We are finally catching up and in to October! We have been patiently waiting for our visit to Washington D.C. We have been planning on this visit since the beginning of the year since we were going to meet up with our boys for their first visit to D.C. I have been here twice before, once with my high school trip and once with Rick right after we were married. We came out with the restaurant he worked for at the time, The Machine Shed. They were invited to D.C. for the Folk Life Festival, sponsored by the Smithsonian, that ran the week before and the Fourth of July weekend. In 1996 the featured state was Iowa, where the Machine Shed restaurant is based. The restaurant had two food tents on the National Mall that we worked at. We had a blast even though temps were over 100 and HUMID!! We were ringing wet all day long, but to be there to see the fireworks on the National Mall was a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Since the entire family is in to history, this was a highly anticipated trip to share the museums, monuments and everything that is D.C. with the boys. Then COVID hit, and the riots. We started to second guess whether it was wise to go or not. We watched the openings start to happen and decided that there was enough open to make it a monumental trip. (Ha, see what I did there??? Monumental... HAHAHA) The Washington Monument opened the week we were there but with VERY limited tickets to ride the elevator to the top. Unfortunately we did not score a ticket.
We stayed at Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, MD, which is the closest rv park to downtown D.C. Even though the parks specific D.C. tours were not running, we really enjoyed our stay and took advantage of the free bus transportation to the METRO station nearby to hop on the subway to downtown. I was apprehensive at first with the METRO since I am not a public transportation kinda gal, but it was pretty empty and we didn't have any issues.
The rv park was really nice. It was gated and nicely landscaped. Being the beginning of October we did not partake in the pools but they looked like they would be very busy in the summer months. They had a very comprehensive store, including an RV section that would rival a small Camping World! We were able to get our mail forwarded to the office and order some Amazon items while we stayed at the park. The sites were decent sized and the park was about 1/3, maybe half full on the weekend and emptier during the week. Many of the amenities were on abbreviated schedules or just not in play due to COVID. Kids would have an amazing time here and never need to leave the park. I really enjoyed the super nice, clean laundry room. The only negative was the traffic noise. Oh my goodness... The location is at the intersection of two interstates that were always busy! Even inside with the AC running, you could still easily hear the traffic. I will say though, after our 4th day there, it became background noise. I would definitely stay here again, but would choose a different area of the park to stay in that would be a bit quieter.
We arrived two days before the boys flew in so we could get acclimated and organized before they arrived. Rick also was able to meet up with his roommate from his time in the Army in Fulda, Germany back in the late 80's. They picked up like no time had passed at all and had a great afternoon catching up.
The boys arrived on the red eye and had no issues on their flight from WI. Masks all the way and no middle seat passengers so they had room to spread out. With only 4 full days we had to maximize our days while the boys were with us. We decided to hit the ground running and tour DC by the hop on, hop off trolley. On the first day we stayed on the trolley through the first several stops to be able to go to the American History Museum. The driver was a great tour guide and pointed out alot of the buildings and structures we were passing and the history all around us. The plan was to then jump back on the trolley after the museum and ride around the monuments before heading back to our first stop to catch the Metro back to the station and then the bus to the campground. We paid a bit more to add on a day and the plan was to take the trolley the second day and stop at the stops we wanted to explore more. We had the best of intentions but unfortunately the unrest in the city had different plans. All went well the first day, getting to the Metro station on the free Metro bus, riding the Metro to downtown and then getting on the trolley.
Our first hint of an issue was when the driver said the stop for the White House was unavailable for the day. No problem, we'll hit that the next day. We then took the trolley past Fords Theatre, Union Station and the Freedom Bell, around the Capitol and Library of Congress, past the US Air and Space Museum that is under renovation until 2022 and got off near the Smithsonian Castle so that we could walk to the National Mall and over to the Museum of American History. With Covid you need to buy a time ticket to enter those facilities that are open, even though it is free. We had a bit of time to kill before our time so we grabbed a quick lunch from the food truck on the mall near the Washington Monument and watched the Semi Trucks gathered on the mall in support of President Trump. Even got the boys to pose for a family selfie.
I don't remember visiting the National Museum of American History in the past and was really impressed with the broad spectrum of American History it covered. Think more pop culture history than historic history. There was the iconic batman car, dresses from numerous First Ladies through the years, Julia Child's kitchen with all her authentic cookware and stove, the modes of transportation through the years, a tribute to our military including a piece of the Berlin Wall, the last Vietnam Huey in service and the coolest house shown through the centuries in cutaways, chronicling five families that lived there,
We spent a couple hours in the museum and could have probably stayed longer but we were getting tired and were looking forward to getting back on the trolley to see the rest of our DC tour. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for us. As we waited for a trolley to come by, 10 minutes stretched into over a half hour and a loud, demonstration was getting closer and more fired up. Knowing this was not going to be a good situation, especially since there were squad cars with lights on and police on horseback with the crowd growing closer and getting more enraged, we decided to start walking in the other direction, and in a brisk pace. We realized that the trolley had probably shut down in this area due to the escalating situation. We hoofed it over 14 blocks back to the Metro and called it a day. Well the fun for the day wasn't over. We successfully got on the Metro back to our bus stop and then proceeded to wait over an hour for the bus. With patience running short, we decided to hail an Uber and after over a half hour one arrive to take four weary travelers back to the RV park. Oh, but the easy 15 minute ride turned into almost an hour as there was a water main break and the Friday 5pm traffic was being diverted down tiny streets and alleys. By the time we got back to the RV we were sooo tired and hungry!
We all slept good that night and were ready to try again figuring it can only get better, right? Wrong!!! Saturday was also going to be a challenge with ALOT of unexpected walking but it was worth it to visit the monuments that we did not get to see the day before. When we arrived to the trolley we were informed that there were some scheduled marches and rallies and that the trolley stops would be very abbreviated, even more than the day before. They tried to include a couple off the beaten path streets but the tour just wasn't getting at what we wanted. The second day, we decided to get off at the same location near the castle and walk down the National Mall to the Washington Monument to try and see most of the monuments in that location. We were very aware of the environment around us to ensure we didn't get caught in the middle of a bad situation as it was a very active day for protests. For time frame, this was 4 weeks before the election.
It was another beautiful day, weather wise, and we had a nice stroll down to the Washington Monument. We noticed there was a rally set up with a stage off to the side of the monument and there were alot of people around listening to the speakers on the stage. There was music and cheering at this rally so we felt a bit at ease. There was still a large police presence in the area. Getting closer we saw it was a pro-Trump rally. We weren't able to get too close to the monument since it was gated off and police were all around. Both were certainly a theme all around DC, which was unfortunate. Definitely a repeating theme...
We then made our way over to the WWII memorial which was beautiful! Rick took some wonderful panoramic pictures to try and capture it all.
At this point we realized there was no way we were going to be able to walk to all of the monuments so we had to narrow down the list. We walked past the WWI memorial on our way to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This is one of the best memorials in my opinion. The soldiers seem to be walking through the mist in the shadow of their fallen comrades etched in the granite wall. The memorial is supposed to be even better when lit up at night but unfortunately with the unrest in the area, all night time tours were canceled.
The Lincoln Memorial was next up on our list. This was the most multicultural experience in our entire DC trip. Upon walking up we saw numerous people dressed in white, holding colorful umbrellas and singing/chanting on the steps of the reflecting pool in front of the memorial. Upon a closer look, it was a large group of Jamaican individuals. Not sure if it was a rally or reunion but they were definitely enjoying themselves. Behind them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a group of Amish who gathered on the steps and began to sing church type songs. There were various other peaceful groups mulling about the area, enjoying the beautiful day. It seemed a very appropriate place for all to be gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Our last memorial was the Vietnam Memorial which was another moving experience. The understated simplicity of the memorial is overshadowed by the angles and the extensive length. To see the small trinkets and letters certainly put it all into perspective!
At this point it was late afternoon, we were hungry and tired. We debated getting another Uber because we knew the trolleys were no longer operating but decided to walk several blocks to get something to eat in the Washington University area on our way back to the Metro. After a little to eat we were ready to power through our last trek to the Metro...uphill. We could hear chanting and megaphones in the distance and knew our time in DC was up. After 20 some blocks later, we arrived back at the Metro. The walk back did leave a lasting impression on all of us. We walked past numerous blocks of beautiful, historic buildings that had damage and graffiti spray painted all over them. There were also numerous businesses boarded up. These buildings were all around the White House. We did manage to get a picture of the White House from a block away through chain link since there were multiple layers of tall fencing. Some of the fences had respectful Black Lives Matter messaging with some having more hateful anti-Trump messaging. It was a certainly a solemn walk through the destruction.
We had a successful Metro to bus transfer back to the RV park and we all agreed we were ready to explore other areas of DC. On Sunday, Nicholas met up with one of his friends to tour around DC in his little european car. Meanwhile, Rick, Brady and I decided to go to the Air and Space Museum out near Dulles Airport since they are housing several items from the downtown DC location that is under renovation. We spent several hours at the museum and saw alot of different aircrafts, including Space Shuttle Discovery. We'll let the pictures do the talking.
Our time with the boys was drawing to a close, so on the last day we decided to take a drive down the beautiful George Washington Memorial Parkway to Mount Vernon. We purchased tickets online for the grounds but did not buy tickets to the house as there were only ones at the end of the day available. Good thing we didn't since only part of the first floor was open. We could peek in the windows and see a bit. Besides, the grounds are really where its at. Not only is there the main house, but the rest of the farm, gardens, greenhouse, wharf, slaves quarters and memorial, the tomb of George and Martha Washington and a first class museum. The museum itself was worth the price of admission. We also learned that Mount Vernon is privately owned and operated since 1858 by the Mount Vernon's Ladies Association. Another interesting fact is that the mansion only looks like stone but is actually all wood. A process called rustication where sand is thrown on the wet paint..
Once seeing the iconic mansion, we moved on to explore the property. The gardens and the greenhouse were very well kept and had identifying markers for all of the plants, trees and flowers, including the massive Tulip Poplar, circa 1766.
The tomb of George and Mary Washington was an interesting one. There was an original tomb built prior to either of their deaths, but it came upon ill repair and in an undesirable area. In George's will he directed that a new tomb be built below the vineyard hill. It was completed over 30 years after his death and George, Martha and 20 other family members were moved to the new tomb.
George Washington is quite the progressive farmer back in the day and has some pretty sophisticated ways of farming for that time period. He practiced 7 year crop rotation, transitioned from tobacco to wheat and incorporated a mill and distillery.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the grounds was the museum. It was very well done and depicted the life of George, his family, as well as an exhibit on his evolving viewpoint on slavery during that time, which was quite interesting. In his will, his slaves were to be set free, however, those slaves owned by Martha, reverted back to her family upon her death, leaving many slave families ripped apart. The most interesting part of the museum was the life-sized forensic models that depicted George at ages 19, 45 and 57 as we would have looked based on thorough research.
Our time in Washington, DC had come to an end and we sure packed alot into a couple days! It was quite a challenge to navigate the politically charged climate in the city, coupled with all of the COVID closures, but I think the boys got a good feel for all the DC has to offer and will most likely be back some day when they can explore more of the museums and areas that were closed.
The boys caught an early morning plane on Tuesday and we headed out on Wednesday to Richmond, VA for our next adventure. Whew...and we are still not caught up to where we are now in North Carolina. One more post should get us up to date. Writing this post has really made me realize just how much we had packed into the last couple months!
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