Wednesday, August 12, 2009

WASHINGTON DC - Day One: Virginia

Knitting Your Way Through Our Nation's Capitol

Everyone should do this trip at least once outside of school. I appreciate it as an adult in ways that I never could have as a young person. History, patriotism, symbolism--most of these things are lost on the young. Dozens of books fill travel shelves about walking tours of the monuments, museums, and shrines of governance that fill downtown DC. My favorites continue to be the Air and Space Museum, the First Ladies Gown collections at the National Museum of American History, and of course, my thing for James Bond always takes me straight to the International Spy Museum. Feel free to craft your own agenda for the standard stuff. My job, as always, is to take you off the beaten path on a fiber feast. I’ve uncovered three yarn job gems that require a little driving off the National Mall, but pay off in charm, inventory, and local flavor.

Day 1 (Thursday, for our format) - the Virginia side...
Start your day (or even base your stay) in charming Old Town Alexandria, which boasts a nice mix of national retailers such as Banana Republic and Restoration Hardware as well one-of-a-kind boutiques. King Street serves as both Alexandria’s “main drag” and the first leg of your journey.  For breakfast, locals I consulted recommend Jack’s Place, The Royal, and la Madeleine. 

After you’ve taken in any of these neighborhood joints (or a culinary discovery of your own), spend as much or as little time as you like strolling through Old Town before you climb back into the car and head northwest on King Street. This is an entertaining drive, taking you past the mother-ship of all Masonic Temples, known as the George Washington Masonic Memorial and a collection of charming colonial-looking homes. I was startled to drive by a flock of free-range chickens on my trip!

The standard suburban landscape along your trip to Falls Church will take you past any number of retailers you might need to pick up whatever it is you forgot (and I always forget something). Plus, this might be the least confusing drive you make all weekend (this is a challenging driving town to put it mildly!), so enjoy the nearly straight shot to the first yarn shop of our weekend...

Stop One: 
Aylin’s Woolgatherer
7245 Arlington Blvd 
Falls Church, VA 22042 
703-573-1900
www.aylins-wool.com

Scoot your car in just right of the Giant store, and look for the tidy little alley that leads to the entrance of Aylin’s. Go upstairs and down the hall to one of the most comprehensive yarn stores this area has to offer. Heading toward it’s 35th anniversary and filled with one of the most knowledgeable staff’s you’re likely to come by, this store prides itself on top-notch, individualized attention. Owner Aylin Benner’s artistic flair fills the store, and she has been known to personally recommend colors for client’s projects. If you’re like me, and often clueless that what looks great in the magazine may not suit my build or complexion (come on, I’ve seen that rust colored shrug in the back of your closet that looked soooo hip in the magazine but hangs on your funny), Aylin’s your secret weapon. The store boasts a selection of unique pieces reflecting Aylin’s turkish heritage, including a turkish vest pattern to knit or crochet that is definitely one-of-a-kind. Designer Anna Zilboorg has granted the store several delectable exclusive designs. Their sale nook is a bargain-hunter’s dream, their “baby room” could make you want to start a family just by pastel infusion alone, 
and I’ve yet to see a bigger pattern collection. As for the depth of the yarn collection, it’s hard to beat. This is one store where you really can hear the cherished words, “wait, we might have it in back.” Talk about a button selection--Aylin’s confessed button obsession can definitely work to your advantage. One of my favorites? The clear plastic project totes (complete with yarn hole on top) she sells. I also fell in love with the SWITCH Exchange Circular needles--an interchangeable bamboo circular needle system in a stylish, compact holder. Every year the store hosts a knitting/crochet (did I mention this was a very crochet-friendly establishment?) retreat at a vacation spot, and I just might sign up for the next one!

Projects from Aylin’s they recommend:

Elemental Changes Shetland Scarf/Stole
This will be our Kint-Along from Ailyn’s, done in a gorgeous local merino sock yarn called Kaleidoscope from Blue Ridge Yarns. Using a changeup of three traditional lace patterns, this gives an intricate look without a boatload of sequences to learn.

Spiral Stitch Armwarmers and Cabled Fingerless Gloves
Designed by “Almost Amy,” otherwise known as the delightful Karen Klemp (who served with Dede Smith as my guides through the store), these are so cool I’d wear them even if it mortified my teenage daughter to be seen with me. Done up in Jitterbug by Colllinette or a local gem called Pagewood Farms hand-dyed sock yarn, these could make a young (or young at heart) person near you delirious with toasty-wristed joy.








Or, go for the grand prize and dive into any of the spectacular exclusive sweater designs by Anna Zilboorg. The staff assures me they are highly doable, even if they look like master-level knitting.




By the time you’ve made it though all the treasures at Aylin’s, it’ll be time for lunch. I recommend two options. If you don’t want to venture far afield, walk across the parking lot to...

The Old Hickory Grill
7263 Arlington Blvd
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 207-8650


According to the folks at Aylin’s, The Old Hickory Grill is the place to go for down-home Louisiana fare.  Word is, shrimp and grits are the way to go.







If you don’t mind driving about 10 minutes further, head farther down Arlington Blvd, take the Gallows Road exit, and make the fast left into
Sweetwater Tavern
3066 Gate House Plz, 
Falls Church, VA
www.greatamericanrestaurants.com
I never did find the sign, but the water tower feature in front gives Sweetwater Tavern away. Beware: Ozzie Rolls are addictive! Something like a New Orleans beignet; the kind of buttery sweetbread that has you licking your fingers after every bite. Actually, the whole bread basket was crave-worthy, and I admit to asking for seconds without shame. The very friendly staff recommended the Sweetwater Roast Chicken Salad, and it was outstanding. One of my favorite touches was the actual brewed iced tea. No concentrate mix here--the tea was top notch. You forget how refreshing really good iced tea is until you taste it.

Drive on back down King Street and finish any Old Town shopping that suits your mood, or just find a shady spot and enjoy the weather while you cast on your newest project from Aylin’s. If you need a final destination, make your way to The Torpedo Factory on the waterfront for a unique location with some lovely spots to enjoy the sunset over cocktails and circular needles. Or, if you’re willing to go a bit farther and have time, look into the water taxi service that will take you from Old Town to National Harbor, a newly opened resort that’s a destination in itself. Although I’m generally of the bed and breakfast persuasion, I’d definitely consider this as a prime contender for lodging on this trip.

Today, you took in the Virginia side of DC. 
Rest up, for tomorrow we tackle Maryland.
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