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Trip Report Four days in DC just prior to Thanksgiving!

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DC at thanksgiving Trip Report

Thanks to all who gave advice for our trip to DC in November. We had a wonderful time. It was the first time my husband had been, other than for an interview a long time ago. I have been many times, but never with kids. We took out 10 month old and 2 year old. Some friends of ours met us there also, with two girls, ages 3 and 5. I can’t remember exactly what we did which days, so don’t take this as a chronological report. :)

We left Atlanta the Friday before Thanksgiving in the afternoon and spent the night about five hours into the trip. Saturday morning we got up early, drove to DC, and checked into our hotel, the Westin Washington on M Street. We were planning on using Starwood points for a hotel, but the Westin rate was something like $99 per night, so we went ahead and paid it and saved the points for another trip. Parking, of course, was $40 per night, but the hotel ended up not charging us for parking due to some other problems we had. Some friends went with us and found a nearby garage to park in which was a lot cheaper. Since we were there at such a down time, and this is clearly a business hotel, there were empty garages nearby. I wouldn’t expect this during busier times. We didn’t have a great experience with the hotel and won’t stay there again. The room was comfortable and clean, but the service wasn’t great. When we were trying to leave, we waited over an hour for a bellhop to assist with our massive amount of stuff. After three calls and a visit to the front desk, my husband ended up bringing all of our stuff down in four or five trips. They apologized profusely and comped the parking, but it was still frustrating. Our friends had problems with a loud room. They moved rooms after the first night and it was better. Since we had a baby, I’m assuming they put us in a room not close to anyone, because we didn’t see a soul on our floor the entire time. The location wasn’t bad. It was an easy walk to Dupont circle. The closest metro station was about 3 or 4 blocks away. It was definitely doable, but with little ones, I would have preferred to stay a little closer to a stop.

DC the week before Thanksgiving is awesome! We had virtually no lines and were able to see everything very easily. The weather was beautiful. We had light jackets for early morning and late afternoon, but really, sweaters were all that were necessary most of the time. We used a double stroller most of the time, which was great. We carried the necessities for the kids, and it all fit in the stroller, along with our cameras and jackets. All metro stations are easily accessible with strollers, as well as all of the buildings.

My favorite building has always been the Library of Congress. We went there first and actually returned the next day. The exhibition of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library is breathtaking. I spent a while in there, browsing the books. My husband was awed by the architecture as well. No matter how many times I visit it, I can still spend hours studying all of the symbolism and quotes covering the walls and ceilings! Even my two-year old kept looking around saying “beautiful mama, beautiful!”

I also have to say that the tunnel between the LOC and Capitol is so convenient. If you can schedule your day to include the Capitol first and the LOC second, you can go through the tunnel without dealing with security. If you go from the LOC to the Capitol, there is a checkpoint on the Capitol side of the tunnel. The Capitol Visitor’s center is very well done. The tour system is so much simpler and efficient than it used to be. We just did a standard Capitol tour and scheduled it online a few days prior to our trip. It covered the basics, but not either gallery. If you want to visit a gallery, you need to contact your Representative or Senator’s office for passes. I highly recommend doing this. We skipped it on this visit because of the kids. The exhibits in the Visitor’s center are interesting also, and the cafeteria is convenient.

We went to the Archives early first thing one morning and it was not too crowded. We waited about 20 minutes to see the Declaration and Constitution, but that was due more to the fact that many people were cutting in line than the busyness. I wish they had a better line system. It is frustrating to rule followers like me to see so many people just step in front of people who have been waiting for a while. There were several parents telling their kids that they were just going to “squeeze in in front of these people” to see the documents quickly. Oh well. I try to get over it so that we can enjoy everything. The archives really have a great collection on display, in addition to the documents in the rotunda. It is a must-see in my opinion.

We went to the zoo one afternoon, which was a first for me. I’ve never seen the attraction before, but of course life with kids is so different than life without kids. :) It was a lot of fun! The walking was a little tiring because it is on a hill, but it served to wear the kids out, which made for nice stroller naps later on. Haha There was plenty to see, and it wasn’t too crowded. The pandas were nice, but we have pandas here in Atlanta, so it wasn’t that unique. We have to pay to see them in Atlanta though!

Of the Smithsonians, we just went to the Air and Space and American History. My husband loves anything to do with space, so he went on a three hour docent-lead tour, which was full of a information. It ended up being a little too much, even for him, but he enjoyed it and learned a lot. The kids weren’t into that much talking, so I pushed them around in the stroller for a couple hours and looked at all of the different color airplanes. The red one was my daughter’s favorite. One day she’ll appreciate where those planes have actually flown!

The American History is always my favorite museum. I love the Star Spangled Banner, First Lady’s Exhibit, the Presidents exhibit, Julia Child’s kitchen, the gunboat…..well, just about everything. My husband was in awe over the Superman comic…I’d never noticed it before. That’s what makes marriage so fun! He wasn’t a big fan of Julia Child’s kitchen, but loved the Presidential exhibits. He also spent a TON of time looking at the coins. Of course, we didn’t see it all (never have in at least five visits). We had a surprisingly delicious meal in their cafeteria and moved on.

One thing I have done three times now and highly recommend to anyone who has more than a couple days in DC is a tour of the Pentagon! These used to be open only to educational and military groups, but I believe anyone can arrange for one now. We happened to be the only people on our tour and had a great one-hour tour of the building. The tour includes a lot of fascinating information on the building, and you get to see several exhibits in various halls. The tour also includes a somber visit to the area hit on 9/11. There is a memorial inside, which houses the medals awarded to those who died in the Pentagon on that day. There is also an outdoor memorial park, which I believe you can access without scheduling a tour. The park is NOT included on the tour, so plan for some extra time if you want to see that. The Pentagon tour is surprisingly convenient, since the Pentagon has its own metro stop. The security is tight, but quick and efficient.

After the Pentagon, it was a beautiful day, so we decided to stop at Arlington and walk around a little. I knew the kids wouldn’t be quiet enough to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so we opted to walk to the Kennedy graves and leave the tomb for a future visit. It was really a gorgeous day, and allowed us to take a quiet walk through a portion of the cemetery. It really was a more appropriate way to visit and show respect than the Tourmobile, which I have always done in the past. We decided to make this day our walking day, since the sun was shining, and we walked from Arlington to the Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and on to the WWII Memorial and the Washington Monument. Thank God for double strollers!!!! We made it a somewhat leisurely walk, stopping at the pond to chase ducks and squirrels. This may have been the best part of the trip for my 2-year old daughter. Robbie, the baby, just sat happily in the stroller all four days, so I can’t say he had a favorite part. He liked the ducks though. :)

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our last day, we left DC early and drove to Mt. Vernon to spend the morning. *Just a reminder for those who don’t know, you DO have to pay to visit Mt. Vernon, unlike most of the museums in DC.* It can catch you off guard after a week of walking willy nilly into any museum you want. It was the first time I had been since they have finished the new visitor’s center and museum, and I was incredibly impressed. I have always enjoyed Mt. Vernon in the past, and was amazed that the experience could be improved so much. We arrived and watched a short film in the visitor’s center. It was very well done, but a little too much for the little ones. I wouldn’t take them again until they are seven or eight probably. There was no line to visit the home. My husband and I took turns touring, so that the kids wouldn’t distract others on the tour, and we played with the kids behind the house overlooking the Potomac. I think the view from Washington’s home is one of the best in the country. I fully understand why he left to serve as President with such hesitation. If I had property like his, I wouldn’t leave it for anything. The kids really enjoyed Mt. Vernon. For some reason, there was a camel for them to pet. Also, the pardoned turkey arrived while we were there. Running around on the lawn outside was a great release of energy after all of the museums in DC. We didn’t visit the farming area this time, as we needed to get to our friend’s home in Virginia for dinner. I did spend some time in the museum and education center while my husband visited the Washington’s grave. These new additions are phenomenal!!! The education center provides a very well done visual biography of Washington’s life. It is like a walk-through of the different stages of his life and rolls he played in history. I was having so much fun and forgot that my kids are a little young to “get it.” I left counting the days (a lot) until they are old enough to enjoy an in depth visit to Mt. Vernon. Honestly, I feel like I cannot say enough about what a great experience Mt. Vernon provides. I always regret not budgeting an entire day to visit.

On our way out, of course, we spent entirely too much time and money in the gift shop. My husband so kindly encouraged me to buy a bunch of Christmas ornaments, and some things for the kids. I think one day I may have a Mt. Vernon tree. Haha Seriously, their gift shops have a wonderful variety of higher quality souvenirs. I don’t buy much at gift shops in DC usually, but I’ve always left Mt. Vernon with bags of stuff. Oh well.

That ended our wonderful time in DC! We spent Thanksgiving with some dear friends in Virginia and then drove home.

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