Do you think that when they asked George Washington for ID that he just whipped out a quarter?
There is a feeling to Washington, D.C. that is hard to describe. It’s at once an imposing city with
After a long 8 hour drive on the Interstate, we finally arrived in Washington, D.C. However, returning our rental vehicle proved to be harder than we thought. We were due to return our vehicle at 9 p.m at the airport near our hotel where we were going to be staying for the night. We had a booking at Homewood Suites for the week we were going to be in Washington but had booked the airport hotel for the night as we knew we were going to be getting in late and wanted something close and convenient.
As we arrived at the ramp to go up to the rental area, we were unexpectantly stopped by a very strange sight. Apparently, someone had tried to steal a rental vehicle and had attempted to drive down the one-way ramp resulting not only in the barrier coming up but the car crashing into the ramp column in their attempts to avoid the barrier. It looked like quite a serious accident with the attendants trying to assist the people driving the vehicle. As a result, we were directed to what was supposed to be another entrance. Apparently, that other entrance had been closed since and we wandered through the car park for a little bit before finding ourselves back where we started. At this point, the emergency services had arrived causing a major jam at the rental entrance. We ended up circling the car park for about an hour before being able to return our vehicle. It was a frustrating end to a long day and not the introduction to Washington we were hoping for. But in the end, we got to the hotel and were thankful that we had not been a part of the accident, which could have been very likely seeing as it looked like the accident had only happened five mins prior to our arriving
The Feeling of the City
Having settled into the Homewood Suites after moving from the airport hotel, we quickly headed out to explore Washington. Washington is one of the few places that I have been to and Deanne has not, which, if you know anything about Deanne, is a very unusual occurrence. However, it had been a long time since I had last been to Washington. I had visited Washington, with my dad when he went to Washington on business. It was a very short visit which almost didn’t happen because I had been planning on having a “Tony Awards Party” with my friends. I know. But in my defense, I was really in musicals at the point (still am) and had been looking forward to hosting this get together. Very weird. I did change my mind in the end and took my dad up on his offer. The reason for this change in plans? My dad was able to get tickets to the musical Ragtime which was playing in Washington at the time and which was up for Best Musical that very year. I remember having a wonderful time exploring the Smithsonians (though I wasn’t impressed by the National Aquarium), accidentally ordering an eight dollar glass of orange juice at the hotel we were staying at, meeting the Canadian Ambassador, trying Ethiopian food for the first time (as well as a blue cheese burger which was quite frankly disgusting) and seeing Ragtime up close.
Washington had a lot to live up after that first trip!
Our first stop found ourselves at, you guessed it, the White House! It was surprisingly quiet around the White House (though little did we know how close to the imminent shutdown we were). From there we headed down to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument. We had hoped to travel to the summit as “going to the top of tall things” is one of Liam’s favorite things to do. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations until next year. So, from there, we headed over to the Lincoln Memorial, another thing on Liam’s to-do list. It was a little bit of a walk but it was a fairly nice afternoon. The Lincoln Memorial was one of the few places that didn’t have any security to go through which was a nice change. Seeing the statue in person impressed the kids, who had read up on Lincoln and his accomplishments. From there we continued our wandering, slowly making our way back to the hotel. One of the interesting things that Deanne pointed out was that no matter where we walked, there didn’t seem to be many kids around. There were kids at the Smithsonian and the other monuments but none on the streets of Washington itself. After she mentioned, I remember thinking that I didn’t remember seeing any kids on the streets either as we walked around. It was very strange. Even in cities like Paris or New York, you would always see kids with families or caretakers. It was a very interesting observation about Washington.
The Christmas Revels
We hurried back to the hotel after our first stroll around the city sights as we were heading out again for the Christmas Revels! I was very excited. Many years ago, as a teenager, I had come across a CD called The Christmas Revels. Now, in order to understand why I was excited, you have to understand a couple things. First of all, I am fascinated by the Medieval Age; the stories and histories of that amazing age. As part of that, I have always been interested in the traditions and symbolisms that have continued down through the ages and are still revered and upheld today. This is especially true about Christmas where many of the festivities and traditions that happen today were part of other cultural traditions and are centuries old, like the burning of the yule log.
The Christmas Revels is a seasonal stage performance which draws upon a different era or culture’s Christmas and winter solstice traditions using dances, instruments, songs
That Friday night, we headed down to the theatre at the local University not sure what we were going to be in for. I was excited but wasn’t sure how the kids would handle it. I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be too dry for them. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry! The performance was amazing! The kids loved it. The performance, which focused on the winter solstice celebration during Elizabethan times, had a nice blend of funny parts the kids could understand, songs that we could sing along to and interesting dances with music played on traditional medieval instruments. One of the kids favorite parts was where the main actor, in trying to help the local people prepare a play for the arrival of the Queen, accidentally handed out all the different death scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Thus proceeded the melodramatic deaths of everyone on the stage, including the children’s chorus. It was quite funny to see. The kids also loved the ending song to Act 1 where the entire cast came down into the audience and proceeded to lead us in multiple chorus’ of Lord of the Dance. We all grasped hands and danced throughout the entire theatre even down into the basement of the theatre. Liam really liked that part! It was a great evening and we all came out exclaiming about how much fun the performance had been. I also found out that they have a troupe in Washington State where they do performances and I know that we will definitely be trooping down to Puget Sound to take in the performances!
You can’t say you’ve been to Washington if you haven’t been to the Smithsonian. This group of museums is a must do for visitors but a massive undertaking. Each museum alone could take you days to completely go through in their entirety. We didn’t have days. So we did the barebones highlights tour of each of the
Each Smithsonian has it’s own focus. We tried to do one museum a day but it was still a lot. We started at the Air and Space museum which housed many famous pieces including the Apollo capsule and the Wright Brothers’ first airplane. We all enjoyed the museum and there was a lot to take in. The kids enjoyed seeing the main hits of the museum but there was so much to take in that they quickly got lost in the minutiae and just ran from sight to sight. I had to agree. There was a lot of stuff about planes and ships that it got to be a little much after awhile.
Next we headed over to the Museum of the American Indian. This was a much smaller museum but extremely well done. We came for lunch and got to choose food items from different Native American cultures, which was very neat. After lunch, we headed up into the exhibits which were very well done and very interesting. The kids enjoyed listening to different Native American legends and Deanne and I wandered around the different capsules explaining the disparate cultures, traditions and stories of the different Native American groups. We also enjoyed the fact that this was a smaller museum.
The next day, we tackled one of the larger museums, the American History Museum. This was very interesting with exhibits showcasing not only things from the first beginnings of America but also recent history that Deanne and I could relate to and the various objects and events that we have lived with and lived through. We enjoyed wandering through the exhibit showcasing the American President and the Wife’s of the President where the kids got to see things like Lincoln’s top hat amongst other objects. They also had a neat exhibit showing the life of a house which had lived through the colonial days all the way up to modern day showing how each family had lived in and changed the house to fit their needs.
The Museum of Natural History was another large museum. We actually took so long in this museum that we were kicked out at closing time by security! We wandered through this museum for hours learning about animals, habitats, early man and other things. We also spent a lot of time in the rocks and minerals area. The kids were fascinated by all the different jewels and precious stones on display!
Our final museum was the National Art Gallery. Our favorite type of art is the Impressionist period and this museum did not disappoint. We always enjoy seeing art work in person that we usually only see in books. The kids were able to recognize quite a few art pieces they had seen before in books they had read, which was fun. I came across a painting of Napoleon that I had only see in books, which was really cool. When I was in Grade 5, I had become fascinated with Napoleon and had read everything I could about him. In the course of my reading, I had seen this portrait many times but had not realized that it hung in Washington, D.C. The Art Museum was very calm and peaceful which made it easy to get around. It was one of the smaller museums so it didn’t take us too long to see everything we wanted.
Finally, on one of our last days, we headed over to the Zoo. The interesting thing about this zoo, is that while it is not an overly large zoo, it is situated in a park in the middle of Washington and, like all the Smithsonian’s, is free to wander around. Thus, stepping out of our Uber, we suddenly found ourselves in the zoo. It was a really weird feeling not having to line up to pay for entrance. It’s like you were wandering around on a pleasant stroll through the park, after navigating the busy sidewalks of the city when you suddenly find yourself standing next to a cage containing a slightly grumpy lion. The kids loved the zoo of course and ran happily from animal to animal, even taking the time to stop and talk with the industrious set of beavers.
Throughout our time in Washington, we didn’t eat out a whole lot but did take the opportunity to try some Ethiopian food at a restaurant nearby. Washington, D.C. has the second largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia and has many wonderful restaurants serving Ethiopian foods. I remember being taken with my Dad to an Ethiopian restaurant when I was a teenager, so was looking forward to the opportunity to try some more. The fun thing about Ethiopian food is that all the food is served on gigantic circles of moist, spongy bread. To eat, you rip off chunks of the bread and use it to grab small portions of the dishes that lay in small clumps on top of the bread. We chose a variety of dishes, from a chicken dish to a beef dish and a vegetarian dish. We enjoyed all of them though the kids don’t like their foods to be too spicy. It was a fun opportunity to try something very different.
The Archives and Trump Tower
It was after one of our favourite visits (which I will share with you later), that we wandered down Pennsylvania Ave to see the Archives and Trump Tower.
The Archives, of course, hold three important documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not only was it really cool to see them but it was also quite fascinating to read about how they are preserved. Some parts of the documents are already quite faded in parts but it’s still quite an amazing achievement to still have these documents in the shape they are in after all this time, especially with most of it in an unpreserved state.
The rest of the archives was a bit of a mixed bag. The National Archives hold lots of important documents showcasing the evolution of American history but most were old letters, documents and contracts, etc. that didn’t hold the same grandeur as the Constitution. There was a section of letters that had been sent to the President on various topics which was quite interesting but the rest proved to be a little dull for the kids. Moving from there, we headed to the infamous Trump Hotel. While, we do like to wander through posh hotels and marvel at the upscale living, we tend to avoid Trump hotels as they are usually too over-the-top and ostentatious for our tastes. We weren’t here to visit Trump Towers at any rate. Our purpose here was to visit the tower. This Trump hotel is built within the old post office which, as part of the building, had a tower with great views of the city and had been recommended to us as a great spot to visit. A side benefit was that it was free. After wandering around the hotel a bit, we were directed to a side door which led us to the entrance of the tower. Here, we got a bit of a surprise as we discovered that the post office tower is actually run by the National Parks Service. The National Park Ranger greeted us at the elevator door and helped us navigate our way to the top. The Park Rangers are a great institution in the States. Whatever park we have been to, the Rangers have provided really informative brochures/activity packs to the kids and handed out badges at the end. We didn’t get a badge for this site but it was still neat to see the National Parks Service working out of the hotel to allow visitors to visit free of charge. The view was wonderful. You could see Washington from all angles and directions. We could see the National Mall, the White House and all the other important landmarks.
The Canadian Embassy
Following our visit to the Old Post Office, we continued along Pennsylvania Ave. I always think it’s fun to stop by the Canadian Embassy if we are near one, though there is not often much to see. This was also the case for the Canadian Embassy in Washington. I remembered visiting as a teenager and getting to meet the Canadian Ambassador, who was Jean Chretien’s brother. I was also very grateful to the Canadian Embassy as they were able to get us fantastic seats for Ragtime.
This wasn’t going to be quite the same as we were not really allowed past the main hall. However, they did have an interesting display of the 100 most important Canadian Hockey players that we took some time to look through.
The Seats of Power
This whole blog post has been leading up to one of the most amazing adventures we have had on this trip: A visit to the White House. Visiting the White House is not easy as you can not just walk up and purchase a tour of the White House. Usually you have to go through your Representative or Senator to acquire tickets. Luckily, with Dad’s connections from the political events he has done, he was able to connect us with some amazing and wonderful people who were able to help us get tickets. After submitting our passport info, we were sent tickets to a tour of the White House. We were all very excited about this and headed at our appointed time eagerly anticipating an amazing visit. I was particularly excited because I have been a huge fan of the show, The West Wing and was excited to have the opportunity to actually go inside the real White House.
As you could expect, security was very tight. Along with submitting our passport information ahead of time, we were not allowed to bring any bags or large cameras bigger than a cellphone. There were multiple security points but we finally got into the White House! The White House was an awesome sight. It was all done up for Christmas, which made it even more breathtaking. There is something about the American Presidency and the White House that is very different from the Canadian Government for better or for worse. There is more a sense of grandeur and splendor to the American Government that we as Canadians don’t have. Like our famous slogan, “Peace, Order and Good Governance”, Canada doesn’t usually go for all the trappings and fancy pomp. So it was fun to see it here at the White House as we wandered through the beautifully decorated rooms. There is certainly a sense of power within the building that you feel as soon as you get close to the White House and especially as you wander it’s halls
Alas, our time at the White House was far too short and we soon found ourselves outside feeling very fortunate that we had gotten to tour this extraordinary building before the shutdown occurred. We were so thankful to the people who helped us so much in getting us tickets so we could have this wonderful experienceFollowing the White House tour, we felt it was only appropriate that we take in the Capital Building. By the time we got there, it was getting on towards the end of the day so the building was fairly quiet. We quickly got in through the main security (though I had to go back at one point to retrieve my belt which I had left at security) and did a quick scan to try and figure out where to go. A lady passing us probably sensed that we were a little lost as to where to go and asked if we needed help. When we mentioned that we were thinking about trying to get into the Senate chambers, she mentioned that
Seeing as it was so easy to get into the Senate, we decided to try our luck at the House of Representatives. We left the Senate, wound our way back to where we started and moved to the other side of the building before presenting ourselves at another desk similar to the first one but this time for the House of Representatives. After going through the same procedure, we once again quickly got our tickets and moved through a different set of security areas ending at the chambers for the House of Representatives. This was a much larger room but entirely empty this time so we didn’t stay too long.
As we walked along the National Mall back to our hotel, we reflected on what we had done that day and the wonderful experience we had had being able to visit both seats of power in Washington, D.C. We had been very fortunate to able to learn about and visit both the White House and the Capital Building.
While we only had a week in Washington, we left feeling like we had accomplished a lot and had had lots of wonderful experiences. Seeing the Christmas Revels and getting the opportunity to see the White House will be two events we will remember for a long time along with all the things we saw and learned at the Smithsonians. We certainly did not have time to see everything Washington had to offer, which only means that we will have to return another time!