Wednesday, July 24, 2019

4th of July Weekend In DC

When we woke up in Ocean City next to the beach Independence Day morning, I had no idea how spectacular our night would end. We packed up our things, checked out of the condo in Ocean City, and headed into DC. We prepped ourselves and the minis for what was expected to be heavy traffic all around DC. We made a couple of stops at local produce stands/shops on the way to the Bay Bridge (to cross into the other side of Maryland/DC). It's an easy drive from the ocean into DC (around 2 hours) and once we arrived in DC we had to deal with road closures, but very little traffic. We went right to Arlington National Cemetery to set off our sightseeing.

It's such a beautiful drive. I fell in love with Maryland and Delaware during our time there.

Our reviews of Arlington National Cemetery: Hubs and I loved it (I could have walked around all day, even in the intense heat), Max sort of liked it, Harrison and Elizabeth only liked the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (guard changing).

Memorable Moments in Arlington: standing at the Eternal Flame and explaining to the younger two who JFK was and what happened to him (everyone else is paying respects and absolutely silent) when Harrison shouts loudly, "what happened to his head? Did it explode?" Followed by the oldest thinking he might pass out from the heat (spoiler alert: he didn't, but the pre-teen drama king has things down). All of this was followed by getting caught in a downpour and all three crying they wanted to leave.

Happiest moment in Arlington: discovering it was free parking for Independence Day.

Coolest moment in Arlington: seeing the changing of the guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier followed by seeking shelter in the guard's changing area beneath.

Great views of the Washington Monument from JFK's grave

Hot, humid, with storm clouds rolling in

The downpour that we had no choice but to walk in. By the time we walked back to the Visitors Center, we were soaked (and the kids were cold. I felt refreshed). We dried ourselves off in the bathroom where Elizabeth and I had a wonderful encounter with supportive women. The bathroom was packed with other women soaked from the rain. Some had articles of clothing off and putting it in the hand dryers. Elizabeth was shivering and I asked her if she wanted to take her shirt off and dry it.
She said no because she didn't want to take her shirt off. Totally opposite of me, who would easily do this on any given day. The other women in the restroom offered to hold up their shirts so no one saw her undress and stand around her while she dried her shirt. They offered many solutions and encouragement to my cold, wet child. In the end, Elizabeth refused to put herself or clothes under the warm dryers, but I was warmed by everyone's encouragement of my shy daughter (take my word for it, she's only shy in public and around people she doesn't know well!).

At least we dried ourselves enough to get our souvenirs from the gift shop before we left!

Since we were wet, the kids were cold, and we were all getting hungry, we decided to leave Arlington after the great downpour and check into our Airbnb house. The house was north of the National Mall by about 15 minutes. It was an easy drive to a quiet street. We made sandwiches and relaxed for a couple of hours. 

While we relaxed in the house (and the kids made themselves sandwiches--perk of the kids getting older!), we turned on the local news. They had live coverage of traffic, someone burning a flag at the White House, and the action at the National Mall. As we watched the news, and the time got later, Hubs and I looked at each other and simply said, "let's do it."
The entire reason we wanted to be in DC on the 4th was so we could watch fireworks at the National Mall. What's more American than celebrating Independence Day in our nation's capital?? Yes, we were tired from our week of travel adventures. Yes, the kids were tired and completely satisfied with the fireworks we had watched the night before on the beach. But we're also insane. At 7:30 p.m., an hour before the fireworks began, we decided to head to the Mall. We had no expectations about how the night was going to go. We expected traffic, expensive parking, crowds, but hey, that's sometimes the cost of fulfilling bucket list items.

Instead of our lowest expectations being met, our highest expectations were met! We found parking in a garage a block away from the Smithsonian (about 2 blocks from the National Mall area) for only $15 for the night. We easily found spots at the National Mall and began walking towards the Lincoln Memorial. We chose a spot beneath the Washington Monument and sat down just as the fireworks began. As we watched the fireworks hang above the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn't help but get teary eyed. It was an amazing experience! Of course, the minis in particular, missed our family 4th of July fun we usually have on this day. But this was a once in a lifetime experience for us and I am so grateful we got to have it.

The only downside to these fireworks was that due to the humidity (97% the entire time we were in DC), the smoke from the fireworks hung in the air making the last half of the fireworks impossible to see through the smoke clouds. However, they were the longest fireworks we've ever seen--at least 30 minutes worth of brightly colored displays! I wish we had fireworks like this in Iowa!

After fireworks, we managed to get to a few of the Memorials: WWII and the Reflecting Pool. But the dense smoke from the fireworks made seeing things hard so we decided to leave and start fresh in the morning.

The kids had such a late night that they slept in until 10 a.m. the next morning! It was after 11:30 a.m. that we made our way down to the Mall area (parking in the same garage, which was only $21 for 24 hours. This is a bargain compared to Chicago parking garages!). Our first stop was the White House (as requested by the middle mini) followed by two Smithsonian museums (American History and Natural History) due to the heat. 

The minis hated the White House because we couldn't get close. I was disappointed by that too. I have wonderful memories of my last visit to DC (14 years ago, so it's been a hot minute) of sticking my arms through the fence of the White House, picking a flower, and my mom freaking out that I would be taken away by the Secret Service if I didn't knock it off. I wanted my kids to have the same experience (wink, wink).

By the time we walked around Lafayette Square the minis asked for air conditioning. I had planned to just walk right into the African American History Museum, but extremely long lines for all of the Museums made us pick and choose exactly which ones we visited.

I'll say these few things about the Smithsonian Museums and then I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
  • our children really don't like Museums. Give them anything outdoors or a hands on Museums and they're happy. So far they've hate the Smithsonian's, Field Museum, Art Institute, Science Museums (we've been to several), and anything in between that I've forgotten. What they're okay with: quick looks at Visitor Centers when we go to National Parks.
  • huge long lines and tight security. This can be both good and bad depending on how you look at it.
  • the employees at the Smithsonian aren't as helpful or friendly as they could be. After visiting the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, where everyone was extremely helpful and well organized, I felt the Smithsonian was lacking on this front.

This was one of my favorite things we saw on our vacation: the real Star Spangled Banner. The flag that was hanging in 1814 at Fort McHenry. Even the minis thought this was amazing. * the flag is inside the exhibit-behind the wall. Photography isn't allowed in the exhibit but Hubs didn't see the sign and took a couple of pictures of the flag before being told to put his phone away. We still have the picture, but we will not be sharing them on the blog.

The lines to get into every Smithsonian was insane!

Elizabeth: "the bear is gonna eat me!"

All Elizabeth wanted to see this trip was a joey. She didn't but she did get to see a kangaroo (even if it wasn't real).

I made them pose in front of the Easter Island head statue, to which Harrison said, "I want to go to Easter Island! We'll get Easter baskets every day we're there!" At this point everyone was melting and we left the Museum of Natural History in search of a late lunch (we already knew we would be eating at Ollie's Trolley because that instantly caught their eyes during fireworks the night before).

Elizabeth took her chicken off her bun and ate just the grilled chicken. Everyone's burgers were great and the fries were phenomenal....although, I'm not sure if the food tasted great because it was just really great or if it was because we were all starving, hot, and read to eat! Clearly, our long days were getting to the youngest a bit...

With everyone adequately fed we continued on our sightseeing day of everything historical. We visited Ford's Theater (oddly there was no loud talking when I explained what happened to Lincoln. That's apparently only reserved for quiet places like Arlington) and the FBI building (the boy's request).

My favorite thing of the day was Harrison: "mom! Mom! Take a picture and put your hands up!" He also joked he was going to steal the FBI car so he could fight all the people.

I LOVE this building. I wish we had the time to wait in line to go in.

The highlight of the kid's day was getting ice cream from an ice cream truck for the first time in their lives (I swear they're not sheltered!). Then it was more sightseeing. All on foot. We walked a whole lot of miles while we were in DC (20+ miles from July 4 - 6).

The minis liked the back of the Lincoln Memorial best of all. I can't really blame them. The front was incredibly crowded because fencing and the stage was still set up from the Independence Day celebration. Hardly anyone was around the back of the Memorial, so we sat and ate a quick snack and watched boats on the Potomac. 

My favorite line from our time at Lincoln Memorial goes to Max, who asked, "can we go now? He's just sitting there and he's just going to stay sitting there." He then proceeded to yawn the biggest yawn I've ever seen in my life (caught on camera below).  Clearly being in DC had a huge impact on them....

The yawn after the smart ass remark.

Of the Memorials, the WWII was their favorite (not pictured) because they got to dip their feet in the water. This action is to commemorate how soldiers dipped their feet in the fountains after the war.  

The minis lost it after our stops at the Vietnam Memorial and Korean War, so we had to leave. After being in the heat and humidity all day, I discovered I had a wicked heat rash all over my legs. We tucked the minis into bed (after the best cold showers we've ever taken) and I promptly announced we weren't doing as much tomorrow. We needed a bit of a break, so we took it.

We began our last full day in DC at the National Zoo to see the pandas (literally the only reason we went), treating ourselves to Chick Fil A for lunch (the oldest mini had never had it. It's now the greatest thing ever to all three), going to parks, seeing a few more memorials, and taking a driving tour of DC (because I couldn't handle walking 20 more miles).

The National Zoo was awesome! Had it not been 95 degrees (with a 97% humidity reading) I would have done the entire zoo. However, all we really wanted to see were the pandas. Once we got to the pandas house, we spent over thirty minutes watching the pandas and learning all about them. 

A baby gorilla

Elizabeth re-enacted the scene from Elf where Buddy tries to hug the Raccoon. I died as she did it word for word in front of people.

Why do my children insist on doing weird things whenever I say "smile!"??? I'll just stick to the back of their heads I guess...

The park at the Zoo gave Hubs and me a break and provided the minis with several minutes of free play while we re-grouped. It only provided one good fight when deciding who was going to sit on the bee for the picture. It should be said that on one asked them to sit on the bee.

I went to turn around to tell the kids to unbuckle when we got to Arlington at the Iwo Jima Memorial and bam! Elizabeth was right there causing me to scream. It only added to the respectful silence going on at the moment for everyone else.

This is the Memorial where two of my children nearly committed a federal crime. At the top of this Memorial were chimes. Harrison asked how the chimes were ringing and I said I didn't know. I didn't know anything about this Memorial until we began reading plaques. As we read the plaques, Harrison kept asking questions: "is someone up there ringing them? Is that something we can do?" I again replied that I didn't know and continued my reading. Being investigators, the youngest two took it upon themselves to try to open the padlock on the gate to the stairs that lead up to the chimes. They thought they could pick the lock (noticed they have little sticks in the padlock) and run up the stairs and "swing the chimes." I took a picture as I told them, slightly panicked, "stop! Stop! Back away from the gate!" 
I took a picture of them not listening and almost committing a crime. Also, the National Park Service needs to invest in strong locks. Just saying.

West and East Potomac Park is gorgeous. We parked so we could visit the Jefferson Memorial (we did not make it to the MLK or Roosevelt Memorials). I would have liked to have also visited Anacostia Park, but the minis were done with our adventures. Instead we settled for a driving tour of the Capital, Library of Congress, and downtown before going to get dinner at Julia's Empanadas in the Adams Morgan area. As soon as we got near Julia's, I instantly regretted not having more time to spend in the Adams Morgan area. There were fun little ethnic restaurants and bars lining the streets. Definitely our kind of area of explore.

Alas, it was time for our DC adventure to come to an end. The kids were done with DC and ready for our next adventures in northern Maryland.

I'm so glad we took the minis to DC despite their indifference to it all (and their absolute dislike of the museums). I know in the next year (for the oldest mini) or several (for the other two) they'll realize everything they saw and what value it has to our lives. I'm actually waiting for this next school year for one of them to rush home and tell me wide eyed "guess what we learned about today and I've been there! I know it!" Since they were on the young side for DC, we plan on taking them back when they're older to do the museums (fingers crossed they learn to love them), tour the White House, go to the National Archives (I'm dying to see the Declaration of Independence), tour the Capital, etc. We know all of those places we'll definitely hit next time (in a few years). Also, we probably won't go in July so we don't have to deal with heat rashes or worry about dehydration (April for the Cherry Blossom Festival, maybe??).

All in all, it was a memorable few days for sure! I'll never forget my kids seeing the Washington Memorial for the first time, their dad asking if they knew what it was, and the middle mini responding, "yep, sure do. Spiderman flew on that." Sigh.