So as you may or may not know, I recently took a short, 3-day trip to Washington D.C. for the first time. Let me start off by telling you that three days is NOT enough time to see much in this huge, interesting city. The definite things on our “Must See” list to see were:
* The Library of Congress (because hey, I work in a university library, so it was kind of a “given” that I HAD to see it to appease the sense of propriety amongst my academic colleagues).
* The Capitol Building
* The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
* The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
* The Smithsonian Castle
* The National Botanical Gardens
* The National Zoo
and whatever else we could cram into the visit while there. Suffice it to say, we did NOT get to see all these things. But I’ll share with you a few of the things we DID see. 🙂
I don’t have a lot of good things to say about choosing to travel via airplane, but rather than turn this into a rant about TSA, the exorbitant price gouging in which the airlines engage and the general unpleasantness of being packed like sardines into a confined space for prolonged periods of time (in a manner of travel which does not have an “off ramp” or air fresheners)…I’ll just say that I don’t mind the flying so much as I mind everything involved in it.
We actually flew into the airport in Baltimore, MD because the combined airfare and hotel rates were a cheaper package deal that way. This meant we still had to find a way to get into downtown D.C. to our hotel (about an hour away). Rather than take an Amtrak train or the Metro, we ended up renting a cab.
We should’ve taken the train.
Our cabbie spoke very little English but assured us he could get us to our hotel. He did, but in the meantime, came very close to side-swiping four different cars, jamming on the brakes so many times I lost count, and we even had one of the cars he cut off follow us for about 35 miles, gesturing for us to roll down the window and yelling like a crazy man. The guy caught up with us at a stoplight not far from our hotel where our cabbie finally gave in and rolled down the window, apologizing profusely to the man in the car next to us, who was screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. White-knuckled, hearts racing and palms sweating, we were glad to finally reach our hotel safely.
The hotel was actually not too bad. It was only about 6 blocks or so from the National Mall and although it was older, it had what I would call a quaint charm to it. It was clean and quiet and our room even had a balcony overlooking the Potomac river.
The building is HUGE (like many of the buildings in D.C.) and the classical architecture was delightful. This is actually across the street from it to give you an idea of its scale.
The next stop on our make-it-up-as-you-go tour was the Capitol Building (an easy choice, considering it was right across the street from the Library of Congress). The grounds are actually on a sloping hill and beautifully maintained with some interesting landscaping.
On a side note, there are security guards stationed everywhere around D.C. Apparently, this didn’t used to be the case, but after 9/11, it was mandated. <—-This picture is a side view from the hill you have to climb to get around to the sidewalk up to it. As we were strolling around the outside of the Capitol Building, we decided to ask one of the guards a question. Our (no doubt ‘tourist-y’) question was “Which side is the front and which side is the back?” The guard calmly pointed and answered with a no-nonsense, unsmiling face, “Well, that’s the East Side and that’s the West Side. We can’t have important people coming in the back.” Like, DUH, of COURSE, asshat. *rolls eyes* I started to wonder then if everyone in D.C. was going to be mean or just downright crazy.
Here are some more pictures. As you can see, we lucked out with the weather and it was a beautiful day! One of the neatest things I saw on the whole trip was this really cool tree on the grounds at the Capitol. All the trees there are marked with identifying plaques and I had never seen a tree quite like this one. It is a “Lace-leaf Maple”. I suspect that is is related to the Japanese Maples, somehow, but the afternoon light and crisp, Spring air conspired to make it appear almost magical to me. 🙂
These are the ‘real colors’ of the tree, exactly as I saw them. Neat, huh? And the gnarly, twisty trunk just added to its charm. Kind of like an over-sized Bonsai. *grin*
This was looking out across the lawn at the Washington Monument in the distance. The National Mall is actually very large and quite a long trek to cross the whole thing. (2 miles, total, from one end to the other).
By this time, we were getting kind of tired and hungry, so we decided to head back to the hotel. On the way, we passed the National Botanical Gardens (which, unfortunately, we didn’t get to go inside).
Here is the front side. Talk about the ultimate greenhouse! The exhibit occurring while we were there was all about orchids, and I would’ve dearly liked to have seen it, but it was getting near the end of a very long day and our feet and legs were about to mutiny against us.
Here are a couple of pictures of the back side. The sun hit the tulips just right and made them seem to glow! I liked the spiral topiaries, too. Ah well, maybe I’ll get to see the inside on the next trip to D.C. if I ever get back there. 🙂
We finally made it back to the hotel and our feet and legs were SO sore! We figured we probably walked about 6 – 7 miles that first day, counting all the walking we did at the airports, too. That may not seem like much, but to people not used to that amount of walking (and up stairs, hills and on concrete, no less), it was plenty!
I should mention that D.C. was in the middle of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Cherry Blossom Festival, which commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries. By the time we got to D.C., most of the blossoms had already bloomed and fallen (thanks to an exceptionally early Spring this year) but many of the boats in the harbor outside our balcony were still decked in the pink and white lights. Exhausted and hungry, we ordered room-service from the wonderful seafood restaurant there at the hotel and dined in style while watching the water.
We went to bed early, determined to see much more on Day 2 and find a better way to get around town besides walking!
We got up pretty early on Day 2, still sore but ready to see as much as we could. We decided to hit the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, since it was such a large building and we knew it would take us awhile to get through. I didn’t think I would like it all that much, since I could really care less about the planes, but I rather enjoyed the “space” side.
I discovered that even the landscaping outside was carefully planned to incorporate plants with ‘spacey’ or aeronautic-themed names and shapes. Without a doubt, the weirdest plant I saw while in D.C.was a plant outside the Air and Space Museum. It looked like some sort of “alien” plant to me, but I found out it’s nothing more than an “ornamental onion” called a “Globemaster”. We got there early enough to see it before it was completely in bloom. Here’s what it looks like when it’s fully grown. Dr. Suess, anyone?
So, after spending most of Day 2 in the Air and Space Museum, by the end of it, we were once again getting tired and massaging sore feet, so we decided to relax before our trek back to the hotel by engaging in one of the 3-D shows in the Museum Planetarium called “Journey to the Stars”, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. It was a really neat presentation…unfortunately, the cool air and darkened room conspired to make us both nod off several times, so that we ended up missing about half of the show. But hey, we got some good rest and found the energy to make the journey back to the hotel (once more on foot). We found a Safeway store not too far from the hotel and decided to save some money and buy stuff we could eat for dinner from the grocery (and sushi bar – yay!).
Day 3 dawned bright and early and we had finally figured out how to use the Metro system, after walking past several Metro stops on our self-guided tour around town.
The Metro is definitely the way to get around D.C. Now, granted, it’s not exactly cheap ($9.00/per person for an all day pass) but saving the wear and tear on your legs makes it worth it. Although, be warned that walking to the platform where you catch your next train may require a lot of walking in and of itself, up and down stairs and the escalators may not be working…so be prepared. It made me even more certain that I would never want to live in a city big enough that I would have to ride a subway every day. There is a reason it is known as the “Sardine Can Express”. Ugh.
Anyway, our first stop of the day was The National Zoo. We had a mission, you see. My mother wanted a picture of the famous, endangered species of Przewalski’s wild horses that they have there. (Don’t ask me, I can’t pronounce it right either!) This is one of the big bronze lions at the front gate of the zoo.
The zoo itself is on a hill (oh, yay, more hills!) and the pen with the horses was about halfway around. So, we made a beeline to it only to discover that there were two of the little horses in the pen and they had their butts facing toward visitors, so it was almost impossible to get a good picture of their heads. This was the best picture we could manage to get from the side angle of the enclosure. Knowing that we had a long walk back uphill ahead of us and noticing how packed the zoo was starting to get, we decided to call it “good” and headed out. About thirty minutes later, we approached the Metro Station with sore legs and growling bellies.
By this time, it was getting close to lunch time, so we found a nice little Greek bistro/cafe called Medaterra close to the Metro Station and enjoyed a quiet, relaxing and flavorful meal. The food here was fantastic and the service was great. I highly recommend it if you like Greek food and a nice, relaxing atmosphere. It was just what we needed!
Refreshed, we jumped on the Metro once more and headed to the National Mall. Our next stop was the Museum of Natural History. The main thing I wanted to see there was that prehistoric grand-daddy of dragons, T-Rex. The one we saw was actually smaller than what I imagined, but still impressive. RAWR! We walked through all the wings on the first floor and could have taken the staircase up to the other floors…
But decided to take the elevator instead. We thought it was kinda neat-looking though, so we took a picture of it to show people back home. 🙂 As a bonus, we actually got a better picture (of a picture) of the Przewalski’s horse for my mom. The Museum was absolutely packed, and it wasn’t enjoyable trying to view everything while squishing around all the other people, so we took one last picture of a set of jaws from a prehistoric, giant Great White Shark…(this is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip)!
Deciding that we had had enough of that Museum, we headed outside to the Mall once again, where we took the opportunity to snap some typical tourist-y pictures. The Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Castle. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go into either one, but the crowds and all the walking were really starting to take their toll on our demeanors. So, we jumped the Metro once more, stopping at the Safeway grocery for dinner again and headed back to the hotel to relax and get to bed early. We weren’t taking any chances with another taxi-cab, so we scheduled a shuttle to come get us and take us to the airport for our 6:30 a.m. flight. Unfortunately, the shuttle also had other passengers to pick up, so they came to get us at 3:30 a.m. (joy). Even so, it was better than fearing for our lives and we had plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee and wait for the plane. The flights back were pretty uneventful and we touched down in Nashville around 11:00 a.m. and were back in Clarksville close to noon. Getting home was bliss and after showering, we both fell into bed for a much needed, well-deserved nap! 🙂
Overall, it was a fun trip. I think if I ever go back, however, I will make sure it is at a time when all the schools aren’t on Spring Break. There were just sooooo many people that it made it hard to enjoy most of the places we went. But I’m glad we made the trip and would like to go back and see some of the things we missed. Three days just isn’t enough time! 😀