It's blowing a blizzard outside, and the windows on the bus have all steamed up. The driver continues to point out the sights on our Monuments by Moonlight tour, but we can't see anything. Better to get out and brave the snow, to inspect the various memorials - Lincoln, Iwo Jima and Martin Luther King, up close.
In many ways the weather adds to the spectacle, and also keeps the crowds away, but I must say I'm glad to get back to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and enjoy a glass of warming red wine.
Fortunately the snow only really started after I'd been exploring another district - the Capitol Hill Food Tour takes you round the streets immediately adjacent. There's a vibrant bar and restaurant scene here and, in a couple of blocks, you can get a taste of most of the world.
My tour takes in India, with a spicy Mulligawny and chicken Jalfrezi, Greece with kebabs and baked cheese, the American Deep South, with grits and short ribs and finally Italy, with Tiramisu and Limoncello. The idea is that you have a course or two in each restaurant and the chef explains what he's serving. It's an excellent way to taste the range of food on offer.
In fact, the food at Muse, in the Mandarin Oriental, is well worth travelling for. It's a kind of Asian Fusion and none the worse for that. You can get glorious steaks but try their tuna tartare, flash fried prawns, or the local rockfish. The Atlantic coastline, in particular Chesapeake Bay, is the source of much of the excellent seafood you get in the region.
The food exhibition at the Smithsonian is fascinating and I'm particularly interested in American wine. It's had a chequered history, particularly during prohibition when vines were pulled up and the land put to other use. It only got going again in the 1950's when Californians started to plant and now there are vineyards in every state in the union, including Maryland.
Black Ankle Vineyards, just over an hour from Washington, in the foothills of the Appalachians, only produced its first reds in 2008. They're convinced the area has the right mix of rolling hills, rocky low-fertility soils, regular breezes, sunshine and rain to nurture some truly delicious wines. On the evidence of my tasting, I can't disagree.
The small city of Frederick, nearby, makes a pleasant lunch stop. Its historic district is full of restaurants, bars and delicatessens and I aim for The Tasting Room. It's been around since 2001 and it shows in the confidence of the cooking.
You can also visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, preferably after lunch rather than before - a steady stream of both Northern and Southern soldiers passed through here, between 1862 and 1864, and the surrounding area witnessed many bitter battles.
I now can't resist the call of the oysters so I aim for the sea and arrive in Baltimore. The city centre is currently being revitalised as it was badly hit by the recent economic downturn. It's now rising again and the historic Lord Baltimore Hotel, built in 1928, and saved from demolition 14 months ago, has now been restored to its former glory. The highlight of the refurbishment is the sumptuous French Kitchen restaurant, all high ceilings and bright colours inspired by Matisse paintings. The food's not bad either.
Before I get to my oysters there's time for a cocktail tasting at the bar in the B&O American Brasserie. Master Mixologist, Brendan Dorr, is famous for his inventions and I have to say I'm amazed by what he can do. He blends fresh seasonal ingredients, using a combination of art and science, in his innovative take on classic cocktails and it gets increasingly difficult to leave.
Fortunately it's Tuesday which means local oyster night at Ten Ten. It's a Virginia choice between James River, described as sharp, briney with high salinity, or Barcat, bright, citrus with medium salinity. I've waited so long that I have half a dozen of each and very good they are too. The seafood is very good here so I follow with delicious scallops from Chesapeake bay. They're served on a bed of cauliflower grits, with slices of Andouille sausage and grilled spring onions, all in a tomato seafood broth.
My final meal is taken overlooking Baltimore Harbour at the aptly named Waterfront Kitchen which sources its food as locally as possible. Their greenhouse is a stone's throw from the restaurant and is a vital part of the Living Classroom Foundation's BUGS (Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students) project.
Inner city kids get to practise gardening here and, on Mondays, Chef Jerry Pellegrino brings them into his kitchen and teaches them to cook what they've grown. I only wish he could let me in on his secrets - his parmesan encrusted meatloaf, pumpkin and wild mushroom lasagne and beet smoked salmon take him to the top of the class.
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles Airport. Prices start from £245 + £355.65 tax
Capital Region USA has more information about the area.
All pictures copyright Rupert Parker
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