Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Christmas in DC

With our kids really being adults Christmas is not the same. So this year Jack came up with the idea that we should take a trip for Christmas. After looking at Disney World and deciding that we wanted some place we hadn't been to as a family, a cruise - for which we were too late to book a nice cabin, and Puerto Rico - which Jack wasn't that sold on - we decided to go to DC. I think that ended up being the perfect choice. It had been years since Jack or I had been and Justin had only been once on a band trip. It was Bekah's first time there.

Everything was wonderful. We were able to book a direct flight. That is always a big plus to me. Then we booked a great hotel - The Willard. The Willard is just a few blocks from the White House so it was not only a great accommodation, with a great room and turn down service to boot, but it was so convenient. I love being able to walk out of the hotel and walk to just about anywhere we wanted to go.

We got there Saturday late afternoon and so we just walked around the White House. The west side of the White House was a little messed up because of the viewing stages being built for the inauguration parade. On the east side is where the ellipse is and the National Christmas Tree was there. It was a nice evening and we enjoyed just taking in some of the sights.

The next morning we got up and walked over to the Smithsonians at the National Mall. We spent a lot of time in the American History Museum and also hit the Air and Space and the Natural History Museums. We walked to the Capitol and by the outdoor ice skating rink too.

Monday came and we woke to freezing temps! It was not only cold, but there was a wind blowing that put the wind chill in single digits. That didn't hold us back as we headed to the Capitol for a tour first thing. We did take a taxi up there since it was so cold. Things have changed a little since the last time I was in DC. There is now a nice Visitors Center that you enter before your tour. Security is run by some serious young service men as some people trying to enter the Capitol with their Starbucks found out. The Capitol, like most places in DC, had a coat check which was something new to us South Louisiana people. But such a nice thing to not have to carry it around with you while looking. The tour was nice. It gives a good overview of the building and it really is awe inspiring when you think of all the history in that one building. After the tour we went to the steps of the Capitol. Another change since last visit - you use to could climb the steps as high as you wanted. Now you are restricted to no higher than the first level. They didn't have it roped off, but have a more effective way as it is under armed guard.

It was still quite cold, but we decided to walk down Pennsylvania Ave to our next stop - lunch and then the International Spy Museum. The museum was ok - but nothing that I would put high on my list to go to. It was interesting to watch some of the videos, but you could probably catch those on the History Channel. Walking on from the museum we stopped by the Old Post Office. The fun thing to do in the Old Post Office is to go up the bell tower. Fun most days I'm sure but not so much when the wind is blowing cold and hard like it was that day. However we got some pictures and a very cold memory of it. We left the Old Post Office and went to the National Aquarium. In a summary - save your $5 and go to a pet store. Very disappointing. The one thing we did that I can say we will not do again.

Monday night was the night we had decided to go on a Grayline Moonlight Tour DC is really beautiful at night with the monuments lit up. However we chose the coldest night during our stay to go. Many of the fountains were off and there was ice in some of the ones that weren't. The bad part of it being so cold was that you didn't want to stay out too long at the monuments. The good part was that it was cold there weren't many people out. It really was a nice tour and we enjoyed it a lot.

Tuesday brought the day we had passes for a White House tour. I had thought we would not be able to do this as we booked our trip so late. Once again, things have changed and they recommend you request passes 3 - 6 months in advance for the security check. On top of that - it's Christmas time so I knew that would be a high demand item. The week we were leaving, Jack called Senator Landrieu's office who gave us the same spiel, but said they would try. The next morning, we had our passes! The plan was to go to the Washington Monument and then head over to our late morning tour of the White House. We got to the Washington Monument and they were old of passes so we headed back to the Smithsonians for some more time at the Natural History Museum. They had some award winning nature photographs on display that I loved seeing.

The White House tour was wonderful. All the rooms had Christmas trees in them. We got to see the White House gingerbread house which was a real treat to me. In our little group that was on the tour was a man in an Air Force One uniform. I made note of his name - Mark Tillman. Perhaps you've seen him too. He's this man. He seemed like a very nice man. The one downside to the tour is that basically you can take nothing in with you so no pictures.

After the White House, we headed out to Arlington National Cementery. We rode on the tourmobile so just hit certain parts of it. Being there at Christmas we saw one section covered in wreaths that a private citizen donates each year which was quite a sight. We saw the changing of the guard and of course the Kennedy grave sites. After the changing of the guard we saw a horse drawn casket on it's way to it's grave site. A very real reminder of the sacrifice made by so many for our freedom.

Wednesday we started out at the Newseum. This was a gem we found. We really didn't know what to expect and didn't think it would be much but we found it to be a great museum. So much so that we ditched our lunch reservations to stay there and see more. It doesn't sound like something dedicated to the news would be that interesting, but it was. There was a lot to see and do there. That afternoon we decided since it was Christmas eve we should do something joyful like go to the Holocaust Museum. This is a place that everyone should go to, but it is almost emotional overload. I will say it is the quietest museum I have ever been in and some of the things you see and read are almost unbelievable. Not a cheery place, but something we should all remember.

Christmas day we spent walking around the monument area of the National Mall. It was a brisk day, but nice weather for being out. There were a lot of people out - which I wasn't sure what to expect. When we got back to the hotel we watched a movie and then headed out to the Kennedy Center to see The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Friday we headed up to the National Cathedral. It is such an amazing place. The stained glass, wood carvings, stone work...everything is beautiful. That night we went to see a production of "A Christmas Carol." This is usually put on at the Ford's Theater but it was undergoing renovations so we went to the Lansburgh to see it. This was a wonderful show. Every aspect of it was entertaining. We saw it closing night I believe and the actors were all spot on. We all loved it.

Saturday was back to the real world as we headed home. It was a wonderful trip and a great way to spend Christmas. We're already talking about where to go next December. Any ideas?