Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Our Family Visits Washington, D.C. - Library of Congress, Supreme Court

We almost skipped the Library of Congress!  

We were tired, hungry and hot, but the girls and I decided to quickly peek into the Jefferson Building (one of three buildings that make up the congressional library), and we were not disappointed.

As I mentioned, it was a quick visit.  We didn't spend a lot of time, but we were able to view several exhibits and see this great view of the reading room.  The Library of Congress offers guided tours, as well. Follow the link above to find more information!

Next to the Library of Congress, you will find our great Supreme Court.  As I mentioned in previous posts, our visit coincided with several remodel projects.  Unfortunately, one of those was in the actual courtroom.  We were still able to access all of the other areas open to tourists, and it was a great experience.

I sure was wishing I could take them to see
beyond those great doors!

Stunning spiral staircase

Spent my week with a map in one hand and my phone in the other!

So many info galleries to study...we certainly didn't scratch the surface!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Our Family Visits Washington, D.C. - George Washington's Mt. Vernon

Greg and I debated whether to make Mt. Vernon part of our vacation or save it for another time, and we decided we would wait until a day or two before and see what the weather and our energy levels were doing.  When we awoke to beautiful sunshine on our final full day in the area, we knew we were Mt. Vernon bound.

I ordered our tickets online here, and they were sent straight to my smart phone.  This was a huge time saver, and I recommend it.  We even received a discount of a couple of bucks on each ticket!

The visitor's center is a bright open area with nice restrooms, and a small gift shop.  This gift shop's selection is very limited and a bit pricey, so I suggest waiting to make purchases until you've seen the other shops on the premises. 

The various gardens and green spaces were stunning.  We had a few minutes to kill before our tour of the home, so we were able to browse the gardens a bit.  Keep in mind that we could have spent A LOT more time than what we had. 

One of the things that amazed me about this tour, and really the whole place, is the efficiency with which it is run.  Tour guides and staff are obviously well-trained and love their jobs.  There was a short wait once we were in line to tour Washington's home.  It was mostly shaded, and we enjoyed visiting during our wait.  

The tour of the home is thorough, but you do not get to spend much time in any one room.  Because they have a steady stream of tourists and some of the rooms are small, they do keep you moving.  The guides are kind and ready to answer questions.  Our family really enjoyed it.  One of the highlights (and one that I remember well from visiting as a young teen) is stepping out onto the sprawling porch that overlooks the river.  It is a stunning view!

Walking trails allow you to roam the property, and buildings are marked to let you know how each location played into the lives of George and Martha Washington.

The Washington's burial site is a beautiful and solemn space.  There are other relatives buried nearby. 

Further down the property, a working farm has been established.  There are animals and crops, and demonstrations are scheduled.  Allison wanted to see more of the agricultural aspect, and the three older kids were tired and hot, so we rode the transport back to the main attraction area.  Greg, Ryan, Evan, and Kaitlynn spent time in the museum while Allison and I rode back down to finish touring the farm.

Because the museum is relatively new, I haven't visited it other than to quickly walk through while trying to catch the rest of the family who were in the large gift shop.  If you visit, I suggest you allow more time that we did.  We were probably there three hours and we could have spent six.

There is a restaurant onsite, as well as a food court.  We did not utilize either one because our visit was so short, but that would definitely be an option if a day trip were scheduled.  Parking is easy and free.  The website linked above is comprehensive and user friendly. 

This tour ended up being on of the highlights of our trip.  The kids were so impressed and truly enjoyed our time.  That's a win in my book!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Our Family Visits Washington D.C. - The Smithsonian Museums

One of the best reasons to visit D.C. is the abundance of FREE attractions!  There are more museums than the average family would care to visit during one vacation.  With so many choices, how does one decide?!

Because we only had three full days in D.C., we had to be selective. Which museums appealed most to our family interests?  We settled on American History Museum, Air and Space Museum, and National Zoo.

The girls loved the gallery featuring Inaugural ball
gowns of former First Ladies in the
National Museum of American History!

Due to a combination of time constraints, exhaustion,
and slight disinterest, we only spent a few minutes
in the National Air and Space Museum.

Every family will probably have a different approach to visiting the museums.  It really boils down to how you want to spend your time.  Museum hours are typically 9a.m. -4 p.m. (with some opening or closing a little earlier or later), and parking near the museums is impossible.  With time spent walking, and eating, those hours tend to pass quickly.

We ended up deciding against the National Zoo.  We have several zoos within two hours of our house, and have done multiple zoo field trips.  D.C. weather was hot during our visit, and reviews of the zoo were really mixed.  We knew we would have to park far away, and according to reviews, our walk would be on a pretty steep hill either coming or going, depending on which direction we parked.  Reviews also indicated that there is little shade.  Because there were so many good options, we decided against this one.

Our kids weren't really enamored with the Air and Space Museum.  We live within an hour of The National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, and have participated in multiple field trips to that museum.  If you or your children haven't already spent a lot of time in an Air and Space Museum or if you have more of an interest in that area, I'm sure you will find that branch of the Smithsonian to be a great experience.

The National Museum of American History was a complete hit with our family, and we intend to go back if the opportunity presents itself!  The exhibits were tasteful, engaging, and lifelike.

Things to remember:

  • All National Museums have security checks which can be time consuming.
  • Expect lots of walking between museums.
  • Be aware of what things are allowed to be brought into the museum.
  • Be flexible.  If your group isn't "feeling it," spend time somewhere else.  D.C. is so full of exciting fun places, and no one should feel like they have to waste time at a certain attraction just to say they've been there. Move on.  There is plenty to do.

To access information on all the D.C. Smithsonian museums, click here.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our Family Visits Washington, D.C. - Arlington National Cemetery

"Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it.  
It flies with the last breath of each soldier 
who died protecting it."  - Unknown
As I revisit the photographs of our time at Arlington, I am again overwhelmed at the price that has been paid.  The emotion we felt during our visit is a little difficult to put into words.  It was a sacred and special time for us to pay tribute to those we were never able to personally thank.  It was also a time for our children to gain a greater perspective.  One cannot view the thousands of crosses without being humbled and grateful.

There are a couple of ways you can tour the cemetery.  Walking paths are convenient and easy, although there are lots of rolling hills that can be deceptively challenging, especially on a steaming hot afternoon!  You can also ride a transport from location to location within the cemetery.  See the website here for details on tickets and hours.

Be sure to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stay for the changing of the guard.  It is a solemn and sobering moment.  Children should be instructed to be quiet and respectful at all times, even when the change is completed.  We noticed that immediately at the end of the ceremony, the audience that had gathered started to become loud, and they were reprimanded sternly by the officer that had just finished the change.

There is some shade around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and there is a small air conditioned museum just at the top of the viewing area.  You will see that the sun and heat had absolutely drained me.  I had to have a seat pretty quickly!

The Eternal Flame at the graves of John and Jacqueline  Kennedy is a beautiful tribute.  Once again, it is a bit of a walk, but once you get there you are granted bonus views of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument just across the Potomac River.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the
highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them."  - John F. Kennedy

The visitors center is spacious and air conditioned, and has plenty of restrooms and drinking fountains.  If you have time, you may want to browse the gallery of informational areas there.

A parking garage is located very near the visitors center.  This is a convenient location for tourists, and you can pretty much dictate the amount of time you wish to spend.  

If you have questions about something I've not covered, be sure to comment.  I'll do my best to answer or help you find an answer.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Our Family Visits Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Capitol

One of my absolute favorite things to do as mom is to introduce my kids to awesome experiences.  Seeing their awe upon viewing our nation's capitol for the first time definitely falls into that category!

Planning a Capitol visit isn't difficult, but it is important that you follow the guidelines found here.
I did A LOT of research before this vacation for several reasons.  Being in a large, unfamiliar city with a family of six, on a budget, with a limited amount of time, can be frustrating without adequate knowledge of potential problems.

One of those problems is parking.  Almost all street parking is either mostly unavailable or completely non-existent.  We did not want to have to worry about parking tickets (the rules are almost unbelievable), and we did not want to have to feed parking meters.  Once you visit, you will completely understand.  The best options are to either park in a large parking garage and walk, or ride public transportation from your hotel (or from a parking garage).

Being unfamiliar with said systems, we didn't want to worry with passes and catching the metro or a bus, so we decided to park at Union Station.  It is located near the Capitol, and has a daily rate of around $25.  We could access our van to get drinks from the cooler, which helped save money.  Union Station is a busy, working transportation hub, and our kids loved the experience.  It houses many restaurants, stores, and souvenir shops.  There are lots of pan handlers and homeless near the perimeter.  We did not find anyone to be aggressive, but that may not always be the case, so just be aware and be safe.  Once inside Union Station, you are sure to be impressed.  There are food courts with affordable menu options inside the station, as well as nice restrooms and areas just to sit and soak up the air conditioning and the atmosphere.  The architecture is amazing.

Now back to the Capitol...

  • You must contact your Representative and request tickets.  You will be given a date and time, and I suggest you show up a little early.  
  • Follow the guidelines completely!  The website linked above tells you what you can and cannot bring in (which is one reason it was nice to park relatively close).  Security will be sure you are following the guidelines, so do them and yourself a favor, and save the embarrassment of thinking you can sneak even an untouched piece of fruit stuffed into your backpack.  I watched people have to reluctantly give up their stuff because they didn't take the guidelines seriously.  Even the size of your backpack or purse matters, so read up and be ready.
  • Make sure your kids understand the importance of listening and being respectful.  Capitol employees get aggravated by having to repeat instructions.  Things are pretty fast paced.  The kids have to be attentive and stay engaged with what is happening.  With multiple groups touring, they can easily get mixed in with another crowd.

The guided Capitol tour provides headsets since there are many
groups touring at once.

The Capitol Rotunda
U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center

Our visit coincided with remodeling of the House of Representatives chamber, so we were unable to view it, but we did visit the Senate Chamber (no photography allowed), and were able to engage with staff to learn more details about this legislative body and the room in which they assemble.  If your visit coincides with either the House or Senate being in session, do your best to sit in on some of that.  Our family was able to do it when I was a teenager, and I haven't forgotten it.

We also spent some time in National Statuary Hall during the tour.  It was enlightening for us to see the statues that have been donated by different states.  There are several gift shops in the Capitol, and there are restaurants in the lower level.  As a teenager, I ate at one of the restaurants with my family, but due to time and budget (and the fact that the kids wanted to), we ate at Union Station.

Another walk to Union Station!

A visit to D.C. is not complete without a U.S. Capitol tour, so be sure to request your tickets early, and look forward to an unforgettable experience!