My first major adventure of the season is now in the history books…..well, actually just in my memories and here on this blog, but it is “in the can”, as they say! Last year, two friends and I went on what we decided was going to be our inaugural trip to Washington, DC. We decided that there was WAY too much to see and do to cram it all into one trip, so we decided it would be an annual event so we could do shorter visits, focus on seeing a few things each year, and keep going till we saw it all or we could no longer keep it up! Last week, we made our second annual visit…..well, two of us did – unfortunately, our third partner in crime couldn’t make it this year.
Last year we focused on the basics and an overview of the city. This year, we put The National Cathedral, Smithsonians, and Cherry Blossoms on our priority list – we also wanted to see the FDR and WWII Memorials – two we missed seeing last year. As with last year, we took the train down on Monday and back on Friday – giving us full three days there to see what we could see in that time frame. Here are some of our photos:
Views from the train:
Views while walking around:
We stay at a very old hotel right downtown – the Hotel Harrington – it isn’t the Ritz, but the location is PERFECT and it has a restaurant that we love – Harry’s and there is a great little sandwich shop just around the corner called The West Wing Cafe that has the best bagels and coffee/tea for breakfast! Hotel Harrington is located on the block between 11th and 12th and E and Pennsylvania Ave. It is an easy walk to most attractions and there is a Metro Bus stop on the back corner of the block and a Metro Train stop two blocks away — so, pretty much anything we want to get to, we can do so very easily….and the rest, well, there are always a line of cabs right outside the hotel lobby! And…..it is clean and comfortable, so we put up with the lack of amenities for convenience and ease of getting to whatever we want!
Right around the corner, there is a building that has a really cool sculpture hall – we stopped in on the way to breakfast to look around!
Right behind us is an amazing building – it used to be the old Post Office, but is now Trump International Hotel – very impressive building with a statue of Ben Franklin on the corner. It is so beautiful all lit up at night! I’m going to go inside and peak around one of these trips – was going to this year, but didn’t get to it!
This curved building is very impressive, as well…..we didn’t figure out what it is, but it is pretty cool
If you needed any more proof that you CAN NOT avoid the IRS, just try to walk past the IRS building…..the sidewalk goes through an arch that extends from the building right to the street – if you want to walk around it, you have to walk out onto the incredibly busy Constitution Ave…..so, yep – even when just walking down the street in DC, you can NOT avoid the IRS!!! hahaha
The White House – we didn’t get any closer than this, this year, maybe next year…..
The SunTrust Bank building is very impressive, as well……hard to find a building in our Capital that is NOT impressive, but some are more so than others!
We had planned to visit this Smithsonian – the newest one – but, when we got there, we discovered that it is so popular, they have it set up where you can only get in if you sign up for a specific time by going online starting at 6:30 in the morning OR being there at 1:00 to try for a limited number of walk-ups. We decided to go see the WWII Memorial and then try to get in at 1:00, but when we got back at 12:00, the line was already getting long and we didn’t want to stand there for an hour on the chance we “might” get in. So, we’ll plan ahead for it next time!
By trying to get in there, we put ourselves closer to the Washington Memorial than we were at any point last year – we ended up walking right by it to get to the WWII Memorial!
World War II Memorial
This memorial is amazing…..it is the newest of the memorials on the National Mall and sits at the end of the Reflecting Pool between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. It has a large fountain that is surrounded by a fortress looking structure on each side – one for the Pacific Ocean and one for the Atlantic Ocean – and 56 pillars that represent each state and US territory from that period – each with two bronze wreaths (one on each side) representing the mourning for those lost from that state/territory, as well as memorials representing each of the military services involved in the war and inscriptions memorializing the major events during the war. There is also a “Field of Stars” with over 4,000 gold stars – one for every 100 of the over 400,000 Americans who died in the war – with the inscription “Here We Mark The Price of Freedom”. Very emotional memorial…..
After not being able to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we had to rethink our plans for focusing on Smithsonians on this trip. We had already tentatively planned to visit the Smithsonian Castle and Gardens – the Smithsonian Headquarters, so we decided to start there. As we walked along Constitution Ave, most of the other Smithsonians had HUGE lines waiting to get in — the risk we took by choosing to go during Easter Week – spring break for so many schools AND the estimated peak bloom time for cherry blossoms (the reason we chose that week). But, there wasn’t a line at the Castle, so we went inside. The building was amazing – a gorgeous castle – but, once we got inside, we were a little disappointed. The write ups about it said you could learn a little about each of the different Smithsonians and see a sampling of what is displayed at each one. But, that wasn’t really the case – there was a gift shop and an information booth and a room with what looked like a video, but we couldn’t tour any further than the ground floor and there were no real displays other than detailing the history of the Smithsonian complex. But…..the garden out back was AWESOME!!! It was a little early for much of the bloomings, but the magnolias and spring flowers were out in full force and absolutely gorgeous!!!
The lady at the information desk also told us about two Smithsonians that were tucked away underground – the entrance to both were beyond the gardens. We decided to go to one of them after we enjoyed the stunning magnolia trees for a bit. The one we visited was the National Museum of African Art and it was amazing!!! We spent quite a bit of time there and really enjoyed it!
This was my favorite display – not only because it is beautiful, but more so because of what it signifies. The display is titled Sophie-Merica shows an African woman in a traditional blue uniform for domestic workers and then a Cinderella-like skirt flowing out from beneath the uniform representing the imagination and possibilities for her future.
Last year, we saw Ragtime at Ford Theater and it was such a lovely theater and an emotional experience that we decided to see another show there this year – this time we saw The Wiz! Last year, we had a better view of the box where Lincoln sat and was shot, but it was still amazing to be there and know what happened there so many years ago – a significant part of our history!
The National Cathedral
One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the National Cathedral in Georgetown. This was so incredibly awesome……I could never do justice to it in any description I could ever write! The National Cathedral is dedicated to serve as a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation. It is the Cathedral for the people of the nation to come together to worship as one. It is officially an Episcopal church. It originally meant for another location – land was set aside in the plans for the Capital City for a “great church for national purposes” – the National Portrait Gallery is now in that original location. In 1893, it was decided to renew the plans for a National Cathedral. The current site was chosen and construction began in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt witnessed the laying of the foundation stone. 83 years later, President George H.W. Bush attended the final piece of construction in 1990. The architecture is incredible and there is an intimate garden area for meditation outside. Inside, there are multiple chapels on two levels, as well as the High Altar at the head of the Nave. The Crypt Level is home to many dignitaries and notable American citizens – such as President Woodrow Wilson – the only American President buried in the District of Columbia, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, the daughter of Ulysses S Grant, the architects who worked on the Cathedral, a couple Senators, some military service men, deans of the Cathedral, and many others.
The day we were there was the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a distinct honor and emotional experience to be able to sit in on a Holy Eucharist Service where the priest included an abbreviated version of Dr. King’s last sermon – delivered there three days before his death. What a blessing! We were also able to listen to an organ demonstration on the Great Organ – one of 20 largest organs in the world. It was installed in 1938 with approximately 8,400 pipes. It was expanded in 1963 and again between 1970 and 1975 to its current state, consisting of 189 ranks and 10,647 pipes. To say the sound that came from this amazing instrument took my breathe away is an understatement! What a treat to be blessed with the chance to hear the sermon and the joyful sound coming from the organ!
So – here are some photos from the National Cathedral:
In 2011, there was an earthquake that caused a LOT of damage that is still being repaired.
Statue of Baby Jesus outside the children’s chapel
The children’s chapel had baby animals on the seat cushions and everything sized for children
This crypt had a dog at the man’s feet and angels at his head
The Garden at the National Cathedral
Very little was in bloom in the intimate garden, but we still enjoyed sitting there for a bit – so peaceful and beautiful – a great place for meditation and prayer
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
We also saw a show at the Kennedy Center – we didn’t get to see one in the larger theaters or the Opera House, but the Theater Lab was a wonderful smaller theater that was perfect for the type of show we saw! We saw “Shear Madness” – a murder mystery comedy with a lot of political humor that relies on audience participation to solve the crime and it ends differently every night and changes somewhat each performance! It was very funny and very enjoyable! It was also a great experience being in that wonderful venue!
The Cherry Blossoms
The main reason we chose the week we went was specifically to see the cherry blossoms! All predictions indicated that we would likely be there during peak bloom time or just before, so we were sure we picked a good time to book the trip – of course, all was dependent on the weather and was a crap shoot for whether or not the predictions would be true. Well, as we got closer and closer to the dates, it looked like we just might end up missing them – the predictions kept slipping and being pushed out to the point that once our travel dates got here, the predictions for peak blooms was out a week after we were to leave! UGH!!! We weren’t totally bummed because the predictions were for PEAK blooms and the trees were budding and starting to open!
We had booked a bus tour that promised the best viewing of the cherry blossoms and some additional attractions. We won’t do that, again…..it was a $60 per person tour and everything we saw we either saw last year or earlier this trip…..or could have seen for FREE on our own! Granted, the cherry blossoms were incredible (more on that in a minute) and we were taken to the absolute best spot to see them and the guide did offer information we probably wouldn’t have gotten on our own, but the guide rushed us through everything to the point that we could barely enjoy the one monument we wanted to see really bad – the FDR Memorial – and it was too late in the trip to go back to see it again on our own before we left…..so, it will be on next year’s list so that we can take our time and really see it! And, there was one stop that I was particularly looking forward to that he skipped altogether – the Senate Park at the Capital Building to see the pear trees in bloom! So — our advice is to not pay for pricey bus tours — everything in DC is accessible and, with a very few exceptions, FREE! Go on your own – take guided tours at the various venues, if you choose, but don’t pay for big pricey tours! The only organized tour we took that was WELL worth it was last year when we took a DC at Night tour – that was amazing!!! Also, if you go to Union Station, just outside are buses that you can get on that cost $1 per stop (or a very inexpensive day pass) – you can take it around the loop it runs and it stops at all the major attractions and you can hop off and pick up another one. It isn’t the major hop-on-hop-off companies, like “Big Red Bus” – it is a city run thing and it is a FABULOUS way to get around and see the basics!!!
Anyway – back to the Cherry Blossoms — when Thursday came and it was time to take the tour, mother nature cooperated!!! The blossoms were not only out and gorgeous, they declared Thursday the official start of peak blooms!!! So — we hit the timing jackpot!!! And, the blossoms did not disappoint — they were so amazing!
And, BTW —- if you want to know where the best place to see the blossoms are, it is around the tidal basin in the National Mall……so start at the Jefferson Memorial and then go to the FDR Memorial and walk around the basin to the MLK Memorial and you will see them all!!! Over 3000 cherry trees all around the tidal basin and more in other areas around the National Mall…..and, I’m told there are more in Arlington National Cemetery, as well!
And, finally, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
We missed getting to see this memorial last year and it was a priority for me, this year! I was so happy to get to see it……again, disappointed we weren’t given time to really enjoy it, but we’ll definitely go back to see it again!
The FDR is a long, winding memorial that tells FDR’s story through both Presidencies, the war, the depression years, the new deal years……and includes ordinary people depicting scenes from the era and even a memorial to Eleanor – the only memorial to a first lady in the Capital….and lots and lots of his quotes and speech excerpts!
So, there you go! DC trip # 2…..2018……can’t wait to see what we experience next year!!!