Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day Tripper: Washington, DC

One of the things on our summer to do list this year was to visit Washington, DC.

Summer Fun List idea copied from Perfectomom.  Who doesn't know that's my secret nickname for her, but might figure it out if she reads this.  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  I say that mediocre imitation is more sincere.

Yesterday, we took a day trip with some friends and I thought I'd share some tips that you might find helpful if you decide to take a day trip to DC.  PS - Don't ask me why I suddenly seem to be trying to turn KWTF into a travel blog.  First, 6 posts about Disney World.  Now, onto Washington, DC.  Last year, I had a lot of cooking posts.  I hate to cook and I'm not a travel guru by any means.  However, telling people what to do even when I don't really know what I'm talking about is my forte.  

Me, 2 friends, and our 5 children took the local commuter train, which left at 6:25 AM.  Tip for locals:  You need 12 quarters for the parking meter at the station. Our little town's train station was surprisingly semi-lively so early in the morning.  We even had a local drunk approach us to ask for money.  Thankfully, we had already witnessed him ask someone else, so we were prepared.  It was interesting how the 3 of us responded to him.  He came up & asked us how we were doing and friend #1 said, "Good...." then he started in on his story.  Friend #2 interrupted him and said, "Yeah, we gotta be going." and gathered up the kids.  I just followed and pretended to herd the children, who thankfully did not ask any questions.

We took the train to Union Station, where we caught the Metro.  I have never been a fan of the Metro. Does one say "fan of the Metro" or "fan of Metro"?  I don't know, but I like calling it THE Metro, so if I'm wrong, just carry on as if I'm right.  Which mostly I am, but if I am not, it will work out for both of us better if you just pretend not to notice.

Here's a short list of my Metro fears:
1.  Metro crash:  need I say more?
2.  Metro breakdown:  in the middle of a tunnel?  on top of a bridge?  No thanks.
3.  People:  Metro is like a mixing bowl of business people and people of WalMart.  Throw in three women with five kids who obviously don't know what they are doing and things could get dicey.
4.  Germs:  One online review that I read praised Metro for it's efficiency and cleanliness.  Most of the stations smelled, as one of our kids said, "like someone pooped in front of a fan".  I would recommend using hand sanitizer.  Often.
5.  Rival gangs:  I did not see any gang members, but I always think of subways and trains being a place for rival gangs to rumble.  Maybe I watch too many movies.  Why would they pay $1.80 to fight on the Metro? Gang members have to watch their pennies too, so I guess they just go to a back alley somewhere, where there's no charge to slash each other.

I am happy to report that there were no crashes, breakdowns, crazy people, rival gangs, or diseases contracted during our visit.  My actual Metro tip would be to figure up your fare and only put that amount on your fare card.  You must have your fare card to exit the Metro and you can add more money if you need to before you exit.  We overestimated by $4 a person and therefore gave Metro 32 extra dollars, which we could have used to buy one chicken tender at the Natural History Museum, but we'll talk about that later.

The first thing we saw was the Washington Monument, which, in my mind, I still call "the pencil".

You can't really see the flags around the monument in this pic, but they are my favorite part.

Then we moved on to the World War II Memorial.

We tried to make a "W" and a "V".  Mountaineers are always free! 

Here we are trying to pose so we have the least amount of double chins. And  yes, we are sucking in our stomachs.

Kids in front of the fountain/pool at the WWII Memorial. 

Next we trekked over to the Lincoln Memorial, which was my favorite one of the day.  It's bigger than it looks in pictures and it's really beautiful.

The Lincoln Memorial is a place of quiet respect.
Our kids respectfully giggled quietly at the nudity in the mural  on the wall.  

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, facing the reflecting pool.  I, too, have a dream.  A dream that someday my child will smile nicely when I take her picture and appreciate the place in which she is standing.  
Next stop:  The White House.  This is as close as you can get.  My idea for them to make the visit a better experience would be to sell White House shaped ice cream bars.  I mean, Sea World sells Shamu bars and Disney World sells Mickey bars.  Get with the times, White House!  A little cart with ice cream wouldn't kill you.
Future president here?  Let's hope not.
Spent the rest of the afternoon at the Museum of Natural History.  First stop was the food court.  I spent $22 on 2 baskets of chicken tenders/fries and 1 drink.  Be prepared to spend a lot of money on not a lot of food that is mediocre quality.  The Museum of Natural History has a a lot of dinosaur stuff, the Hope Diamond, mummies, and lots of other stuff.  If I'm totally honest, it was not my cup of tea.  The most exciting thing I saw was the mummy, which I'm not even sure was real.  There is a butterfly pavilion, which you must buy a ticket for.  There are also IMAX movies, which you must buy a ticket for.  We chose not to do that since collectively we spent close to $100 on a crappy lunch.

Giant shark jaws.

Did you know this elephant's name is Henry?

I have no words for this picture.
We headed back to Union Station, where we caught our train back home.  The conductor announced that the last stop was 3 stops away from our stop and that bus service would be provided for passengers.  We had not anticipated this, but figured if they were providing bus service, then bus service we would take for the last leg of our journey.  Little did we know that the bus service awaiting us was Pan Tran, our county's local form of bus service.  Aka little tiny bus.  We noticed some passengers getting up before the train arrived at the last stop and lining up at the door.  Little did we know that they were the smart ones who knew to run to the Pan Tran and get a seat because the 30 minute ride feels like eternity when standing with your butt in someone's face.  Or holding a 90 pound 8 year old child on one leg.  A leg that is numb for a good hour after and twitches some the next day.

Here are some real tips for visiting Washington, DC:
1.  Wear comfortable shoes.  You will walk more than you realize.
2.  Prepare for the heat.  The mall has little shade and the water fountains aren't plentiful, nor are they satisfying.  The water pressure is very low and the taste is not great.  Take water or be prepared to pay $2.50 for bottled water.  Wear sunblock and cool clothing.
3.  Travel light.  Whatever you take with you, you will have to carry.  We opted to take phone pics instead of lugging around a big camera.  Due to the heat, I'm glad I did not have to carry my camera.  However, if I go when the weather is cooler, I will take my camera because there are many great photo ops.
4.  Plan your meals.  The cafes in the Smithsonian buildings are expensive and the food is mediocre.  I'm pretty sure the food at  Disney World was cheaper.  There are not any restaurants next to the Smithsonian buildings.  I'm sure there are great lunch digs somewhere, but don't think you're going to walk into a cute little place right there on the mall.  You are going to eat a hot dog out of a cart for $2.50 or you are going to pay $22 for chicken tenders and fries and a drink at the Smithsonian.
5.  Have a plan.  Plan out where you are going to go and how you are going to get there.  The monuments look like they are close together, and it's fairly easy to navigate around.  However, if the weather is hot and you have children, you will want to make sure you know where you are going so you don't have to backtrack or wander around.
6.  Don't drive.  Parking is limited, and traffic can be horrid.  The train and the metro worked great for us.

Have you ever taken a trip to our nation's capital?  What's your favorite thing?

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