IF YOU DON'T have any plans for this weekend, why not take a trip around the world?
About $2,100 will buy you an economy-class airplane ticket. But if you don't have the cash, or if you can't spare the time, string along with us on a supercheap round-the-world odyssey. You'll see an English castle, stare at the Sphinx, munch tapas at a Spanish bar, visit a Japanese pagoda and a Russian dacha. You'll even go on safari and photograph the wild animals of Africa -- all without leaving terra firma, or town.
So stuff some foreign-language dictionaries in a bag, put a "gone fishin'" sign on your door, and fasten your seat belt.
IF THESE ARE TAPAS, THIS MUST BE SPAIN: It's really the bar of El Bodegon at 1637 R Street, but at least you don't have jet lag. And the bar, decorated with blue and white tiles and copper pots, looks like it's in Madrid. So do as the Madrilenos do. Order up some Spanish wine to wash down your tapas -- snacks of cold potato omelet (tortilla), savory mussels (mejillones), fried squid (calamares), octopus (pulpo) and aceitunas (garlicky olives).
COME WITH US TO THE CASBAH: No trip to Spain is complete without a side jaunt across the Mediterranean to Morocco, which is, fortunately, right nearby at 617 New York Avenue NW. You won't be able to read the sign, but it says Marrakesh. Pound on the ancient wooden door and a berobed figure will admit you to a world of splashing fountains, bejeweled pillows and strange foreign customs. You eat the lamb, Moroccan chicken pastries, couscous and several other courses with your fingers -- and an attendant comes around periodically with a portable brass pitcher and basin in which you wash your hands. The whole trip cost only $16 per person -- but the interesting Moroccan and Algerian wines are extra.
A WALL-TO-WALL TOUR OF FRANCE: After your Iberian -- and African -- idyll comes your whirlwind tour of France. You'll see the cafes of Paris, the beaches of Normandy, the harbors of Brittany, the farmhouses of Provence. You'll even go backstage at the ballet. What's more, you'll see all this local color through the eyes of such natives as Utrillo, Cezanne, Seurat, Degas, Manet and Monet. You won't even have to try out your French, because all this scenery is hanging on the walls of the East Building at the National Gallery of Art, in the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection of Small French Paintings. To tour Versailles, in its heyday, hoof it to the Corcoran Gallery of Art's exhibit on "The Sun King," Louis XIV. You'll see carved wood panels, tapestries and paintings from Versailles, plus some paintings of the place before and after Louis decided to upgrade it from a simple hunting lodge to the ultimate showplace.
CAPTURE THE CASTLE -- ON CAMERA, ANYWAY: We don't have much time to spend in England, but no visit is complete without a visit to Windsor Castle. So we'll just stop by the mini- replica of the royal roost at the corner of Jefferson Street and Baltimore Avenue (U.S. 1) in downtown Hyattsville. It was built as an armory during World War II. For now you can only check out the exterior; it's currently being revamped into a shopping and cultural center.
PLEASE DON'T JOUST AT THE WINDMILL: Now that we're back on the Continent again -- in Holland -- you'll notice a change in architecture. Take a picture of the Dutch-style firehouse, complete with corbiestepped gable ends, at 1626 North Capitol Street. You'll have to use your wide-angle lens to take in the windmill-shaped house at the corner of Borden Lane and Dewitt Street in the Forest Glen Annex to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It's one of a collection of international-looking buildings that originally served as sorority houses (when the complex was National Park College for Women) and now house Army personnel.
WATCH OUT FOR THE THREE RHINE SISTERS: On to Germany and the obligatory tourist cruise down the Rhine. Since this is the supercheap tour, you'll have to rent your own canoe or rowboat and cruise down the small stretch of the Potomac that looks like the Rhine -- the stretch below the cliff crowned by Georgetown University's Healy Building, our local equivalent of a baronial Rhenish fortress. If you hear a siren, it's probably just an ambulance going to Georgetown University hospital. The local equivalents of the Rhine maidens -- the rocks known as The Three Sisters -- only scream when they hear the word "bridge."
THE SCHNITZEL SITZ -- A TAIL OF OLD VIENNA: No time on this tour to float down the Danube, but you will be able to pay a visit to the Cafe Mozart, a restaurant-cum-deli that looks like it should be in Vienna but is actually at 1331 H Street NW. Be sure to try the local specialty, wiener schnitzel, or breaded veal cutlet. You can have it in the restaurant for lunch or dinner, as a sandwich from the carryout, or as raw material to cook at home from the deli. Viennese take their schnitzel seriously and set high standards for it. According to Vienna native and cookbook author Joseph Wechsberg, wiener schnitzel should be golden brown in color, the color found in "certain Breughel paintings and Stradivarius violins." Another test of schnitzel perfection, says Wechsberg, is that you should be able to sit down on it for at least a full second without getting a grease stain on the seat of your pants. The cost of dry cleaning is not, repeat not, included in this supercheap tour.
THE UN-TOURIST RUSSIA: Skip the collective farms and Intourist propaganda and escape to the real Russia -- a dacha, or country getaway house. All the Moscow elite have them, but the one we'll visit is on the grounds of Hillwood, the local estate of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, onetime wife of an ambassador to the Soviet Union. The polychrome carving around the windows and doors differentiates it from an American log cabin, and the tiny house is crammed with Russian treasures: icons, paintings, carvings, porcelains, etc. You can see the dacha on the self-guided garden tour, which costs $2 and is available without reservations any day, except Tuesday and Sunday, between 11 and 4. Hillwood is at 4155 Linnean Avenue NW. For more information, call 686-5807.
WHEN IN ROME, RUSH: There's a lot to see here, so you'll just have to hit the highlights. Rome's Victor Emmanuel monument is the largest equestrian statue in the world, but you'll have to settle for the second largest, the Grant statue at the foot of Capitol Hill. Nearby, at Union Station, you can see elements of both the Arch of Constantine and the Baths of Diocletian. The Pension Building, at Fifth and G streets NW, is our local, red-brick version of Rome's Palazzo Farnese. Pay a short visit to the Temple of Vesta -- actually the Van Ness Mausoleum in Georgetown's Oak Hill Cemetery -- and throw a few coins in the local Fountain of Trevi, the Neptune Fountain in front of the Library of Congress (when they finish working on it). Visit the catacombs -- the ones under the Franciscan Monastery at 1400 Quincy Street NE. Meet the tour group on the Spanish Steps -- not the steps that connect the Piazza di Spagna with the Piazza della Trinita, but the local staircase that links S Street with Decatur Place at 22nd Street NW. The local steps will seem more like Rome's Spanish steps if you get some gelato from Mio Gelato at 3111 M Street in Georgetown to eat while you wait. Try the hazelnut. Say noh-chee-OH-la, and no one will dream you're American.
IT'S GREEK TO YOU: Instead of climbing up the Acropolis to gawk at the Parthenon like most tourists, all you have to do is take the Metro to the National Portrait Gallery. Its portico reproduces the Parthenon in Virginia freestone. If you have time for a side trip out of the capital, go across the river to Arlington House. Its portico is based on the Temple of Poseidon at Paestum.
A NILE A MINUTE: We've got the Cairo Hotel, the giant obelisk on the Mall and our very own sphinxes, two of them, with hieroglyphics yet. The tailed critters, which Egyptians believed were the offspring of giants, sit on either side of the stairs of the Scottish Rite Freemasons' Temple, 16th and S streets NW. If the sphinx asks you her usual riddle -- what animal comes into the world four-footed, becomes two-footed in maturity and three-footed in old age? -- be sure to give the answer "a human." If you say "a man," you run the risk of riling her.
NOT-SO-FAR SAFARI: Gun safaris are out; camera safaris are in. Nairobi may be the safari capital of the world, but we've got the same animals -- giraffes, elephants, hippos, zebras, gazelles and lions -- right here, at the National Zoo. To save money we'll do without the Land Rovers; pith helmets are optional.
A PILGRIMAGE TO MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE: If you're not a Muslim, you probably couldn't make a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, even if you could afford it. So for infidels, the next best thing locally is the Washington Mosque and Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Avenue NW. If you want a guide, stick your head in the office. If not, just leave your shoes at the door and feast your eyes on the Turkish tilework, oriental rugs, inlaid woodwork, marble pillars and ornate mosque lamps inside. The mosque isn't exactly parallel to the street so that the mihrab, the semicircular niche inside covered by a prayer rug, faces Mecca. The mosque is open daily 10 to 6, and visitors, especially women, are expected to be well covered.
IRAN WITHOUT THE AYATOLLAH: It's no fun to travel to Iran these days, but it's fun and filling to go to the Caspian Tea Room at 4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW, which is run by an expatriate Iranian family. Capture the ambiance of the Iran that used to be as you munch on fesnjan, a traditional Persian dish made of pomegranates, walnuts and chicken. For a mini- glimpse of Iran the way the poet Omar Khayyam saw it (long before the puritanical vision of Ayatollah Khomeini), travel to the Freer Gallery's exhibit of Persian miniatures. Note especially the series depicting the romance between King Khosrau and Princess Shirin, including the scene where he comes upon her bathing in a pool. Ah, wilderness . . .
AT HOME IN PAKISTAN: On this tour you get to see the real Pakistan by visiting a rural home. Meet the lady of the house -- the one in baggy pants and jewelry holding a fan. Nod politely at the maid, hard at work at her churn. Say hi to the little boy with the toy. Okay, so they're all exhibits behind glass in the South Asian section of the Museum of Natural History. Think of all the air fare you've saved.
THE SPICY SIDE OF INDIA: The Indian Super Market at 8107 Fenton Street in Silver Spring may not be the Taj Mahal, but it's a microcosm of the sights, sounds and smells of India. You can buy spices and rices and a half dozen kinds of dal, or lentils. The shop also sells saris and Indian music, including Hindi wedding songs.
SHANGRI-LA AND ALL THAT: The forbidden city is off-limits right now, but you can see the rugs that graced the temples, homes and even the horses of old Tibet at the Textile Museum. The rugs are fraught with symbolism. Look for a pair of gold fish in a rug. These fish, which inhabit Tibet's Tosu Lake, are a symbol of release from suffering. For release from hunger, take a side trek to Katmandu -- well, the restaurant of that name at 1800 Connecticut Avenue NW. The fish on the menu aren't from Tosu Lake, but they're cooked with Himalayan spices. You could wash them down with a local drink called lassi, made of yogurt, crushed pistachio nuts and almonds, but we'll all understand if you opt for an Indian beer.
THE BELL THAT THAI-ED THE KNOT: Bangkok has the Temple of Dawn, and we have a gilded bronze Thai temple bell in front of the District Building. You have to climb the steps to see it -- just as you have to climb the steps of the Temple of Dawn. The bell was a gift from the people of Bangkok, Washington's sister city.
SELAMAT MAKAN: That means "bon appetit" in Indonesian and is the proper phrase to mutter as you dive into your "Major Rijsttafel" at the Happy Inn at 3321 Connecticut Avenue NW. Major Rijsttafel was not the military governor of Dutch-ruled Indonesia. Rijsttafel means "rice table" in Dutch colonialese, and at the Happy Inn "major" means 17 courses, including bumbu rujah udang (shrimp), gado gado (salad with peanuts) and opor ayam (coconut chicken). The big feed is $18 per person. Wash it down with Singapore beer and you can check that destination off your list, too.
SAIGON'S NOT GONE -- JUST MOVED: The old Saigon may be austere Ho Chi Minh City, but a mini-version of the Paris of Indochina has risen in Arlington, around the Clarendon Metro station. In little Saigon, as in the Saigon of yore, you can order a suit or a dress from a Vietnamese tailor; browse through shops filled with ceramic elephants and diaphanous Vietnamese dresses or hao-dais; and stop at a cafe for a delicious Vietnamese version of the spring roll, with some nguoc mam, or fish sauce, to dip it in.
BUT WHICH BALCONY IS SUZIE WONG'S?: True, parts of Washington's Chinatown may be a bit tawdry, but so are some of the back streets of Hong Kong, which is all you get to see on the supercheap tour. Wander past the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association building at 620 H Street NW, gaping at its pagoda motif and listening to the Chinese music. At the corner of Sixth and H you'll find a typical Hong Kong-style apartment building, Wah Luck House, complete with the balconies on which Hong Kong residents traditionally rig up bamboo clothes lines.
DOWN IN THE ASIAN VALLEY: First get into some designer Japanese clothes from Georgetown's Tokyo Collection, then get out into the country, which on the supercheap tour means the National Arboretum. Follow the signs that say "camellias'' and you'll find yourself in Asian Valley, a Japanese landscape complete with a red-lacquer pagoda. And as the sun sets over the pagoda, we say sayonara to Asian Valley and to this supercheap Weekend world tour.