t have gone there so early in the vacation because we blew almost all our money (no ‘regrets’). That was retail therapy fr fr fr!
Hot pot experience
Later in the evening, I decided to give her yet another must-have food experience — hot pot. When I told her the concept of it, it threw her off and who is to blame her because who would want to go to a restaurant where they give you raw food, a pot and tell you to cook it yourself then pay afterward? Sounds like a scam lol but she absolutely loved it. We went to Hot Pot Legend in Loudoun and at this point, I am a regular there!
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Oh, this was the perfect day for the zoo and the perfect day for me to pull out the big boys (Canon camera)! Now one thing I can tell you for free is that this zoo is huge, as in you might as well focus on one section per day! What was a little sad was the fact that some animals were hiding or resting when we were there so we just didn’t see that many, which is understandable because it was a pretty hot day! My favorite was the tiger though — he was just giving everyone a show.
I have to mention that we did get a $100 parking ticket when we went back to the car and omg that threw me all the way off because this is the exact reason why I just don’t drive to D.C.!
Merrifield Garden Center
Although this was one of the places I had intended to take Mom to, I did not mean to take her there on this day. But because I was still so shaken from the incident the day before I just decided to keep it local. Where do I get my green thumb? From my mom! Oh, we both came alive the moment we stepped in! We ended up leaving with a spider plant, a parlor palm, a philodendron and a succulent.
Doggy pool party
Yes, yes we did! We went to a pool party… for dogs! I am always trying to expose Bourbon to as many experiences as possible and I have been wanting him to go swimming. I knew he wouldn’t want to but with the help of a friend and everyone realizing that he was the only dog that was dry, we threw him in lol. It was an amazing time honestly, but giving him a bath later was actual hell!
Metro bus ride
This was yet another experience mom wanted to have and this was just the perfect day for it. I generally dislike taking the bus anywhere but I had never taken it around my area and it is not as busy as it is in the city so it was pretty scenic! Better yet, it was an 11-minute ride!
National Air and Space Museum
There are 2 Air and Space museums in the D.C. area but let me tell you something, the one in Chantilly is goated! I have been there twice already and wouldn’t mind going again! One of our favorite aircraft was the world’s smallest — the red Sky Baby! It was legit smaller than a car. Imagine we can all have one to use only locally, like going to the supermarket! Ugh, bliss!
United States Botanical Garden
If you ever dream of an escape from the world that you can experience in person, this Botanical garden is the place for you! My mother was in awe the whole time — with every direction we turned our heads to, it would be something to be Wow’ed about! It’s really one of those places where you go and it starts to feel like everything is going to be alright!
When I was here, I had yet another flashback of the D.C. trip 4 years ago. Nadine, Bucie and I were so happy to be here and took a ton of pictures which were all so horrible because we were all black as coal from the sun! Lol! Just like most of the ‘official’ buildings, we cannot actually enter the Capitol (those peeps from Jan 6 beg to differ though), so we got our pictures and dipped!
Capitol Reflective Pool
If you are from the D.C. area and you tell me that you knew about this pool… Why are you lying? Lol! This place had been empty and dry for how many years now? I was actually so fascinated when I saw it! It was definitely a vibe but we had to go before we got another ticket, chile!
I want to laugh because l almost said that this is yet another must-have American experience but literally none of these food experiences are American! Like, none. Anyway, we went to one of my favorite taco spots – Taco Bamba! Now tell me why for the first time ever, it just didn’t slap. Not only that, mom got sick from the tacos. I was actually bummed about this experience because tacos are life!
Y’all, the last 10 days, my mom and I had been walking at least 3 miles a day so we figured that a 20-minute yoga session would be light work. Boy? This was the first and only day we both tapped out from our daily activities.
Library of Congress
The biggest library in the freaking world! Yes, it’s in Washington D.C. What didn’t help or make it fun was the fact that we were still so tired from the yoga even though we actually did rest for like 3 hours. Man, the inside of this library is actually insane! I’m talking marble everywhere, art on the ceiling of every room… it was so dreamy in there!
H Street Fest
I have come to realize that D.C. is all about going big or going home because you can literally never say, “I went to this place/event/museum and got to see everything!” Although this festival is one of the biggest annual festivals, I did not expect all that. It. Was. Packed! I was overwhelmed but had so much fun too and we got to hang out with Rell’s cousins too. Did I mention that our legs actually failed us there?
One of the places on Mom’s bucket list was Union Station. My best description of it is — an airport with no planes. The point is, it’s where you go if you are traveling quite literally anywhere out of state in other modes of transportation (my favorite being Amtrak). It also does give vibes of an airport too so I’m not entirely wrong lol.
We had dedicated this day to exploring as many museums as we could on Constitution Avenue. IYKYK, ‘completing’ ONE museum in one day is a mission, so we were pretty much in and out. We spent a little over an hour at the National Museum of African American History, then we crossed the street to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. We took a break to be tourists and bought some D.C. souvenirs and some ice cream.
Then we were back at it again, next up was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. By the time we were ‘done’ here, it was 5 p.m. and most museums close at 5. So we quickly headed over to the National Gallery of Art – Sculpture Garden. Mind you, I have been to all these museums and more yet I still feel like I haven’t really been to any. You just have to dedicate a whole day to just one!
Oh, I just had to give her this food experience! Chipotle is my favorite ‘fast food’ restaurant — I say that in inverted commas because it doesn’t give vibes of a fast food spot. Anyway, as expected, Mom loved it because who doesn’t love Chipotle? No really, surely your tastebuds hate you!
Concrete product reveal
So the previous night I had introduced my mother to my creative hobby — molding cement home decor items. We made them and let them set overnight. The best part is always waking up in the morning and unmolding it. Mom was so proud of herself for making her first ever products and she was so proud of me for having this kind of idea and the vision I showed her.
Great Falls — Billy Goat Trail
This has been on my bucket list for how long now? 3 years? Since I was finally with my match, someone who loves hiking and nature in general, we set out to Great Falls in the morning. The weather was just so perfect for it and although it took us almost an hour to find that popular river with the rocks, we finally did and it made everything so worth it. In total, we did 3.7 miles and walking back to the car lmao that felt like a 5-hour walk.
From the day Mom got here she told me she would cook me one of my favorites — ujeqe and uphuthu! My thing is, I had never seen yeast in America in 4 years nor had I seen maize meal so our best bet was to check out H Mart. H Mart is an Asian supermarket and that’s where I put all my trust and it did not fail me. We found yeast and corn meal (but I had already ordered IWISA from Amazon anyway).
United States National Arboretum
This is also called the Capitol Columns, I didn’t know this but these 22 gigantic columns were actually part of the Capitol building. They were replaced when the building was renovated so they found a place to keep them… what we know now as the arboretum. They are so majestic and the location is beyond perfect!
A short walk from the columns is this beautiful, beautiful herb garden. Hold on, why do Americans pronounce ‘herb’ as ‘erb’ and end up saying, “An herb”? The way that throws me off every time! Anyway, I love how they separated the herbs into 4 categories — Culinary, Medicinal, Industrial and Fragrance! As a person who would like to become a Herbalist one day, this place fueled my joy!
National Bonsai & Penjing Museum
Bonsais are the real goats of plants and you simply cannot convince me otherwise. The best part was getting to see how long each of them had been growing/in training for. The oldest one I spotted has been growing since 1832 (my mom refused to believe any of that lol). The museum is quite huge, way bigger than what I expected. Since I didn’t get to see everything, I will definitely be going back.
Our day started pretty late. We only had the boat ride planned — from The Wharf to Old Town Alexandria and back! This day? Oh man, it was beautiful through and through! I briefly showed Mom The Wharf and what a vibe it is, then we hopped on the Potomac Water Taxi…
Potomac water taxi
This was surprisingly an amazing experience, even for me! It’s a 45-minute ride from The Wharf and 45 minutes back but because I wanted us to explore a little when we got to Old Town, we booked an 8 pm boat. That gave us 1h15min to just chill. The views on the boat ride are just so perfect man. Also, you ride passed the Ronald Reagan Airport — seeing planes take off and land was my highlight.
I just had to take Mom to the Spite House which is one of the narrowest houses in the US. I’m talking 7-feet wide! Fun fact: it was initially an alleyway and one of the neighbors just didn’t like people using it, so he built a house lol hence the name of it — Spite house. Great reminder that people back then just didn’t have real problems, jk jk!
Coming back from the Spite house, we were exhausted and thirsty. We figured we should grab something to drink while we waited for our boat back to The Wharf. As we sat down at the Blackwall Hitch, we met someone who was honestly sent by the Universe — he spoke directly to me and my situation (mind you, this man didn’t even know us), told me what I need to do, told me to keep in touch and left! Mom and I were stunned because he spoke about the same things that I had told Mom were troubling me! You know what else? Before he left he reminded me that ‘Nothing is a coincidence!
Day 16 — our last full day
On our last day together, we had planned to go shopping for friends and family back home with whatever money was left. So, we headed back to the center where they had TJ Maxx and all that. We were legit there for about 3 hours! We got everything we needed, got home, made candles while sipping on champagne. Later in the evening, we started packing, weighing luggage, and chatting… it was all so freaking beautiful man!
Texas de Brazil
We just had to end the vacation the right way by taking Mom to my favorite restaurant – Texas de Brazil. It’s one of those boujee restaurants — you know, the ones you go to on special occasions? Also, yet another not-so-American American experience *inserts twitching eye*. We were so full when we left, the itis was kicking my ass but I had to kick it back and stay up!
Omg, I just looked it up… Starbucks is fully American! Perfect! After grabbing some snacks at the supermarket, we headed down to Starbies. Mom got the Strawberry Açaí Lemonade, which was my rec — my previous host kid introduced me to it and I have never looked back since! P.S.: We also filmed a TikTok right after.
Dulles International Airport
It was officially hometime like for real for real now. What’s crazy is that my happiness from being with her for the last 17 days overpowered my sadness about her leaving. I was and still am filled with so much gratitude — this whole vacation has healed parts of me that I didn’t even know were damaged!