Archive for Travel

Washington DC: The Rest of the Story

Originally I wanted to do a post per day while I was on vacation, and I did… for two days. After the third day I was so tired that I didn’t. And then day four was the same. And day five… We had a wonderful time, saw a lot, and did much, but walking almost everywhere took it’s toll on us.

In total, we got to see five and a half of the Smithsonian museums, plus about half of the zoo. We saw Madame Tussauds, which was simultaneously interesting and super creepy. We ate food at a bunch of local joints. And we saw a number of monuments.

We also got to stroll along several of the streets of Capitol Hill where we were staying, and it was lovely. The neighborhood and the city made us decide that if we ever win the lottery we will probably move there.

We happened to be in DC for the 4th of July, which was crowded and crazy and absolutely glorious. We sat on some grass out in front of the Lincoln Memorial and watched the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen in the sky above the reflecting pool.

So, final thoughts on the vacation:

  • If you go to Arlington National Cemetary, pay the $9 for the tram tour. It is the best $9 you will spend your entire vacation. Anyone who tells you that anything in that place is “just a short walk” from anywhere is a damned liar. If you decide to save the $9, bring lots of water and sunscreen, and plan to spend literally all day there walking.
  • We rented an apartment through airbnb.com and it was great. Nicely located about a mile off the Mall on Capitol Hill. I would totally do this again, and after 2 successful vacations using the site, I’m prepared to go there first before hotels for pretty much any future vacation.
  • The daytime bus tours are kind of a ripoff. Especially when you consider the air conditioning almost never works, and even though they promise live tour guides, most of the buses have broken PA systems so the tour guide can’t work the bus and you get to listen to the pre-recorded stuff. But that’s sort of okay since the tour guides make the most predictable lame jokes and they all make the same jokes. However, the night tour was pretty great, because it actually stopped at monuments and the tour guide got out and showed us stuff.
  • A week is not enough time in Washington DC. I want to go back. I will go back. There are still like a dozen Smithsonians to see.

Washington DC: Day 2

Sleep. Normally I get about 5 hours a nice, maybe 5. It is my standard running number. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. On vacation, however, I can usually manage more. 7.

The goal for the day was simple. Find breakfast. Go to the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Visit a grocery store for some food for the week.

Being the first non-travel day, we were slow to rise and get moving. So breakfast almost became lunch, until we found an IHOP. I got lunch anyway.

We arrived at the Udvar-Hazy Center and it was closed. Not really, but apparently Google Maps likes leading people to the entrance that is restricted to staff only on the weekends. So we had to call the museum to get better directions to the correct entrance.

The museum is amazing, wall to wall and floor to extremely high ceiling with flying machines. Planes and helicopters and balloons… and space.

I’ve seen in TV and movies, read in books, people who repress or for other reasons have a delayed reaction to things. In 1986, when I was 11 years old, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch. Perhaps because I was too young, or perhaps because I didn’t really understand death, or maybe because of the manner in which the news was unfolded to me, as a child I didn’t react to the news.

When it happened, our school was supposed to gather for assembly and watch it together, but for whatever reason they decided it was too much trouble or something, and we just had a normal day. The launch came during lunch and recess for my class. While we were on the playground, my teacher was with some of the other teachers who also had the same lunch and recess periods in the teachers’ lounge watching the launch. We returned from recess and Mr. Strykowsky sat at his desk, unusually quiet. The normally boisterous man who was always joking and laughing sat, his hands folded on the desk in front of him, staring blankly into the middle distance.

Kids, at least at that time, loved space. And with Christa McAuliffe on board, it was doubly so. You might dream of being an astronaut, but doing that is a long road with very few people making it. But Christa was a teacher who made an end run around the usual program. A back door into space. We were all excited about a regular person making it onto the shuttle.

One of the other kids asked how the launch went. “It blew up.” It was all he said. Because he was the type to joke around, I don’t think any of us really believed him. It didn’t become real until I got home and there was nothing else on television, the footage replayed on a near constant loop. But I was detached. I didn’t cry or even really feel it.

The Wife and I talked about photos while we ate at IHOP. We laughed as we came up with the idea of taking photos of very large things from far away while one of us was standing next to the object. Imagine a photo of “Jason at the Washington Monument” and it’s a photos of the full height monument, and at the bottom is a little spec with a red shirt – me.

There is a high walkway in the Udvar-Hazy, equivalent to a third floor. From this walkway you can look down the hall toward the Space Shuttle Discovery, its nose pointed right at you. The Wife waited up on this walkway while I headed down to stand next to the shuttle, to be the little red dot.

As I made my way down the hall, the shuttle loomed before me, growing in size as I approached. I passed people stopping to take photos, themselves large in the frame with the shuttle small in the background. I’m over a hundred feet away and my vision begins to blur. I rub my eyes and my hands come away wet. As I get closer, tears begin to roll. When I get to the shuttle it is undeniable, I am crying. And I can’t seem to stop.

I walk away from the shuttle and climb the stairs to meet up with The Wife. When I get to the top I’ve gotten control of myself and we finish touring the airplanes. When we return to the space wing, the feelings still well up, but they don’t explode out of me again.

We picked a good day to be here… well, picked is a strong work, lucked would be better. The United States Navy Band Commodores were giving a free concert in the hanger. It was lovely.

Then we went to Wal-Mart. Every vacation has to have its less than glorious moments.

Washington DC: Day 1

We arrived in the nation’s capitol just after 6pm. Quickly we settled into the 1 bedroom apartment we’d rented for the week, cleaned up a little after the 7 hour drive and headed out to dinner.

The Wife wanted to go to Hard Rock, mostly to visit and add a shirt to her collection, but we decided to eat as well. We were staying at a place on the corner of E & 10th NE. The Hard Rock is on the corner of E & 10th NW. That makes it roughly 20 or so blocks away, 2 miles. We walked.

Washington DC is a beautiful city. There is a ton of history here and lots of old buildings. Perhaps I just haven’t hung around the right neighborhoods in Atlanta but that town never had that sort of presence to me. The first 10 blocks of our journey, from our temporary home to Union Station, was through a primarily residential area. Lots of homes with little gardens on their front steps. A few were for sale and we talked about how cool it would be to live here. I picked up the flyer for one of these homes. 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, kitchen, den… $800,000. Well, maybe after we win the lottery.

Once we passed Union Station we cross from the NE to the NW side, and the once declining street numbers started to rise. I don’t know if I have ever encountered this before. It seems like it would be sort of confusing… says the guy from Atlanta, land of a thousand Peachtree Streets.

This side was pretty much all business, but rather than the skyscraping towers of glass and steel you might get elsewhere, here the buildings all have a more storied and solid look. The city feels grand even though it isn’t tall. The business side also has homeless people. And a couple of sketchy areas, especially during the walk back after dark. Even so, I never felt in danger, but then I’m a guy and I’ve been told a semi-scary looking one too. It’s the shaved head and goatee.

It’s nice to be in walking distance of so much and I look forward to exploring over the next week here. I brought two pairs of shoes but I suspect I’ll be wearing the hiking boots most of the time. I like the look of my black sneakers and they are good for the office, but the padding is inadequate for long foot journeys. The Wife brought six pairs of shoes, none of them are hiking boots. And our first night walking she chose to wear sandals.

The blisters are epic. The last block or two I thought I was going to have to carry her, or leave her behind to save myself. Luckily we weren’t being chased by Nazis or zombies or Nazi zombies or zombie Nazis – there is a difference, one are Nazis who died and reanimated, the other are zombies who decided to become Nazis – so I didn’t have to make that choice, just walk a bit more slowly.

We returned to the apartment and tumbled into bed.