Vacation Notes

I wrote this over the course of 10 days, so it’s a bit rambling, but maybe you’ll find a good bit or two anyway!

We flew into Dulles to start our vacation. It’s a long but easy cab ride in to DC, about $70 by cab. It was a combination of picking a flight that matched what we wanted for departure time and wanting to compare it with Reagan (on our flight back). Dulles seems nice/modern, easy to get out of at least.

We picked the Embassy Suites by the convention center (10th & K) because with two kids we needed a suite and the location seemed good, only a couple blocks from the Metro Center metro station and quick access to the Mall. We elected to go car-less for this trip, an easy decision to make with parking costing $35 day per day at the hotel. Anything under $50 or $60 a day in taxi/metro costs is a win, and that doesn’t count the hassle of finding a parking place (not easy) or the fee for parking.

The Metro is interesting. They move a lot of people quickly, the stations are clean if utilitarian, and it seems like you can get close to most places in the DC area. The ticketing system is a vending machine, you can buy paper tickets with a small magnetic strip or a credit card like smart card. We just did the paper tickets, you can load with whatever value you think you’ll use via a credit card or cash (don’t expect to use a $20 to buy $2 in fare – it won’t give you that much change,makes you put it on the card.

The ticket buying system lets you buy multiple cards at once,nice for families, because everyone has to have their own ticket. Ticket in hand you slide it into the gate, then it pops up in a different place, when you remove it the gate opens. Then off to to find the right subway line, with trains every few minutes. I think the most we waited was 15 minutes.

Once you arrive you slide the card in again and repeat, provided you have enough money on the card. If you don’t, then you find the exit fee machine, slide the card in, add money. Works well enough until you add me. Gate rejected our tickets. I go over to the machine it says .35. Don’t understand, I put $1.85 on for the trip? I go ask, turns out there is an additional .35 charge during rush hour. Aha. Does it make sense to have a dis-incentive to use mass transit during peak times? Read it again later, you get a discount for traveling at non-peak. All in the point of view!

Some notes on places we toured:

  • Air & Space Museum. Seeing the Wright flyer is just awesome.
  • National Building Museum. Huge space, decent exhibits, though not the depth of the Smithsonian museums.  One exhibit had a great video “Welcome Home” that shows different families in their homes – very well done, just music, no narration. I couldn’t find the full video, but you can see part here and one about making the video that had a wider cross section here. More on that in a future post.
  • Museum of American History. Star Spangled Banner was worth the trip! Bought a coffee cup too.
  • National Portrait Gallery. Lots of good stuff, but the one I remember most is a painting of Andrew Carnegie. Incredibly good and the artist isn’t known! Ever read about Carnegie libraries?
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Interesting and worth seeing once, but not exciting.
  • Lafayette Square. Nice view, nice park, good place to just relax. Watching/listening to some of the protesters in front of the White House is mildly entertaining for about 5 minutes.
  • US Capitol. We had an intern from our representatives office take us on the tour. Very nice visitor center, got to sit in the gallery of the House. I’d like to come back some day to see Congress in session.
  • White House. Did the tour, wish we could have seen more. Got to see Bo the first dog running on the lawn. Also doing some kind of maintenance on the elm trees with tubes in the roots. Feeding? Disease treatment? Google has a terrific walk-through of the White House in super hi-def – try it and zoom in on the paintings to see brush strokes.
  • National Museum of the American Indian. Wasn’t on our original wish list of places to see, but once we saw the building we had to go. Great architecture, great grounds. Several different canoes on the main floor, one from birch bark, one from Hawaiian Koa – not a cheap canoe.
  • Museum of Natural History. I think we went four times to see various things, the favorite of the kids. Got to see a tarantula eat a cricket. They raise special crickets for them! As they explained it the tarantula bites to inject venom, then injects stomach acid in the same holes and rolls it around, turning it – in the words of the presenter – into a cricket smoothie!
  • Lincoln Memorial. Hard to think of a better day than taking your kids to see Lincoln.
  • Florida Embassy. Did you know Florida is the only state with an embassy in DC? Go read the story. Not hugely exciting to visit, but you do get free orange juice!
  • Newseum. All about news and journalism all over the world, though definitely a US/first amendment focus. I spent more than 2 hours wandering through and could easily stayed longer. It’s a very nicely done museum.

Plus a few more. We did a lot, didn’t get to do everything. Still plenty to see next time. My favorite? Lincoln. You know the text from the Memorial?

“In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

For meals we tried to pick non-chains, or at least chains we didn’t have in Orlando. Austin Grill was good, Hill Country was good BBQ, Capitol City Brewing was close to the hotel so we went twice (skip the appetizer, they bring great soft pretzels). Breakfast at the hotel was ok (better if you go early) and worth it to not have to find some place for breakfast every day.

It was interesting to see what interested the kids. Animals of any sort are a win (alive or not), anything interactive. Riding a bus, taxi, metro were a change from the car-centric world of Orlando and they enjoyed it, and great fun to watch my five year old flag down a taxi and then ask me for the money to pay the driver. Ducks in Constitution Gardens, squirrels in Lafayette Square were a hit.  Art is a harder sell.

It was also a chance for me to share with my children my love of country, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent there doing that. Lots of families there.

It was a good vacation.