The girls and I have just returned from a week in Washington, D.C. and I have to say, it was amazing. I had been there twice before for business but except for one afternoon it was fly in, do the meetings, fly out. This time it was purely a family vacation with not even much time dedicated to serious photography. I didn’t even pack a tripod. Anyway, we had a wonderful time and this trip will take it’s place in the Top 5 Vacations list.
Our plan was simple: Spend some time in the Smithsonians, have a look at the Memorials, and spend one day meeting up with family living in the area. Based on my previous afternoon and all the walking I did I thought it best to book one of the “Hop on, Hop off” tour buses and save us a few miles of walking. We picked Old Town Trolley tours and it was a rousing success. The drivers’ knowledge of Washington and their ongoing commentary was tremendous for us first timers and the facts they gave out were amazing. For example: Did you know the Lady Liberty statue that stands atop the Capital is 19 1/2 feet tall…and that Congress passed a law that no statue in the District of Columbia can be that height? They feel that nothing should “….stand above Liberty.” To this end, the statues of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial are each only 19 feet tall. Amazing little factoid.
We also took the trolley ride and guided tour through Arlington National Cemetery. Again, the driver was full of information about the area. Did you know that the Arlington House mansion was owned by Robert E. Lee who was evicted shortly after refusing Lincoln’s request that he command the northern army? And that the original owner and Robert E. Lee’s wife were relatives of George Washington? Still another fact we learned. We were moved and impressed by the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witnessed 2 funeral processions with horse drawn caskets. According to the driver of our tour bus there are often as many as 28 funerals each day at Arlington. Recently the requirements to be interred there have become quite a bit more restrictive.
The Memorials. One of our goals was to see the War Memorials and we had the chance to do that. I had seen the WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial previously and had been impressed by them both. This time we also saw the Korean War Memorial and the Marine Corp Memorial (better known as the Iwo Jima statue). I was fascinated by the Korean War Memorial and spent some time photographing the detail of the statues there.
As a Vietnam era Vet I was again moved by all the names on the wall. There but for the Grace of God….
We managed to visit 2 of the Smithsonian Museums. Early on the first day we hit the Museum of Natural History but didn’t spend a whole lot of time there. If you’ve seen one dinosaur bone you’ve seen them all. So on we went to the National Museum of American History. This is one of the places I would like to have spent more time in but by the time we got there it was late afternoon and we were tired and decided to cut our visit short.
On Thursday, with the week flying by, we were booked on a river cruise from D.C. to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. As before, the commentary during the cruise was very educational and we really enjoyed the trip. Mount Vernon itself was as beautiful as everyone said it would be and it is another place we would like to have spent more time. Sadly, we only had 3 hours to spend there before the boat headed back to D.C. Funny thing…my wife who has always professed to hate museums, having been drug through many a museum in her youth, was fascinated by the Educational Center at Mount Vernon. I finally had to play “bad cop” and rush her out so we wouldn’t miss our boat ride back to the city.
Friday found us on the road out to Virginia. My nephew and his family live there and we were invited out for a wonderful lunch and wine tasting. The wines were good and we had a terrific lunch of antipasti prepared by my niece and our hostess, Tara Thimmesch. A good time was had by all. Tara and her husband, Darin, will be moving back to the midwest next month and hopefully we’ll get to see them and their family more often.
After leaving the winery we headed up the road to Bull Run Battlefield. I’ve always been fascinated by the battles of the Civil War and this is the site of the first major land battle of the war. We sat through a 30 minute movie about the battle before taking a quick walk out to the Henry House. Add this to the list of places where I would like to spend more time and take the driving tour of the battlefield which covered several square miles. Again, the things I learned were fascinating. Did you know that the battles of Bull Run and Manassas were the same battles? I had always thought they were different but no….The Confederacy called it Manassas and the Union called it Bull Run. There were two battles here separated by 2 years.
By now it was late Friday afternoon and after a week filled with 10,000+ step days we were getting a little burned out. Back to our hotel to relax and get ready for our early morning flight home on Saturday. But wait! We haven’t seen the monuments at night! Back in the car and headed downtown. We visited the Marine Corp (Iwo Jima) Memorial and the WWII Memorial. I walked up the hill to the Washington Monument and photographed the image you see at the top of this blog.
All in all we had a fabulous week. But it wasn’t enough! We didn’t get to see Ford’s Theater…or the White House…or the Capital…..and I’d like to visit the National Archives to see the original copy of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We’d all like to visit the Air and Space Museum both on the Mall and the one out by Dulles Airport. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to go back.
In closing, I have a tip for visitors to D.C. who have limited time. Take advantage of every guided tour you possibly can. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned by listening to the drivers of the Old Town Trolley Hop On, Hop Off buses, the driver of the Arlington National Cemetery tour bus, and the Captain of the Spirit of Mount Vernon tour boat. The information they pass on is invaluable. So take the tours and enjoy your visit. We did.