For the last few weeks of the Alaska season I was so excited; I was going on vacation! Southwest had “dinged” me with an offer of 50% off the lowest online fare IF travel was on one day of the week during September. I thought - I could do that. Now where to go?
For someone who has had the great fortune to walk The Great Wall of China; stay in a Buddhist monastery in Koyasan, Japan; watch wildebeests at a watering hole at daybreak in Kruger National Park in South Africa; and drink Blood Mary’s at the original Blood Mary’s in Bora Bora; where would you REALLY want to go? My answer: Washington D.C.
Just the fact that was my answer was very significant to me. I knew about the history and artifacts of so many countries; it was time I learned something about my own!
As I started to organize and anticipate my week, I was surprised how emotional all this was. In planning my expenses I could not believe that all the museums were free - that is not the case in most countries. That gesture of inclusion really made me feel like this was my history - and in a tiny way by paying my taxes and doing my part, I am contributing toward maintaining this incredible legacy.
I wanted to start where all this started - with the Declaration of Independence. I did not know if it was even available to the public - again, in many countries this would not be the case. But there it was in the National Archives, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Really mind-boggling how something conceived by a group of “rebels”, many of whom were wealthy slave-owners, could stand the test of time and evolve into the standard of justice and liberty now endowed across age, race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. I was so moved I bought a pocket version in the gift shop!
Onward, I jumped to the National Mall and began my tour of all the museums within The Smithsonian. Yes, all. In my seven days I managed to log in an average of 15 miles walking, every day! I began with the Museum of American History - by far my favorite. It was very moving to see things like the original Star Spangled Banner and the hat President Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater the evening he was shot. Lincoln placed the hat on the chair next to him; after he was wounded he was taken across the street where he died; the hat was removed and had been hidden away for years, only recently has been put on display.
On my list of priorities was the new American Indian Museum which turned out to be my greatest disappointment. Beautiful building, very poor presentation of so much material. On to the Museum of Air and Space; whoppee!! This was better than Disneyland: Apollo 11 space capsule; original Wright Brother’s plane; Spirit of St. Louis; Neil Armstrong’s lunar landing suit - all too cool! Have to admit running through all the various museums of art except the National Portrait Gallery; I spent a lot of time here. In one tiny photo I saw the face of Mary Ann Brown Patten, a 19 year old woman who at seven months pregnant skippered her husband’s clipper ship the Neptune’s Car around Cape Horn after her he feel ill with tuberculosis and his second officer was in the brig for insubordination - amazing stories.
I treated myself to an evening at the theater;went to see Kathleen Turner in Red Hot Patriot. That was fun. I loved Molly Ivins and enjoyed the way the play was done. I also took Saturday morning off to go to the Eastern Market; one of the oldest neighborhood markets in the country. That was fun. Felt very “in-the-know” to be fighting for vintage jewelry with Washington socialites.
Walked through Georgetown. Walked to Dupont Circle. Went to National Geographic. Walked to St. John’s Church and sat in Lincoln’s pew. Cruised the White House. Went to the Library of Congress national book fair. Went to Washington Monument; Lincoln Memorial; WWII Memorial, Vietnam Memorial.
Final day, I went to the National Botanical Gardens, which were lovely, and walked around the Capitol Building. Figured I had to see it all, so I walked up past the Office of the House of Representative and to The Library of Congress. I was not prepared for this one; probably the most beautiful building in the city! There were also several very good exhibits including The Americas (with a rare Waldseemüller map) and Comedy and Satire hosted by Stephen Colbert. The Supreme Court facade is being restored so I did not go there. Across the street I saw tourists coming out of The Capitol - I did not know it was open to the public - so I went over to see. Yup, it is and there are tours. So I took one. At the end the guide said if anyone had an invitation to the Senate or House galleries you could go this way or that way. I asked how one got an invitation and he said you needed to ask your state representative. I thought that meant something that would have had to be taken care of before you arrived - not so. The guide said, go next door and ask ‘em. So I did! I ran over to the Senate Offices - went through security - and asked the guard, how do I find my senator? He said New Mexico was not in that building but I could ask anyone with a flag. So I ran down the hall and stumbled into the first office, sign said, Senator Inhofe, Oklahoma. Whoa, nope. I went across the hall. Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky. Oh no! Then I crossed the hall again - I must have looked like a pin-ball - Senator John Kerry, New York. Aah… I can ask you. The Senator’s staffers were laughing like I had just run an obstacle course. How many passes do you want, they asked? I did not realize they could give me both chambers so I took them all. I ran back across the street and did the whole shabang! It was pretty exciting seeing the House Chamber where the President gives the State of The Union. In the Senate Chambers the aide told me which were the candy desks. Very fun. I ended the last day taking the Metro to Alexandria. Phew!
Greatest bargain: Metro Smart-pass. I went everywhere!
Greatest fashion flash-back: Suede elbow patches on the jackets of Georgetown academics.
Best meal: Hard Times Cafe, Alexandria - gotta have the chili!
Greatest cultural experience: Taking the metro with Nationals fans after the game when they won - made lots of friends fast!