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Trip Report DC for a short week in June 2013

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Two weeks ago, we returned from a week in DC to see my daughter receive her Congressional Award gold medal. After years of receiving advice and benefiting from advice given to others on this forum, a bit of extra time and nerve coincided to spur this, my first trip report. So here goes...

We booked flights into Reagan Airport (DCA) so that we would be closer to DC, plus we prefer DCA’s size and setup better than Washington Dulles airport. We did not want to rent a car and pay to park it. We took a taxi to our hotel and used taxis to at times to spell our feet. We rarely use public transportation ever since I mistakenly bought $600 worth of tickets for a train in NYC and spent hours in an office requesting a refund which was eventually mailed 6 weeks later. My fault completely – I get flustered by machines, apparently even in my own language.

At 10:30pm, we arrived at Hotel Harrington, which we found clean, comfortable, exceptionally well located as to sights and neighborhood (this was considered a “bad” neighborhood when my sister lived here over a decade ago – not anymore!), and cost efficient. The staff was helpful and kind to us. We enjoyed the charming characteristics of the hotel’s age: the old postal chute, high floor moldings and ceilings, photos of bygone ages, etc. and easily overlooked flaws accompanying age and outdated decor. Note that, if one cannot overlook those things, or prefers updated, modern hotels with travel size amenities, this may not be the place for you.

Day 1
The next morning, we visited the Waffle Shop across from Ford’s Theatre for great waffles and eggs and walked to the Supreme Court, where we got to see the courtroom, hear a lively talk containing interesting historical facts and anecdotes about the building and Justices, and toured exhibits before heading to the Library of Congress. Such beautiful buildings! We saw the Gutenberg Bible, Jefferson library, early America and Civil War exhibits, viewed the research library from an overlook, and simply marveled at the beautiful walls and ceilings.

After a pretzel and icee (bad, I know) from a food truck, the afternoon was spent at the Holocaust Museum. I try to avoid lines wherever possible, and had missed the window for reserving an entry time (should be done more than a month ahead of time), so I had purchased memberships from home which included priority passes. We would have joined anyway, without the passes, so the additional cost was not an issue. The evening was spent at the Congressional Award dinner at the Capitol Hill Hyatt, where many representatives and sponsors made time to mingle with awardees and their families. Nice people, dinner and presentations.

I have to plug the Congressional Award program that prompted our visit, which has been a wonderful, character building program in our daughter’s life and is comprised of four components: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and exploration/expedition. The secular, donation funded program serves to ingrain vital traits in youth by honoring progressive levels of giving back, self-improvement, staying fit, exploring the world, challenging oneself. It partners with GSA and BSA among other youth organizations, is open to those 13 ½ through 23 and involves mentoring, setting goals, planning to meet them, and receiving recognition in the form of bronze, silver, and gold certificates and medals. Members of Congress present the silver and gold medals. To earn her gold award, my daughter volunteered for over 400 hours at a therapeutic riding facility for special needs children, logged over 200 hours earning the Music Teachers of America Certificate of Merit level 6, achieved progressively better times competing in timed obstacle races on horseback (AKA gymkhana), and planned and executed a month long cultural immersion in Spain (aided by the excellent suggestions of many travel forum members by the way.) Back to the trip – took Cab back to hotel.

Day 2
Wednesday morning we grabbed a bite at Starbucks and took a cab to Arlington National Cemetery. My husband looked up one of his army mentor’s and we headed off on the trolley to the Kennedy graves, followed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the changing of the guard. We then headed toward the grave of my husband’s friend and spent a few moments honoring a soldier being buried (28 burials a day - unfathomable) and walked back to the front for a cab to the Capitol reflecting pool, where my daughter joined 200+ other awardees for a group photo. Her award was presented to her in the caucus room of the Cannon Building. We then headed to Fogo de Chau for dinner (best salad bar ever, but pricy) before being picked up by Eddie for our evening tour of DC monuments. This was one of the best plans I made this trip.

Years ago when visiting DC, my sister drove us around to see the monuments lit up at night, but due to parking, she couldn’t leave the car. This time, she was able to join us (6 of us in a van for a 3 hour tour and the best deal around.) This tour was at our own pace and based on our interests. We visited the Kennedy Center where Eddie gave us a brief overview and told us what to look for before meeting us at the exit, and then proceeded to the 9/11 Pentagon memorial, where he shared the meaning behind each part of the memorial. We stayed until dusk to see the illuminated tribute to those souls. We then went to the Lincoln, FDR and MLK Memorials, passing by other sights with Eddie’s spot-on commentary. I can’t fully express how much we all appreciated Eddie’s enthusiasm for his subject, breadth of knowledge, and willingness to share it with us. I highly recommend him (www.eldtouring.com.)

Day 3
The next morning, we went to the State Department for our scheduled tour which had been cancelled. Unfortunately, I had been too tired the night before to check my email and didn’t see the cancellation. However, everything presents an opportunity, and we got to walk leisurely by the Albert Einstein statue and see other government buildings. As we approached Constitution Hall, my husband said he’d like to see know what was in there and I, in my line-evading way, saw that while people were lined up around the block at the other entrance, the line near our entrance had only 3 people in it, so, of course, we had to get in line (mind you, still not knowing what for.) We got a good laugh out of almost crashing a high school graduation. We then spent some time enjoying a park near the White House, took a few pictures of the White House, visited the temporary visitor center, and after a short nap back at the hotel, we headed over to the Air and Space Museum to spend some time with my sister’s family. She drove us to Maggiano’s in Bethesda for dinner (which was great) and the husbands and daughters headed to a baseball game using (egad) public transportation.

Day 4
Friday we returned to the Waffle House before heading to the Longworth Building for a private tour of the capitol arranged by our Congressman. We saw the House of Representatives, the old senate and house of representative chambers, and got to enjoy some delicious moments in corridors and tunnels not open to the general public. Very interesting and I highly recommend contacting your congress person to arrange whatever they can arrange for you months in advance.

We then lunched in the excellent cafeteria in the Longworth building before heading to the Vietnam War, Korean War, and WWII memorials. Kids enjoyed dipping their feet in the WWII fountain, and I liked how it appeared to have been designed not to interrupt the view from the Washington monument to the Lincoln Memorial. We enjoyed a stroll by the reflecting pool and then went to Carmines Family Italian Restaurant for dinner. Delicious family size dishes of cannelloni, spaghetti with meatballs, chicken marsala, and salad fed the nine of us with no room for more… except for ice cream, which fills in the cracks, so we spent a couple of hours hanging out at my sister’s hotel (which had a lobby) enjoying each other’s company over delicious drug store ice cream (really, it was delicious.)

Day 5
On our last day, we went to Cosi for egg sandwiches and headed for our reserved entry time into the National Archives. Loved seeing our country’s foundational documents (in appreciation of which I was prompted to write this trip report, in part, to express my gratitude for our nation on Independence Day) viewing part of the Archive’s photographic history collection, listening to audio files of FDR, Kennedy and Nixon. A real treasure trove of Americana.

We lunched at Gordon Biersch Brewery (my sister’s kids love their pizza) and headed to the International Spy Museum across the street. To avoid the lines, I had purchased a spy membership for my daughter, which paid for itself with free passes to the museum and spy experiences plus the added bonus of, you guessed it, skipping the queue. This is a fascinating museum. The experience was hokey but good fun for all (all over 12, that is.) My sister’s family departed for home after mentioning how much her kids (3, 6 and 7) liked the museum (Yay! A museum that works for all ages!)

Some of the Smithsonian Museums are open later in the summer, so we crossed the street after the Spy Museum and went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the presidential portraits with read the interesting commentary before grabbing a cab to the Museum of American History to see the Star Spangled Banner, first ladies exhibit (love the dresses), early America artifacts, and war history exhibits. We were the last to leave as they closed, but I think we saw everything we wanted to in about 2 hours.
We went to Ollie’s Trolley for dinner, in part, due to its proximity to our hotel and our tiredness after a long day.) In any case, we think they might have changed ownership since they were awarded “best burger” in 2011, as it was practically empty, so perhaps everyone knew things have changed but us. It wasn’t the best or worst burger and fries I’ve ever had. The next morning, the four of us took a taxi to DCA for roughly $21 including luggage and had an uneventful (the best kind) nonstop flight home.

Thus ends our very enjoyable trip to Washington DC.

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