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Retelling a DC vacation

September 22, 2008

by Jenni Sebora

Those who live in Washington, DC say it’s the only place to live – in the nation’s capital where all the hubbub and decisions are made.

My family and I just spent our family vacation there, and I would have to say that I could live there. Our hotel was in the DuPont Circle of DC It was very clean and well kept up, which may not be the case for all areas, as in any metro area of living.

Washington, DC is a very exciting place to be even during the summer months when Congress in not in session. On one bus trip back to our hotel, I had a nice conversation with a gentleman who worked for the US Department of Education – getting the scoop on the top agenda issues for the education department.

As a teacher myself and very interested in the educational system, I asked him many questions, which he kindly answered with as much certainty as he could. (That information is, of course, a topic for another article).

Washington, DC has very limited parking, thus it is recommended that vacationers not drive vehicles to traverse to the various attractions, institutions, museums, etc. but rather use the public transportation system, and that is just what we did.

We traveled around by circulator bus, subway, taxi and foot with great success. The public transportation system is easy to navigate especially after the initial trial. After we had used the bus and subway once, we pretty much had it figured out.

The buses were extremely clean, the drivers extremely helpful and the cost to use the bussing system was cheaper than driving a car, not to mention less hassle. We could enjoy the ride and the scenery and not worry about getting lost.

We also met a lot of friendly people from all over the world on the bus. In fact, we helped two people from Spain with very limited English get to Germantown to tour the shops. They thanked us graciously for our help. (Our kids thought riding the bus was cool, also.)

For a trip to the DC area, walking shoes are required. A lot of action in DC is centered at the National Mall where the various Smithsonian museums are located, as well as the capitol and all of the various monuments, etc.

We probably walked five miles each day. Well, except for one day where we spent the day in a rental car stuck in traffic for close to 10 hours. We took the subway back to the airport to pick up a rental car so we could travel to the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously, being from Minnesota we do not have access to the ocean, and our children really wanted to see the ocean and “ride the waves.”

With a recommendation from my husband’s friend who lives and works in DC, we headed for a beach in Delaware. Our kids also thought it was cool because we would be traveling through other states: Virginia, Maryland and, of course, Delaware.

The fastest way to get to Delaware is to cross the Chesapeake Bay via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is a four-mile long bridge. On any other day it is very efficient, but on this particular occasion, there was a fatal accident involving a semi-truck going over the bridge into the bay, which has never happened before in history. The bridge had to be shut down, of course, for a length of time, and we just happened to be behind the bridge with lots of other vehicles on a four-lane highway.

Ten hours later, stuck in traffic moving one-fourth of a mile in an hour, we made it across safely as the truck and the driver did not.

What was to be a two-and-a-half hour trip turned into a 10-hour historical trip with hundreds of other vehicles in the same “boat,” getting out of their vehicles frequently to talk with other vehicle passengers, or to go to the bathroom on the side of the road or if lucky, some trees along the side of the highway.

We spent the night at a hotel in Delaware and finally had breakfast, lunch and dinner (we had missed all meals sitting in the traffic) at a McDonald’s close by, which was busier than they had ever been with people who were stuck in the same traffic that we were.

Although the day was gone, it will always be part of our vacation memories. The next day we made it to the ocean, and “hit the waves,” which exceeded our children’s expectations. Our four-year old, Delaney, was a bit too courageous as we had to try and explain to her that the ocean is not the pool, the river or the lake, but she soon learned that after a large wave hovered over her head.

The rest of the trip was filled with sightseeing at the various Smithsonian museums, including the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History, which was our children’s favorite. It had a large dinosaur exhibit with dinosaur bones and all, and the I-Max show focusing on underwater was fascinating for all of us. At the end of the show, little Delaney exclaimed, “I was swimming with the sharks.” She loved it.

We took a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where money is made, and our kids wanted to know why they just couldn’t make more if people needed it, but we soon learned why as is part of the tour.

One can’t go to DC without touring the various monuments. The National Mall and Memorial Parks, part of the National Park Service, extends from the Capitol to the Potomac River, encompassing the memorials, Washington Monument, National Mall, and West and East Potomac parks.

The National Mall and Memorial Parks’ major memorials honor esteemed presidents, war veterans, founding fathers and Martin Luther King Jr.

My favorite part of the trip was, of course, the tour of the US capitol. It is stunning inside and out. Our family took a tour led by Sen. Coleman’s staff, which we set up six months in advance.

The architectural detail and artwork was breathtaking. We traveled through the same tunnels that only the congressmen and women and senators travel through to avoid weather conditions and, of course, the public.

President George Washington laid the capitol’s cornerstone on Sept. 18, 1793. As the country grew, adding more states and more legislators, the building grew with it.

On the bronze doors leading to the rotunda are portrayals of events in the life of Columbus. The Rotunda, a huge 96-foot wide circular hall capped by a 180-foot-high dome is the hub of the capitol. The dome was completed while the Civil War was being fought at Lincoln’s direction.

Washington’s low-level skyline is due to a requirement that no building in the city rise higher than the capitol dome.

Our family had a great trip, and definitely could have stayed longer. Washington, DC is full of action and is the hub of our nation.