Since my trip to DC was paid for, Tony and I decided to make it our summer vacation. It wasn’t quite where we were hoping to travel for our summer abroad, but I’d never been there before and have always wanted to go.
I’d arrived in DC with D on Sunday, and Tony joined me on Tuesday night. That gave me some time to get D settled and we still had almost a week to explore our nation’s capital. Tony had done some advance planning, hooking us up with tours of a few places via our Kansas Representative, but the rest of the days were ours to play with. We did a lot, saw a lot, walked A LOT, and had a fabulous time! Unfortunately, many of the best sights didn’t allow photography, so I’ll post what I can. Some of the hightlights were:
10. American History Museum
Except for the original Superman costume, the American History Museum itself was not a highlight… it was downright disappointing! The only thing I could figure was that there is so much amazing American History in all the other museums, there just wasn’t really much left for this one. I mean, do you consider the wood panel van a worthy museum piece?
No, the highlight here was actually some of the people we saw in the museum. We’re walking along and pause to let a blind woman with a walking stick pass by when we notice that someone is holding her arm and walking just behind her. He was also blind. That’s right, we actually SAW the blind leading the blind! I always thought that was just a phrase, but we saw it in action! I had to drag Tony away as he was staring at them in shock. “It doesn’t matter if they can’t see you, Tony, it’s still rude to stare!”
9. The Old Post Office
This gorgeous building housed the US Postal Service in the early 20th Century, but it was quickly outgrown. Over the years people have saved it from destruction and they now allow you to take the elevator up to the bell tower for free. Since the Washington Monument is closed for repairs, this was our best opportunity for an ariel view of the city.
8. Delicious and inexpensive food
We love food. And we especially love a good deal on food. While off-island, we enjoyed Chipotle at Union Station, Italian and Mexican in the Eastern Market area, Street-Vendor Hot Dogs off The Mall, Japanese and BBQ in Capitol Hill, Chipotle again, Greek near GW University, Empanadas in Adams-Morgan, Chipotle another time, and Thai in Eastern Market. Yum.
7. The Capitol Building
This was one of the tours that Tony arranged through our Congressman, so in addition to the regular capitol tour, we also got to go into the House Chamber. Unfortunately, they weren’t in session, so we didn’t get to hear the oh-so-polite arguing in person.
This is the capitol dome from the inside. I was interested to learn that the dome was completed during the Civil War. Lincoln insisted its construction continue to show his faith that the country would come out of the war united.
6. Natural History Museum
I was going to skip this museum because the one is NYC is SO incredible, I didn’t think it could be beat, but we really enjoyed touring this one. Plus, I really wanted to see the Hope Diamond! Tony gave everyone a good chuckle when he told me he was going to get me that diamond for my engagement ring, but didn’t want to deprive the Smithsonian of it. : )
5. Used Book Stores
Shopping used book stores was high on Tony’s To-Do List in D.C. Capitol Hill Books in Eastern Market was definitely his favourite. I found this photo online, but the store doesn’t look like this anymore. No, there are even more books in the window – so many that you can’t even see inside! Tony said that both floors of this store were floor-to-ceiling books!
4. Air and Space Museum
This is probably most people’s favourite of the Smithsonians, and it definitely ranked pretty high in our eyes as well. It was incredible to see all the space shuttles and airplanes hanging in the grand entry hall. We were trying to take a picture of ourselves with one of the airplanes overhead when somebody offered to take this photo.
The coolest item though was definitely Orville and Wilber Wright’s original airplane.
Plus, Tony learned that he’s brithday buddies with Orville!
3. International Spy Museum
Definitely though, the Spy Museum was the coolest that we visited. While the Smithsonians are all wonderfully free to the public, this is a private museum, and it’s not cheap. The content of the exhibits though was totally worth the entry fee. First off, you assume an identity as you begin. This is your alias and you’re instructed to memorize your details as you’ll be questioned about them when you’re ready to leave. Each room is filled with interactive exhibits about the origins of spying as well as opportunities to hone your spy skills: identifying objects from the air, breaking codes, recognizing disguises…
Tony even climbed through an air vent that runs through one of the first rooms! I wish they’d allowed photos in this museum, because each room was filled with incredible artifacts of early spy devices and was flawlessly decorated.
In addition to the museum, they also have interactive adventures outside the museum with a GPS device that allows you to play spy. We felt a little silly at times walking around and aiming this device at things, but it was still a good time!
2. The National Archives
When it comes to historical significance, this had to be at the top of the list. The United States of America’s founding documents are housed in the rotunda of this building. We saw an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and even a Magna Carta dated from the 1200s (a gift from England). Seeing the Declaration which began our nation’s fight for freedom was amazing, but also incredibly surprising! You can hardly even see John Hancock’s large and loopy signature! I’d never really thought about the fact that the treasonous document was carried across battlefields, put out for display in the harsh sun, and hidden away through several wars on American soil (first The Revolution, then the War of 1812, and the Civil War) before people really knew how to preserve precious documents. However, what grabbed most of our attention was the original Bill of Rights – it had 12 items listed on it. I was afraid I’d been teaching something wrong for 5 years, but no, there really were just 1o original ammendments. The first 2 of the 12 were not ratified, but a new copy wasn’t made (or at least it wasn’t on display). It was interesting to learn that what we all know as the First Amendment rights of free speech, religion, assembly, and freedom of the press was originally the 3rd amendment!
1. Library of Congress
Touring this building was Tony’s absolute favourite experience, which is why it’s rated first. It was a great tour too because the building is just incredible!
This building and two others make up the largest library in the world and it is only for research. No one can check out books from the Library of Congress, though many other libraries can borrow books. Here is the famous reading room that’s often depicted in movies.
This is actually just one of many reading rooms which you can only enter with a special researcher’s pass. Tony was very excited to get his pass! He’s hoping to schedule another trip to DC in the near future so he can do some reading. (They require 3-5 days notice that you’re coming and a list of the books you want to view.)
A couple other highlights here were the Guttenburg Bible and Tony’s birthday gift. The Bible was one of the original 4 printed on Guttenburg’s printing press and is a priceless piece of history. The birthday gift was an Edgar Allen Poe bobble head doll! Tony’s actually been looking for a Poe bust for several years now, but this is the next best thing!
Here’s one more photo of the library, though I must admit that I didn’t take it. It’s actually a picture of a picture! I love that you can see the Capital Building through the window though.
Well, this was supposed to be a Top 10 list, but it’s now dawned on my that we left out some pretty significant experiences, including a tour of the Supreme Court. I feel the Judicial Branch is probably the most mysterious of the 3 branches of US government, so it was incredible to see the chamber in which they hear cases (which is surprisingly small) and hear from an intern about the inner workings of the court.
Visiting Ford’s Theatre was a neat experiences as well. Despite many calls to tear it down, historians prevailed and the working theatre produces several productions each year and is open during the day for tours and to honour the life and death of President Lincoln.
We also saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb has been guarded day and night, rain or shine, even in hurricanes, since 1937. Fewer than 20% of those who apply are accepted to train as Tomb Guards, and even fewer complete the process. It is one of the highest honours in the US Military.
In the summer, while the cemetary is open, the guard changes every 1/2 hour. The lone guardsman takes 21 steps (alluding to the 21 gun salute), faces the tomb for 21 seconds, shoulders his weapon, and repeats the process going in the opposite direction for the duration of his shift.
The Mall at Night
The last really cool thing we did was seeing the National Mall all lit up at night. This was our last night in DC and Tony’s 29th birthday, but I insisted that we had to see it. So, after dinner in Eastern Market, we took the Metro to the Smithsonian stop right off The Mall in kind of the middle. This was as close as we could get to the major monuments, so we started walking.
The WWII Memorial
Finally we made it to Lincoln’s place.
By this time it was raining, so I snapped a quick photo looking back where we’d come from. (The reflecting pool was being refilled after major repair, which is why you can’t see the whole reflection!
We’d already walked over a mile from the station to Lincoln Memorial, but now we had to walk back, in the rain. Luckily we had an umbrella, but two people sharing an umbrella, especially with our height discrepency, doesn’t work too well. Plus we were in a bit of a time crunch. The last bus back to our house left Union Station at 10:29. It was 9:45 and we had to get back to the Metro station, change trains to get on the red line, then hike to the bus stop outside Union Station. We were booking it! Unfortunately, Tony had a blister from his tennis shoes and was wearing flip flops to avoid pain from the blister. Walking in the rain with flip flops isn’t easy, especially at the pace I was keeping in order to get us back in time! We walked the mile+ back to the station in about 20 minutes, which I thought was pretty darn good considering it wasn’t a straight shot and we had to wait for crosswalks! Much to our frustration though, the station was closed! Locked up! And very recently, we could tell. Now we were wet, out feet were killing us, and there was NO WAY we were going to make that bus. Another block over though and we found an empty cab that could take us back to our house.
The next morning we were up bright and early to head back to Tortola!