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Washington DC Adventures: Oval Office, Snipers, Ethiopian dinner, and Lincoln's Tophat !

Washington DC Adventures: Oval Office, Snipers, Ethiopian dinner, and Lincoln's Tophat !

Old Oct 3rd, 2007, 06:01 PM
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Washington DC Adventures: Oval Office, Snipers, Ethiopian dinner, and Lincoln's Tophat !

"The WORLD is not too big. The WORLD is not too small. The WORLD is just the right size for riding on," sang my 3-year-old daughter, "Kay", from the back seat of our car, on a family trip.That was 18 years ago.

Fast-forward to the present, September 2007. "Kay" is now a curious college student. We're on our first trip to DC as a family of 5 adults. "What's your favorite DC experience so far" I ask Kay, who is now 20.

"Riding the Metro!" she says, grinning.

We live in a quiet suburb of Southern California. To us, Washington DC is a big, bustling, crowded, horn-honking, siren-screeching city. A city where Power and Poverty live side by side. A city where Ambition and Unemployment are uneasy cousins.

Tourists gaze at the statues of men standing in the Bread Line at the Roosevelt Memorial in DC. A few Metro stops away, an old man wearing the remnants of worn-out shoes stations himself near the door of a small store. He opens the door for customers, looking hungry and hopeful.

We had 6 days (5 nights) in September 2007 to discover the "real" DC: the power, the history, the Smithsonian, the cultural diversity, and the wonderful authentic ethnic foods. I travelled with my husband, my son the engineer, and my 2 college-age daughters.

By unanimous family vote, 2 DC experiences receive our "MOST AWESOME" Award: ><

--WHITE HOUSE WEST WING tour (including the Oval Office)

--Eating ETHIOPIAN food with our fingers at ETETE ETHIOPIAN CUISINE, 1942 9th St. NW (9th and U). No forks! No spoons! You mop up your delicious food with a pancake-like bread. Yum! Experience a restaurant where you MUST play with your food!

More details about these top 2 experiences to follow in Trip Report. (With paragraph breaks!)

GUEST HOUSE:

We highly recommend Raymond and Laura Saba's very comfortable, convenient, and friendly Embassy Circle Guest House:

EMBASSY CIRCLE GUEST HOUSE
2224 R St. NW, Washington DC
www.embassycircle.com

This beautiful Guest House is in the Embassy area, and very close to Dupont Circle. It's an easy 7-minute walk to Dupont Circle Metro. We enjoyed wonderful hospitality here. Our family of 5 people gives this Guest House our enthusiastic "Five Thumbs Up" award. (More details later in report.)

TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED...
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Old Oct 3rd, 2007, 06:33 PM
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**Loving** your report so far!! More soon, please??
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Old Oct 4th, 2007, 09:13 AM
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I can't wait to hear more...
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Old Oct 4th, 2007, 09:15 AM
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Eating ETHIOPIAN food with our fingers

I love your report, too, but I have a question. In this country, people eat with their fingers at Moroccan restaurants, too. Well, we went to Morocco and had dinner with a business acquaintance. The table was set with "regular" silverware to our surprise. We asked about it and he told us that only the Bedouins (who roam) eat with their hands, and that anyone else would consider it uncivilized. So, I just wonder if that's the same with Ethiopian restaurants here.
 
Old Oct 4th, 2007, 10:28 AM
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Please continue, I want to hear about the West Wing tour of the White House, and how did you get it. We wrote our congressperson and got a tour of the White House, butnot the West Wing.
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Old Oct 5th, 2007, 12:33 AM
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WHITE HOUSE WEST WING TOUR

Our White House West Wing private tour was a big hit with the whole family. It was a privilege to get this tour and I thank my niece, who works in DC.

It was a thrill to see the Oval Office, where every president since Roosevelt has sat, and the meeting rooms nearby. In movies and on TV these rooms manage to look big and modern. In reality they are small, quaint, and very historical. Roosevelt's medals are on the wall, for example.

Our secret service guide was excellent, very personable and full of interesting anecdotes. We saw the White House rose garden and porch. We stopped outside and were excited to witness an anti-war demonstration taking place on the other side of the fence. The crowd's voice lifted in a rousing cry. > Democracy in action! Anti- and pro-war...I understand both sides were rallying.

We were told not to step on the lawn, which is wired, unless we wanted to be tackled. We could see the snipers, diligently watching the crowd, to protect the White House. I felt like I was in a James Bond-type movie...only this was real.

We saw a scorched archway in the basement, which remains from when the British were burning DC way back in history.

It was perfect timing to see the White House towards the end of our 6-day visit. By then we understood that DC is about power and ideals. Even brand new interns we had met at the Capitol admitted feeling important and having ambitions to rise in power. It was a real eye-opener.

We have to admit that feeling of Power is contagious in DC. We felt important just having the right badges to get in without being tackled. We have never been anywhere with "real" security before. We and our badges were scrutinized numerous times by very alert and serious White House people. They don't miss a sneeze. We were impressed.

The Oval Office is the office of one of the most powerful men on earth. That is an awesome responsibility. It also means we as voters have an awesome responsibility. SO LET'S GET OUT AND VOTE! Who are WE gonna put in that Oval Office next time?

The day after our White House tour we saw the presidential helicopters fly in, circling the White House. Wow! That was cool, I have to admit.

We also saw the press room, which is one of the places we were allowed to take photos. The press have their name on their chair. (NBC, etc.) It was interesting to see who the big-shots were with chairs in the first row. :-?

Someone asked how we got the west wing tour, which includes the Oval Office. I think you need to have a contact in DC. Our niece got this tour for us. We had to submit all our info to her...social security numbers, birth info, etc. She then submitted the request for the tour. It's never guaranteed.

If you don't have a contact in DC, you can submit your info to your representative (senator) and if your request is granted you will get the east wing tour.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I never really believed there was a real baby in there until I held my tiny son and he looked into my eyes with his intelligent, blurry-eyed newborn vision.

It was like that to be in the White House. You mean...all of this is REAL, and not just a set from the movie where the aliens take over the earth?! AMAZING!

(TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED)
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Old Oct 5th, 2007, 01:10 AM
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obxgirl and bardo1: I just posted more, above. Thanks for your interest!

dmlove: I can't tell you about dining customs in Ethiopia, but I'm sure customs do vary. I am guessing that some people eat with their hands and some use utensils. I can tell you that there were some regular customers at Etete whom we believe were speaking Ethiopian, and that there is a larger "Ethiopian" community in DC than elsewhere in the country. There are numerous Ethiopian restaurants in DC. I can also tell you that I prefer eating certain foods with my hands, because as my mother used to say, the food tastes better that way. It is more of a sensory experience, to me. We thought it was excellent food, and a fun way to eat. Personally I don't feel it is uncivilized to eat with your hands. Civilization consists of following customs, and at Etete, it is customary to eat with your hands. Those roaming Bedouins you mention in Morocco are as civilized as everyone else. You raise an interesting question. I think it would be sad if we called people uncivilized just because they aren't following our idea of the proper customs.

TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED!
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Old Oct 5th, 2007, 11:12 AM
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U STREET:

My family stood on the sidewalk in front of our Guest House in the beautiful, calm Embassy area. We were arguing about how to venture into one of the "real" neighborhoods of DC for dinner and some night-time fun.

I am the planner, clutching my plastic-coated AAA map, peering at the Metro stops on the map. Meanwhile my family is moving away on the sidewalk, no idea where they are going, just planning to hop on the Metro and get off somewhere... Ahhhhh! Panic, thoughts of murder in the dark city.

I managed to gather my chicks (including my husband) back into the "nest" of our elegant Guest House. In the safety of my beautiful room, amidst the usual family squabble, we formulated a plan of how to explore a big city like DC in the dark and survive vacation.
> [-o< :-" (I'm just NOT a city girl...we live in a quiet suburb at home!)

So began our big adventure. I chose U St. for our exploration because most other DC city areas we had visited seemed rather sterile and sometimes stuffy and modern (boring).

(I have to mention that after we returned home, my husband and I watched a new Jodie Foster movie where a couple are walking in a deserted area in a dark city and the guy gets murdered. My husband said to me, "That's what happens when people go wandering down dark streets in DC instead of using the map."
That was a joke, and his way of telling me he would try to be more patient with my obsession with planning our adventures!

So I felt much better about this DC adventure, now that we had a plan and knew where we were going. We took the green line Metro from Dupont Circle to U St./African-American Civil War Memorial Stop, getting off as close to our restaurant on U St. as we could.
(Continued below...)
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Old Oct 5th, 2007, 11:45 AM
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Melissa, for the record, I didn't call them uncivilized, our Moroccan host did.
 
Old Oct 5th, 2007, 12:05 PM
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U ST. (Continued)

U Street in NW DC is in a culturally and ethnically diverse area. The neighborhood has some tasty adventures in dining. It was fun, and I admit a little scary at night, to wander down U St. and see Polly's Cafe, Ben's Chili Bowl, and Duke Ellington on the side of a building, in this historical neighborhood. Langston Hughes, one of my favorite poets, lived here.

The lazy, soulful sound of Jazz drifts down from a small second-story club in a building that has so much history it could tell stories.

U St. area feels a little edgy at night, and I was glad we were walking in a group that included 2 men plus 4 women. Two men passed us on the sidewalk, and one of them declared, "Thank the Lord for that booty!" After they had passed by, we then debated whether this was an insult or a compliment, and which of the women had inspired such a devout prayer. My youngest daughter, Kay, age 20, decided that it was a "gross compliment, sort of."

There is an eclectic collection of people here at night...locals, some homeless folks, visitors, all together. U St. has character and doesn't feel as sterile as the Embassy/Dupont Circle area...an interesting variety of "real folks" here, NOT stuffed in their suits!

I want one of those plump chili dogs smothered with steaming chili from Ben's Chili Bowl. I walk inside just to look and salivate. Everyone has a hot dog and they look sooo good! But we had already had our great Ethiopian dinner by then.

There were many homeless or less fortunate folks asking for money in this area. I carried around some folded dollar bills and discretely gave them away. I would rather have bought them a chili dog, as money sometimes goes for alcohol, but it just wasn't the time or place for that.

We stuck to the well-lit streets where there were lots of people. Always a good plan in a city at night. We peered down some deserted dark streets where we knew it would be unwise to wander at night.

If you are reading this and you are nervous in big cities like I am, don't be afraid of the homeless folks. They are sad, in every city, including my home town. Nobody was aggressive towards us in DC. You won't be pestered. Just shake your head and move on, or else have some bills already in your hand to give, as I did. It's never a good idea in any big city to be seen standing on the street digging through your wallet or purse. Be discreet.

We all found our visit to U Street to be very memorable. I will return there again on the next trip, and as a woman I will always want a male escort, as in any big city at night. I want my chili dog from Ben's Chili Bowl, and I didn't get to stop and hear some of that Jazz music.

A DC local on tripadvisor told me about her favorite place in U St. where there's Ethiopian music and dancing on weekends while you're dining. There is also a cultural/history tour of the U St. area which I want to take on our next visit.

My whole family continues to lament how much we miss Ethiopian food! Next I'll write more about our Ethiopian dinner at Etete Ethiopian Cuisine in the U Street area.

COMING UP NEXT: MORE TRIP REPORT
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Old Oct 5th, 2007, 11:31 PM
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DINNER ON U STREET:

Our #1 favorite meal in DC was our dinner in the U Street area at:

Etete Ethiopian Cuisine
1942 9th St. NW (9th & U St.)

We spent $77 for dinner for 6 people, including food, soft drinks, and tax (before tip), a great price for DC. This was our favorite meal in DC...it's an adventure in dining. ><

Tasty foods are served on large trays and are shared by your family or friends. You use your hands, and there aren't any utensils. You can use the pancake-like bread to scoop up some food. We especially loved the beef and all of the veggies and the bread.

The menu is confusing but just glance around and see what other people are ordering.

We ordered 1 chicken tray, 1 vegetarian tray, and 1 or 2 beef trays, not really understanding what side dishes came with each tray. It comes with the pancake-like bread.

It worked out great. We ended up with enough food for 6 people. The food was combined on large trays and set on our table. We asked the waitress for seconds on some of the yummy veggies.

Everything was flavored in a delicious way, including the beef, the potatoes, the greens, and the pureed veggies which were great for eating with the bread.

A lot of locals seem to eat here...you can tell because the regulars know the waitresses.

What a fun place! Highly recommended. The cook should get an award. Wait, I think he (or she) already has. There are write-ups on the wall. This is a casual restaurant. There were always people waiting for a table, but they move groups through in an efficient manner.

If you have more than 4 people in your party, come for an early dinner if you don't want to wait long.

We chose Etete based on a review in a local DC paper. We recommend Etete for families, for vegetarians, for people who like beef, and for everyone who enjoys trying tasty ethnic foods. There are a variety of flavors from mild to spicy.

If you like Mediterranean food and Indian food, you will probably also enjoy Ethiopian food as well.

Trip Report To Be Continued!
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Old Oct 7th, 2007, 04:47 PM
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My Top 4 Monuments / Memorials

My favorite Monuments or Memorials are:

--Lincoln Memorial
--Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
--Vietnam Veterans memorial
--Washington Monument

The monuments are as inspirational and awesome as I dreamed they would be. They were especially evocative, inspirational, sad, and hopeful for me...they provoked a complexity of emotional responses and a desire to learn more. They really made me think about ideals, war and peace, and what we can learn from the past.

The Monuments and Memorials are near the Tidal basin with the Japanese cherry trees. No blossoms in September, but it's a lovely and scenic walk through history, on beautiful mild and warm September days. You will pass many good spots to sit and reflect, write poetry, do a sketch, or write in your journal.

Timing: I suggest allowing 2 half-days to enjoy the Monuments and Memorials. They are spread out so there is a lot of walking.

Washington Monument:
If you want to take the elevator up to the top of the Washington Monument, you either need to get there by 8:00 am before they give away all the tickets for the day, or else you can order your tickets in advance on-line. The recent Frommers guidebook tells you how to order your tickets on-line. (We ordered our Washington Monument tickets on-line and were able to select whatever time we wanted.)
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Old Oct 7th, 2007, 04:59 PM
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WASHINGTON MONUMENT:

Get your tickets to take the elevator up to the top of the Washington Monument. (See above info.) It's grand to see the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial from up there, and all of DC.

LINCOLN MEMORIAL:
The Lincoln Memorial represents so much for me that it just takes my breath away. We all found it awesome to be there. Martin Luther King made his famous I Have A Dream speech on the steps...that's a precious moment in history.

VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL:

We didn't lose any loved ones in the Vietnam war. Yet, this simple, elegant and stark memorial just weeps with grief. It has absorbed the tears of so many who have come to remember lost loved ones over the years.

I think my younger daughter, "Kay", had not understood war until she stood gazing at the reflections of mourners in the black stone of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She put up her hand and touched one of the 60,00 names of those who died in this war.

This too is part of our history.

TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED:
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Old Oct 7th, 2007, 08:20 PM
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FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT MEMORIAL:

The Roosevelt Memorial was my favorite, along with the Lincoln Memorial. If I could only see 2 monuments or memorials, it would be these 2.

Since the Roosevelt and the Jefferson Memorials are on the other side of the body of water called the Tidal Basin, it takes just a little extra dedication to get there.

The Roosevelt Memorial took me completely by surprise. I wanted to sit on a bench and write poetry. This is a good place to reflect. Many of Roosevelt's sayingS are captured in the walls here. It's a wonderful memorial, and thoughtfully and creatively designed. Don't miss it! It combines water, statues, and the words of Roosevelt.

WALKING AMONG THE MONUMENTS:

I think the monuments and memorials area is the best place to go for a stroll in DC in good weather. Allow time for this in your itinerary, and you will be rewarded.

I suggest you set aside at least a half-day to stroll through this area. That's not enough time to see all of the monuments, so start with your top 2.

TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED:
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 05:56 AM
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You deserve credit for checking out U Street, which is not on most people's agenda but really is a "true" DC neighborhood. One of the mistakes I think people make when they come to DC is not to go to places were actual DC residents live and thrive. U Street is also a neighborhood that is historically connected to DC's African American community, which you can't get in Gtown or Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill.
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Old Oct 8th, 2007, 06:56 AM
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Some more info on Ethiopian restaurants in DC for those considering a trip here. This is actually only a small sampling, but includes the best ones (my vote is Dukem).

http://www.ethiopianrestaurant.com/dc/dining.html

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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 01:34 PM
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CHATTING ABOUT DC:

MikeT: I agree people are really missing out if they only see the "Must-See" tourist sites in DC and miss the interesting neighborhoods. We loved visiting U St. neighborhood and it was just a glimpse, really. Next time I want to explore more of what the are has to offer.

bardo1: Thanks for recommending Dukem. I have heard that one recommended more than once. FOOD sticks in my brain, so I'll file that one away for our next visit! Better yet, I'll print it out and start a Washington DC file for our next trip.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 02:01 PM
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SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS:

AVOIDING SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM BURNOUT:

Many of the 14 Smithsonian Museums are so huge that you cannot possibly "finish" one even if you spend a whole day there. They are also spread out geographically.

MY SUGGESTIONS is that you do only 1 Smithsonian Museum a day, and don't spend the whole day shuffling through a museum...it will frizzle your brain circuits and make your feet hurt. Instead, plan to spend about 4 or 5 hours in a Smithsonian museum. Study the guide map when you enter, and head directly for the exhibits that interest you the most.

I suggest you alternate Smithsonian days. For example, on my next trip to DC I would plan something like this:

Day 1: Choose 1 Smithsonian Museum (Spend 4 hours at 1 museum)

Day 2: Monuments and Memorials

Day 3: Guided tour of White House; or Library of Congress and Capitol

Day 4: Choose another Smithsonian museum; spend 4 hours there.

Day 5: Do a cultural or history walking tour of Georgetown or Alexandria or U Street area. Followed by shopping.

NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM (SMITHSONIAN):

My son the engineer and my husband the biologist enjoyed the air and space museum and the natural history museum equally.

However, for my daughters and I, who are NOT scientists (we are writers, artists, readers & philosophers), the Space Museum wasn't really our thing. We preferred the natural history museum.

Guidebooks always count the Air & Space Museum as a Must-See. However, if your time is limited, think about YOUR interests. There are 14 Smithsonian Museums. If you only have time for 1, is Air & Space really your primary interest?

EINSTEIN PLANETARIUM:

I did pre-book tickets for the Cosmic Collisions show at the Einstein Planetarium at the National Air and Space Museum. It turned out that it was unnecessary to pre-book the tickets as the theatre wasn't even close to full in September. While the show was interesting, it was also skippable. However it was a great way to rest our feet at the end of the day! We booked the 5:00 pm show, which was perfect timing.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY EXHIBIT: (temporary!)

Because the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is closed for refurbishment, they have moved some of the highlights over from the American History Museum to the National Museum of Natural History.

WOW! The temporary American History exhibit (in the Natural History Museum) is fantastic! It is fun and educational. I was just thrilled to see things like Abraham Lincoln's tophat. ><

When the fascinating National Museum of American History reopens, I'll plan a trip to DC just to see it! This was our favorite Smithsonian exhibit, for my daughters and I.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 02:16 PM
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TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED!
COMING UP NEXT:
Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
And More...
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 01:44 PM
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Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History:

The sparkling gems and minerals display and the African Voices section are 2 examples of the incredible diversity of displays in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

I found myself captured by a film in the African Voices section showing key events in the struggle for freedom in Africa and the USA. This film, shown on a TV monitor, features such key people as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. The yearning for freedom strikes a chord in me. All people cry out to be free. Nelson Mandela, when celebrating freedom in Africa, said "The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement."

On a lighter note, I must say that there is quite a lot of info on the study of Dung in this museum! For example, did you know that Dung beetles eat elephant poop? amp; Yum! They fertilize the earth...lay their eggs in the dung. They eat or carry away a 14-lb. heap! You can read this info right under the huge elephant in the museum.

If Dung leaves you cold take a look at the beautiful Hope Diamond or gawk at the bones of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex found in Harding County, South Dakota. There is something for everyone in the National Museum of Natural History.

It struck me when looking at 400 million year old "fossil seashells" (Brachiopods conchidium knighti) that we are infants playing carelessly and ignorantly in the universe, in a fragile environment. It is not ours!

We are entrusted with a vulnerable earth and dong a lousy job caring for it. This is awesome and humbling.

Timing Your Visit:
Unless you are a biologist or scientist, spending a full day here, like we did, will leave you foot-weary and frazzle-brained. I suggest you get a map upon entering the museum,and head straight to your favorite exhibits. Spend about 4 hours here and then leave.

This is a wonderful museum, but too much Smithsonian can leave you feeling like a crazed professor has tried to cram an entire college education into your brain in one day!

SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM FOOD:

The food is overpriced and so-so at the National Museum of Natural History. Their larger cafe has pizza with fake cheese and other yucky items.

If you can make it over to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, they have the best food on The Mall at their Mitsitam Cafe.

There is a smelly McDonald's in the Space Museum. The ventilation in this area just isn't good. It smells like ancient greasy food.

TRIP REPORT TO BE CONTINUED:
Coming Up Next:
Library of Congress Tour &
Capitol Tour
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