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Friday, September 16, 2016

Washington DC Getaway

Joe and I were able to take a Washington DC adults only get away in early September thanks to both sets of grandparents taking care of the kids (THANK YOU).  This was really a week of radiology conferences for Joe, but we were able to find time to sight see during the afternoons.  The most wonderful part had to be the delicious restaurants that we found - DC is really becoming a foodie destination!

**Arrive at Reagan National Airport at 4 p.m. ** The Capitol ** Library of Congress ** Supreme Court ** Summer House ** Spring Grotto ** Ulysses S. Grant Memorial ** Capitol Reflecting Pool ** Dinner at The Alibi

We arrived at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill around 4:30pm.  The hotel was about a five minute walk to The Capitol building, so we decided to take a walk after our traveling.  There seemed to be construction everywhere and on just about every building.  We couldn't even walk on the National Mall due to fixing the turf.  I guess that this is to be expected since the traditional tourist season had ended.  It was a good thing that we went to the Capitol on this day, since the very next day fencing went up around the entire building, and no one could come within one block of The Capitol grounds.  On this day, only the stairs leading up to the building were blocked.

The Library of Congress - the roof was very beautiful.

The Supreme Court.  The doors on the building were amazing, but unfortunately the statues on either side of the stairs were under construction.

This was a surprise to find on The Capitol's grounds - the Spring Grotto located inside of the Summer House.  It was a little waterfall leading into a bubbling spring pool, located inside of a lovely open air brick building.  The inside had shade, benches, drinking fountains, and a water fountain.  Due to the lack of crowds, Joe and I were able to sit inside quietly with no interruptions.  After the short bit of sightseeing, we had a fantastic dinner at The Alibi - we highly recommend eating here and enjoying their greens and the banofee pie.

**Union Station ** Gray Line bus tour ** Alexandria VA ** Christ Church ** Lunch at Mt. Vernon food court ** George Washington's Mt. Vernon ** George Washington's town house ** Dinner at The Dabney

Our hotel was about a five minute walk to Union Station, where we started our Gray Line bus tour to Mt. Vernon.  Besides being a travel hub for buses, the metro, and Amtrak, Union Station was also a small mall and location for many restaurants (many of which are chains).

The bus tour made a quick stop at Christ Church in Alexandria VA.  This is the church that George Washington attended (we were able to sit in the replica of his personal booth) and Robert E. Lee also attended this church.  The building itself is still original - Abraham Lincoln had it spared in the Civil War from destruction due to its historical nature (although it was still turned into a hospital during the War).

After a quick lunch at the Mt. Vernon food court, we had three hours to spend in Mt. Vernon.  That sounds like a lot of time, but it is not.  This plantation is HUGE, plus includes a Presidential Library and Museum.  We were only able to see the highlights - the home, the tomb, the slave quarters, and the Museum (the Library was closed for a private function).  We could have easily spent another hour on this estate.

Relaxing on the gorgeous back patio of the estate.  The view of the river was amazing.  I picked this picture, though, to show what the house is made of.  It looks like stone behind us, but in an effort to save time and money, Washington had this house refurbished with a wood that was coated with sand and then painted to look like stone.  So this is actually a wood house!

Martha (on left) and George (on right) Washington's tomb.  Up to 50 additional family members are buried beyond the small door in the wall.  Due to time constraints, we were unable to see the wreath laying ceremony at the tomb.

George Washington's "town house" in Alexandria VA, where he stayed when his nights ran too late to return to Mt. Vernon.  According to our bus driver, Washington is the one who coined the tern "town house", but I do not know if that is actually true.  No tours are allowed of this house.

We were lucky enough to get reservations at The Dabney - voted one of the best 20 new restaurants in the country by Bon Apetit magazine.  It did not disappoint!  Joe and I ordered only small plates, and each one was more delicious than the last.  Plus our table was located directly next to the open kitchen, so we were able to watch the action.  There is no stove in the prep area - everything is done over open fire.  We had our first pig ears here, and they were very good.  But the hearth roasted vegetables were by far the best item we ordered.

**Statue of Alexander Hamilton at the Treasury Building **White House tour ** Lafayette Square:  statues of Andrew Jackson, General Rochambeau, Lafayette, Kosciuszko, and von Steuben ** Washington Monument ** World War II Memorial ** Reflecting Pool ** Korean War Memorial ** Lincoln Memorial ** Vietnam Veterans Memorial ** Lunch at Luke's Lobster ** National Gallery of Art West ** ** Dinner at Rasika 

About two months ago I sent out White House tour requests to our two senators and to our representative.  One senator immediately turned down our request due to insufficient time (they recommend 3-4 months advance notice), the representative said that they would try but we never heard back from them, and the second senator sent us multiple emails keeping us informed of our status until we were finally granted a White House tour.  Being a democrat, it pains me to say this, but thank you to Senator Mark Kirk for making our White House tour happen - we greatly enjoyed the experience.  This picture is of us going through the third security check point - it was as close to the Obamas that we got on this day since they were in China.

Of course we were restricted to the East Wing, but we were able to walk through many rooms that we recognized from press conferences and such.

The infamous red carpet that many Presidents walk down before making major television speeches.

The State Dining Room.  I apologize for my camera making the lights weird.  This was a huge and beautiful room.  I took many pictures of every room we visited, including the Red Room and China Room, but didn't want to make this blog post any longer than it already is!

How would you like to see this view every day from your window?

Standing under the Seal of the President.  The red carpet is rolled up on the left side of the photo.  We had to wait in line for about 30 minutes to get this photo.

The tour ended with us walking out of the north side of the White House, where all of the motorcades drop off/pick up people.

This was as close as we were allowed to get to the south side of the White House - we were unable to see the kitchen garden from this spot.

After the White House we walked through Lafayette Square - namely due to the musical Hamilton (to see the Lafayette and Rochambeau statues).

The Washington Monument.  Due to an elevator issue, there were no inside tours for the month of September.

World War II Memorial with the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial in the background.  This is where Washington DC gets tricky - you think that everything is close together since you can see the memorial, but it was actually a 20 minute walk from World War II Memorial to the Korean War Memorial (on the left side of this picture - in the trees), and then another 5-10 minute walk from there to the Lincoln Memorial.  Looks like it should be a lot closer!

Korean War Memorial.  This is one of the more haunting memorials, and would be even more so if we had visited early in the morning with a light fog.  The wall of faces (it didn't photograph well) was eerie.

Inside the Lincoln Memorial.  Even though tourist season was pretty much over, and there were no big crowds anywhere, there always seems to be a crowd at this Memorial.  The pictures cannot capture how large and impressive the place is.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial - a quiet and moving place.  We saw several people make rubbings of the names, and we overheard a mom explaining to her daughter that her dad's name (it seems he was currently serving overseas) would not be listed on this wall.

After a great lunch at Luke's Lobster in Penn Quarter, Joe left to attend his conference, and I walked through the National Gallery of Art (west) which displays works of art from 1900 and earlier.  I had first tried to visit the east gallery showing works from 1900 to present, but the building was closed for renovation.  But the east gallery was lovely - plenty of work from the major names - Degas (seen below), Monet, Rodin, Michaelangelo, etc.

There was even one painting done by da Vinci on display.  This is the only da Vinci painting in all of the USA, and I had to stand in a 10 minute line to see it.  It was surprisingly small.

Dinner at Rasika was wonderful.  It is an Indian restaurant, and the chef won the James Beard award in 2014.

**City Center shopping ** Lunch at Article One (in the hotel) ** Ford's Theater:  Museum, Ranger Talk in the Theater, Petersen House, and Center ** Chinatowne ** Dinner at Kinship

My morning shopping at City Center was disappointing, so I returned to the hotel after only a short time.  After lunch, Joe and I walked to Ford's Theater for our two hours of exploring.  We started in the museum below the theater, where there were a surprising number of historical items on display (no photos allowed!):  Lincoln's suit that he died in (minus his shirt which was cut off of him), the door and door jam that Booth walked through to kill Lincoln, the gun that Booth used to kill Lincoln (surprisingly small - it only held a single round), the knife that Booth had on him that night, Dr. Mudd's medical kit that he used when Booth came to him for medical assistance, one of the pillows Lincoln died on covered in his blood, and so much more.  We then attended a ranger talk describing the theater and the timeline of events on the night Lincoln was killed.

The Ford's Theater Presidential balcony.  This is a replication, since after Lincoln died the theater was essentially shut down, and then was later turned into government offices before being restored.  

The Petersen House is located directly across the street from the theater, and was the boarding house where Lincoln died.  Attached to this House was the Center - a small Lincoln museum (I say small since we live in Springfield where the Lincoln Presidential Museum is located).

The bed that Lincoln died on.

The entrance to Chinatowne.

We had another wonderful meal tonight at Kinship - below is a picture of my octopus and tzatziki appetizer.  This restaurant was a bit unique since the menu was divided into four sections:  Craft (celebrates a technique), History (a revisiting of a historic dish), Ingredient (celebrates one ingredient), and Indulgence (luxury food items).

**National Museum of the American Indian ** Lunch at Mitsitam Cafe ** Smithsonian Institute ** Holocaust Museum ** Tidal Basin ** Martin Luther King Jr National Memorial ** Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial ** Jefferson Memorial ** Nationals vs. Phillies Baseball Game at Nationals Park

After Joe's morning conferences, we walked to the National Museum of the American Indian for a surprisingly delicious lunch at Mitsitam Cafe (again, notice the ongoing construction on the building).

Posing in front of the Smithsonian Institute (aka "The Castle").  This is basically a visitors center for all of the Smithsonian buildings.

This was our second time visiting The Holocaust Museum.  I was very surprised that they allowed photos, and while I did not take many due to just not feeling right about it, I did take a few photos of the areas that I remember being very poignant during my last visit.  The railcar (not posted here) and the shoes.  This Museum is extremely quiet, kept fairly dark, is laid out very well, and cannot be described with words.

Walking around the Tidal Basin - we are under a cherry tree with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. In the future, I do not recommend walking this Basin with a 103* heat index and no bottled water!  We just about melted.  Unfortunately, the heat also kept us from renting a paddle boat to paddle around in the Basin - it was just too hot.

Side view of the MLK Memorial to show him emerging from the mountain.  

The FDR Memorial is very large - it is separated into four sections, one for each of his Presidential terms.  It was a maze of stone, waterfalls, quotes, and statues.

A nod to China for gifting the cherry trees.

The Jefferson Memorial.

After cooling down for a bit at the hotel, we went back into the heat to see a Nationals vs. Phillies baseball game at Nationals Park.  Neither of us had been to this ballpark before, and it was a very nice stadium.

So the Nationals are known for the President's Race that happens in the fourth inning of every home game.  Joe was ecstatic to walk into the stadium and see all five of the Presidents standing for photo-ops.  Here is Joe with Lincoln - who was acting very grumpy (Lincoln, not Joe!).

Both of us with Thomas Jefferson.

Joe with Theodore Roosevelt.  He ended up "winning" the race tonight since he threw a teddy bear at the other four Presidents which knocked them all down.

Joe with William Howard Taft.

Joe was very lucky to get his photo with George Washington.  George was on his way out and Joe ran after him asking for one more photo.  The "secret service" (the mascot handlers) were not exactly happy with Joe doing this.

The wall of Presidents with Screech the Bald Eagle (Nationals mascot), and photos of the Nationals' players.

We had excellent seats behind the visitor's dugout.

Continuing with the food photos - I had the Ben's Chili Bowl half smoke "all the way" and a W pretzel.  Joe had the hot chicken and fried pickles from Catchfly.  We saw a very good game with a win by the Nationals.

**National Archives ** Lunch at Pavilion Cafe at the Sculpture Garden ** Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden ** National Air and Space Museum ** Radiology Gala at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery 

After Joe's morning conferences, we walked to the National Mall.  On a whim, we decided to go to the National Archives to see the original Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Magna Carta.  The last time I had visited Washington DC, the line for the Archives was around the block - this time there was no line at all!  Obviously, no pictures were allowed inside the building, and the security guards were even asking people to keep their phones in their pocket/purse, I guess so no one would sneak a photo.

After lunch at the Pavilion Cafe, we walked around the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.  Below is a Lichtenstein sculpture.  Luckily the Garden is very small, or again we would have melted!

Our final tourist destination of the vacation was to spend the afternoon at the National Air and Space Museum.  This museum can be overwhelming - you are surrounded by various aircrafts, suits, accessories, and information.  We spent about 3.5 hours there (including watching two excellent movies:  Dark Universe and Journey to Space), but could have spent more time.  

Joe with the Spirit of St. Louis.

I wanted this photo for the penguins! 

One of Amelia Earhart's airplanes.

The original Wright Brothers' plane frame (the fabric is a reproduction).

And, just in case you were secretly wondering.

Joe's conference ended with a gala at the National Portraits Gallery.  We had a very good time - sitting at a lively table helps!  We also enjoyed the Bluegrass band that played during dinner.

The ceiling to the covered courtyard - this space was breathtaking.  I only wish that they would have allowed for us to walk through the museum during the event. 

Dancing in the Smithsonian.