Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sightseeing in the Nation's Capitol

There is so much to see and do in Washington, D.C., you'd be pressured to do it all in a week. So what can you do on a one-day visit? Well, on a recent visit, we narrowed down our choices and didn't try to do it all. I'd suggest selecting spots that have special interest and allowing time to walk around and enjoy the city's architecture and history.

Of course, growing up nearby we have been to most of the sites at some point, so that also helped narrow things and we know we'll come back again soon. Rick Steves makes that point about visiting most any city when he says you should visit assuming you will be back again. I agree, because whether you really get back or not, it makes your visit more enjoyable and keeps the pressure down (and who wants travel to be pressure?).

Here's some highlights from our recent visit:
I would highly recommend a visit to this spot, all about news and journalism and its incredible impact. They have an amazing history of news, with archives of some of the first newspapers and early history of our country to big headlines you will remember from your own past. They have a great 9/11 exhibit and one regarding Hurricane Katrina, and both truly illustrate the evolution of journalism and how our crises are documented. It seems like a well-balanced museum, covering big events like the above as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall, history, current freedom of press around the world, the internet's effects and citizens as journalists in that interactive exhibits and a 4D movie for fun. It is a visually stunning museum as well, and has a great layout (though perhaps we should have watched the orientation movie so we would have better understood that from the start).

This isn't one of the many freebies in D.C., but they do offer student, senior and AAA discounts and are currently doing an early bird special on weekend days. We're pretty speedy museum-goers (I don't need to stare at things long) and we spent a good 2 1/2 hours here and would have spent longer.
The Smithsonian offers such an array of options and best of all, they are free. We had both been to the American History Museum but it had been quite a while. I think the most popular school trip when I was growing up was Natural History, so I didn't recall as much from this one. I loved the First Lady's inauguration gown exhibit and was excited to see Julia Child's kitchen, but would probably have to choose the transportation exhibit and the Star Spangled Banner as my favorites. The pop culture exhibit was somewhat disappointing, though I don't know what I was expecting from the Fonz's jacket. There was a lot more to see here than I recalled, so don't underestimate the time needed--you will likely be surprised by enjoying exhibits you might think to skip at first.

I had been there a while back, but somehow Bryan never had. It is a must-see at least one time and another free treasure and unique display of history. It is special to be able to view the major documents of our nation's history. You can also do research at the archives and I am fascinated by the process of archiving and restoring documents and the job of managing all of that information (only made more difficult in today's information age), but make sure to make the stop through the visitor area to view the documents on display while in D.C. if you haven't seen them.

One last plug for a new discovery for us on this trip. We took the Megabus for the first time and it's a great transportation option. I have used the Metro many times, and it is a wonderful system. Driving and parking in D.C. is the worst option. However, this time we were further north and would have had to drive in to get to a Metro stop, so when we discovered the Megabus leaves from the Park and Ride right down the street, it was a no-brainer. For less than $30 (and often much less if you book in advance) we had almost door-to-door service (the drop off point in D.C. is perfectly situated by the sights). The Megabus offers great deals for traveling between many major spots in the NE. It's bus travel so nothing glamorous but you can relax (not stressed out fighting through the inevitable traffic), get some work done, or catch up on your podcasts or audiobooks (my choice)--they even have plugs right by the seats to charge up all those electronics.

Next trip to D.C., I plan to make a second visit to the Holocaust Museum and try to get in a few more of the Smithsonian's great spots. I'm also intrigued by the spy museum, but may save that for when my nieces get a bit older since it seems like something kids would really enjoy. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

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