A Trip to Our Nation's Capital

Background

This was planned as the last "big" vacation for my daughter, Jordan.  Growing-up in Georgia, after serving a stint on the 7th grade safety patrol, students get to take a 5-6 day trip to Washington D.C. with your fellow classmates.  There is no such trip available from the California school system (or so I thought... turned-out she DID go back the following year with her classmates!), so I decided to cram as much learning as possible into a 9-day trip to both D.C. and the Williamsburg area.  And, despite the predicted heat, we took this trip around the Fourth of July holiday, to see what was advertised as the last fireworks display in our nation's capitol of the millennium(which, in fact, will really take place in the year 2000, but it was a difficult point to argue in the midst of all of the Y2K hysteria).
 

Saturday, July 3, 1999 - En Route to Williamsburg, Virginia; Touring the Jamestown Settlement

To hold-down costs, this trip was a driving excursion.  We left the Grayson, Georgia area about 4:15am, and both Debbie & Jordan slept until around 9am, when we were more than halfway there (it made the drive seem a lot shorter for them than it really was).  After refilling the gasoline tank, and getting a traditional fast breakfast at McDonalds, we continued on in far less traffic than expected for the holiday weekend.  That is, until reaching Interstate 64 - headed towards Norfolk - where the sheer volume of vacationers heading to the beach was taxing the capabilities of the Interstate.  We arrived in Williamsburg around 1:30pm, and went straight to the Jamestown Settlement for a tour.  As it turned out, this was one of the coolest days of our trip - with temperatures only in the mid-90s!

Tht Ships of Jamestown Virginia A Native American Wigwam in Jamestown Virginia David & Debbie at The Surrey Restaurant, Surrey Virginia

The photo on the left is taken from the bow of the Susan Constant, the largest ship used to bring the settlers from England to Jamestown.  The other two ships are the Godspeed and the Discovery.  They arrived in Virginia in the spring of 1607.  The center picture shows David & Jordan inside of an Indian (excuse me, Native American) wigwam.  It seemed surprisingly liveable, although I suspect it would be frightfully cold in the winter.   On the recommendation of locals, we took the ferry across the river to the Hamlet of Surrey, where we had dinner at the Surrey House Restaurant (David & Debbie shown on the right-side photograph) consisting of authentic Virginia cooking.  Afterwards, we drove towards the town of Smithfield, wondering if this is where the famous hams come from (it was).  We then took the ferry back at dusk, returned to our hotel for check-in, and I fell fast asleep a short time later.

 

Sunday, July 4, 1999 - Touring Historic Williamsburg; En Route to Washington, D.C.

After spending the night in the adequate (but not much more) Best Western Westpark Hotel, we had pancakes and waffles at a local eatery before beginning the expansive tour of Colonial Williamsburg at about 9am.   Pictured in the photograph on the left is the Capitol Building, where Virginia patriots developed the principles of self-government, individual liberty, and responsible leadership (wouldn't they be absolutely aghast to see the state of politics circa 1999 ??).  The next two photos show the rear and front of the famous Governor's Palace.  In between, we toured the church - where we saw the pews occupied by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; the Courthouse, where I was selected as one of the dozen justices to sit in judgment over various affairs of the day; the Magazine, storage facility of the settlement's armaments and ammunition; and a host of others too numerous to mention here.  We purchased an entrance pass that is good for one year, and Debbie & I hope to return in the weeks prior to Christmas to see the area under snowfall and do some last minute shopping.

The First Congress, Williamsburg Virginia

The Governor's Palace, Williamsburg Virginia

Front Entrance of The Governor's Palace, Williamsburg Virginia

Having seen most, but certainly not all of Williamsburg, we hastily bought some souvenirs in the main gate gift shop and departed just before 4:30pm for D.C.  Again, there was surprisingly little traffic heading up I95 until we got into suburban D.C., where a multi-car wreck had slowed things to a bumper-to-bumper crawl.  We arrived in the area around 7:30pm, and, despite making a couple of wrong turns, successfully navigated to the New Hampshire Suites - our hotel for the next week.  After turning the car over to the valet and dropping our bags in the room, we quickly left and walked about 10-12 blocks towards the Vietnam Memorial, then left towards the Washington Monument.  Our final perch was within earshot of the National Symphony Orchestra, and the dazzling fireworks display commenced right on time at 9:10pm.   Jordan proclaimed it was far-and-away the best she'd ever seen, then told us she'd never seen a professional fireworks display in person (at which point I felt like a REALLY BAD DADDY!).  The crowds were tremendous as we slowly made-way back to the hotel, arriving shortly after 10:00pm.  We called it a night not too long after arriving.

 

Monday, July 5, 1999 - The Smithsonian American History Museum

Sleeping in, then partaking of the complementary continental breakfast, we walked about 4 blocks to the Foggy Bottom station of the Metro, to take the train to the Smithsonian American History Museum (shown in the photograph on the left).  Debbie's clear favorite happened right away: the exhibit dedicated to the First Ladies (see her pictured in the center standing at the entrance to the exhibit).   It contained gowns worn throughout their husband's administrations, china patterns dating all the way back to George Washington, and other personal effects and remembrances of their times in the White House and beyond.  Hillary Clinton seemed so woefully out-of-place among all of the gracious ladies represented.  Ahem.  She was also enthralled to see Fonzie's jacket and Archie Bunker's chair.   Jordan's favorite areas, strangely enough, included the exhibitions of gold coins, cars, and computers (an antique truck is shown in the photo on the right).  I was tickled to see that the ENIAC, one of the original computers - and one of my fondest memories when I visited D.C. at age 12 - still found a home in the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian American History Museum

Debbie with the First Ladies, Smithsonian American History Museum

A Truck on display at the Smithsonian American HIstory Museum

Finishing with the Museum just before 5pm, the plan was to walk the 3-4 blocks to the Washington Monument, get tickets, and hang-around the area until time to go up to the top.  However, after walking that distance in 103-105 degree temperatures, with the heat indices in the 115-120 range, we elected to postpone this until later in the week - opting instead to head back to the hotel early and have dinner.  On the recommendation of the Concierge, we walked a couple of blocks down to Luigi's, which was simply the most awesome Italian Restaurant that we've eaten at, anywhere!  If you are in the D.C. area do not miss the chance to eat there!  At these temps, Debbie was out of steam by 9:30pm, but Jordan and I elected to stay up until 11:30pm watching "Godzilla" on HBO.  BIG MISTAKE (find out why in the next section).

 

Tuesday, July 6, 1999 - The Capitol; The National Archives; Ford's Theatre

After the usual continental breakfast, we hopped the train to the Rayburn Office Building and Representative John Linder's office.   Arriving about 30min early, we sat waiting for another couple to arrive - who it turned out had a daughter that had recently interned in Mr. Linder's office and wanted to show-off as best she could for her parents.  Thankfully, they bugged-out of the tour just after visiting the House Chambers.  Anyway, after taking the crowded underground subway from the office building to the U.S. Capitol (shown with Jordan in the foreground in the photo on the left), we meandered to the House Chambers, but were unable to go on the floor due to maintenance taking place - so we sat for a few minutes in the public observation area while learning about the goings-on there.  Next, we went through the Old Senate Chambers, that was used for many years by the Supreme Court until it found it's own home in the 30s.  From there, we went to the Senate Chambers, where we could stand in the well, as well as alongside Strom Thurmond's desk (which looked surprisingly like an old-style elementary school desk).   Jordan surprised me by knowing that this was where Clinton's impeachment took place.  We concluded the tour in the Rotunda, observing the various statuaries and paintings.   And I made a point of kissing my sweetie in the center of Washington D.C., as well as trying out the whisper area.  Throughout this tour, however, Jordan seemed to be dragging.

Jordan, fading fast, at the U.S. Capitol

The National Archives

Debbie at the entrance to Ford's Theatre

We walked about 6-7 blocks in the 100+ degree heat, with Jordan fading fast, complaining of nausea and a severe headache.   We found a small deli for lunch, but before eating we stopped in a CVS to buy her some ibuprofen and a pair of sunglasses.  She spent most of lunch face down on the table, in tears, and it was all we could do to get her to even drink some ginger ale.   We sat there about 90min and, while not back to normal, she claimed to be functional and insisted we press on to the National Archives (pictured in the center photo).  This was a "behind-the-scenes" tour arranged by Representative Linder's office, and, while I found it interesting, it bored Debbie & Jordan to tears.   This is partly because we had an overzealous, retired tour guide that commanded an extremely good knowledge of Archives goings-on and wanted to share every detail with us.   And the line to view the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was fierce!   After two-and-a-half hours there, we exited and walked a few blocks, past the FBI Building (which we didn't tour, as Jordan and Debbie expressed very little interest in doing so) to Ford's Theatre (Debbie pictured at the entrance in the right-hand photo below).  This turned out to be one of Debbie & Jordan's favorite spots; admittedly, seeing the exact spot where President Lincoln was shot is moving.  Due to the heat, the room where he died - situated across the street - was closed; so, after closing the basement museum at 5pm, we walked back to the train station and headed back towards the hotel.  For the life of me I can't recall where we ate that evening... I should take better notes (or get a better brain)!

 

Wednesday, July 7, 1999 - The Bureau of Engraving & Printing;
The Smithsonian Natural History Museum; The Washington Monument

Forced to skip our sumptuous continental breakfast due to timing constraints, we hopped the train before 7am to the Bureau of Engraving & Printing - the early hour was necessary so that we would be in one of the first groups through, thereby allowing enough time to fully see everything else planned for the day.  Debbie & Jordan were thoroughly underwhelmed - really, the Bureau is just a high-tech printer.  But everybody learned something about the counterfeit measures applied to the new money being printed.  And, it was interesting to me that there are no longer human beings checking for flaws - they were putting the finishing touches on an intelligent scanner to perform this function with 100% accuracy.  We walked past the Holocaust Museum to the Washington Monument(it's original site is shown next to Debbie and Jordan in the left-hand photo below) to secure 6:00pm tickets.

Debbie & Jordan at the Original Site for the Washington Monument

The Smithsonian Natural History Museum

Debbie and Jordan at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Then it was onto the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (shown in the center photo above), where we spent the majority of the day.   This was one of the trip highlights for Jordan, especially the areas relating to dinosaur relics and the development of the horse, as well as the exhibits about the ancient peoples of Egypt.  Debbie loved the jewels on display and (surprisingly) the bird exhibits.  I was grateful for a very good air conditioning system (but I also enjoyed much of the museum too, especially the underwater life exhibits).  At 5:30pm, we made way back down to the Washington Monument and were taken up to the top just before 6pm.   The biggest disappointment here was that the scaffolding in place to renovate the exterior blocked 90% of the views at the top.  Consequently, we only stayed 10-15min.   Exiting at the bottom, we walked several blocks to view the South Portico of the White House, then went past the Old Executive Office Building, then a few more blocks to our hotel.  On this evening, as recommended by a city police officer we had dinner at an upscale diner known as Daley's.  The food was very good - I got to have an excellent Steak Tartare - it looked like the definitive place to do deals over a power lunch.  Nobody stayed-up late this evening, for fear of bringing on another heat stroke ala Jordan.

 

Thursday, July 8, 1999 - The White House; The Supreme Court;
The National Museums of Art (East & West Buildings)

Representative Linder's office had been unable to procure White House VIP tickets, so I was forced to stand in line like the rest of the commoners.  I had been warned that to assure getting tickets you needed to be in line by 4:30 or 5:00am.  Arriving on the scene shortly after 5:15am I was stunned to find that I was 41st in line!  By the time they actually started handing-out tickets to those in line at 7:30am, it was 800+ people long.   But, we were in the first group going through, again maximizing our day.  I got back to the hotel a little after 8am, grabbed a quick bit of breakfast, and we headed back to the White House (left photo below) to queue up for the tour.  In groups of 300 you are escorted through the metal detectors of the East Gate, then through most of the first floor formal rooms, including the formal dining room and east ballroom.  As I had been forewarned, everything seemed smaller and more gothic than I recalled as a 12 year old.   The views out the south windows towards the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorials were nothing short of stunning.  I then found myself getting somewhat depressed that these stately quarters were still inhabited by that pathological liar we refer to as President Clinton.  Though a self-guided tour, it ends in no more than 40-45min, where you can resume taking photos once outside of the North Portico (as in the center photo below with Jordan and Debbie in the foreground).

Debbie, Jordan, and David at the North Entrance of The White House Jordan and Debbie coming out of the North Portico of The White House Jordan at the Supreme Court

After a quick viewing of Blair House, we went to the train station to get to the Supreme Court.  Walking past the Library of Congress, it was tempting to stop in and tour, but I was confident that a library tour might just finish-off my two companions!  So, we walked a couple more blocks and arrived at the Supreme Court (right photo above, proving Jordan really was there) about 50min before the next tour.  With time to kill, we went into their basement level cafeteria for one of the better lunches we'd had that week.    After briefly touring their exhibits in the basement - which included an excellent video interview with the Justices about what they do and how they work - we went back to the main level for a 30min tour inside the Court Chambers.  We all came away very impressed and had the feeling that this may well be the last bastion of sanity in the Imperial Federal Government.  From here we again walked a few blocks past the Capitol and arrived at the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.  This is the modern art area, which we blew through rather quickly.  Of interest to me, as an art student in college, were extremely renowned Jackson Pollock and Klaus Oldenburg works, and the Mary Cassatt exhibit.  More surprising was that we could freely photograph... something no other museum I've visited has permitted.  We took the underground connector to the West Building, where we saw more traditional art dating from the 11th century forward through French Impressionism.  We spent about three hours here, with Jordan clearly bored senseless.  Debbie & I found it quite enjoyable (me particularly, seeing so many works that I'd only read about in books).  As it was getting late, we hopped the train back to the hotel area.  On arrival, we found some Chinese restaurant menus slid under our door, and the idea of eating in was too good to pass-up, so we ordered delivery.  It was okay - neither bad nor good.  Wiped out again from the heat we called it another early night.

 

Friday, July 9, 1999 - Mount Vernon; Arlington National Cemetery; Iwo Jima;
The Jefferson Memorial; The Vietnam Memorial; The Lincoln Memorial

It was odd to have our car brought up and be driving again after nearly a week.  Our destination was Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, located about 20-30min south of the D.C. area.  We toyed with the idea of getting there by taking a tour boat down the Potomac River, but the departure times would have taken us into mid-afternoon before we returned, so we opted to drive to get an early start (which was good because the lines to tour the home got very severe not too long after we arrived - please see the photo on the left below).  Debbie & I were more impressed with Mount Vernon than the White House - it is imminently more liveable and stylish, in a simplistic way.  1999 was the 200th anniversary of the death of President Washington, and in honor of the event they had the dining table set with his presidential china and his bedroom darkened and arranged as it looked on the day of his death.  It was very moving - particularly when visiting the tomb where George and Martha Washington are interred (please see the center photo with Debbie & Jordan in the foreground).  And, as I remembered when visiting here as a child, the view of the Potomac River off the back porch of the home (shown in the right-hand picture below) is just stunning!

Mount Vernon - front view Debbie & Jordan at the Burial Crypt of George & Martha Washington, Mt. Vernon Mount Vernon - rear view

After viewing the boat docks, farm lands and processing facilities, slave quarters, and a small museum, we left Mount Vernon and headed back towards the Federal City.  We originally planned to stop and tour the Pentagon, but this too was received with underwhelming excitement, so we bypassed it and headed straight to Arlington National Cemetery.  Once there, we purchased tour tickets as it is extremely spread out geographically.  The first stop was the Kennedy Gravesites (shown in the photo below on the left) - which we had no idea would become so topical two weeks later with the death of JFK Jr.  I enjoyed wandering 100'-or-so away and finding the headstones to Justices Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Wendell Holmes, as well as the headstone for Admiral Rickover.  After viewing the simple grave of Robert Kennedy, and allowing Debbie time to fall and cut her knee (ouch!), we reboarded the bus and headed-up to the Tomb of the Unknowns, where we were moved by the solemn changing of the guard ceremonies.   After a quick viewing of the Challenger Memorial, we reboarded the tour bus to go to our last stop: Arlington House - the historic home of Robert E. Lee.  Perched atop the most impressive hill in the city, it has an incredible view of everything that is Washington.  Inside, the layout is functional and the furnishings austere yet elegant.  It might be a toss-up whether I would have been happier living here or at Mount Vernon.  After visiting the on-site Lee Museum, we returned back to the visitor center and went about 5min north to the Marines Memorial - also known as Iwo Jima (pictured in the photograph below and center).

Jordan at the Kennedy Flame, Arlington National Cemetery The Marine / Iwo Jima Memorial The Jefferson Memorial

From there, we headed back towards the city to the Jefferson Memorial (shown above right).  After visiting the museum area on the first level, we made way up to the statuary, where Jefferson solemnly stands facing the creep that currently occupies the White House.  He is surrounded on four marble sides, engraved with some of Jefferson's most famous words, including the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.  After a brief rest stop that allowed time to contemplate these great words, we drove a short ways, parked near the National Science Foundation, and walked to the Vietnam Memorial.  I found it to be an extremely appropriate design considering the divisiveness of the war; but, not personally knowing anyone who lost there life there, we stayed but a short time and moved on to the Lincoln Memorial (pictured inside with Debbie & Jordan shown to the left below).  As with most of Washington during our visit, there was a good deal of scaffolding and equipment on the inside for refurbishing.  And when we made the turn to the west side of the memorial, the afternoon sun was nothing short of oppressive! [causing us to make haste back to the shade]  With time running out on the parking meter, we made a very quick stop by the Albert Einstein Memorial (shown with Jordan seated in his lap, center photo below) near the entrance to the National Science Foundation.  Engraved on his book are formulae for his three great contributions to science: the photoelectric effect, the special theory of relativity, and the general theory of relativity.  Jordan seemed both surprised and impressed that I actually recognized them without outside help (what can I say, I took a semester of relativity in college).  Hopping back in the car, our last stop was one just for me.  Located in Georgetown, I wanted to climb and look back down "The Exorcist" Steps (pictured below right, from the movie of the same name).  This is where Father Damien Karras took his plunge to the death at the climactic ending of the film and was administered last rites at the bottom.  After trying in vain to find a Mexican Restaurant (there just isn't any such animal in D.C.) we had dinner at a T.G.I. Fridays, then called it a day.

Debbie & Jordan at the Lincoln Memorial Jordan at The Albert Einstein Memorial The Exorcist Steps!
 

Saturday, July 10, 1999 - The National Air and Space Museum

Sleeping-in just a bit - probably because this was the day that Debbie & Jordan were least looking forward to - we skipped continental breakfast and rode the train for the last time to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  For aviation buffs (like myself) this place is a dream come true!   In the front entryway is a pastiche of the most historical artifacts from air and space flight: pictured on the left (below) is the original Wright flyer that Orville & Wilbur Wright used to make the first heavier-than-air powered flight; situated diagonally from the Wright Flyer is the Bell X-1 (shown center below) where Chuck Yeager first broke the speed of sound; and centered in the room is the Apollo 11 Command Module (with Jordan & Debbie standing beside the scarred heat shield on the right below) - our visit was 10 days shy of the 30th anniversary of the first lunar landing!  Not pictured here but of comparable significance is Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, John Glenn's Mercury Capsule, the Gemini 4 Capsule (first American walk in space), and the Voyager (first around-the-world flight without refueling).

The Wright Flyer at the National Air & Space Museum Chuck Yeager's Bell X1 Jordan and Debbie standing beside the Apollo 11 Command Module Heatshield

Walking left, we headed straight for the food court for a late breakfast / early lunch.  As it turned out, this was a good idea - based on the hordes of people eating there 90min later.  We then resumed touring at the full-size Lunar Module.  I found myself giving a mini guided tour of it's cockpit - there is a visitor-controllable TV camera situated in the rear of the Ascent Module that can be aimed and zoomed at different parts of the control panel.   In explaining the purpose of the probes hanging off the bottom of the footpads I pointed out the locations of the contact lights - noting for Jordan that, technically, "Contact Light" was actually the first phrase spoken on the moon.  While a few others seemed interested, Debbie & Jordan's eyes were starting to glaze over.   We also spent some time in their area devoted to learning how flight happens - including Debbie climbing in the cockpit of a Cessna 152 and being surprised by it's diminutive size, and Jordan taking a try at flying a model plane an making controlled turns.  We then saw the IMAX film "Mission to Mir" which was most enjoyable (the astronauts say it's as close to what space flight looks like on earth).  Next we   went to the planetarium for a lecture on celestial navigation; I guess it wasn't Debbie's cup of tea, since she started snoring about halfway through it!  We continued onward: there are exhibits devoted to the history and improvement in cockpits, engines, sailing, spaceflight; there is the backup to Skylab; there is a full-scale replica of the Hubble Space Telescope; there are the joined Apollo-Soyuz Test Project spacecraft.  Rather than write everything here, suffice to say that I want to keep my eye on weekend travel deals, and consider flying up on a Saturday morning and back on Sunday evening - spending the rest of the time at the museum.  It was truly the highlight of my visit!  That evening, we munched the remainder of our Chinese food, packed, and set about getting a good night's sleep.

 

Sunday, July 11, 1999 - En Route back to Grayson, Georgia

Anticlimactic and long!  Thankfully, the weather cooperated (it was mostly cloudy but not raining), with Jordan able to sleep about 80% of the trip and Debbie for about 1/3.  We had our final continental breakfast about 7:30am, checked-out, and hit the road shortly after 8:30am... arriving back home just before 6:30pm.  Today, I sustain my usual criticism that you need a vacation after one of my vacations... but I believe that the mission was accomplished of showing Jordan all of the pertinent things the Nation's Capitol has to offer.  And, if she gets back there as quickly as I did, she'll be my age taking along her 12 year old for tours!

   
 

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