Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring Break 2015 | Exploring Washington, D.C.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to see Washington, D.C. over our spring break. Taking advantage of our new east coast address--we were even able to drive there. For me, this was a first visit. Greg had been once before (but not sightseeing) and obviously, the kids had never been. We felt like the girls were at a great age to enjoy the sights, put up with all the walking, and be interested in the history at every turn.
We asked a lot of questions before we left, did some research online, and got in touch with our district Representative in the House for tips and tours. Unfortunately, our name did not come up in the White House Tour lottery--but we did get to see a lot of other amazing places, documents, and monuments during our week-long stay. 
On Monday morning, after checking into our hotel (we decided to stay near Georgetown--just a short ride on the Metro to the center of DC), we tackled the public subway and made our way to the National Mall. Here we had our first sight of the Washington Monument in one direction and the Capitol Building in the other. We then made our way to our first stop: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. After a couple hours of exploring and a snack, we walked next door to the National Museum of American History. Having just done a school project on Sacagawea, Geneva was pretty impressed with compass used by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. 
(Monument, Ice Cream, Bones, Compass)
After a full day of exploring, we were happy to relax and enjoy a nice dinner out with our friends who live down the street in Charlotte and who were staying at our hotel in DC! 
The next started with a trip to the National Archives to see the Charters of Freedom which include: the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. We were all very impressed! If you decided to visit, I encourage you to request a timed entry online well before your trip. We waited in line outside for 45 minus to enter the building where we made our way immediately to the Rotunda--where we waited another 20 minutes to see the documents. (No photos allowed--but if you follow the link for the "Charters of Freedom" above, there's a great picture of the Rotunda.) 
After the Archives, we had a fantastic lunch and then walked over to the International Spy Museum. Some things to note about the Spy Museum if you decide to go: it costs money, you should buy your tickets in advance and get an "entry time" (know that you'll likely wait in line anyway), there are fantastic installments, artifacts, interactive opportunities, and intriguing information at every turn, and the girls LOVED it. The museum is currently featuring a big exhibit on James Bond movie villains (which I personally thought was a waste of space and time). 
(Archive Selfie, Code Breaker, Archive Seal)
After this full day, we ventured back to our hotel for a couple hours of relaxing, followed by a nice dinner together in the lobby restaurant before we embarked on our evening highlight: a private twilight monument tour. The tour was highly recommended on Trip Advisor and I had an easy time communicating via email about the sights we wanted to see during our 3-hour excursion. The package included pickup and drop off from our hotel, a big comfortable car, a driver, and a tour guide (in this case, George) who accompanied us the entire time--filling us in on history, stories, trivia, etcetera. George was well-informend, engaging with the girls, energetic, and fun. 
(White House, Sisters at the Capitol, MLK, Cherry Blossoms, Lincoln, Korean War, Iwo Jima, Vietnam War, Joneses)
Wednesday we slept in, had a late breakfast in the other hotel restaurant, and then headed to the Cannon House Office Building to meet one of sour State Representative's assistants who would take us on a 90 minute tour of the Capitol Building. We met three other Charlotte families on the tour and saw a lot of amazing statues, architecture, historic rooms, artwork, and heard so many great stories from our tour guide. 
(Representatives Jones & Jones, Flag, Badasses, Pretty Light, Me & Abe, Crypt, Indoor Freedom, Sacagaweas, My Loves) 
After we finished our tour, we headed through the tunnel (it sounds more dramatic than it really is: an underground hallway) that lead to the Library of Congress (and more specifically, the Thomas Jefferson Building). We took a breathtaking one-hour guided tour of the library highlights. I highly recommend it --but Piper probably would not. She was done before it started. ;) I wish I could link better pictures and more information for you in about the pictures below, but the website for the Library of Congress is frustratingly set up like a library website and therefor not especially jazzy when it comes to showcasing the treasures of the architecture. If you're so inclined, here is a general link to google images.
Main Reading Room, Sidewalk View, Tunnel, Pretty, Pretty, TJ's Books, Pretty, My Loves Among TJ's Books, More Pretty)
 After our third full day, we headed to Annapolis where we enjoyed the comforts of our friends' second home (they were away near the other coast). Greg got up Thursday and golfed with friends in Baltimore. The girls and I slept in and had a lazy morning. We finally manage to get out around 1pm and we headed over to State Circle and Maryland Avenue for some treats, treasures, and fresh air. When we got too cold (and the parking meter had run out) we headed back to the condo to hang out until Greg got back and we all had a fun dinner
(Southern Belle, Strangers' Homes, Graffiti Artist, New Baubles, Capitol, Galway, Paca, Ice Cream, Cutie Pies)
After breakfast and leisure on Friday morning, we drove back to DC and met Greg's childhood friend for a quick lunch (he was working that day). It was a great visit and I loved listening to them catch up and hearing about all of the interesting places he's lived since leaving California. 
Then we headed over to the Newseum (an interactive museum of news and journalism). Wow! It was incredible. I hadn't even heard of it when I was planning our trip and our itineraries. However, several people along the way mentioned it and said what a great job they had done with it. Some things to know: it costs money (but you get a 2-day pass) and several of the exhibits are graphic and may not be appropriate for children. In fact, we pulled ours out of the Pulitzer Prize Photograph Gallery about 10 minutes. The 9/11 Gallery was challenging but we sat with them and watched the featured film "Running Toward Danger" and then talked about it afterward. The Berlin Wall Gallery was amazing--as was Today's Front Pages Gallery and the view from the Hank Greenspun Terrace (however, the Capitol Dome was under scaffolding during our visit and we don't have any great pictures). The girls had the most fun in the New Media Gallery with all of the interactive components. We were there for almost 4 hours and only saw a fraction of the compelling material.
(9/11, First Amendment, Front Pages, New Media Fun, Beauty, Great Books, Berlin Wall, Pulitzer Gallery, World News
After the Newseum, we headed back to Annapolis for the night. We got up early and drove home. The 14 hour roundtrip car ride was made enjoyable by listening to a completely entertaining, unabridged (11.5 hours) reading of The Hobbit. We all loved it (though Piper needed some convincing early on). The best part of the adventure was sharing it with this guy!
Obviously, there is so much more to see and experience in DC. Which sights, museums, restaurants, or attractions should we put on the list for our next visit? Your suggestions (in the comments below) are greatly appreciated!
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