Last Saturday, Michael and I celebrated my birthday in our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. He surprised me on my actual birthday (in December) with the planned adventure– our primary destination to see a special friend of ours performing there on stage. But how can you go there with a little spare time and not experience some of our nation’s history?
I haven’t visited Washington since I was a preteen– having been there at least three times as a kid. Michael had never been there before.
Washington D.C. has a great public transportation system, taxis are plentiful but it is also a very walkable city. There are a number of mobile apps available to help you navigate the city and plan ahead. The best part? Most everything is free! I did a little research ahead of time hoping to make the most of the few hours we had for sightseeing.
We started the day waking up at 3 AM to get ready and head to the airport. By 11 AM we had checked in at our hotel and were ready to head out to see as much as we had time to see.
Hotel Monaco (Kimpton chain) is a wonderful gem of a hotel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was formerly the General Post Office built in 1839. It’s a quirky, stylish, upscale destination in the heart of the city. Features include nice sized rooms with vaulted ceilings, complimentary coffee in the morning, a wine reception nightly and a 24 hour gym. WiFi requires a surcharge but is free with a Kimpton membership. I’d definitely stay there again.
It was a little chilly and heavily overcast– not great for taking pictures– but that wasn’t going to stop us from making the most of this opportunity.
I’d planned out a tentative route, heading first over to the White House and then walking the National Mall. When you look at it on the map, it’s really hard to tell the distance from monument to memorial.
From my memories as a kid, everything seemed bigger and farther apart. In person, though, you can see that it’s all quite doable.
On our way, we passed may interesting historic buildings including St. Patrick Catholic Church. Founded in 1794, it’s the oldest parish in the city. The Pope was there on his visit in 2015.
The White House. We opted not to even try to get tickets to tour the inside with our tight schedule. I still really wanted Michael to see it. As we were walking around the inner Ellipse, a police officer told us we’d have to leave temporarily (for a few minutes) because they were securing the area.
So we walked to the middle of the Ellipse (which was open) and took some pictures from there. We could see a motorcade parked but weren’t sure if they were coming or going. I tried to zoom in on the men on the roof who were apparently police security.
The Washington Monument. The work has been completed to repair structural damage from the 2011 earthquake. Visitors can now visit the observation deck and museum with a free ticket that can either be obtained first come, first served or ordered in advance (with a service fee) online.
We didn’t tour inside but were content to view it from many different points along the National Mall while we walked. As a kid back in the 70’s, my family did climb all the way to the top. All 897 steps.
National World War II Memorial. Opening in 2004, this was my first visit to this impressive, sprawling site. The memorial is majestic and a beautiful tribute to those that gave their lives and all those that served. This commemorative sight fits in nicely with the surrounding national landmarks.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I was really excited to finally visit this memorial. I can clearly remember the drama and press surrounding its design and opening. The wall is engraved, chronologically with the 58,300 names of Americans that gave their lives.
At the entrance to the memorial wall is a bronze statue, The Three Soldiers, which does a beautiful job of capturing raw emotion of wartime.
I have to make a personal comment about the wall itself that I hope won’t offend anyone. I found this- disappointing. I think I echo sentiments expressed by others as well though. First, you can walk right past it and not even see the memorial from the main paths of the National Mall. Second, the reflection of the black polished stone is so severe it is hard to read the etched names. (The stone was selected specifically for its reflective nature.) The reflection creates a nice effect from one standpoint but not if you want to actually read the names of the many fallen soldiers.
In addition, I personally found the design to evoke political feelings that I feel are inappropriate for a memorial. The start of the low wall, growing and rising out of ground; along with the memorial’s placement off the main path brought to mind the controversies of the war. The memorial is almost hidden in the over all landscape, easy to miss or ignore. Not a fitting tribute to the many that gave their lives in service to this country.
The Lincoln Memorial. Iconic in so many ways, the Lincoln Memorial is the one national treasure I would hope all Americans would get to experience at least once in their lifetime. I have vivid memories of walking up those steps as a child, walking through those massive columns and staring into the eyes of that great man while he stared back at me. A feeling of awe and pride and patriotism rolled into one.
I felt this again on this visit. Being there, it’s easy to forget all the negative feelings and distrust of our political system that has come to the forefront in recent years. Here there is history, pride and a legacy of hope.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial. My first visit here, approaching from a distance; I could tell I was about to experience something special. Perhaps it’s was the fact that this memorial is so uniquely different from the others. It is both visual and visceral. It’s interesting to note that while much statuary is either found in stone or bronze, the soldiers depicted here are made of stainless steel. A memorial beautifully realized.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only American honored with a solo memorial site on the National Mall, who was not one of our presidents. The memorial is positioned in a serene and tranquil spot on the Tidal Basin across the water from the Jefferson Memorial.
The centerpiece is the Stone of Hope, a 30 foot high likeness of this great civil rights leader. It is cut out of the larger Mountain of Despair, creating the entry to the memorial and sits further forward facing the Tidal Basin. Fourteen of MLK’s most famous quotes are engraved on a curved, granite wall. Noticeably missing– his I Have a Dream speech.
Bad weather and a hidden turn led us to skip the longer route and miss the FDR Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin. We’d already done a lot of walking and Michael and I had a few more sights we wanted to see. Our legs were starting to get sore and after hours of exposure to the cold misty day– it looked like the mist might turn to rain.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d wanted to visit here since it opened in 1993. The architecture was beautifully designed and the museum contains many important exhibits telling the story of a dark moment in world history.
There wasn’t the emotional impact I thought I might experience but I attribute that to the fact that I’d visited Stutthof Concentration Camp in Poland and the Jewish Museum in Berlin two years ago. The twisting and winding Permanent Exhibition, though beautifully displayed, was at times claustrophobic. Rooms filled with things to see and displays to read were sometimes difficult to navigate without a clear path and quite a few visitors crowding the works.
The exhibitions: Victims’ Shoes and the 3-story Tower of Faces are probably the most moving and interesting. There are a number of restored artifacts on display but I was surprised by the large number of items and images that are actually facsimiles and not authentic.
The main thought that kept running through my head as we walked through the museum was: How many lives could America have saved– particularly of children– had our government not refused many Jewish refugees during WWII? Not the same– but similar to the current controversy over the acceptance of Syrian refugees today.
Heading back in the direction of our hotel, we had a good view of the United States Capitol, buried in scaffolding while it is undergoing a major renovation.
Ford’s Theatre and Petersen House. This was our last stop before dinner and our show. Being off season, we had no trouble getting tickets (required to enter and free) and were able to tour the theater and museum, taking our turn to view the box where Lincoln was assassinated, up close. Across the street we toured Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died. It has been set up to resemble the time period even though none of the furnishing are original to the house in that period.
We headed back to the hotel to rest up a bit and then over to District Chophouse & Brewery for a wonderful dinner. Luckily, it was only a short walk to the theater as it started to rain.
I loved the show! In addition to the top-notch performances, the production team lovingly delivered this classic Cole Porter musical in a way that made it fresh, funny and exciting.
After the show we went back to the green room to see Christine and meet Douglas. We got a quick backstage tour and then headed to a nearby pub for some great conversation and time to catch up with Christine.
We finally went to bed around 2 AM, got two hours sleep and then were up at 4 to head to the airport for our flight home.
It was pretty incredible birthday celebration not soon to be forgotten.