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Washington DC with Teens - Trip Report

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We just returned from a weekend in Washington with our 14 year old twins. Thanks to the many posters who made suggestions – our trip was short, but we had a great time. We tried to keep this a budget trip, but didn’t make ourselves crazy either. Every sight we went to was free. We had gotten a nice deal at the Fairmont, which is what made us pick Washington for this spur of the moment long weekend. Our last trip to Washington was almost 4 years ago. We decided to drive to keep the costs down and left on a Saturday morning from Boston. I naively estimated the trip to take 7 hours – but it took 10. It was a long car ride. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for a long weekend driving from Boston. We took the train the last time, which was great getting down, but awful returning. The train is also a lot more expensive than the tank of gas and tolls that this cost us in transportation. One interesting observation was the weather was exactly the same (cold!) as the weather we left behind at home!

We arrived at the Fairmont after 5. There was an issue of our room being “near the construction area”, but we took it anyway. By the time we got settled, it was time to go to dinner. A short 5 minute walk over a bridge brought us into Georgetown with many great choices for meals (this ended up being one of our fondest parts of the trip!) We stopped at the first place we came to, which was an Indian restaurant. My daughter and I shared a vegetarian platter – everything we ordered was delicious. I thought it was odd that the restaurant wasn’t more crowded, but by the time we left, it was pretty much full. We checked out M Street before heading back to the hotel. We thought we’d go for a swim, but the concierge had given us the wrong closing time on the hotel pool, so we called it a night.

Up early the next morning, we stopped at a café before walking to Ford’s Theatre, with a stop to view the White House. It was odd to see it with snow! It took a few minutes to get to Ford’s Theatre. This was highly recommended by previous posters, and I have to agree that it was a worthwhile stop. It was crowded with school groups when we got there, but we were able to look at the museum (small, but interesting) before hearing the talk. Afterwards we took five minutes and walked through the boarding house across the street where Lincoln died.

We walked right over to the National Building Museum (also recommended by posters). This was my kids’ favorite place. They liked the Venetian architecture and the display of The Green House (a sustainable home display, architects models and photos of green living). We didn’t buy anything at the gift shop, but it had some great things as well.

We grabbed a quick Mexican lunch (shared portions) before heading to the National Archives. There was a long line which we stood in for 10 minutes, but we never saw it move. We decided to try later and went to the National Gallery. My daughter led us through the “one hour” tour of the highlights. We lingered in some areas and admired the garden courts. You could easily spend a day here. It was busy, but not too crowded to see any piece of artwork up close. We enjoyed the drawings of Rembrandt and the Paris photos.

Our next stop (walking) was over to the Museum of the American Indian. The architecture was very interesting. This was very crowded and most of the displays are in small areas, making it difficult to see. You could get a sense of traditions and viewpoints.

We tried the National Archives again, same line length, still not moving. We started the trek back to the hotel by way of the WW II Memorial, which was just being built on our last trip to Washington. It must be very pretty with fountains. On this bitterly cold afternoon, there were only a couple visitors besides us. It snowed on us as we were walking back to the Fairmont.

We didn’t want to miss the hotel pool this time, so we decided to swim before dinner. After walking in the cold all afternoon, a swim didn’t exactly sound like something we were dying to do, but it really rejuvenated us to walk back to Georgetown for dinner. This time we were looking for Café LaRuche (recommended by a poster). I had my directions confused, and we never did find it that night. We ended up at the Piccolo Ristorante which looked very inviting with its colored lights on that cold night. Inside there were crackling fires, however, we were seated by the window (drafty!) under the stairs. We said we felt like Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs. I put a napkin over the draft. It became apparent to us that this looked like a bit of a “date place” (hence our table under the stairs) and it was quite busy. It was also pricey, so we stuck with pasta and drinks – no side dishes, no dessert…. The food was excellent – flavorful, but not heavy and just the right amount. We had a very cold walk back to the hotel. It was only five minutes, and you would think our New England blood would be used to the cold. (My theory is that it has been so cold in New England, that we weren’t used to being outdoors so much.)

I hadn’t set an alarm because I never sleep late – and I was also assuming there would be morning construction. I was shocked to see that we all slept until 8:30 (that is really late for all of us). Monday was President’s Day, so we were heading out to Mount Vernon in the car. Us and thousands of others…. I don’t even think an early start would have helped much…it was CROWDED. We parked about ½ mile away and walked in. There was no charge because it was President’s Day. In hindsight, I would have gladly paid if it had been less crowded the day before. We waited in a very long and cold line to see the mansion. It was definitely worth the wait. I found it interesting to see the key to the Bastille hanging on the wall – a gift from General Lafayette.

We walked the property, but at this point, it was hard to get warm (after the long wait in the line). The property is stunning – you never picture it with snow, so it was interesting. The museum was also quite well done.

It was well past lunch time, so our next stop was Old Town, Alexandria on our way back to the city. We arrived at the tail end of a parade – so we had to pay $9.00 to park (a bit steep, but between the parade and the snow banks, not a lot of options). I immediately located The Fish Market, a place I went to 30 years ago with friends. My vegetarian daughter was not pleased at all even though they gave her a nice salad and side dishes. It was as I remember it and I got a kick out of seeing the mural still there. (I have a picture of myself (much younger!) with my friends in front of that same mural. It was basic fish – quite good, not healthy. My son and I split a platter.

It was getting late, so we didn’t spend much time in Alexandria after lunch. We went to Arlington National Cemetery. I had never seen the Eternal Flame or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a 20 minute hike up the hill, but very beautiful with the sun setting. We stayed for the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, moving and solemn. As it was after 5pm, they told everyone to exit right away after the ceremony. We got back to the hotel quickly and hit the pool.

As this was our last night in Washington, we gave Café LaRuche another try (I called for directions!) We had a very enjoyable and affordable meal. We loved that you have to cross a tiny bridge to get to it, and we appreciated the ambiance and décor. We just had quiche and salad. We had room to split a couple desserts and espresso. We had also wanted to try Zed’s Ethiopian restaurant, but simply ran out of time on this trip. It looked terrific.

We checked out of the hotel at 7am the next morning and drove over to Union Station (not the smartest idea, as we would see) to go on the Capital tour at 8:20. (I had tickets from our US Rep). It was a long walk to the tour kiosk. As the kids insisted on cocoa and croissants before the tour, they had to carry this on the walk over. Because of construction, we had to take a detour to get to our kiosk….which meant we had to run. They were not happy campers running with cocoa splashing around. We got to the tour line with 5 minutes to spare. The tour was short and informative, with a humorous guide. We proceeded on the brief House tour.

At this point, we decided to try the National Archives one last time. It wasn’t open yet and we were first in line! No problem getting in and we enjoyed seeing the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Magna Carta and National Vaults. Very impressive!

At this point, it was time to sadly depart Washington. It was a long walk back to the car (we obviously did not park in a convenient location). The drive home was uneventful (that is a good thing). One funny thing, we checked the website roadfood.com for a place to eat going home. My husband mapped out a deli in Edison, NJ. The map was a mess and we never came close to figuring out where this deli was. On the bright side, we got gas and it was the cheapest price we had seen ($2.05/gall). Washington is a city where on any given visit, you feel like you can only etch the surface. I am always impressed with the accessibility of the city and the profound sense of history. There is also a sense of pride evident in the guides and residents.

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