Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Family Trip to Washington, D.C.

Dan, Noah and I left for a trip to the U.S. capital on Friday. Despite questions from family and friends before we left, such as "Do you have family down there?" or "Does Dan need to go there for work?", we actually had chosen to go there purely for pleasure. I must admit, the notion of a trip to Washington initially struck me as an odd choice for a family trip; especially a family with an almost 3-year-old. But the more I looked into it online, the more I was convinced it was the perfect little end of summer adventure for us.

The first day was fun, but exhausting! We woke up at 5am to catch an early flight. By the time we got to touring around Washington, Noah had succumbed to sleepyland in his stroller. Dan and I went to the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the National World War II Memorial. When Noah woke up, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the National Museum of American History. Noah loves the Muppets, and was delighted to see Kermit the Frog there, but he kept asking "Who those other guys?" I hadn't a clue!

He tolerated and bounced through the exhibits about American politics. He loves walking around the big open spaces in museums, not necessarily the exhibits themselves. (Although in this case, why would he?) It works out well for us, since he doesn't usually fuss, but it does mean that we have a much shorter time to view the exhibits! He did really love the kids area of this museum. (And at every successive museum we visited, he would inquire "Where kids area?")

He also loved the transportation exhibit, which included cars, trucks, trams, and trains on display. However, it was the pretend subway train in this section that made his visit! (Yes, I would say he liked it even more than the kids area.)

We spent quite some time on this subway train. It felt like a real train ride, since you could see shadows in the windows, feel the vibration on the floor, and hear the announcer calling out the stops. I was pretty sleepy, evident in the photo above, but you can also see that Noah is bright eyed and bushy tailed!

We passed by the back of the White House on the way back to our hotel. Coincidentally, this is where I cleaned Noah's hands and face from an ice cream bar he had just finished. Now, whenever we mention the White House, Noah fondly remembers that this is where Mommy cleaned him up after his beloved ice cream. 

The next day we visited the Washington Monument. It was a beautiful, clear day to view the Washington landmarks from above.

The picture above on the left shows the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, in the distance. The statue of Lincoln is protected under the roof of the building. The large rectangle of dirt you see is normally the Reflecting Pool, but unfortunately for us, construction crews were busy doing maintenance on it. The two white stone structures you see in the upper right photo are part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial which officially opened one day before we left Washington. This was one the few items on our list of things to do that we just didn't have any time left for. 

After the Washington Monument, we took Noah to a Carousel located further down the National Mall area.

We followed this with a visit to the National Air and Space Museum, which was nothing less than phenomenal. The main area is filled with airplanes, rockets, satellites and missiles (to name a few) that instantly creates a jaw-dropping effect on all observers.

There were plenty of hands-on activities for Noah to enjoy. He especially liked pretending to be a pilot. This museum visit was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. It was so interesting, and I'd love to go back one day when Noah's attention span is a little longer. After all the excitement of this day, he was ready for an afternoon nap, and Dan and I took advantage of this by visiting the National Gallery of Art. 

There is little variety of restaurants in the downtown area of Washington (actually, there are few restaurants at all in this area). We ate dinner most nights in Georgetown, which was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington. Georgetown is a pretty, quaint little area full of restaurants and clothing stores. 

The next day we visited the Washington Zoo, where we got an excellent view of a Giant Panda eating a huge branch of bamboo. I also loved the way the elephants could be viewed from atop a bridge. This zoo is far more condensed than the Toronto Zoo, so you don't have to walk huge distances to see all the animals. This is great for people visiting the zoo, perhaps not so good for the animals.

On Monday morning, Dan toured the Capitol  while Noah and I did some shopping at Pentagon City Mall. (The subway system is so easy to navigate.) Later on, Dan and I took turns visiting the Holocaust Museum while one of us watched Noah. Dan took him to the Natural History Museum, which was apparently a fantastic place for children to explore.

Noah enjoyed seeing the dinosaur bones and running around the large world map, the most. Actually, he is very much into maps lately. As part of our bedtime routine at the hotel each night, he chose not to read one of the books we had brought from home. Instead, he wanted me to look at the map of Washington with him. We would always start by finding the location of our hotel on the map, and then trace the route we had traveled that day. It was a great map for him, since it included major landmarks, such as the Washington Monument.

Another highlight of this trip for me was watching the sun set from the steps of the U.S. Capitol, while we listened to the U.S. Navy Band play. Some people had even brought a picnic, and wine to enjoy while watching the performance. I guess it didn't hurt that it was the perfect summer's night for such an experience.

Noah, the music man, enjoyed it too.....for a time. I'd say he lasted maybe half an hour or so, during which time he was smiling and dancing as you see in the video below. But all of a sudden, he said, "Let's go now", and when he has his mind made up, it's almost impossible to change. 

Tuesday was our last day in Washington. We decided to spend the morning at the "Newseum". It is, as it sounds, a museum dedicated to news. It includes many artifacts (such as the antenna from the World Trade Center's North Tower) and focuses on reporting and journalism from the 16th century right up to the present.

It is very interactive, and Noah enjoyed it much more than we had expected. It includes a 4D theatre, in which we saw a short, action-packed film about two famous journalists. And of course, this is the location of Noah's debut as a news reporter, featured in my previous post.

After our visit to the Newseum, we went to have lunch on an outdoor patio of a restaurant nearby. As the waitress was taking our order, I inquired if the subway (metro) ran underneath, since I could feel the vibration in the ground. As she was answering that she didn't think so, things really started to tremble, and she said "THAT is not the metro!" We had just experienced our first earthquake! Everything was fine, and we went on to have our lunch, but in the few hours after this occurrence the streets became gridlocked so badly that ambulances an firetrucks were unable to get through. We decided to take the metro to the airport, since no one was moving on the roads, but that was incredibly slow and crowded too. Luckily, with the combination of the metro, a cab, a flight delay, and some really nice people, we were able to get to the airport in time!

We had a busy, eventful, and fun trip to Washington. I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly the citizens of Washington were. The people who worked at the subway station were especially helpful and respectful. Sadly, I cannot boast the same for those that work at the Toronto Transit Commission (in general, at least). What is so great about Washington is that most of the museums were free. The only one we had to pay for was the Newseum. The Washington Monument and the National Zoo were also free. If your toddler has "issues" at any of these attractions, at least you can feel free to leave and come back at another time, without worrying about having wasted your money.

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