Although I initially thought I could arrange for a place to live in the DC area for A-100 training from California, I quickly realized this would not be the best approach. We lived in DC and Bethesda for three years during law school, but that was twenty years ago. I also had never stepped foot in the Northern Virginia suburbs where the Foreign Service Training Center is located. Thus, after doing some web research and responding to a host of craigslist ads, Yahoo! group ads, and some commercial agents, I arranged a quick trip out to DC last week with high hopes of getting a lay of the land and coming to terms on a lease.
Arlington, Virginia, breaks down into a few distinct neighborhoods each of which surrounds an orange line metro stop: Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, and Rosslyn. I spent three days doing a lot of walking between and around each of them, and walking to the Foreign Service Training Center. Ballston is more vertical, with blocks of high-rise condos and apartments interspersed with bars, restaurants, and the Ballston Common mall. Virginia Square has the same feel (only a few blocks away) while Clarendon has more high-end shopping and restaurants, lower buildings, and an outdoor shopping area anchored by a Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, etc. Rosslyn feels more like a financial district downtown area with lots of office space and the shopping / food that caters to the work week lunch crowd. The amenities around Clarendon probably fit my needs a little better, but there is also a lot of very loud construction that looks to be a year or more away from completion. This was precisely the kind of thing I was looking to discover that web research from 3,000 miles away makes difficult. My top choice condo coming in to town turned out to be directly across the street from the steel frame of a new office building site, complete with jackhammers, and 15-story crane.
Over the course of a couple of days, I viewed a dozen condos and ultimately settled on a third floor place in a two-year-old building mid-way between the Ballston and Viriginia Square metro stations. It is centrally located, but down a quiet street so the noise seems minimal. The gym, office center, and grounds all still have that new-building smell. The condo itself is not huge, but does have a second bedroom for when one of the kids comes to visit, and the furniture is all new. It’ll be very comfortable. Best of all, the owner is a foreign service officer himself so he completely understood the sliding scale per diem system State uses, diplomatic release clauses, and the vagaries of this life that is only partially within our control. We quickly worked out the details and signed a lease, including all utilities and a parking spot.
After signing and sending the lease back last night, I realized a surprising sense of relief. There is so much of this process out of my control and, with less than a month before I leave, it feels good to have a concrete destination.