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trip report-the CSPAN trail...

Old Mar 22nd, 2006, 07:34 PM
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trip report-the CSPAN trail...

A little background:

My mother has been a political junkie her whole life. She watches C-SPAN all the time as well as BookTV and she closely follows the Supreme Court via Nina Totenberg on NPR. So I decided it was time that we get her to DC. I'd always wanted to go myself. We had never travelled together, so this was going to be a first for both of us!

We got in on Friday afternoon and checked into our room at the Capitol Hill Suites. I have submitted a review on Tripadvisor that should be up soon. It is a very basic place, but we absolutely loved the location in a historic district with tree lined streets and gorgeous federal style homes. We really enjoyed being in a residential neighborhood as opposed to a commercial area.

We were starving when we got in so we went to the first place we saw, Tortilla Coast. BIG mistake. This was the worst "tex-mex" I've ever had. Runny salsa, limp tasteless fish tacos, greasy over salted veggie quesedillas. We are not overly picky eaters, this was just overpriced and bad.

We checked out the Madison and Jefferson buildings of the Library of Congress briefly. We were in awe as we walked by the Supreme Court and the Capitol building. We eventually made our way up to Union Station to browse about and meet up with our Monuments by Moonlight tour. I really wish we had waited to get there to eat too!

The tour was excellent. Our driver was a former National Geographic writer, who had lived in DC his whole life (he pointed out where his junior prom had been-funny!). We really enjoyed his commentary. The monuments were absolutely amazing. The Capitol Dome at night is just beautiful. My favorite was the Lincoln Memorial, it is so massive and rises up as you walk up the steps. The Jefferson Memorial was equally impressive. The Korean War Veterans Memorial was haunting. We both found this a nice way to spend our first evening getting oriented and seeing some sights. I don't think either of us was expecting to be so moved by the memorials.

To be continued for day 2 which will include Capitol Tour, Library of Congress Tour and visit to Politics and Prose bookstore. And we do manage to eat some decent food!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2006, 08:06 PM
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Hello traveler,I am quite interested in your trip report because I have started thinking that Washington DC would be a great place to take my teenage grandson to as he is quite interested in history and politics. I have never been to DC although my daughter (grandson's mother) has, so your trip report is of great interest to me. And how nice that you and your mother had a trip together. Beautiful memories for both of you.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 04:44 AM
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Enjoying your report. I know what you meanabout the Capitol Hill suites. With that killer location, if they ever decided to do a total renovation, they could easily double or triple their prices.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 11:04 AM
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Day 2

A little more background. My mother also works 2nd shift so rising early for these timed ticket deals was a challenge, but she was up to it! It was a challenge for me so I can only imagine how it felt for someone whose clock is on a completely different schedule.

We got up early on Saturday to go wait in line for our Capitol Tour tickets. See "Froze our Toes" report in this section for weather report! It was indeed cold, and blustery, esp in spots out of the direct sunlight. We were simply glad it was brilliantly sunny and not raining or overcast. Our timed tickets were for 11:10, which worked out perfectly because we wanted to go to the 2:30 Library of Congress tour.

We went back to the hotel area and since we had missed breakfast waiting in line went to Pete's Diner around the corner. A busy little place run by Vietnamese folks. It was nice to have a decent breakfast after our fiasco the night before. The portions were human sized (I hate "huge portions").

Another nice thing about Capitol Hill Suites was being close enought to be able to drop off my bag which I thought might exceed the size allowed to go in on the tour.

Our tour was excellent. Our guide was quite the taskmaster, I think she was a teacher in a former life. She called us her "eleven tens" (our time) and advised us not to "dawdle". No one dared disobey. She was a terrific guide. She asked everyone where they were from, and tried to personalize the tour to our different states, particularly in the statuary hall. The rotunda and Capitol Dome were stunning. I was pleased to find out that the fresco in the dome ceiling was done by an Italian American as my husband and his family are Italian and we've been to Italy with them several times. I've become quite the Italophile and "wannabe" Italian! The tour also made me wonder just how much we must miss when we go in to the churches and cathedrals in Italy with only our guidebooks in hand. We do our best, but sometimes it is nice to have an informed person telling stories and providing details without having to have ones nose buried in a book! But I digress...

In one part of the hall she went to the other side of the room and whispered near the floor. We could hear her as if there was a mircrophone! Bizarre acoustics!

At the end of the tour we got an unexpected treat when she told us that the old Supreme Court was just down the hall and that we were welcome to go in. There was a lovely woman there who gave us background and told us that Sandra Day O'Connor wanted her reception held there after her swearing in ceremony because of its history. This is is also where the justices don their robes for any public events.

Next up-Library of Congress Tour
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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 11:23 AM
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Continuing:

After the Capitol tour which we thoroughly enjoyed (next time we plan to contact our Congress person ahead of time), we went back to our hotel area to cool our heels and explore the neighborhood a bit. We discovered Pennsylvania Avenue with all of its shops, varied restaurants, and we found what we were looking for-a small grocery to buy some coffee, cream and bottled water. It was really nice having everything right there.

Onto the LOC. Our docent for this tour was a very knowledgeable man who gave us the history of "Minerva's Temple of Knowledge". We were able to get a glimpse of the Main Reading Room, a really impressive sight. Mom was thrilled since she has seen it on C-SPAN so many times. You can't go into the reading rooms unless you have a reader card.

There is such a vast amount of information stored here, it is comforting to know that someone is "keeping track" of the enormous varieties of printed and recorded materials we produce as a society. A repository for history as it happens.

Again, a plug for tours as we had tried to do the self guided tour on Friday, but the contstant reading and looking up trying put it all together got tiresome. Also you can't see the Main Reading Room unless you go on the tour.

Afterword we went to get Mom a reader card. There was a big sign that basically said unless you plan to do research don't bother. She almost said oh no, forget it, but there was no way I was letting her walk out of there without a card! She's the one person I know who can actually tell you who the librarian is! And they did give her one. She was thrilled, and now when she comes back she can pick a book or document and go to a reading room where someone will retrieve it.

I can imagine the flood of people the poor staffers face after every docent led tour comes through, because they tell you anyone can get a card-just go over to the Madison building etc. I imagine most people do just want them for souvenirs. I can imagine the staff meeting that went on before they put up their sign saying only researchers can get cards. They were as nice as could be to my mother though.

More to come.

Bardo, you are so right about the potential for that piece of real estate! LoveItaly (Love the name!!), I would say without a doubt take your grandson esp if his interests are history and politics. Talk about creating great memories!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 02:55 PM
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Continuing:

On Sat. we decided to have dinner nearby at La Lomita. We had to see if we could redeem our first bad meal. This was a great little Mexican place. I had puerco asado (pork in a Spanish sauce with white rice). It was delicious. Mom had chicken quesedillas that were nice and light and slightly grilled, nothing like the greasy mess of the day before. The salsa was nice and chunky the way I like it.

After dinner we took the Metro to Van Ness stop where we walked to Politics and Prose bookstore. A long boring walk with not much interesting to see along the way. Oh did I mention some of those Metro escalators are SO steep! I looked back over my shoulder on this one and nearly fell backward! Mom had the right idea, she kept her head down the whole time. Steeper than the famous "Exorcist stairs"!

I liked this bookstore a lot, found an historical fiction book set in Renaissance Italy for $5.00. Mom loved browsing where she has watched so many of her favorite authors on BookTV. Another stop on the C-SPAN trail.

OK. At this point, I think my mother was really trying to prove she could keep up because she wanted to walk back to the Metro! After seeing we had just missed a bus, I hailed the first cab I saw and we were back in a jiffy. We had been frugal enough! We got to drive through Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle, both looked like hopping areas.

Sunday:

On Sunday we slept in since we had no lines to get in! For breakfast we went to Le Bon Cafe right next to Pete's diner and had a nice leisurely breakfast. I had a vegetarian egg strata and fresh squeezed OJ. Mom had an unbelievably good fruit crisp with whole rolled oats. They both came in big ceramic bowls and were just so satisfying. This is a great little cafe. The baguette French toast looked delicious also!

We walked from there to the Postal Museum. On our walk it was like we had all of Capitol Hill to ourselves. There was no one around and it was another brilliantly sunny day. The Postal Museum is a quirky little gem. We so enjoyed the unique exhibits about everything from stamps to air mail to the Pony Express to RFD delivery. We spent a lot of time reading letters from soldiers to their families from different wars. This is a great museum for kids, there are a lot of interactive exhibits.

From here we took the Metro to Smithsonian stop and spent the remaining time we had in the Museum of American History. We had to have our Pop Culture fix! Jerry Seinfeld's "puffy shirt", Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs, Fonzie's jacket. How fun! There was a terrific exhibit about Cuban singer Celia Cruz. The music section in general was fanatastic. We ended with Brown vs Board of Education and really we just ran out of time. We could have spent many more hours. To see everything from a Ku Klux Klan robe, to Justice Thurgood Marshall's robes, shows just how far we needed to come as a nation that was founded on principles of equality and justice for all.

Sunday night we again stayed "close to home" as we knew we had to have stamina for tomorrow morning and the Supreme Court. Little did we know just how much stamina we'd need! So we just went to Cosi and shared a pizza. A group of people next to us were playing "Cash Flow Quadrant" from Robert Kiyosaki's investment books. Sounded like they were really into it too!

If you've read this far, there's one more morning to go. Our visit to see "the Supremes"...
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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 03:45 PM
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Continuing:

Monday AM. Up at 7:15 to get ready to try to get in to hear a full oral argument at the Supreme Court. Well we had no idea how many other people would want to do this! The 75 tickets that they give out were apparently handed out at 7:00 AM. These guys and gal are like rock stars!

The only other chance we had was to keep waiting in line until the line formed for a chance to get into to hear a 3-5 minute portion of the argument. Well we waited, and waited, and waited. They let the people for the 10:00 argument in. It was cold and windy.

Everything had been quite orderly but then without warning they set up the line for the 3-5 minutes and a mad dash ensued. People who had been far behind us were suddenly ahead of us, and I'm sure we ended up in front of people whom we had been behind.

Another wait as they let in just two groups of people for the 3-5 minutes in over an hour. The group that had ticktets to hear the 11:00 argument were let it. At about 11:30 we finally got in by the skin of our teeth. After a thorough screening and putting our belongings in a locker we were ushered down the Great Hall and into the courtroom.

Now how crazy does it sound to wait nearly 3 hours for 3 minutes? It was something I will never forget. The sight of those justices in their robes, asking questions and making the law for our country. My mother doesn't even need to see them, she knows their voices when they ask the attorneys questions! It really was worth the wait.

From there it was back to the hotel to check out, and head back to the airport.

Some final thoughts:

I think everyone should see Washington. In a time where people feel so disconnected from their government it was a nice reminder that the government is by the people for the people. It's ours. My mother, on the other hand, who I sometimes tease because of her C-SPAN addiction, doesn't feel the least bit disconnected because she watches so much C-SPAN!

Speaking of C-SPAN, it was the one place we couldn't find! I know we saw it on a subway map link I had at one point, and it was near the Hotel George, but we had no address. Ironic isn't it!

On traveling with my mother. What a great travel companion! I will never forget our trip together and being with her as she experienced all the things she is so passionate about was just so nice. As she says, "Son of a gun we had some fun"!

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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 06:04 PM
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Really enjoyed your report. Glad to know that I am not the only one tuning in to C-SPAN (usually on the weekends though). There is so much to see -- and yes -- a visit to our nation's Capitol reminds us all at really what a special country we live in.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2006, 07:37 PM
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Excellent report. Thanks!
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