Six out of eight of us showed up solo. I didn't hang with the companion I came with for long. The leader for this Northern Virginia Hiking Club hike was walking really, really fast. I was not. Neither was Christiane, a French woman who works at the French embassy here in Washington, DC.
So we fell to the back. And I got to learn an awful lot about the life of a roving international worker who has lived for three to four years at a stretch in Canada, the U.S., Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
This time of year people arrive at the temple not just for the twice-nightly musical performances or the life-sized nativity scene. No, people of all faiths come to gawk at the lights. More than half a million of them. And 16 Christmas trees. Even pagans would be likely to point and say, "Ooh, pretty."
I didn't have a camera and had to rely on my phone's camera. In the dark, as I said. So the photos sprinkled throughout this post are here for decoration. They do not represent reality. In reality, the lights were sharp and twinkly. Not slightly fuzzy from wobbly camera syndrome.
Many people who live in Washington call the Mormon Temple "Oz." At night, when you are driving on the beltway, there is this illusion that you are driving straight at the formidable building reaching to the sky in the distance. The one that actually looks like it might house the wizard behind the curtain.
Until the beltway curves and the building ends up in its rightful place. Out of the road, that is.
Stop Two: Bethesda for dinner:
At 8:15, after a couple of directional mishaps by the, ahem, "leader," during which I learned how easy it is to download a compass onto my smartphone, we arrived at our destination. If I'd been there alone, it would have been easy to join the gang for a sociable meal at an Indian restaurant. But we didn't stay.
If I were a visitor traveling alone, this would have felt like a jackpot. A free group hike and dinner with locals. No lonely night in a foreign land.
Photos: Ellen Perlman