From PC to DC
Just a few days after Jason and I got home from our weekend in Park City we left again. This time our destination was a little farther off but its abbreviation wasn’t.
I am a history junkie and I have an innate curiosity that few can match so Washington DC, home to numerous museums and an incredible past, has always been on the short list of places I’d like to visit. Thanks to a vacation stipend provided by Jason’s new employer I finally got to cross DC off my list.
When we announced to our friends that we were going to DC many of them were perplexed by this choice of vacation. How could we choose DC over countless exotic options? And how could we spend nearly a week there without running out of things to do? Well, not to worry folks, we could have stayed twice as long in our nation’s capitol without a shortage of entertainment. In fact, we left without seeing many things we would have liked to even though our days were completely packed, perhaps a little too packed for my vacation preferences. No, I was never concerned about being bored on this trip but I was a little worried about the weather. We read conflicting accounts of the climate in September. Some travelers indicated that it was a very wet month and that they got nothing but rain when they came. Others claimed DC was still way too muggy and hot in September. Considering normal weather patterns and tourists’ comments we expected temperatures in the 80s and a fair amount of humidity. What we got was perfection. Temperatures stayed in the 70s for most of our trip and we only got showers, although admittedly torrential showers, one day. Either we lucked out or all those complaining people are a bunch of whiners.
Yes, the weather in DC was good and the sites were also good. We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the National World War II Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. You’d think that once you’ve seen one oversized statue of some long-gone important person that you’ve seen them all but I beg the contrary. We loved the memorials. Jason’s favorite Washington spots were the Lincoln and Jefferson and not just because we toured the Tidal Basin surrounding the Jefferson in a paddleboat, a tiring and sticky affair, before hitting the shore. Jason liked the classic architecture of these two buildings and seeing their famous structures firsthand. I, on the other hand, enjoyed them primarily because they celebrate hope in the progress of mankind and our ability to transcend affliction. I guess we know which of us is the sentimental one.
DC is home to the Smithsonian and their 18 free museums. We only found time to peruse a couple of these, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum, but what we did see was impressive. We were awed by the flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner” and intrigued by George Washington’s uniform, Kermit the Frog, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, a Revolutionary War gunboat, exquisite ball gowns from many of the first ladies, the 1903 Wright Flyer, Skylab, spacesuits worn on the moon, and on and on and on. I don’t move through museums too fast; I like to savor each piece of fascinating information and these galleries offered much to relish.
We also went to a not-free not-Smithsonian museum: The International Spy Museum. This was an interactive and fun place. Along with seeing the world’s largest collection of real spyware, like the lipstick pistol, we were taught the ways of the ninja: lock picking, bugging, disguising, and dead dropping. They had exhibits on spying through the ages plus you got to crawl inside the ducts and observe the people on the floor below you covertly. Kids would love this museum and me and Jason, just a couple of big kids, did too.
If you go to DC you have to check out where all the government action happens. We gawked at the White House through its unimposing metal fence (No luck getting into a tour there.) and strolled through the Capitol. (Better luck this time.) I enjoyed the striking design and historical significance of the Capitol but man, that place was crazy with tourists. Our guide did a great job and the tour was interesting but it still seemed like a bit of a cattle chute. I guess that’s what happens when so many people are enthralled by one structure. The Library of Congress was much less crowded and the building was an intricately stunning shrine to knowledge and science rather than government. Now that’s my kind of place.
Speaking of beautiful buildings, the National Cathedral definitely has beautiful covered. It’s the sixth largest cathedral in the world and has been used for many state funerals, including Neil Armstrong’s just a couple of weeks ago. But its uniqueness, not its massiveness or importance, was what made it endearing to me. Its unusual elements, like a Darth Vader gargoyle (Really!) and a stain glass window containing lunar rock, are proof that churches don’t have to be so stuffy. And, for that matter, neither do our journeys to them. We got to the cathedral by way of a scenic trolley ride, which was a nice change from the dark tunnels of the Metro.
There are many spots in Washington that move you. Places that whisper optimistically of the ability of our nation, and all of mankind, to overcome, to persevere, to grow. But nothing provides quite as poignant of a reminder of the cost of that progression as the white speckled hills of Arlington Cemetery. Here over 330,000 military servicemen have found their final rest along with John F. Kennedy. It’s a sobering, humbling, and peaceful place that will leave you with a lump in your throat. I know it left one in mine.
We didn’t find a whole lot of time for shopping in DC and, honestly, after shopping in NYC the options elsewhere aren’t that impressive. But we did find one great spot: the Lou Lou Boutique. Lou Lou is nothing but wall to wall jewelry, scarves, purses, hair accessories, and belts. Everything in that place is not only darling but nicely priced. I was practically salivating over all the cheap girly gear. I didn’t empty out the whole store but let’s just say I came away with a rather large sack of goodies. How many pairs of earrings can you fit in a big bag? A lot.
The shopping in DC may not have been super thrilling but the food was super tasty. Ethnic diversity = culinary diversity = yumminess. We dined at amazing French, Turkish, and Peruvian restaurants along with hitting the Old Ebbitt Grill, which apparently has practically fed more presidents than the White House kitchen.
How did we cram countless monuments, 3 museums, some shopping, and many architectural delights into 5 days? We walked, walked, walked, walked to the Metro, rode the Metro, walked, walked, and rode the Metro. When we got tired we walked some more or jumped on the Metro again and hit something else. I can’t say that it was the most relaxing of trips; it’s not like we spent a day lounging on the beach or even saw much of our hotel room. No, it wasn’t quite Hawaii but I think all U.S. citizens should make a trip to their capitol at some point to remind themselves of our nation’s roots and aspirations. Something about seeing all those places in person makes our history seem more human and our future nobler.