Category Archives: General Travel

Plaza Premium launches loyalty program, Citi Prestige and HSBC VI holders take note

Plaza Premium is a contract lounge operator that has more than 140 lounges across 35 airports in 16 countries. The quality of contract lounges can vary greatly, but Plaza Premium is generally one of the better ones- their new lounge in Hong Kong, for example, wouldn’t look out of place for a top tier airline.

Plaza Premium has partnered with Arrture to start its own free-to-join loyalty program where you earn points every time you visit a Plaza Premium lounge. Note that although there are 140+ Plaza Premium lounges, not all are currently participating in this loyalty program. 37 currently are (including, importantly, the one in Singapore) and you can see the full list here.

The program is still in its infancy, but right now the deal is that you earn 100 points every time you visit a Plaza Premium Lounge, and once you hit 2,000 points you can redeem a free Plaza Premium Lounge coupon.  As per their website, they plan to offer other redemption options in the future. At the very worst you could gift that coupon to someone else. You can’t sign up for Arrture online, unfortunately, as you need to pick up a physical form from a participating Plaza Premium lounge.

Why is this interesting? Because Plaza Premium lounges can be accessed through the Priority Pass program, and a lot of miles earning credit cards in Singapore will offer a handful of free visits a year.

Not too long ago I did an article on credit card lounge access. Here’s a recap of who gives you what

Card No of Free Visits Subsequent Visit Guest Visit
Citibank Prestige Unlimited N/A Free
Citibank Premiermiles 2 per annum US$27 US$27, however 2 free visits can be shared between guest and cardholder
DBS Altitude (Visa only) 2 per 12 month membership period US$27 US$27, however the 2 free visits can be shared between guest and cardholder
CIMB Visa Infinite 3 per year US$27 US$27
ANZ Travel Card 2 per quarter with S$10,000 spend N/A N/A
ANZ Signature Priority Banking Visa Infinite 2 lounge passes with min S$5,000 spend in a month N/A N/A
Standard Chartered Visa Infinite 6 per year

(Unlimited if you have the Priority Banking version of the SCB VI)

S$38 S$38

(US$27 if you have the Priority Banking version of the SCB VI)

HSBC Visa Infinite Unlimited N/A S$35
OCBC Voyage 2 per 12 month membership period, unlimited visits to Plaza Premium Lounges till 30 Sept 16  (Thanks Jey for pointing this out!) US$27 US$27
OCBC Elite World 2 per 12 month membership period US$27 US$27
Diners Cards 1 free visit to Diners Club partnered airport lounges from Apr-March Fees apply Guest fees apply
Krisflyer Ascend 4 vouchers for selected SATS and Plaza Prem. Lounges per membership year N/A Voucher can be used for a guest as well
UOB JCB Card Unlimited access to JCB-partnered airport lounges till 31 Mar 17 except in Singapore N/A Guest fees chargeable
Maybank Horizon Platinum Visa 1x Access available with min S$400 spend on airtickets within 3 months of charge. Lounges in SG, JB, KL and HK S$42 Guest fees chargeable @ 20% discount to S$42

I think you know where I’m going with this.

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If you hold a HSBC Visa Infinite or Citibank Prestige card, you get unlimited visits to Priority Pass lounges. Therefore, even if you already have lounge access elsewhere, it might be worth the 5 minutes dropping by the Plaza Premium lounge in T1 every time you depart SIN just to register a visit (as per the T&C, both paid visits and complimentary visits via your credit card issuer count towards points earning).

I personally don’t think the current reward (20 visits= 1 free visit) is that exciting, but I’m keen to see what additional rewards they add to this program. So I would start building my points balance regardless, if I had a card with unlimited lounge access. Obviously, if your credit card only comes with limited visits per year you might be wiser to save those visits for when you really need them.

I see what Plaza Premium is doing here and it’s really quite clever. They know that credit cards which come with unlimited lounge access tend to be top tier ones, owned by people who probably have lounge access of their own already (through flying premium cabins or airline loyalty programs). Since Plaza Premium earns a fee every time someone Priority Passes their way into the lounge, it would make sense for them to encourage such individuals to start utilizing the visits they would otherwise not bother to make.

Too bad I can’t justify paying the annual fees for either the Citibank Prestige or HSBC VI, or I’d be making a lot of trips to Terminal 1…

(HT: Head for Points)

The Racquet Club Experience at the WTA Finals Singapore

Regular readers will know I’m a big tennis fan (and player- if anyone out there is ~NTRP 4.0 and wants to play do reach out). And I just wrote a report about the US Open, including a visit to the SPG Luxury Suite.

The WTA Finals are in Singapore this week, and although I think it’s fair to say that women’s tennis doesn’t attract nearly the same amount of interest as the men’s tour, it’s still a chance to see the best 8 in women’s tennis in one place.

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Through a series of unexpected events (the details of which I will not bore you with) I received an invitation to the BNP Paribas hospitality suite for the Thursday evening session. I was keen to see how this corporate hospitality experience would stack up to the one at the US Open, and would like to share some highlights and photos with you all.

We were bussed into the grounds at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from our meeting point for the evening session which started at 7.30pm. We reached at 6.15pm, which gave lots of time for wining and dining.

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All corporate hospitality suites at the WTA Finals are part of The Racquet Club (The Racquet Club is the official hospitality program of the WTA Finals).  The Racquet Club is an annex built alongside the Indoor Stadium (but isn’t physically part of the stadium, a minor inconvenience I’ll touch on later)

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The buses dropped us off here and we headed inside for registration.

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The registration counter was chaotic but everyone was processed quickly enough.

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I received 2 passes- one of which would get me into the BNP hospitality suite, the other into the Aces Lounge. The Aces Lounge is (and here’s where it gets a bit confusing) within the Indoor Stadium but it’s a much parred down selection of F&B. The hospitality suites are where you really want to be.

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The first floor of the Racquet Club contains the reception area as well as a handful of suites for companies like Rolex.

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There is also a spanking new Porsche Panamera parked in the middle of the room as a sort of conversation piece (Porsche being one of the headline sponsors of the WTA Finals)

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There is a big sign on it saying “not for sale”. Which is disappointing. Because I was totally going to take out my PRVI Miles card and earn 1.4 miles per $1 on it.

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Up the stairs and you’ll find more suites, as this very poorly taken photo shows. I really need to hire a professional photographer for this site.

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The BNP Paribas suite is a sizable suite, as you would expect from the title sponsor of the WTA Finals. I reckon it could take up to a 100 people with some standing.

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The Suite is a place to hobnob before the game (or during, if you don’t really care for tennis and just want to network, as it appeared many did) and it’s well set up for that. There are a few sit down private tables, but the majority of them were communal high chairs that make it uncomfortable to sit for too long. There was also a fully stocked bar where the champagne (Moet, sadly. Come on guys, even prosecco would be preferable to Moet) flowed freely.

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The menu today was created by Emmanuel Stroobant of the ES Group. The ES Group is behind some really nice restaurants in Singapore including Picotin, Brussel Sprouts, Saint Pierre and Rocks Urban Bar and Grill. I knew the food was going to be excellent when I heard the chef barking in French at his crew.

The actual spread was different from the printed menu. The romantic in me would like to believe that the truck delivering fresh produce from the farm had been waylaid because the young man driving it had suddenly found the words he for so long had lacked in describing his affection for the quietly aloof sous chef who was at home with her bedridden grandfather and the bewildered head chef had no choice but to modify the menu on the fly all while fighting with his dastardly landlord who wanted to repossess the premises and lease them out to a fast food chain. Although in reality someone probably messed up the printout.

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There was a very generous appetizer spread of mini bagels with smoked salmon, tomato confit,  tomato gazpacho and assorted charcuterie.

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There was also a station with steak tartare. I don’t think it’s possible to actually make steak tartare look good in a photo, but here’s my best attempt. I’ve often wondered how steak tartare doesn’t give more people food poisoning but apparently so long as you take the beef that’s below the skin you’ll be ok.

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The main courses were on a separate station.

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There were some roasted root vegetables. No description here because it wasn’t on the printed menu.

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Goose-fat duck leg confit, ratte potato, balsamic and honey jus.

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This dish was heavenly. The goose fat that lined the duck leg melted in your mouth and made you come to the realization that people who went on diets simply had no joy in their life. I attribute my wheezing during the tennis game the morning after solely to this one dish.

Roasted white Miso cod, grilled Kinome rice, poached jade eggplant

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Cod tends to be a more forgiving fish because of its high fat content, but credit where it’s due, the caterers got this spot on. The skin was flakey and the meat did not have a hint of overcooking. When I returned to the suite about 3 hours later however the cod had become mushy, probably as a result of being left on the heat for too long.

There was a ravioli dish that had some meat that I couldn’t quite place.

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And mushrooms with other greens.

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There was also a carving station with beef wellington.

I assembled myself an unphotogenic plate or two or three. I rationalized that we were at a tennis event and surely the cuisine served would be in line with the healthy ethos of the overall setting.

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The desert tray featured a fruit salad, apple pie and various fruit tarts. It was a bit muted compared to the main courses, or maybe I expected a bit more given the French reputation for killer deserts.

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That said, one standout item was the Louis XV Guatemala chocolate cake, which came topped with milk chocolate popped rice. It’s the two cakes in the top left hand of this photo.

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There was a bar area to round things out serving red and white wines and champagne.

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The waitstaff were very generous with the bubbly and proactively went around giving people top ups. Why couldn’t we have this at the US Open, I thought.

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The crowd that evening was a mixture of industry movers and shakers, as well as what I presume must have been HNWIs, based on the number of pretty private bankers swarming around the tables.

I contemplated picking up my phone and shouting “If you clowns at UBS don’t wake up your ideas and do this simple $50M trade I’m going to take all my business to BNP” to see whether I could get some of them to accost me but decided against it in favor of remaking loudly to no one in particular how damned expensive private school fees were in Zurich. It didn’t work. But that could also be because I had a very messy table. That was probably it.

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Midway through dinner, an emcee came on stage to introduce the first of two tennis personalities who would visit the suite that evening.

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I forget the name of the first guest. But I gather she was a former woman’s champion.

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The second was Caroline Garcia. I felt really bad for her, because no one really cares about doubles. I mean, I certainly don’t. I often wonder how the players feel about such publicity events. They have to disrupt their match prep to visit each and every suite for a 5 min cameo where they have to smile and answer inane questions like “do you think you have what it takes to win this year?” and try not to say “actually no I don’t, I just came to Singapore for the chili crab and pleasant climate”. I mean, I don’t think I could resist that sort of temptation to snark.

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But to Caroline’s credit she took the questions with grace and aplomb. And signed commemorative tennis balls after the Q&A.

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I asked her if she could make mine out to “The Milelion” but after several seconds of stunned silence I thought it better to use my birth name.

Adequately fed and watered, it was time to go for the tennis. If there’s one problem with the layout at the Indoor Stadium it’s that the hospitality suites are physically disconnected from the action in the stadium. To get to the stadium you need to walk about 100m under a sheltered walkway into the stadium grounds. It wasn’t like the experience at the SPG Luxury Suite where you could go out onto the balcony to watch (but of course, the F&B here was way superior to that at the SPG Suite)

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The Indoor Stadium is a cozy an intimate venue and if you’re not in the upper balcony there really aren’t any bad seats in the house per se. I had tickets just behind the baseline which was awesome, but the view 10 rows back was perhaps half the price and just as good.

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Here’s the view from the top of the second tier.

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I think it’s great that Singapore finally has a world class tennis event here. (I do not consider the ridiculous International Premier Tennis League to be a real tournament. I mean, just read these ridiculous rules and tell me if this sounds like tennis to you-

Each team can call a power point once in each set when receiving serve, and the next point played will count double. Effectively, a player trailing 15–0 can directly get to 15–30 by winning the power point. Games are played to four points using no-ad scoring. Each game won by a player or doubles team adds one point to the team’s score in the match. The team with the most points at the end of the five sets wins the match. Each set is won when a team is the first to reach six games won. If the score is five-games-all, a timed five-minute shoot-out will be played. The player or doubles team leading at the end of five minutes wins the set.

Omg power points!!one11!!)

The WTA contract is currently under renegotiation to see if Singapore can become the permanent venue after the current iteration expires in 2018. I certainly hope it continues to stay here because it can only be a good thing for the tennis community. And who knows, maybe before long we’ll get a men’s tour event too!

Washington DC for dummies

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
Getting from HND to NRT
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class NRT-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Visiting the US Open
Sheraton New York Times Square
Hilton New York Midtown
Wingtips Lounge JFK & Delta to DC
Exploring Washington DC
Element New York Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN


When I told people I was going to Washington DC, the most common response I got was “why?”

It’s true, Washington DC doesn’t come to many people’s minds when you think “tourist destination”. But I think that’s a tad bit unfair given the political and cultural importance of the city to the world. DC, after all, is the place where you’ll find famous sights like the Washington monument, the Jefferson memorial, the Lincoln memorial, all the Smithsonians, Library of Congress, numerous war memorials etc etc. And TripAdvisor seems to think it’s great…

One of the nicest things about DC is how compact it is (from a tourist’s point of view anyway). All the main attractions can be found in the area known as The National Mall, just across the river from neighboring Arlington Virginia.

Here’s where you’ll find all the Smithsonians, the Washington Monument, the US Capitol, The White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the campy but still good International Spy Museum, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and much more. It’s probably not walkable on a blazing hot September afternoon (which is when I was there), but there are metro stations and you can use your 10 x $5 free Lyft rides to get around.

The first stop for me was of course the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, a wet dream for any AV geek (AV means aviation, before you start asking questions…)

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The museum is completely free. Not free in the New York Natural History Museum “it’s pay what you want but we’re going to make you come up to the counter and have an awkward discussion with the staff so you feel really bad saying I’d like to pay $1 please” kind of free, free as in you walk in and explore. No ticket needed.

The museum has many exhibits dedicated to air and space exploration.

You can see a mock up of the Apollo 11 lander

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Mockups of USAF spy planes

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There was even a special Star Trek display to commemorate some special event in the show’s history that I would probably know about if I were into that sort of thing.

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And an entire section dedicated to just civilian transport aircraft.

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There’s even the nose section of a defunct 747 here. See that gangway on the top right of the photo? You can go into the hump of the 747 and explore inside. It’s sad to think there will be many kids who will never get the chance to experience the awe of flying on a 747 (or an A380, given that the future economic viability of the aircraft is being called into question)

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There’s an exhibit dedicated to commercial aviation within the US which I found quite fascinating. It tracks the times and fortunes of US commercial aviation, from the wild west frontier days where every man and his dog owned an airline, to the consolidation crunch after the deregulation act was passed, to the current day how-did-it-get-to-this LCC by default model.

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Southwest Airlines stewardesses used to dress like this. Yup.

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But I personally prefer the space helmet outfit

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This was truly the golden age of travel. Ah, for the days when people dressed up to fly.

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And it was perfectly ok to be sexist in your stewardess recruitment ads.

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Your boarding passes certainly looked a lot nicer than SQ’s newly designed all-white abomination

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These old-timey flight crew outfits still look really dapper.

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As does the pilot garb

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There was a special photography exhibition on airport control towers. How whimsical!

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After taking the first two photos, I decided to take the subsequent ones without the explanatory panel so I could test myself further down the road as to how many I could remember. Unfortunately, I’ve since forgotten what is what. Any boffins want to help me out?

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Exhibit 1
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Exhibit 2
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Exhibit 3
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Exhibit 4
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Exhibit 5
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Exhibit 6
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Exhibit 7

Elsewhere on the National Mall you’ll find the famous Washington Monument, the biggest phallus shaped tourist attraction there is.

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By sheer coincidence, I visited on the morning of September 11th, and as such all the flags were at half mast as the nation marked the event.

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Further down from the Washington Monument you’ll find the Lincoln Memorial

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Oh my God, I was wrong! It was Earth, all along!

It’s a pretty inspiring sight to see ol’ Honest Abe larger than life, but the sheer volume of people inside the monument and the high volume of selfie sticks makes this a place better visited at the crack of dawn.

Looking across from the Lincoln Memorial you’ll see the long reflecting pool and the Washington Monument on the other side

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The White House, sadly, is only viewable from afar. There are official tours available which foreigners can book through their embassy but they’re not possible for Singaporeans to book, for whatever reason. I thought back to my experience in Seoul and how I wanted to visit the DMZ before learning that Singapore citizens weren’t able to go on the tour (or at least not without special permission and extensive screening). The reason is never explicitly given but part of me thinks there are concerns to do with our Chinese heritage (and how China backs the North). Who knows if similar forces are at play here?

Request for White House Tours

The Embassy has confirmed with the US State Department that at this point in time there are No Group Tours to the White House despite the information posted on the official website.  As such, we are unable to facilitate any request for tours to the White House.

The best you can do is a spot where you can view the White House lawn.

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And there’s a White House Visitor Centre. I say give this a miss- apart from a short film on the history of the building there isn’t an awful lot to see.

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Unless you’re interested in seeing how the chairs in the White House press room have evolved…

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The US Capitol is another place to visit with free tours available. Security is super tight (you can’t even bring in bottled water) but that’s because it’s an actual workplace. I caught a glimpse of Paul Ryan en route to his office, probably deciding how to explain away Donald Trump’s latest social faux pas.

There is some amazing architecture in here.

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And Disneyland-esque statues of past presidents. Here’s to you, Regan!

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And to you too Gerald Ford. How anyone could ever lose an election to Carter I’ll never know…

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Amazingly, the Pentagon (technically in Arlington Virginia, not DC) offers guided tours. You need to register at least 14 days in advance of the tour and provide your personal info so they can run a background check on you, but hey, it gives you a chance to visit one of the most restricted places on earth so why not.

Their website is laughably bad though- that CGI soldier looks like something out of Call of Duty

Understandably, security is tight. The only place you can take photos is in the waiting area. That gives you a chance to pose with this press briefing podium (makes for a great Christmas card)

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And this giant golden eagle. Because nothing says manifest destiny like a giant gold eagle.

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The tour itself is interesting if not spectacular. No, you won’t be taken to NORAD central command. You won’t see live satellite feeds of troop movements in Tajikistan. The truth, in actuality, is often a lot more mundane. What you will see is the world’s largest office complex, complete with all the amenities you’d expect in a small city. There is a post office, a florist, a supermarket, and all the trappings you’d expect in a strip mall like dry cleaning and a movie rental kiosk. There are many static displays within the building describing the history of the building (and the US Military in general) but you won’t really have time to stop and read any of them. You’ll be very closely shepherded by your two tour guides. One walks at the front and one at the back, to ensure people don’t get lost looking for the loo. This is the kind of tour that you really don’t want to disobey the tour guide.

But one of the most poignant sites to visit is actually outside of the Pentagon, where there is a memorial park to mark the attack on the Pentagon on September 11th.

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If you go during the evening, you can avoid the sun and see the special light up.

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The park consists of a series of benches, one for each victim of the Pentagon attacks.

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Each bench is either oriented towards the Pentagon or away from it. The benches which are pointing towards the Pentagon mark those victims who were on American Flight 77. The benches pointing out from the Pentagon mark the victims who worked in the Pentagon.

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Each bench has a line running from it to the periphery of the park. On the periphery you can find a year stone marking the year of birth of each of the victims. The year stones run in chronological order. The youngest victim of the Pentagon attacks was only 3 years old. 3 years old, and a life snuffed out.

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Each bench also has a small pool beneath it that flows into a central source.

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I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but every memorial I’ve visited that marks some horrible atrocity has a prominent water feature. Like the Korean war museum in Seoul. Like the Apartheid museum in Jo’burg. Like the WTC memorial in New York City. Like the Holocaust memorial in DC.

I suppose you could read the significance of the water in many ways. Perhaps the running water expresses a hope that we can one day be cleansed of all the hatred and evil that drove men to commit such vile acts. Perhaps the water is supposed to evoke comparisons with Lady McBeth and her vain efforts to wipe this damned spot from her hands. Perhaps the water is meant to signify the rebirth that Christians believe happens through baptism.

In fact, DC is full of memorials to events that mankind would rather forget.

Want to be depressed? Try visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (free entry). This museum documents the events leading up to the Holocaust, the deafening silence of the world towards it, the horrors endured by the Jewish people and “never again”.

At the end of the exhibit there is a large, silent empty room with high ceilings and this flame that burns all day and night.

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Look up and you’ll see this inscription

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This quotes from Genesis 4:10, after Cain has slain his brother Abel.

“What has thou done? Hark! Thy brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

In many ways this verse captures the horrors evoked by the Holocaust; the abject horror that comes from realizing that man was capable on inflicting such evil on his brother. It’s enough to give you chills.

Elsewhere on the Mall you’ll find monuments to other wars like the Vietnam War.

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The name of every American serviceman and woman who perished in that conflict is printed on this memorial wall. Here’s a harrowing thought. This wall is 150m long. If you wanted to list the name of every single man, woman and child who died in this war regardless of nationality, you’d need a wall 6.8 km long. Let that sink in.

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You might notice how shiny the wall is. It’s deliberately done- the idea is that you stare into the wall of names and see yourself, and know that these names were people like yourself too, with families, hopes and dreams, whose lives were cut short by violence and malice.

Also worth a visit is Arlington National Cemetery. I went as part of a free tour with DC by Foot. They run some great tours so you should definitely check them out if you’re in DC. And please tip, it’s their livelihood.

Some of the more interesting memorials included the Space Shuttle Columbia memorial.

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And the Space Shuttle Challenger memorial.

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You can find the resting place of JFK and his wife

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And the masthead of the USS Maine (which you’ll remember from learning about the Spanish American war in school. Wait, what?)

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This amphitheater is where the sitting US president attends Memorial Day each year

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And just outside is the changing of the guards ceremony that runs every hour or so. There is always a guard on duty there, day or night, winter or spring. When September 11 happened they say the guard on duty was able to see the aircraft flying over him and the subsequent smoke rising from the city.

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Dining in DC

And now, on to less sobering thoughts- food and dining options in DC.

Dining wise I tried out Momofuku CCDC, trying to review as many Momofukus as I could on this trip. The quality was decidedly average however. I enjoyed these shrimp buns, they reminded me of the Thai shrimp cakes

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But the shredded pork ramen was the epitome of average. I suppose DC is not really the place to order ramen but still…

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The best part of the meal was the wine list. They served this amazing sparkling Riesling that try as I might I couldn’t find in the supermarket.

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For those of you who might be interested in trying a new kind of bubbly, definitely check this out.

Also worth checking out is Union Market. I do love these warehouse style gourmet markets, they remind me a lot of Eataly or Chelsea Market.

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Naturally I made a beeline towards the Italian restaurant there, although I’m led to believe the Korean food there is very good too.

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Elsewhere- I think the only acceptable way to do pizza is Neapolitan style, and Menomale does a very passable interpretation of it (I’m a snob, I know)

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If you’ve not yet familiarized yourself with the joy of Neapolitan style pizza, I highly recommend you read this article to get up to speed. I firmly believe that when you enjoy pizza the way it’s meant to be eaten, you will never again want to touch Pizza Hut.

Those who know me know that I have high standards for Italian food, and Fiola Mare absolutely exceeded those standards.

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It’s a nice waterfront restaurant that is pricey but has an ok value set lunch menu. For $22 you get a choice of a beverage and entree-

What you see in the photo is the Gragnano Spaghetti Chitarra, only I asked them to use dry Spaghetti instead of fresh because dry > fresh. Seriously.

One place you absolutely need to visit is Market Lunch in Eastern Market. My advice is to go in the mornings during a weekday, because the crowds are insane.

And with good reason. I know the food below doesn’t look amazing, but you need to take my word for it that it is life changing.

Ask for the bluebuck pancakes (only available on weekends sadly). These blueberry buckwheat pancakes are fluffy, stuffed with blueberries and are the best pancakes I have had since Australia. And believe me when I say that is high praise.

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They also serve amazing crabcakes. I like crabmeat but am generally very meh about crabcakes. Not these. They’re light, stuffed with crabmeat and crispy on the outside while moist on the inside.

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Part of the menu is here. This is the weekend selection

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And these are the weekend crowds. Don’t worry, the staff will assign seats on the weekend.

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The rest of Eastern Market is definitely worth a walkaround. There are many fruit vendors offering free samples of their wares- when I was there peaches were just about to come into season

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So Washington DC might not be at the top of your to-do list, but if you have a fascination with American history as I do it’s certainly a great place to travel to from NY