Back From Vacation

There ought to be a rule: don’t blog when you’re tired. But I’m gonna break it anyway.

We’re back, just this afternoon, from a week spent in sunny, steamy Washington DC, Jane and I and all four kids. We did as much as our combined energy levels would allow, and still didn’t see half of the things we would have liked to see. Here are a few notes.

First, the weather was hot and extremely humid, but not as bad as I’d feared. I thought it would be like the time I went to Suffolk, Virginia one August on a business trip, and every time I stepped out of doors, my glasses immediately fogged up. Instead, it was unpleasant, but didn’t really stop us from doing anything we wanted to do. And despite rumors and predictions of thunderstorms, we only got rained on a couple of times. Since we were usually travelling about by foot and the Metro, that was no bad thing.

Second, the Metro: if you go to DC, find a place to stay near a Metro station. The Metro is seriously cool. It works.

Third, we had a great time. We asked the kids today what one thing they especially liked, and they all had different answers. Then we asked what one thing they thought was a waste of time—and there was dead silence. Too cool.

We arrived very late last Saturday evening, and had a lot of fun getting to the place we were staying. Google Maps is OK for the grand scheme of things, but is lousy for the last mile: when dealing with the peculiarities of small local road networks, its directions are confusing and sometimes just plain wrong. We went to bed at about the normal time, California-time, which wasn’t helpful for getting acclimated.

On Sunday, consequently, we all slept in. After grocery shopping (we rented a townhome in Alexandria) and lunch, we spent some time wandering around Old Town Alexandria, and then caught the Metro to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the 4:30 mass. The mass was a bit lugubrious for my taste—insufficiently joyful—but the Shrine itself more than made up for it. It’s absolutely gorgeous. We spent a little time exploring after mass, and if I’d been on my own I’d gladly have spent another hour or so. I’d have gone back if I’d been able to carve out the time. They have an excellent bookstore as well.

The Shrine is on the grounds of the Catholic University of America (CUA) which I’d not heard of, and still know nothing about, except that the campus is covered with beautiful old stone buildings.

Monday morning we took the Metro to the National Mall and went to the Smithsonian. We did the Air and Space Museum, with a brief detour over to the National Gallery for lunch with an old friend. I’d have dearly loved to spend more time there, but the kids rebelled, and there was more to do back at Air and Space. One of the neat things about the Smithsonian is that it’s free, so hopping back and forth is no big deal.

My eldest son has a thing about pandas, and so on Tuesday we took the Metro to the National Zoo. Nice place; we saw all three pandas, along with elephants, orangutans, and so forth. Then a quick lunch; and then we hit the American History Museum in the afternoon.

Wednesday was Mount Vernon, which was seriously cool. We toured the mansion itself, and spent hours in the museum, which just went on and on. We’d have covered most of the grounds as well, like as not, but a serious rain began to fall and drove us on home.

Thursday was the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, out by Dulles Airport, another time when Google Maps was good for getting us to the right general vicinity and lousy at the last mile. Not to worry; we were a little early, and spent some time learning that as a family we despise Dunkin’ Donuts. The Udvar-Hazy Center’s a neat place; we saw the Blackbird, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Enola Gay (!) and a lot of other neat aircraft. We also got to meet Barbara Curtis and a few of her kids. Nice lady; I didn’t get to talk with her or her kids as much as I’d have liked.

Everybody was pretty tired, so we had a late lunch and went to see Miyazaki’s new picture, Ponyo. (Capsule review: more like My Neighbor Totoro than anything else of his I’ve seen; great for the little ones, but we all loved it.)

Friday was the shortest day, for most of us. We went to Arlington National Cemetary to see the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Changing of the Guard; and after that it was clear that little Mary was Done. The boys were pretty wiped as well, so I took Mary and the boys back home, and Jane and Anne went on to see the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery. They had a great time, evidently; I’m slightly envious.

And then, this morning, we came home.

In short, we did none of the major monuments, nor did we go see the Capitol, or the Supreme Court, or the White House. But what we saw was all worth while. Wish we could go back.

  • By Julie D., August 23, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    That sounds like tons of fun and a wonderful family vacation! I haven’t ever been there but it is on my list of “hope to visit someday places”. 🙂

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