A Long Weekend in Washington D.C.

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A few long weekends in our Nation’s capital is all it takes to see the best sites of D.C.  I came to D.C. as a teenager as part of a field trip for our middle school.  We saw Mt. Vernon, colonial Williamsburg, the capitol building, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, and a few of the memorials.  While it was over 30 years ago, some sites have remained the same and others have expanded.  As such, I touched on some newer ones.

Suman and I started our weekend flying into Dulles on Thursday morning as the flight options were a bit cheaper on the Easter holiday weekend which also included our birthdays.  We spent the night with her family in McLean which was lovely before we came into the city the following day.

We were on a DreamTrip and fortunate that we could check into the Westin Georgetown early!  We were booked in a room on the top floor, but seeing as how the hotel was only eight stories high, we didn’t have an amazing view of anything.  Regardless, it was nice our room was ready and even nicer to be given a complimentary bottle of wine for our birthdays.  I had jokingly asked for an upgrade for our birthdays, and while they couldn’t accommodate us, Yarnell was quick to offer us wine to celebrate.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Georgetown.  As we passed by a variety of brick buildings featuring store fronts and restaurants, we stumbled upon the Old Stone House.  Dating from 1765, Old Stone House is the oldest structure on its original foundation in the Nation’s capital!  A myth saved the home from destruction like other structures of the era.  It was thought that George Washington and L’Enfant, who helped design the capital met here, but that is not the case.  We took a few minutes to check out the four rooms which housed a variety of antiques.

Afterwards, we strolled a few more blocks before we settled on a birthday drink and people watching before we went to Firefly for my birthday dinner.  It was so fun to catch up with my friends and cousin who I haven’t seen for several years.  The restaurant was crowded with a great atmosphere and the food was good.  It was a fun night out!

As part of our DreamTrip, on Saturday we boarded the Spirit of Washington and took a cruise along the Potomac River.  Lunch and two free drinks were included on the excursion.  The chef on the boat was really good.  I loved the mashed potatoes which generally aren’t my favorite.  The lower deck of the boat included a DJ and dance floor where some people boogied to the upbeat music.  We climbed the stairs to the top deck where we enjoyed the nice weather, and I would say beautiful views, but there was not too much to see except a few cherry blossom trees still in bloom!

After our lunch cruise, we walked to some of the newer memorials.  We started at the Korean War Memorial where there were 19 soldiers and a granite wall with photos of actual soldiers engraved into the wall.  The soldiers are dressed in rain gear, hold communicative devices, and are depicted hiking through scrub similar to the way they would have experienced the war.  The 19 soldiers reflect on the wall, making a total of 38 which represents the 38th parallel that runs between North and South Korea.

From the Korean War Memorial, we crossed the street to the Martin Luther King Memorial.  A tall standing MLK was carved out of a stone looking toward the Jefferson Memorial located across the man-made tidal basin.  A wall around the area included several of King’s famous quotes.

From the Martin Luther King Memorial, we walked back toward the greenway to the World War II Memorial complete with fountains.  The memorial included columns for all the states and the US territories as well as large columns for both the Pacific and Atlantic wars.

After a brief rest at the World War II Memorial, we continued to the White House.  Apparently, there was an incident early in the day, and the area was evacuated, but we missed that.  Instead, we snapped a quick photo of the green lawn that was prepped for the Easter Egg roll on Monday before we headed back to the hotel to get ready for Suman’s birthday.

Suman planned her shindig at Zatinya a large and popular middle eastern restaurant in D.C..  We ordered small plates for the table to share.  The best dishes were the spicy sausage pizza and seared cheese.  It was a nice night that Suman extended with two other friends at Flight Wine Bar.

Since Friday and Saturday were somewhat mellow, I packed in things to do in D.C. on Sunday.  I started by taking the Metro down to Captain White’s Seafood Market.  The Metro is slightly complicated for a large, well established city like D.C..  The fares are different based on mileage and peak/offpeak times.  I had to buy a card for $2 and then add the amount of money I needed for each ride.  IT just took a little reading.

To get to the docks where Captain White’s was located I rode the Metro to the L’Enfant Plaza stop and walked the rest of the way.  The docks were under construction and the parking lot was crowded, though the market wasn’t too busy yet.  I hoped for a quiet market, and it is why I went for crabs at 8:45 in the morning!  I had read that the folks at the dock weren’t too excited to help their customers and such reviews were correct.  I stood there without anyone acknowledging me until they asked another man if he needed help, and he replied, “She was first.”

The market had bins of oysters, shrimp, as well as male and female crabs of all sizes.  Live crabs pinched at each other as they were collected into bushels and half bushels for customers.  I believe I could have purchased a couple of live crabs and had them steamed on site, but the unhelpfulness of the staff led me to buy two pre-cooked crabs as I thought this would be easier.  Little did I know they weren’t freshly cooked!  Instead they were frozen and needed to be heated up.  This was a bit of a bummer as they didn’t taste great, but the experience of getting a whole crab, a mallet, a brown bag with seasoning, and the ability to crack the crab while looking out on the water made my Easter morning special!

I finished up breakfast just in time to stroll to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.  This is one of the most popular museums in D.C. and the line out front to enter at opening confirmed it!  After about thirty minutes, I entered the free museum full of missiles and planes.  I enjoyed seeing the tomahawk missile, the Apollo exhibit, and The Explorer II a pressurized gondola that reached 72,395 feet and held the world record for 20 years.  There were also exhibits on World War I and II, as well as the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh.  The most surprising exhibit, and likely my favorite was of artist renderings of WWI by soldier artists. The US Army commissioned eight artists who joined forces and depicted a variety of scenes from the war.  It was cool!

Lunch called my name, and my cousin Kari tipped me off to a great café called Sculpture Garden Pavillion Cafe tucked in a park with a fountain and sculptures at the National Gallery of Art.  I strolled through the sculpture garden of modern art, passed by the fountain, found a table in the shade and enjoyed a refreshing salad before I continued on to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

There were several exhibits at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History which I enjoyed including the ocean exhibit, a nature photography exhibit, and a mineral and gem exhibit.  The most interesting, however, was to see the Hope Diamond.  I had only heard of it and certainly didn’t know the whole story, so to learn more about it was fun.

No one knows exactly when and where the diamond was discovered, but it is thought to be discovered prior to 1668 in the Golconda area of India.  The diamond started out at 112 3/16 carats (more than twice the size of the current gem).  It was sold to King Louis XIV of France in 1668.  In 1673, the King has the gem recut to 67 1/8 carats to be set as a pendant.  In 1792, the diamond was stolen during the reign of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and remained lost for 20 years.  It resurfaced in London in 1812 after being reduced in size by twenty carats.  At some point over the next ten years or so, the diamond was sold to King George IV.  Upon the King’s death in the 1830’s, Henry Philip Hope, a gem collector, purchased the diamond.  It remained in the Hope family until 1901 when it was passed among diamond merchants.  In 1912, Evelyn Walsh McLean bought the Hope Diamond from Pierre Cartier in its current setting.  Harry Winston, a prominent New York jeweler, purchased the gem from McLean’s estate in 1949 and in 1958 donated it to the Smithsonian.  While there is no truth to it, the diamond was rumored to bring its owners bad luck, even death, thus increased fascination with the gem.

After a day on foot, I enjoyed a nice dinner with my cousin Kari at Founding Farmers, another very popular spot, especially on Easter.  We were able to snag two seats at the bar and enjoy some good southern shrimp and grits before we met up with Suman and Kelley for an evening tour of the memorials.  We used Big Bus Tours, though there were several operators to choose from with countless Groupon deals. We got more than half off the advertised rate.  The hop on/off bus of any sorts is worth every penny for a visitor not familiar with the D.C. area.

Our tour guide was energetic and funny and full of knowledge, most of which I assume was accurate, though some was not.  Regardless, we got the lay of the land, heard about almost every building on the route and saw several memorials while the sunset before we enjoyed the view at night as well.  There were a few museums and government buildings of which I was unaware.  First was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  I wasn’t in the mood for sadness on this weekend, so I didn’t attend the Holocaust Museum, but I will add it to the list for my next long weekend visit to D.C.  The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints paper money and a same day tour may be arranged by waiting in line at 8:30am.  Next time, I will be organized enough to see this as well.

After making a few loops around the most popular sites of D.C., our bus stopped near the Lincoln Memorial where we took a tour of it, the Korean Memorial, and got a nice view of the Washington Monument which marks the center of the mall.  East of the Washington Monument is the Capitol Building, west is the Lincoln Memorial, south is the Jefferson Memorial, and north is the White House. It was nice night.

Currently, there is a very popular exhibit at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden called Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors.  From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks simply amazing.  Getting tickets is simply impossible.  Memberships to the museum are sold out because of this event.  Timed spaces are given out every Monday at noon and otherwise people must wait in line on the same day for a limited amount allotted.  Our guide said the line begins at 9 and ends at 9:30.  I thought since the exhibit ends in less than a month I should give it a shot in the morning.

This 9 to 9:30 tidbit of information wasn’t correct!  I got there at 9:10 and the line was at leasat 300 people deep if not more.  I met a few folks in line who lived in D.C. and were more informed than me.  The lady in front of me waited in the line three times!  They cut the line off just before her yesterday.  She said, once visitors wait for hours for a timed space, they are allowed only 30 seconds in each of the five rooms resulting in an experience of 2.5 minutes!!  Had I known that at the beginning, perhaps I would have skipped the waiting, but by the time I heard this, I had invested an hour.  We made it into the cordoned off area before they closed the line, but we were about 50 people back when they announced the 600 tickets were gone.  Oh well, it wasn’t a total bust.  The people I met were fun and I ran into a high school classmate…crazy!!  My tip would be to go on a weekday no later than 8:30, but the earlier the better to get early tickets.  On the weekends, show up by 7 and there’s a chance.

Normally I wouldn’t have waited around, but the artist is 88 years old and I didn’t see that the exhibit was traveling so it was a last chance to see it eventhough I had never planned on it.  I went on to visit the National Archives Building which was far less crowded.  It displayed the Constitution, the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Declaration of Independence among other old documents.  It was a neat place, but no pictures were allowed.

Finally, I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  I think I may have been “museumed out” by this time as I didn’t find it terribly interesting.  I did like seeing the original flag that flew during the battle that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner, but no pictures were allowed for it either.  None the less, it was a decent way to stay out of the rain, the only dreary day of our long weekend.  It was hard to believe that the day before was 89 degrees.  I should have walked by the Easter Egg Roll at the White House on my way back to the hotel, but my feet and back were ready for a rest after 30 miles of walking over the last few days.  Too bad I failed to synq my Fitbit before the end of the weekend.  I would have logged 100K steps for the week!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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