Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vacation: Day 4 D.C.

After a full day in Baltimore we arrived at Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton, Virginia just before dark on Sunday night. We switched campsites to one that backed up against the playground and got everything set up while the kids played. We had a nice supper and planned our attack of D.C. the following day. Brian and I have both been to D.C. before but it has been over 15 years for both of us. Mom, Dad and the kids had never been there so we really wanted to be able to cram as much in to two days as possible. To that end, we hit the hay early.

Our campground was a convenient 10 minute drive from the first Metro stop on the blue line. So we packed our lunches and the stroller and bought our tickets. Since Brian and I had some recent experience with the El in Chicago we were able to explain to Mom and Dad how to put money on their card and use it etc. By the end of our stay the kids were using their own cards and zipping through the turnstiles themselves. We were making transfers and switching lines like old pros by the second day.
We rode the blue line in to Arlington, where we toured the National Cemetery for most of the morning. It may sound creepy but it is one of my favorite places in D.C. I love the neatness and orderliness of the identical graves and what they signify.
We saw President Kennedy's grave, flanked by his wife and two infant children....

...the monument to the USS Maine, which exploded in February of 1898, killing 274 sailors on board and precipitating the Spanish American War.....
....memorials to the crew of the Shuttle Columbia....
....and the Challenger.
Then we set off for the tomb of the unknown solider....

and watched the changing of the guard.

Then we made the long walk to my favorite monument in all of D.C., the Marine Corps. memorial.
I think the reason that this one seems so special is that it is sculpted from real life. These are real men, several of whom died on Iwo Jima after they raised this flag, who really, of their own will, raised the flag atop the hill they had just captured. It isn't some artists idea of heroism, or war, or esprit de corp. It is an actual moment frozen in time. The addition of the "hand of God" is also a moving addition to the scene.
We sat in the park and ate our sack lunches as we looked at the Marine Corp memorial. It was a beautiful sunny, but bordering on hot, day. By that time we had walked several miles and were practically all the way to another (different) Metro station. We walked a few more blocks, stopping for cold drinks and restrooms along the way, and hopped on the blue line once again to go all the way in to the Smithsonian.
Of course the kids were excited about the Smithsonian because of the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. And what did we see immediately upon our entrance to the castle? The "pile of loot" created for the movie. We had to take a picture of that!!

Our first museum was the Air and Space Museum. Once again we had to walk a few blocks to get there from the Metro station, but this time it was a good thing. We ended up walking right along the Planet Walk. The Planet Walk is a series of plaques (like the one below) that gives information about each planet in our solar system. The plaques are spaced (to scale) the exact distance that they are apart in the solar system. Brian teaches Astronomy and mentions the Planet Walk in his lecture. Now he has "been there, done that" and has pictures of it to boot. He and Ryker were very interested in the Planet Walk.

Once inside the museum we saw countless "flying machines" but these are the highlights. We saw the original "Spirit of St.Louis" and had the chance to teach the kids about Lucky Lindy. Of course we've seen a replica all of our lives at Lambert Airport, but it's neat to see the real thing. The thing that amazed me was that it has no windshield! Poor Charlie flew all that way with only a view out the side or straight down. He couldn't even see where he was going!!!

We also saw Amelia Erhart's jacket, which of course thrilled the kids because she was in the movie too.
We saw lots of rockets and capsules, etc. We saw the "balloon" that was first used to circumnavigate the globe and a Gemini capsule. We saw the Wright Brother's plane and a street car trolley. We didn't take many pictures and we really weren't that impressed. Not because it wasn't a great museum but because the Air Force Museum (which we've visited twice before) is so much better. It has ten times the actual planes that are in the Smithsonian and actually a couple of the space capsules that were at the Smithsonian the kids had already seen at the Air Force Museum in Dayton because they rotate through there every so often. We had a great time, but we didn't see much that we hadn't seen before.

When we finished with the Air and Space Museum it was time to head over to the Capitol Building (you guessed it) a few blocks away. By that time Mom's legs were about done for so she and dad hired a pedicab, otherwise known as a rickshaw, to take them to the Capitol Building while we hoofed it.
We just checked out the outside of the building......
.....and then went around back to see the Library of Congress. Ryker (inspired by National Treasure) really wanted to tour the inside but we just didn't have time.
We also got a look at the Supreme Court.
It was at this point that Kinley announced that she had to go potty. I asked a policeman (the ones who hang out in these little huts on the street corners) where the nearest public restroom was. He told me that we could go in the Library of Congress or the House Office Buildings down the street. Ryker (excited to at least see the inside) and I raced down the sidewalk pushing Kinley ahead of us. We then carried her all the way up all of those stairs in the stroller only to find that it was already closed. We then sped over to the Cannon Building, one of the House office buildings.

We made it through security and found a bathroom and the day was saved, but the visit to the office building (and discovering that it was still open after 5 pm) inspired us to find our Rep. John Shimkus' office and stop in. Of course he is in the Rayburn building which is two blocks further down the street ....and in the evening only has doors on one side of the building open to visitors. So after quite a walk to, and around, the building we found his office and met his very outgoing aid, Tony.

Tony invited in the the Representatives private office to have a look around. I will report that it was a small office (he let the numerous aids have the big offices) and very tidy. He was also obviously a big baseball fan, as you can tell by the decor pictured below.
Tony told us that Rep. Shimkus pitches for the Republicans in the annual Republican/Democrat softball game. Tony also invited us to come back the next day for a private tour of the Capitol Building. We hadn't scheduled in time for a tour (Brian and I had both done one before) but we decided to go for it, and we were glad later that we did.

Bone tired and almost walked to death we got back on the Metro and rode the blue line for 30 minutes or so back out to the end of the line where we retrieved our car and headed back to camp. We had a late supper and fell in to bed. We still had a lot to see the next day.

Tomorrow: Day two in D.C. Two more Smithsonians and lots of monument...plus a little baseball.