Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scratching the Surface of Washington, DC

After successfully dropping off LandShark 2 and the Prius at the Baltimore Port, it was time to switch gears and do some serious sightseeing in the Washington, DC area. We had 2 weeks here and had the opportunity to see a lot. One of the fabulous aspects about Washington is that many of the museums are free, demonstrating that some of our tax dollars go to things other than the military. I was disappointed that the White House, supposedly the "People's House", was closed due to the sequester. In my opinion, this illustrated just another poor decision made by some government department; the "People's House" should never be closed to "the people". But despite the White House being closed, there was no shortage of things to see and do in this most beautiful city. In fact, at the end of the two weeks, I felt like we just scratched the surface. 

One thing I discovered is that when you are traveling in a group of 6, ranging from 7 to over 80 years, you just can't cover the same ground that you might if you were on your own. So much time was spent negotiating where to go and what to see, coordinating sub-groups, waiting for people to catch up or show up, stopping for breaks or breaking up sibling squabbles; it was amazing that we saw as much as we did. I guess that made for a richer experience in hindsight but it was frustrating at times. I hope to return one day and spend another couple weeks picking up where we left off and getting another opportunity to read more of the signage, join in more of the tours and listen to more of the audio offerings.

Here's just a quick run-through of what we did manage to see.

On August 6th, we started by visiting the impeccably maintained Mount Vernon, former home of George and Martha Washington. 
Mount Vernon is definitely worth a visit. One can easily spend a half day or more here.
Mount Vernon - main house. House tours are offered.

Mount Vernon - kitchen and storehouse
The "necessary", aka the "privy" elsewhere.
Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon: George Washington died on December 14, 1799. George and Martha Washington's remains are buried here.
Vincent and Martha at the Upper Gardens which were established in the 1760s. The Green House and Slave Quarters are located in the background buildings.
Later in the day, we drove to Alexandria and walked about for a while. I really enjoyed the colonial buildings and well-preserved downtown.
Liked the street sign; a nod to both the Union and Great Britain.
A florist set up a memorial to their dog that passed away, providing dog biscuits for other dogs that walk by.
Plaque noting the home of the physician, Elisha Cullen Dick, who was tending to George Washington when he died. Dr Dick obviously didn't do a very good job.
That evening we drove into Washington, to see a few of the memorials and landmarks, starting with the Jefferson Memorial.
Sarah and Mr Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States and principal author of the American Declaration of Independence.
Paul and Molly at the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Memorial (under maintenance due to the August 2011 earthquake) in the background.
Sarah, Paul and Molly hanging with George Mason, who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights that inspired the American Declaration of Independence, France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the United Nations’ 1954 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The US Marine Corps War Memorial is particularly impressive when it is lit at night. The scene depicts the US taking Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945.
On August 7th, we visited Arlington Cemetery in the morning. One can truly walk for miles here and we were lucky (ie, minimal complaining from the kids) that it was overcast and not too hot. While there, we also toured Arlington House which was the home of General Robert E. Lee and was taken over by the Union when Lee left to lead Confederate troops.
Grave site of JF Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and two of their children. The burner to the permanent eternal flame is being upgraded so you see a temporary eternal flame in the background.
Changing of the guard at the Unknown Soldier's Tomb.
During the changing of the guard ceremony, there is a detailed inspection of the incoming guard's rifle.
Sarah observing a grave site of someone recently killed in action.
The memorial to those killed in the Pentagon attack on September 11, 2001.
Later in the day, we visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which, if you are at all into space travel and airplanes, is the place to visit.
Sarah standing in front of the Discovery space shuttle, which flew 39 successful missions over 27 years.
Paul standing by the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.
August 8th, was a non-tourism day. The focus was picking up my mother, Marilyn, at Dulles so that she could join us on our adventures in Washington. Also during the day, we visited my sister-in-law's business, the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research. Dr Domenica Rubino has created a valuable service for people trying to manage their weight. Her center offers a multi-dimensional, team-treatment approach to weight management, combining medical, psychological, behavioral and nutritional support and education.

On August 9th, we visited the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art which I loved and look forward to returning to one day. We spent about 3 hours there and didn't come close to seeing it all. Being the "National" Art Gallery, it has a spectacular collection, as one would expect.
Rembrandt, Self-portrait - Rembrandt van Rijn, 1767.
The Japanese Footbridge - Claude Monet, 1899
A Girl with a Watering Can - Auguste Renoir, 1876
On the weekend of August 10/11, we decided to go to fee museums as we thought the free museums would be packed. On Saturday, August 10th we went to the Newseum. Overall we enjoyed it and in general it is worth a visit. The museum posts the front pages of hundreds of newspapers from around the US and the world. As Canadians, Mother and I were curious as to why the Newseum displayed the Montreal Gazette and not the Globe and Mail or National Post; the Gazette seemed an odd choice but looking at the Newseum web site, they do include these and other Canadian papers. Maybe we just missed their display at the museum. We also thought the Kennedys received far too much coverage at the expense of many other Presidents and their families, who had little or no news footage.
While walking to the Newseum, I took this photo of James and Paul at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, located near the Capitol Building.
On Sunday, August 11th, we chose the Museum of Crime & Punishment; Vincent mistakenly thought it would be like the Spy Museum (which is excellent). Instead, it highlights many of the ugly aspects about US history with sort of a Ripley's Believe It or Not feel about it. One of the worst parts was the section on capital punishment, outlining the various methods of and the numbers of people killed via state. Hopefully, by reading this brief review, I've saved others from wasting time and money here.
The Crime and Punishment Museum was pretty much downhill from here.
The day was salvaged by visiting Ford's Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated. It included an interesting museum to explore before entering the theater.
Ford's Theater: Vincent, Paul and James looking towards the balcony where President Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865.
On Monday, August 12th, we started the week out strong with a tour of the Capitol Building and Museum, Library of Congress (houses a copy of the Gutenburg Bible (first great book printed in Western Europe from movable metal type) and Mainz Bible (completed by hand in 1453)) and American History Museum.
Inside view of the Capitol dome.
Library of Congress reading room - top half.
Library of Congress reading room - bottom half.
On August 13th, we spent the day with friends of from California who happened to also be visiting Washington. We all met at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, where a Miss Porter's friend of mine, Alden Tullis O'Brien, is now a curator. We took a tour of the museum and saw Alden's excellent, very detailed, thoroughly researched exhibit, "Fashioning the New Woman: 1890-1925". 
The library inside the DAR museum building was, at one time, a theater and was the first theater in Washington.
We followed the DAR museum with lunch at Old Ebbitt’s Grill, a popular insider’s restaurant located a half block away from the White House.
Our family in front of the Old Ebbitt Grill.
After lunch, we walked to the Natural History Museum. There is much to see here but, except for the insects, butterfly house and Hope Diamond, I didn’t see much of anything; the museum was packed and I found trying to navigate it with several adults and children, the result was chaos with lack of forward momentum. The National History Museum is certainly worth seeing and probably deserves a full day. I'll add it to my list for "next time".
The Hope Diamond, stolen from the forehead of an idol in India, seems to have bestowed bad luck to many who have come in contact with it.
Later in the day, my sister-in-law, kindly drove us to the Washington National Cathedral which claims to be the sixth largest in the world. A volunteer in the cathedral pointed out a few interesting facts: One of the windows is called the Space Window and commemorates the Apollo 11 mission and holds a piece of the moon rock. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan are buried here which, for us, provided a connection to seeing Helen’s home back in Tuscumbia, AL. Woodrow Wilson (28th President) is also buried here. We joined in on a brief late afternoon service which was nice.
Spectacular view from the National Cathedral, Washington, DC.
On August 14th, Vince and the boys went to the Holocaust Museum while Mother, Sarah and I had a very brief visit to the American Indian Museum. (I thought the Holocaust Museum would be too disturbing for 7-yr old Sarah.) The American Indian Museum is worth a visit and it was the first of the museums, that I had visited in Washington, that had a dedicated kids' area. It therefore was the first museum (other than the Natural History Museum with its insect center) that Sarah truly enjoyed visiting. 

I'm surprised so few museums do cater to kids. If they did, there would be far less whining (at least from my crew). I kept thinking back to spending a summer in Stockholm, Sweden with my boys, then aged 3 1/2 yrs; most of the museums in Stockholm have areas and activities especially for kids. My boys were always so excited to visit a different museum every day. If only museums elsewhere would follow Sweden's lead...

At 1pm, we met up with Vincent and the boys for a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The tour was about 45 minutes long and started with a short film. We were then lead through 4 areas where one can see the various stages of printing bills. The highest denomination is the $100. The Bureau still prints $2 bills but, because people hold onto them, so few are kept in circulation (and therefore do not return for replacement) so people think they are collectors' items when in fact they are not.
The ultimate souvenir gimmick: Pay $5 for a bag of shredded bills.
Sarah is $1,234,900 tall in $100 notes.
Paul is $1,584,400 in $100 notes. But truly all kids are worth so much more :-)
Afterwards we walked along the Mall to see some of the monuments including the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial (where we were fortunate to join a docent's tour) and the Vietnam Memorial.  
Sarah and James in front of the Washington Monument.
Sarah at the WWII Memorial.
Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby was the first commanding officer of the U.S. Women's Army Corps. She later became the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
Koren War Memorial: There are 19 figures, representing each branch of the armed forces, dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea. When reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel.
"Freedom is not free": A statement apparently first coined by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Walter Hitchcock. Definitely a thought-provoking statement.
Close-up of Mr Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.

The kids loved hanging out on the Albert Einstein Memorial.
On August 15th, I had a down day with the mission in the afternoon of taking Molly to the Capital Hill Animal Clinic. Mother went to the Botanical Gardens and then joined Vincent and the kids at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

On August 16th, we had to rent a car to go to the USDA Department in Richmond, VA to get Molly's international and EU health certificates officially certified. After dealing with Molly's paperwork for travel, we decided to take advantage of the car and drove to Jamestown which provides a recreation of the first settlements and settlers who arrived and stayed in North America, as well as tells the history about the native Indians living in the area at the time. (In 1607, three ships landed at Cape Henry, Virginia, and proceeded up the river to establish the first permanent English settlement in America. To honor the king who sent them, the explorers named the river, the James, and the settlement, Jamestown.) Later on we drove to Williamsburg for dinner. (In 1699, Williamsburg became the capital of the Virginia colony and became the capital of Great Britain’s largest and richest colony. It was here that patriots such as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington pursued lives of public service, and the idea of a free and independent country began.)
James and Paul re-enacting defending the Jamestown fort.
Walking towards a replica of the Susan Constant.
Kids checking out the Susan Constant which was the largest of the three ships (the others being Discovery and Godspeed) that brought the first settlers to found a permanent English colony in the Americas (1607).
Sarah talking to a docent, in costume, who was explaining how the native Powhatan Indians hollowed out tree stumps (using hot coals) which they used to grind corn meal.
If you have the time, I'd recommend staying in the area (ideally Williamsburg) for a weekend and visit America's Historic Triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown (site of the last great engagement of the revolutionary war, ending King George III’s tyranny over the 13 original colonies.)
Sarah in front of a pretty private garden in Williamsburg.
Loved the ol' style signage in Williamsburg.
Finally found a peruke-maker; these are hard to find!
On August 17th, growing weary of sightseeing, the only museum Sarah would agree to go to was the North American Indian Museum (that children's area being the big appeal). So Mom, Sarah and I went there while Vince and the boys headed to the Spy Museum (which they truly enjoyed). We had lunch at the museum (all museum fare is very expensive) and Sarah enjoyed some more time in the children’s play area. About 4pm, we headed back to the hotel where I then set off to have a quick visit with my Porter’s friend, Alden.

On August 18th, we escorted Mom to the Metrobus 5A stop at L’Enfant Plaza. The Metrobus 5A to/from Dulles is the best deal in Washington; it costs $6 for adults, $3 for seniors and children, for a ride to the airport. Because of the infrequent metro service on weekends (train every 24 minutes), we ended up having to take a taxi to L'Enfant Plaza; the taxi ride a few blocks cost about 4 times the bus ride out to Dulles!  Oh well. Afterwards, we took the metro to East Falls Church for another delicious meal with my sister-in-law’s family.

On the morning of August 19th, we went to the Supreme Court building. It was constructed in 1935, in a corinthian architectural style to match the congressional buildings, and is made of beautiful white marble which is blinding on a sunny day. 
The Supreme Court: The facade is undergoing maintenance so what you see here is a drop cloth with a picture of the majestic entrance, not the actual pillars etc.
My boys looking in on the Supreme Court courtroom interior.
A good reminder that things can be changed for the better if enough people join together to make it happen.
About 2pm, we checked out of the Capitol Hill Hotel and headed to Dulles Airport. I want to mention that the Capitol Hill Hotel provides good accommodation for seeing the core Washington sites. It is just two blocks from the Capitol Building, Library of Congress and the south east corner of the Mall. It also is pet-friendly, includes breakfast and offers "happy hour" Monday through Thursday. The nearest metro station, Capitol South, is just one block away. What's not to like?
This is the welcome letter our dog, Molly, received from the Capitol Hill Hotel. Included was a map showing dog-friendly places in the neighborhood.
We dropped Molly off at the United Cargo building about 3 1/2 hours prior to our flight. While Molly had some previous time being in the crate, I think the flight was a pretty frightening experience. She's about 5 years old so I felt she would manage. It's not something I'd introduce to an older dog. I'll write about the process of sending a dog to Europe in a separate post.

Next stop, London.