Tag Archives: Washington DC

Washington DC: Honorable Mentions

We had a pretty jam-packed trip to Washington DC back in May (you can read more about it here and here). While I ranked our top ten moments from the trip, there were a few other places we visited that I’m going to put on an honorable mention list (sounds weird but my blog, my rules, right? Ha).

1. White House Visitor Center

When we got the invitation to Alyssa and Eric’s wedding, the first thing I did before even booking our flights was request a White House tour. I submitted our tour request for any day over the span of a week to see if that would help us get a spot; if we got a tour, we would plan the rest of our trip around it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t schedule us for a tour while we were there. To try to make up for it, we decided to check out the White House Visitors Center. We got there early in the morning, so it really didn’t start filling up until we were getting ready to head out. There are over 90 artifacts from the White House collection, including some table settings for state dinners, copies of schedules (you bet I took a picture of any schedule that mentioned meeting with Queen Elizabeth), letters, videos, and more. Overall, it was a great glimpse into what history has looked like in the White House.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2. National Museum of Natural History

This is probably one of the first museums that comes to mind when you think about the Smithsonian Institution, or at least it does for me. I’m sure this museum already gets a big kid crowd, but since we were there on a rainy Saturday, there were tons of kids running around. Some of our favorite highlights were seeing the African Elephant in the rotunda, the Hope Diamond (I’ll take one of those, please), and the geogallery (as a kid who loved going to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, this was awesome). Our favorite exhibition of the whole museum was the 21st annual Nature’s Best Photography Awards Smithsonian Exhibition. To say those were some incredible pictures would be an understatement. We went through the museum pretty quickly before heading out to the National Museum of American History.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. Smithsonian’s National Zoo

We had heard great things about the National Zoo, especially when it came to the giant pandas. Now this zoo is just a smidge on the large side… as in it covers 163 acres. We walked a lot, but honestly, I preferred it that way. I struggle a bit with zoos and how much space each animal is given and what their quality of life is like. I appreciate the education-side of zoos and how they give us access to animals we normally would never get to see, and I realize they can help preserve certain species, but I think it’s a fine line between education and entertainment (don’t even get me started on circuses, I think they should all be shut down). All that to say, I really was pleasantly surprised by how much we had to walk between each animal exhibit and was glad that they weren’t all crowded on top of each other. The grounds were so well-maintained and I was happy to see how active a lot of the animals were in their spaces. One monkey in particular loved swinging around for all to see before laying down on a perch and checking us out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4. Library of Congress:

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, did you know the Library of Congress is an actual library? It’s actually the largest library in the world, and I have to say, it is by far the most beautiful library I’ve ever been to. It’s the library used by members of Congress, and also has some really beautiful exhibitions. I highly recommend dropping in for a visit, just don’t go on a Sunday, they’ll be closed just like every other library. Whoops.

img_9802

Standing in the rain outside the Library of Congress on Sunday, right about the moment when we realized they were closed

img_9846

Back at the Library of Congress, on a sunny day when they were open

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

img_7171

Library of Congress

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have one more post coming on our trip to DC and it will cover all our favorite places to eat. Ending with the really important stuff, am I right?

Top Ten Things to do in Washington DC: Part Two

IMG_7218 copy_edited-1Picking up where we last left off, here’s the second half of our top ten list! Just seven months after our trip… ha.

1. Arlington National Cemetery

There really aren’t words to describe how majestic and somber Arlington National Cemetery is. It’s only a ten-minute drive from the crowds at the National Mall, and yet it feels so quiet and peaceful at Arlington that I would have guessed we were an hour outside of the city. It’s nothing short of a humbling experience to walk along the endless rows of gravestones, honoring all of the brave men and women who have served our country. From a distance, the white gravestones almost look like domino pieces, too many to count or really process. But then you get closer to each stone and read the names of those buried there, and it all becomes much more real. These were the people who served our country as early as the 1860s, as well as their loved ones buried alongside of them. To give you a sense of just how large Arlington is, it covers about 620 acres and over 400,000 veterans have been buried there. As we walked around the grounds, Chip and I talked about how everyone should make a trip to Arlington at some point in their lives. You really don’t get a sense for how lucky you are to have so much freedom until you’re surrounded by the reminder of what that freedom costs.

We visited the grave site of President John F. Kennedy, which overlooks the cityscape of Washington D.C. It’s a fitting view to see the monuments in the background as you read excerpts from Kennedy’s most famous speeches. We also spent quite a bit of time at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was almost hypnotizing watching the changing of the guard and observing how stoic they are as they march back and forth before the tomb. There were a few wreath-laying ceremonies while we were there, and a small rain storm couldn’t keep the crowds from watching. And yes, we did get the chills and a lump in the back of our throat every time they played Taps.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7110

Arlington National Cemetery

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7125

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Arlington National Cemetery

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7143

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Arlington National Cemetery

IMG_9843

Arlington National Cemetery

2. Nationals baseball game

It’s no secret Chip and I love baseball. He grew up playing it through our freshman year at Trinity; I grew up watching it and spent my springs at my brother’s games from the time he was five years old until I left for college. Our dog is named Wrigley. We love October and getting to watch the World Series every year. So when we were planning our trip to DC, we knew we wanted to catch a Nationals game. I was even more excited when I saw they would be playing the New York Mets, a team I used to cheer for a long time ago, mainly out of spite to the New York Yankees. My favorite Met, David Wright, is still on the team and we were able to watch him hit a homerun early on in the game, right after Chip made some snarky comment about Wright being overpaid. A little bit of poetic justice, if you ask me. Towards the end of the game, we got to watch a fellow Calallen Wildcat would be pitching to close the game out for the Mets.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_9867

IMG_9875

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. National Gallery of Art

For those who haven’t visited the National Gallery of Art, humor me real quick. Picture however large you think this museum is. Got it? Now triple it. Even that probably isn’t close to the size of this museum. We weren’t able to get through it all, I can’t imagine how long it would take to see everything and give it the time it deserves. We were blown away by the amount of incredible work in the National Gallery of Art. Local residents really are lucky to have access to such renown work, it still blows my mind that all of the Smithsonian museums do not charge admission fees.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_9818

Quick nap at the National Gallery of Art

4. Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum was the first Smithsonian we visited and it set the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip. There is a lot of history packed into this museum with models and historical pieces displayed everywhere. As an example, Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis greets you as soon as you walk into the museum. Y’all, that Charles Lindbergh must have been either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. You could not pay me to ride in that small plane from San Antonio to Boerne, I cannot believe it flew across the Atlantic. Other highlights include the Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia,” the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, Amelia Earheart’s Lockheed Vega 5B, military planes from each war, and much more.

One of my favorite exhibits was on Charles and Anne Lindbergh. I recently read The Aviator’s Wife and found all of the pictures and stories extremely interesting. I have to admit, I had always heard about Charles’ accomplishments despite Anne being alongside of him for much of those record-setting trips. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about her story, both the good and the bad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6642

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. National Archives

You can’t make a visit to DC without spending some time in the National Archives. Only at the National Archives can you see the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I’m sure we can all recite bits and pieces of these thanks to our history classes, but there’s something really inspiring and humbling about reading the original handwritten copies of each of these documents. While admission is free (how great is that?), you can reserve your tickets online for $1.50 so you don’t have to wait outside in line for a long time. This came in handy for us since we visited on a rainy day. Don’t bother trying to break the “no pictures allowed” rule; we saw some people escorted out of the museum for trying to sneak a couple pictures on their phones. And as random as it sounds, I highly recommend their gift shop. It was one of the best we visited during the whole trip and was a perfect place for a few souvenirs, including our Uncle Sam nutcracker.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We fell in love with DC during our almost week-long trip there and hope to be back again soon!

Top Ten Things to do in Washington DC: Part One

Thanks to Alyssa and Eric’s beautiful wedding, we were able to spend a little over five days in Washington DC back in May. We had been looking forward to this trip all winter and spring and couldn’t wait to plan our time there and celebrate our sweet friends. Back in February, I ordered a few travel books from Amazon; Lonely Planet and Frommer’s are always two of my favorites. I also started following a few DC travel blogs and social media accounts to start getting restaurant recommendations. Not going to lie, finding places to eat is probably my favorite part about planning a vacation. We also did some research on different areas for a potential Airbnb before we eventually found a great apartment in Dupont Circle.

Spring came up pretty quickly this year thanks to Fiesta Arts Fair, so despite having read about so many different sites in DC throughout the winter, I really didn’t get to start planning or trying to book things until a couple of weeks before the wedding. I’ll share a little later where this caused a few problems, but overall it all worked out just fine (thankfully we had booked our flights and Airbnb further out). We were able to pack in a ton of sightseeing during our trip to DC, but even five days wasn’t enough time to get to everything we had hoped to see. I guess we’ll just have to go back for another vacation, right? We saw six of the monuments and memorials. Visited eight museums. Walked over 40 miles. Ate at Shake Shack three times. And we loved every minute of it.

IMG_9673

I get just a little nerdy about planning trips

Given my love for lists, I’ve decided to share our top ten favorite things to do in Washington DC instead of a day-by-day recap which would take forever to finish (I’m already almost three months behind… whoops). To help make it even easier, I’m actually going to break this down into two different posts so it doesn’t take me two more months to complete it. So here’s the first half of our top ten list, in no particular order.

IMG_6939 copy_edited-1

1. Visit the monuments, especially at night

We landed in Washington DC’s Reagan Airport on a Wednesday afternoon. We quickly dropped our bags off at our Airbnb apartment, spent some time at the National Portrait Gallery before meeting Alyssa and Eric for some delicious pizza at Matchbox, and then went to see a few of the monuments before calling it a night. Y’all. If I was told I could only see the monuments once during a trip to DC, it would definitely be at night. The lighting around each of them is incredible and gives them an even more majestic air, or at least it did for me. After visiting the National Mall that evening, I’m convinced that nothing beats walking up to the Lincoln Memorial as the sun is setting. We were completely speechless when we first saw this memorial, which was so much larger than we had anticipated. It’s pretty incredible to stand inside a memorial that has been around for almost 100 years, looking up at a 19-foot marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. We spent most of our time that evening at the Lincoln Memorial reading two of his famous speeches inscribed on the walls (Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address) before walking to the Vietnam Memorial and World War II Memorial. Seeing the Vietnam Memorial was very sobering; the simplicity of the design makes you focus on the endless rows of names as the wall grows in height. We then ended the night by the Washington Monument. Honestly, it was the perfect way to kick off our trip to the nation’s capital. It was also extremely safe, there were lots of people around as well as park rangers throughout the area (and plenty of high school kids on field trips running around like crazy). The weather on Friday was absolutely perfect, so we went back out to the monuments to see them on a clear, sunny day.

Another fun way to see the monuments is by paddle boat in the Tidal Basin. We were able to do this on Thursday and loved the views of the monuments from the water. According to my Garmin watch, we paddled around for a mile, which totally justified getting dessert later that evening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6579

The Lincoln Memorial

IMG_9641

The Lincoln Memorial

IMG_6568

I really love the Reflecting Pool placed between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6616

World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background

IMG_6619

View of the Lincoln Memorial from the World War II Memorial

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2. Washington Monument elevator tour

The Washington Monument was one of my favorite highlights to our time in DC. I actually got a little choked up when we drove by it one final time on our last day before heading to the airport. It’s a beautiful landmark that you can see throughout the city and became a familiar beacon while we were there. You can even see it from Arlington National Cemetery. At 555 feet tall, the Washington Monument is the tallest building in the city as well as the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk. One thing we were really surprised by was the history behind the monument; construction was privately funded and actually came to a stop in 1854. When construction picked back up in 1877, the marble had to be sourced from a new location. If you look carefully (or even not that carefully, it’s pretty easy to see!), you will notice a difference in the color of the marble after the first 150 feet.

While you can walk around the Washington Monument at any time, they also offer tickets for an elevator ride up to the top. On a clear day, you can see into Maryland and Virginia from the observation windows. Tickets are available for timed-entry tours every 30 minutes from 9am to 5pm. You can purchase these tickets for a small fee online (these were already booked when we checked a couple weeks in advance), or you can wait in line the day of and get one of the 500 available tickets for free, which is what we did. The ticket office opened at 8:30, so Chip was there a little before 7:30 and there were already over 200 people ahead of him. Now, each person can get up to six tickets, so there were a lot of tour groups ahead of him in line getting tickets in bulk. This meant that by the time Chip got to the front of the line, all the slots we wanted were booked. Not exaggerating here, but the person right in front of Chip got the last two tickets for the slot we had wanted. We really wanted a late afternoon tour since we were going to spend the first half of the day at the zoo, so the best option he had was getting one ticket for 3:00. Definitely not ideal, but Chip thought it would be better for me to go up on my own and get a bunch of pictures than to try again another day when rain was in the forecast which meant the views wouldn’t be as good. Thankfully, when we got to the Washington Monument for the tour, one of the park rangers saw Chip was having to stay behind and let him come along with me. Seriously, all of the park rangers we interacted with were incredibly kind of eager to share the city’s history with visitors. The views from the top of the monument were incredible, it was definitely worth the effort to get tickets. There was also a lot of information about the construction of the monument on the top floor, including a list of repairs that took place after an earthquake in 2011.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3.  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Holocaust Museum was at the top of my list of places to visit in DC. Chip took some convincing, he wasn’t sure he would be able to handle just how incredibly sad that visit would be, but in the end it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for the both of us. While almost all of the museums in DC don’t require advanced tickets, this one does for its permanent exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of our planning took place weeks before this trip. By that point, all of the tickets for the permanent exhibition had been reserved for the five days we would be in town. I can’t tell you how bummed I was about this. We decided to still visit to see which other exhibitions we would have access to as walk-ins and to check if there were any leftover tickets for the permanent exhibition.

We spoke with one of the docents at the museum and shared that we were from out of town and had really hoped to get tickets to the permanent exhibition. We asked if they had any available for us to pick up in person for any of the five days we would be in DC since all of the online tickets had been reserved. This kind old gentleman looked at us and asked if we could go right then. I figured he hadn’t understood us correctly and reminded him that we couldn’t go then since we didn’t have tickets. After a quick “No… Can you go see it now?…” we realized he was holding out two tickets for us to take right then. We were so touched that he was giving us these tickets, we couldn’t take them fast enough. We got in line for the exhibition and spent most of the next two and a half hours in complete silence. The exhibition begins with an identification booklet given to each guest with the name and story of a person from the Holocaust. As you go through each floor of the exhibition, you read the next page of the booklet. By the end of the exhibition, you learn the fate of the individual. I’m so glad this is a ticketed exhibition as it helps keep the size of the crowd under control. I can’t imagine getting to see and read as much as we did if they didn’t limit the number of guests.

The exhibition covers the entirety of the Holocaust. It starts with videos and displays explaining the rise of the Nazi party, which was so chilling to see. It also highlighted the various ghettos people were forced to live in before being transported to concentration camps. We were able to see a cobblestone street from one of these ghettos, as well as read stories about the different ways Jews living in these ghettos would try to revolt against the Nazis. It was so eerie to walk through a dark train car, similar to the ones used to deport Jews from the ghettos to the concentration camps, and then pass under a sign used at an entrance to one of the camps. For me, one of the hardest rooms was one filled with shoes. These shoes were from the 4,000 Jews killed at one of the concentration camps. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the math of it. This room had shoes for 4,000 Jews; that is tragically just .06% (yes, less than 1%) of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

There is a really incredible room towards the end of the exhibition on the last floor. There is a white wall in the middle of the room filled with the names of individuals known to have helped hide and save Jewish people during the Holocaust. Some of these names included stories of the work they did, and after seeing so much darkness in the exhibition, these stories filled me with hope.

We spent about two and a half hours at the permanent exhibition, and even with that amount of time, we had to rush through certain sections. We decided to go back again another day to check out the featured exhibitions. We were able to get a docent led tour for Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story and Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust. While the permanent exhibition was by far my favorite at this museum, these two were also really informative. Daniel’s Story told the experiences of a child who survived the Holocaust through journal entries. It was heartbreaking to read, but also a really relatable way for younger audiences to learn about the Holocaust. Some Were Neighbors was chilling for different reasons. It was frightening to see how the actions of individuals impacted the lives of others; whether someone chose to turn a blind eye to the injustice of the time, or if they chose to help friends or strangers and ultimately save a life.

Following these two exhibitions, our docent actually let us into the permanent exhibition, which allowed us to revisit some areas we had rushed through previously.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4. The National Museum of American History

The Museum of American History was possibly our favorite of all the Smithsonian museums. There is so much in this museum that covers American history, from the original flag that inspired the National Anthem, to an exhibit of dresses worn by the First Ladies, to pop culture artifacts. There really is something for everyone at this museum. Other highlights included a portion of the Berlin Wall, items family members have left for loved ones at the Vietnam Memorial, a collection of steel from the World Trade Center, Julia Child’s kitchen, the hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated, George Washington’s portrait uniform, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Muhammed Ali’s boxing gloves alongside Apolo Anton Ohno’s speed skates, and an exhibition on the American enterprise. It was a fun surprise to see in the enterprise exhibition a picture of my former employer, Ernest Bromley.

There was a poster on display for a new exhibition opening up in the summer of 2018. I’m not sure all it will cover, but there was a picture of Celia Cruz so I’ve already told Chip we will be going back!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. National Portrait Gallery

We visited the National Portrait Gallery our first night in DC. We spent a little bit of time on the first floor checking out the recent acquisitions hall before going straight up to the American Presidents exhibition. This was another one of our top Smithsonian experiences. We took our time walking through the gallery space; it almost felt like we were traveling through time starting with the first presidents and ending with George W. Bush’s portrait. This exhibition is the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, and I have to admit… there were a few presidents I had completely forgotten about. Sorry, Millard Fillmore. It’s nothing personal. In all seriousness, it was inspiring to be reminded of all the presidents who have served our country (whether I personally liked them or not) and also really interesting to see the difference in artistic styles between all of the presidential portraits.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Part two of our top ten list will be up soon!

Trip to Washington, DC

Last month, Chip and I took a trip to Washington, DC for one of my dear college friend’s wedding. Nothing beats seeing the people you love marry their best friend and watching Alyssa marry Eric was so incredibly special. Alyssa and I met our freshman year at Trinity while living just down the hall from each other. We quickly bonded over our high school dance experiences, love for travel, and obsession with the show So You Think You Can Dance. She was even my big sister when I joined APO at the beginning of our sophomore year. Over the course of our four years at Trinity, we created a weekly tradition: Tuesday night dinners together. Looking back, I think the only time we didn’t meet was during our fall semester of junior year when we each studied abroad. These weekly dinners will always be one of the highlights to my college experience, and I am so thankful for the phone dates we continue to have throughout the year. Alyssa, congrats again to you and Eric, we love you both!!

1928791_506467642870_9136_n

Before the homecoming dance our sophomore year at Trinity

1923313_506468151850_6343_n

APO Opening Ceremonies

1933737_506468166820_92_n

The three generations to our APO family (yes, I was in turn Chip’s big)

4214_531793070510_2378898_n

Our last Tuesday dinner our senior year

229027_583860931100_4070275_n.jpg

Loved having Alyssa stand beside me at my wedding, so bummed I didn’t get a picture with her at hers!

IMG_9745

Trinity Tigers at Alyssa and Eric’s wedding

IMG_9732

My cute date for Alyssa’s wedding

IMG_9741

Loved catching up with these ladies

Since Chip had never visited Washington, DC and the only time I had been there was when I was 16 years old and at a leadership conference, we decided to fly out early for the wedding and make this our big vacation of the summer. During my high school trip, I really didn’t get to see much of the city. If I remember correctly, we walked around a lot to different conference rooms, went into the Capitol building, and saw the World War II and Vietnam Memorials. That was pretty much it. So in a way, this felt like my first time to DC. After hearing Alyssa talk about her love for the city for the last five years and reading up on all the different museums, I knew we would have a great trip. Y’all. DC completely surpassed our expectations. I did not expect to fall in love with this city the way I did. We couldn’t believe the quantity and quality of Smithsonian museums and how incredible the monuments are in person. You couldn’t go anywhere in the city without seeing some incredible pieces of history. I can definitely see why Alyssa decided to move out there after we graduated from Trinity!

We were able to spend about five and a half days in DC and could have easily stayed for another week. There is so much to see and do in this city and I really do hope we make it back there again. Stay tuned for some of our favorite highlights to our trip!