Friday, November 30, 2012

In Washington, D.C.

I am really proud of myself for taking my babes to D.C. I'm a country girl, and although I've been to plenty of major cities, in plenty of countries around the world, I've never been there alone, and I've never been there on my own with two kiddos to take care of.

It doesn't help that many of my adventures in major cities have been kind of crazy. Hey, Mac, remember when we couldn't find a place to stay in London, so we slept on the lawn in front of the National Gallery, and that guy accidentally spat on me, but then he felt so terrible about it that he gave us something to smoke, but when we started smoking it we noticed that it tasted weird and you unwrapped it and it had what looked like filmstrip rolled up inside it?

Ooh, Matt, remember when WE were in London and our hostel was a total fire trap, and our bed had this creepy stained bedspread on it all embroidered with hearts, and the shower was directly over the toilet?

Hey, Mac, how about when we were in Amsterdam, and we got high and then decided to split up for a while, and I wandered around the same two blocks all day because I couldn't remember the name of our hostel, and you ended up out in the country?

Or Matt, remember on our honeymoon when we stayed in that hostel in Hawaii that turned out to just be some creepy guy's house, in that giant dormitory with all those other travelers' backpacks and bags on their beds and the hostel owner assured us that they were "around" but we never saw them, and then someone came in and stood in the women's bathroom while I was showering and then left several minutes later, but we never actually saw any other woman in the hostel, just that guy?

Ah, me in my THAT was a good decade! And yet you see why I might have mistrusted my ability to construct a safe, kid-friendly big-city adventure.

I'm also nervous about city driving, the possibility of being mugged, and valet parking.

So, spoiler alerts: I did not get into a car accident, we were not mugged nor did we ever think we were about to be mugged, and while I did not actually "handle" the valet parking impeccably (how many times is the most ever times that someone has needed to get back into their car after handing it off to a valet? Add four, and you'll have reached my personal total), the valet and I totally hit it off (he's from Kenya, was perennially on duty and therefore happy to chat with us every time we were out and about, and could give me a first-hand comparison of the Grand Canyon to the Olduvai Gorge, where he used to run sight-seeing tours), AND I figured out how to do that handshake/pass him a big tip thing on our final morning. SCORE!!!

Matt got us a last-minute deal at a Sheraton within walking distance of the National Mall (when we travel, Matt is the Trixie to my Speed--he always books last-minute hotel deals online for us wherever we're staying, then gives me the hotel's address to plug into my GPS). It had an indoor rooftop pool, and a sandwich shop half a block away:
Evening ritual: walk down the street for sandwiches, bring them back to the hotel, swim for an hour, then eat!
In other words, it was perfect!

The afternoon that we arrived, it was far and away enough to go visit the valet three additional times, walk down the street for sandwiches--
I chose to blow my travel food budget because I just could NOT go back to the valet one more time to ask for my cooler and two blue crates of sandwich fixings, snack crackers, and fruit.
--swim for an hour, and hit the sack.

The next morning, however? Our mission was to see the sights!

There is so much to see in D.C. that scheduling is tricky, especially when we only had one full day. Willow really wanted to go to the zoo, for instance, but that likely would have taken an entire day on its own. Instead, I decided that we would stick to the National Mall area, and just see what we could comfortably see. We headed out on foot from our hotel a full two hours before the Smithsonian museums opened, so that we could meander past at least a couple of historical sites and monuments.

At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, we saw the major sights--

Spirit of St. Louis
--but also did some typical hand-on science museum-y things--

--AND learned how things fly:

Did you get that? I now know how things fly! All of high school physics, in which all the boys just zipped right along and I never knew what the hell was going on, and it took one hour in the Smithsonian to help me unlock the mystery of flight.

You want to know, right? Okay, it goes like this: An airplane's wing is curved at the top so that the same amount of air has to travel a farther distance just to go from the front of the wing to the back of the wing. Since that same amount of air is spread over a greater space, there's less air there, and thus less air pressure. Therefore, the air at the bottom of the wing, which is traveling a shorter distance from front to back, has a greater air pressure, and pushes the wing up.

BOOM, lifted!

The only disappointment inherent in the Air and Space Museum was in its cafeteria options. I'd resigned myself to purchasing our lunch, but it was too chilly for the couple of outdoor options on the National Mall, I was unwilling to hike away from the Mall just to search for lunch, the kids were starving, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum cafeteria served MCDONALD'S?!? 

Barf! So much for my strict policy of not purchasing fast food, sigh. And the worst part is that crap doesn't even fill you up! Seriously, the amount of money that I spent on burgers (with one box of fries and one drink with refills to split between the three of us) was mind-boggling, and the kids acted just as hungry an hour later as they did right before lunch. 

The peanut butter, jelly, whole wheat bagels, and giant apples hanging out in the trunk of my car in the valet parking garage were sorely missed, I can tell you. As boring as it had gotten by that point in our trip, at least you know when you eat a nice peanut butter and jelly bagel sandwich, with a giant apple on the side, that you're going to be full for a while.

We cheered ourselves up with the long-promised carousel ride:

I thought the price of the ride ($3.50 per rider) was absurd, but I knew to budget for it, since the girls spied it long ago in one of the children's guides to Washington, D.C. that we'd checked out of the library, and yes, of course it was worth it. Willow is getting old enough that I'm really starting to treasure things like carousel rides--I know all that stuff gets cool again later, but I'm pretty sure there's a window of childhood/adolescence in which carousel=social death, yes?

Our favorite museum by FAR was the Smithsonian Natural History Museum--I knew it would be. I wouldn't let the girls visit every single gallery on this trip, because I really wanted to see as much as possible just this first time, but we still managed to see a LOT:

All the high-tech exhibits in the museum, and the girls just adored these old-school, beaten-down dioramas.

This paleontologist is using a microscope with a mirror mount that allows him to see his sketch  without taking his eyes off of the lenses--I can't remember the name of this type of microscope, grr!
 Again, I was thrilled to see how much we saw that connects to our previous or ongoing studies:

CRINOIDS!!! We've never found ones THIS big in our creek!

I'm stealing this brief, thorough explanation for our classification of living things studies.

We've watched several documentaries that mention these cat mummies, but never actually seen one before.
THIS is part of the meteorite that hit Meteor Crater in Arizona--how cool to know that we've been there!
 I LOVE meteorites:

 In the Natural History Museum gift shop, I used my Smithsonian magazine subscription discount card to do a great deal of damage, to the tune of two spiky dinosaur backpacks, one stuffed Smilodon (Shh! It's for Christmas!), one stuffed woolly mammoth (double shh!!!), and one double-scoop of ice cream:

It's VERY hard to secretly shop for the kids with the kids right there, so I'm still on the look-out locally for one triops kit and one ornithopter.

But the backpacks did NOT get saved for Christmas. They're awesome, and we love them:

The Smithsonian Museum of American History was toured at my insistence, and so it was toured pretty briefly. The ruby slippers are out on tour, and for some reason the documents hall was locked, but we were stunned and impressed by the Star-Spangled Banner, and seeing this guy didn't hurt, either:

Sydney is doing her homeschool Biography Fair project on George Washington, so I partly insisted on visiting the Museum of American History because I figured that since we were in D.C. already, we had to see SOMETHING of George Washington's! Fortunately, in this museum we saw a lot:
George Washington's saber--we also saw a complete outfit of his, his camping gear, and a bunch of other stuff.
 I had toyed with the idea of visiting some other outdoor monuments in the evening, but by closing time at this museum, we were all VERY footsore and quite ready to walk the straight shot that it was to get back to our hotel. I knew that there was a metro stop that might save us a few blocks, but honestly, what with the figuring it out and the buying the fare and the navigating our way from our stop, I really preferred just to walk the extra blocks. I felt bad about it, though, because the kids were clearly exhausted, and Willow tearfully griped her way back to the hotel and then to the sandwich shop and back. Strangely enough, though, all griping ceased when I told them to get their swimsuits on, and all my guilt ceased as I watched them swim and splash and play and laugh for another hour in the pool after that long walk and before we ate our dinner.

And then after dinner, it was time for little girls and their wild ponies to go straight to bed:

We had a long drive ahead of us in the morning, back to Matt and the kitties!

We used the following resources for our Washington, D.C. study:
Virtual Tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Virtual Tour of the White House
Google Art Tour of the White House


kirsten said...

So jealous! I lived near SF my elementary school years and DC my high school years. They are my top 2 educational vacations I want for my kiddos! Seriously, I am dying to take them there - also Hawaii, but only cause we lived/got married there, too.

Oh, and my someday DC trip includes colonial williamsburg, too. I have it all planned out. I think we fly into Raleigh and drive up... ;)

julie said...

Ooh, I'd LOVE to know your dream itinerary for a SF trip. We don't go often, but we go often enough that I'm starting to feel like I've done all of the obvious stuff. Mind you, the kids still get a ton out of doing the same things again, but I, personally, like to experience at least one new thing each time.

Next time, though, I'm actually going to BUY one of those crab-shaped breads!


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