For their New Years’ gift, 2017, the girls each received their own National Park passport book. It’s set up like a passport – a place for your name, your picture, and lots of pages for stamps that document where you’ve been. In this case, though, the visa stamps are for each national park or monument you have visited. The girls received their books and instantly started clamoring to go get some stamps. We are planning on hitting five national parks this summer – Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Badlands, and Wind Cave – but it wasn’t enough. So, we decided to go to the Capitol over Spring Break, with the goal of being tourists and acquiring as many national park stamps as possible.
The Whomptons are drivers, not fliers, so we piled into the Prius early Saturday morning and headed east. From Missouri, we traveled through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia that day. Lola was car sick a few times, so we successfully drugged her with Dramamine for the remainder of the journey. The drive was extraordinarily pleasant, with spectacular rainbow views in the West Virginia mountains. Simply stunning. One might think that driving in a car for 12.5 hours would create antsy children or adults, but no one complained. In fact, folks preferred to be in the car so that we could listen to the HPMOR podcast / audiobook some more! J We stopped in Fort Royal, VA; it is at the north entrance of Shenandoah National Park and we excitedly planned to explore it Sunday morning before heading into DC.
Curses! Shenandoah National Park was still closed due to the surprise blizzard the week before! L Disappointed, we loaded up into the car and decided to audible and check out some Civil War battlefields instead. Who knew looking at battlefields could be interesting?! Manassas was surprisingly compelling; we tromped around in the rain, checked out cannons and hills and fences and buildings, and marveled at the five minutes map-reenactment of First Manassas that is available in the visitors center. Watching the troop movement really helped visualize the story of the battle. We wanted more! The girls got their first and second stamps of the trip and then we headed out for other battlefields and sites to explore.
Midday we headed farther into Virginia to visit the Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles. Modern museums have a well-organized floor plan and Udvar-Hazy is phenomenal. So many space items, planes, helicopters, memorabilia! The aircraft are resting on the ground or are suspended in the air; the catwalk allows the visitors to get an up-close view of the displays and easily imagine them flying around in real-life. We said “wow!” countless times. Big recommend from the Whomptons.
Then it was time to officially enter DC. The Hotel Harrington was home base, very centrally located and within walking distance of almost everything we wanted to do. From there, we trekked through the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall, met up with good friends Ben and Meredith, viewed the founding documents at the National Archives, had dinner, and ended the evening at the Navy Memorial.
Nighttime began our daily experience of a jazz saxophonist right outside our window. Awesome, city living.
Monday was a whirlwind of walking. From the hotel, we headed to the Bureau of Engravings and Printings to get passes for later, then crossed the Mall to the Capitol. Our US Rep had arranged for us to take the Capitol tour! Then Ben took us on a more intimate tour of the Senate side, which included riding the Senate subway. Lola was thrilled! Lunch at Union Station, exploring the Postal Museum, back to the Navy Memorial to get the stamp (stamps are only available between 9 AM – 5 PM, so planning for this was a little tricky each day), to Bureau of Engravings and Printings to watch money being made, then to the Washington Monument with the plan of walking through the monuments to Lincoln Center for a 6 PM show.
At this point, the girls had logged 30,000 steps and were highly unenthusiastic about walking the two miles to Kennedy Center and then the two miles back to the hotel. The thought put Lola in tears, as did the thought of skipping the symphony show. We caught the Circulator bus, which dropped us off at the Lincoln Memorial, and headed uphill to the Kennedy Center. At this point, Lola needed a potty break – the State Department refused to help – but we found a place, then found dinner and the energy to finish the distance to the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center has free showings each day at 6 PM and we delighted in the youth symphony and harp performances. WOW, those students were superb! WOW, were we relieved to sit for an hour! Afterwards, we trudged up the hill to the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, caught the train to Metro Center, and staggered back to the hotel.
The girls had walked over 17 miles and gratefully crashed in their beds. Everyone slept hard that night!
Whompton goal for Tuesday: see panda bears! The subway ride deposited us in a non-touristy community with actual grocery stores! It was a delight to walk through the town on our way to the National Zoo. Highlights from the zoo: panda bears, fishing cat, Asian otters, Alice the Stanley Crane, and the orangutan overhead connector from building to building. The Whomptons LOVE the Saint Louis Zoo and everyone wholeheartedly agreed that the STL Zoo was better – it’s bigger, with substantially more animals and a wider variety of them as well. Even so, it was a lovely spring day and it was amazing to see, in person, animals we’d only every seen before on screens.
We hit the grocery store, loaded up on bread and apples, had an early dinner, and caught the train back to the hotel. After lazing in the hotel a bit, we dashed over to Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House, and learned lots about Lincoln. Two stamps! We followed up even more lazing in the hotel with a surprise outing for dessert at Ollie’s Trolley, lots of reading, and bed.
Krystal is a super-planner and really tried to get advance tickets for all the cool free things in DC. I missed on the Infinity Room tickets – all gone within minutes of the weeks’ launch – and on the African American History and Culture Museum –July’s tickets are all taken right now! While in line at the Petersen House, another tourist told us that we could log on at 6:30 AM and try to get same-day tickets for certain places. That’s what we did on Wednesday morning. Eric, Krystal, and Raina used their three computers, all logged on to the Museum of African American History and Culture at 6:30 AM, and continuously refreshed the page until we got tickets. Scheduled for 11:30 AM, win! With that success, we grabbed 3:30 PM tickets for the Holocaust Museum as well. Stupendous start of the day!
Then it was time to go stand in line outside of the White House for our 7:30 AM tour. It was COLD and WINDY and we occupied ourselves by singing Hamilton songs. We were on Alexander Hamilton Drive, after all. Eventually we made it through the two security checkpoints – security is no joke in DC – and entered the East Wing for our White House tour. Krystal badgered the Secret Service with all sorts of questions – I was told I could! – and we all appreciated the historical preservation of the spaces.
The White House Visitors Center was next, which provided a lot more of the historical context of the White House than just seeing it was able to provide. (The Visitors Center was substantially more interesting that the White House itself.) Lola and Krystal earned their Junior Ranger badges, and Raina and Lola got their passport stamps. We grabbed lunch back at the hotel and prepared for the afternoon of museums.
Oh, my. The Museum for African American History and Culture is the crown jewel of the Smithsonian. Hands-down, this museum was the highlight of our DC trip. The place was PACKED and we waited in line to enter, and then to enter the history floors. The museum has three subterranean floors and four above-ground floors; you start at the very bottom crowded in a narrow space – with the origins of slavery – and then steadily progress into the light and celebrations of African Americans at the top floor. It’s symbolic, profound, and uplifting. How do you find artifacts documenting the life of individuals (who were not allowed to own property) that the powerful found unimportant? It’s a question I never asked myself before – much to my shame, I realized, when I was in the museum – and the artifacts and information displayed push awareness. We learned so much. We learned from what regions most slaves came, which nations and states pushed for slavery the most, which nations and companies sacrificed the most lives in transport. The museum is supporting underwater explorations to find artifacts from slave ships, and some are on display currently. Once out of the slave ship area, the museum opens up a little bit more space physically and shares about the American colonies, the slave rebellions and revolts, shows more artifacts and personal stories, leads to the Congressional compromises about slavery and states, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights Movement, and up to Obama. The history from the past 150 years had more artifacts, images, and video footage, and each level capitalized on the medium choice to share the history. Each level was different and powerful in new ways.
The history section of the museum is organized along a narrative, and we wanted to read each part. We were still below ground in the history section at 3 PM, which was when we needed to leave for the Holocaust Museum. Everyone agreed to stay, and we finally emerged into the light at ground level. With our remaining two hours, we rushed through two more floors of the museum – focusing on art, music, sports – but we never got to one of the floors, nor to dinner at the café, nor to the gift shop.
It was very notable that we, as white folks, were a significant minority of the population in the museum.
We stayed until close (5 PM) and then left, stunned and overwhelmed, and found dinner so that we could talk through and process all we had seen. The rest of the evening was filled with lots of reading in the hotel.
Thursday morning, we headed straight to the one of the newest National Parks: the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality Center. We learned about Alice Paul and the women’s suffragette movement and, instead of becoming Junior Rangers, Lola and I became Junior Suffragettes. Awesome.
Next we had lunch at the American Indian Museum – oh my goodness, SO GOOD! Fry bread, sweet potato hash, everything was delectable. The American Indian Museum has an interesting physical layout in connection with the sun and has positioned prisms at points in the room, which shine moving rainbows on the interior of the museum. Gorgeous.
We spent about two hours at the Natural History Museum and then headed out. We had a dinner date up in Dupont Circle and we had quite a walk – through all the international embassies – to get there. Insane amounts of pizza were consumed and we thoroughly enjoyed Ben and Meredith’s company.
We planned to devote Friday to walking around and seeing all the monuments but it started raining. Walking for two hours in the rain excited no one, so we switched gears and headed back to the Natural History Museum. Afterwards, the weather cleared and warmed, the cherry blossoms popped, and the Whomptons walked around and saw all the monuments on the mall. I found the MLK and FDR monuments to be the most moving – maybe because they are more modern, maybe because it’s easier to relate to one person’s story than a whole military’s story. Regardless, the girls got an incredible number of passport stamps from the monuments and we have beautiful memories of walking around and seeing the sites.
Afterwards, we trekked over to Ben and Meredith’s home, had a lovely dinner, and got a little sad that our trip – and frequent Purser fun – was coming to a close. We caught the train back, thumbed our noses at the Trump Hotel one last time, packed up our stuff and went to bed.
Saturday was a day of serious driving. We were in the car by 6:20 AM Eastern and headed west. We detoured to Pittsburgh to see Bryan, Joy, Xiri, and Amai for lunch (and also upgrade our Hanabi set). Two hours was not enough time, by far, to see them but our goal was to reach STL and sleep in our own beds that night. With the assistance of the HPMOR audiobook and one Starbucks stop, we made it back home at 10:45 PM Eastern.