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Road Trip in Review: Tips for Traveling in DC

Turns out that the family reunion didn’t end in St. Michael’s. Since St. Michael’s is so close to Washington DC, almost everyone went there! We found a lovely Air BNB in Germantown, and took the Metro in from Shady Grove. Turns out Fiance wasn’t totally fond of it because it is loud and bumpy. But I was probably five years old the first time I was on the DC Metro, so I felt home. And I felt even more at home when we emerged in downtown Washington DC. I didn’t realize how comfortable I felt there until this trip. But it felt like being welcomed by an old friend.

The first day, we didn’t do much. We kind of walked around and talked about places we would like to go. And then we met up with the family for a nighttime monument tour. We got back to Union Station just in time to catch the last red line train back to Shady Grove. And then we got off on the wrong side of the station.

Tip number 1: if you use the park and ride, make sure you remember which side of the station you parked on and you are adamant about getting off there. Because apparently at some stations, you can’t easily reach the other side on foot.

Fortunately a local cab driver was nice enough to take use around to the other side, which was like… a five minute drive. And when we got back to the Air BNB… I realized I had lost my ipod. (I mentioned this in last Monday’s video, only I referred to it as “my camera,” because that felt simpler, as it was the ipod’s main function on this trip. And it’s the lost pictures that is probably the worst part of it.) So DC was not off the the best start.

The next morning, we tracked down the Good Stuff Eatery (after trying to find out if Union Station had a lost and found that my ipod may have turned up in. But obviously, it was closed for memorial day.) Good Stuff Eatery was recommended by Cousin, who used to live in DC, and was apparently the buger joint of preference for the Obamas, who not only have their pictures on the wall, but have burgers named after them. So we ordered the Obama burger and Michelle Melt, made a guess about which we liked more, each took about three bites, and traded. Shows what we know about our own taste buds.

From there we hopped into the Library of Congress, mostly because it was nearby and we were looking for a bathroom, but I was very excited to see the Gutenberg Bible. I know that to some people old books in a glass case might seem kind of stupid, but I could have spent all day in the Library of Congress. (Also we went into the… Jefferson Building? There are three Library of Congress buildings, and this one is modeled on the Paris Opera House, so it is GORGEOUS.) But we didn’t spend the whole day in the Library of Congress. We hopped the Metro over to the other end of the National Mall and went looking for the aquarium. I didn’t know DC had an aquarium, you say. It doesn’t. There are just some very outdated signs in that city. For a city that builds a new museum every couple of years, you’d think they’d learn they need to update their signs more frequently. Oh well.

We caught the Memorial Day parade. Well sort of. Because by then, we were determined to do something, so we walked along in the opposite direction of the parade and ducked into the archives. I was actually looking for the National Gallery, and just went to the wrong side of the street, but Constitution Avenue would have been difficult to cross at that point.

Tip #2: If you don’t want to attend the Memorial Day parade, make sure you’re on the right side of the street.

But the National Archives was okay. We got to see the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, parts of which are so faded now that all you can see are vague imprints on paper. But again–writer nerd wants to see old writey things! And the tour guide the night before had commented that there is some talk that they may stop having them on daily display due to the documents fading. So I was excited to catch them when we had the chance.

We bummed around the in Archives gift shop to see if we could find some souvenirs for friends. I was particularly excited by all the Hamilton stuff they had in front, not because I’m a big fan of Hamilton, but because they had a bag that said something like “Hamilton and Washington and Madison and Jefferson and Burr.” And Burr is in a different color. See, I’m an Aaron Burr fan. And I feel like he gets the short end of the stick sometimes. Okay, he did kill a guy, I guess that’s fair. But did you know he also presided over the first ever impeachment trial in the United States? He set a standard of fairness and justice that has colored the way impeachment trials are handled to this day. But mostly I’m interested in Aaron Burr because there’s a slim chance I’m distantly related. And that’s kind of cool. So I wanted the lone Aaron Burr memorabilia, but it was about $30, and that just didn’t seem worth it. As opposed to the Rose the Riveter purse which was like… $7. Turns out, gift shops are weird. Some stuff seems very overpriced, and some things (like a giant teddy bear) were cheaper than they would be at home. No tip there. Just… weird.

By the time we left the Archives, the parade was over, and we finally made it across the street into the National Gallery. We stopped in the cafe between the east and west wings to get some water before continuing on our journey.

Tip # 3: Bring a water bottle or plenty of money to buy water. Cash doesn’t hurt. There are lots of people on the national mall selling bottles of water for a dollar each, which is cheaper than you’re going to find in most places, and they are out there longer than a lot of the other places are open.

We explored the eastern wing for a while (because I prefer modern art) until we were informed the museum was closing in 7 minutes.

Tip #4: Plan accordingly. A lot of places in DC run on a Sunday schedule for Memorial Day, so if you want to go into buildings, go in the morning or early afternoon. Save the memorials for later in the day because they are outside and don’t exactly close down. Planning is extra important for visiting the African-American history museum, which can be difficult to get into. I really wanted to do this, but we didn’t because we didn’t get tickets early enough. It is free, but you still need a ticket to get in. You can get them online, but you can apparently get them like… months in advance. So when you wake up late on the one day you are going to be in DC, you have slim pickin’s. We could have made it, but we would have been very rushed to get there. 

From there we tracked down the sculpture garden, which being outdoors, was open a little later, and found, at the center, a large fountain that lots of people were dipping their toes into. So we rested on the edge of the fountain and made a plan for the end of the day. Fiance really wanted to see Einstein, so we hoofed it up past the Lincoln Memorial to get our picture with Einstein. We checked out the Korean War Memorial on the way back down because we had missed it the night before. And then we walked all the way back to the Capitol and past to eat dinner at We the Pizza, which was next to Good Stuff Eatery, and also recommended by Cousin.

Tip #5: Wear good walking shoes. We both did, and we still had blisters by the end of the day and could barely make it back to the Metro station.

Tip #6: Get a good Metro map. We could have saved some time and energy in a couple of places by hopping the Metro, but we weren’t exactly sure where all the stations were. Similarly, we sometimes overshot because we weren’t positive exactly where we would end up.

Tip #7: Bring sunscreen. We were out of the better part of the day, on top of having been walking outside the day before, on top of having attended an outdoor wedding the day before that. I actually ended up with sun poisoning, which I didn’t know was a thing until then. Fortunately, it was not a severe case of sun poisoning. My arms broke out in hives, and they were more or less back to normal the next day, aside from the general sunburn.

After downing a great many cups of water and eating dinner, we limped back to our final trip on the metro and drove back to our Air B&B. We settled in for the night, and left the next day for the final leg of our journey.


I am a poet, linguist, and ESL teacher who loves to play games.

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