Wednesday, August 31, 2022

1 Day In DC


Three years ago, we spent a few days in DC hitting all of the spots. When we left, we made a list of what we wanted to do in the area as the kids aged. One of our top places for our next visit was the African American History Museum. Well, we didn't go there. All museums in DC are currently timed tickets only (a Covid era thing) and we couldn't get advanced tickets to that museum. I didn't want to chance it and wait for the day-of tickets to go on sale because then we could have been stuck in DC with zero museums to visit. 

Instead, we booked tickets for the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the International Spy Museum. We were staying an hour north of the city in Frederick, so we had an early wake up call to drive into DC. I was unsure about morning traffic, but the drive took less than an hour. I found an all day parking spot for $23 via SpotHero. This actually made it cheaper to drive into the city than to take public transportation. We still walked over 8 miles that day, as once we were by the National Mall, we couldn't pass up the chance to walk around.

I feel wrong saying we enjoyed the Holocaust Museum, but we did. Yes, we cried. Yes, it was very heavy. Yes, I almost threw up at a couple of points as I drew correlations between today's political climate in America and the same climate leading up WW2 and the Holocaust. I also learned. There were things I never knew happened and things that made me sick. We were worried our kids wouldn't be old enough for this Museum, but they proved us wrong. The boys, ages fourteen and twelve, actually spent the most time at each exhibit. The twelve year old did an in-depth WW2 study his fifth grade year homeschooling, so there wasn't a lot of new information for him, but he was able to put together things he had learned with what the exhibits were teaching us. Even the ten year old got into certain parts of the museum and the gravity of the Holocaust wasn't lost on her. That said, some visitors had younger kids that used the museum as a playground. I don't recommend this museum for younger kids.

Top: Each visitor was given a booklet that had information about a person that lived during the Holocaust. Bottom: Look up The Night of Broken Glass. Pictured are the stolen Tanakh from synagogues on this night.

As we learned last time, there's no great food options on the National Mall. You have to walk a bit to get to the good restaurants. We love the Adams Morgan neighborhood for good food, but that's not an easy walk from the Mall. Instead, we chose to walk to The Wharf and have a late lunch along the river. Shake Shack won out for the meal. I didn't love it, but the rest of the family loved the food. The Wharf wasn't busy on a Monday during lunchtime, which was surprising, but I appreciated the calmness of the area. 

After lunch, we had tickets to the International Spy Museum. This one has been on my list for eighteen years, so I was beyond excited to try it out. While the exhibits are neat, the coolest thing about this Museum is how interactive it is. At the beginning, you receive a badge and a secret identity. Throughout the Museum, there are places to do activities, go through real missions used by spies (the most interesting being the mission that killed Osama bin Laden), and use "spy accessories." The minis thoroughly enjoyed themselves, learned about the spy world, and asked to return as soon as we were done (mostly so that they can get new spy identities and missions to go through). The Spy Museum is not a free museum, as many are in DC, but it was worth every penny.

To end our night, we got bubble teas and ice cream from an ice cream truck (they were surprisingly good) and walked around the National Mall and Potomac Park. The two things we didn't get to do on our last visit was go to the U.S. Capitol and see the MLK Memorial. Sitting on the Capitol steps felt a little bit sweeter and the MLK memorial hit differently after our Civil Rights Trail trip (read about that here). 

I went to take a picture of us all walking down the sidewalk and that's when I discovered that zero family members were following me due to issues with ice cream spilling all over hands (which I anticipated would happen). At least I had my banana bubble tea to keep me calm.

Hubs and I had to figure out the parking meter situation at Potomac Park, so we sent the minis over to a food truck to get bottles of water. They're making good money when they charge $3 per water bottle! The middle mini and I love willow trees. We took a minute to walk under the willows along the Potomac River before we realized they were filled with bats. I booked it away from the trees for fear of a bat getting caught in my curls!

It wasn't lost on us how a day as the one we had wouldn't have been possible even two years ago. Not because of Covid, but simply because of the kids aging and maturing. Sometimes I miss those little voices, but this big kid phase we're in is pretty awesome. Traveling has gotten so much easier and much more enjoyable. Sometimes it takes us enjoying every minute of a long, fourteen hour day in DC to realize it.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

On The Road Again

Hocking Hills State Park, August 2022

 And I can't wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again

That song should be our anthem. As if we hadn't traveled enough in the last twelve months, we ended our summer vacation with a road trip to the East coast. Our reason for traveling wasn't just for fun or learning this time, it was to spend time with family and to attend my aunt's memorial. Flight prices and shenanigans are ridiculous, so we hopped in the car mid-day on a Thursday and made it into Frederick, MD by Friday. Unlike our last epic road trip out to the DC area we didn't make a lot of stops. We stopped for Skyline Chili in Indianapolis, IN, spent the night in Logan, OH (just outside of Columbus), and hiked Hocking Hills State Park Friday morning before getting back into the car to finish our drive.

Vacation Elizabeth was back!! Drinking a cup of black coffee each morning of our trip. I'm not sure what it is about traveling, but she turns into a coffee snob each and every time. It makes me smile.

Hocking Hills has been a bucket list hike for me for years and I finally got to cross it off! Thankfully, I do a lot of reading and researching about all things because I knew the trail system had recently switched to one way. We were some of the most prepared hikers on the trail and knew when to exit the gorge so we didn't get caught up in an extra long hike (that we just didn't have the time for, unfortunately). I recommend hitting the trails early. We arrived before 9 a.m. and by the time we were done hiking around 10:30, the parking lot was nearly full and the trails packed. Also, AllTrails was not a help with this hike because it didn't take into consideration the one way trail system. We took a picture of the trails map at the trailhead so we didn't get confused. Hocking Hills is continually named one of the top state parks in the U.S. and I can see why!

Not only does the state park offer numerous recreational activities, the area has everything you can think of: golf courses, mini golf, wineries, breweries, ziplining, horseback riding. Friends of ours spent an entire week in the area last summer and barely made a dent in the activities. Basically, if you're looking for a family friendly, outdoor centered vacation, check out the Hocking Hills State Park area.

From Hocking Hills State Park, we only had a five hour drive (without stops). We made stops for views, Cinnabon (as the youngest requested), and dinner at Waffle House. When we arrived at our Airbnb just before 6 p.m., we were exhausted from two very full days. We chose to walk around, make a beverage run (for the adults), and head to bed early while we watched a fireworks show out of our upstairs window (from a baseball game nearby).

We fell in love with Frederick, MD during our visit in 2019. We searched through Airbnb listings until we found a historic row house to stay in, in historic downtown Frederick. We took a short walk on our arrival evening, but spent time later in the weekend exploring (more on that later).

Where do I even begin with our Saturday? Let's see, let me begin the evening before. I was momming hard and set out everyone's clothes, making note of what needed ironed when I discovered some big things missing: shoes for the youngest, only athletic socks for the oldest, and zero jewelry for myself. So, I made sure to set the alarms even earlier than planned because a Target stop was in order (yes, I made sure we stayed in a town in northern Maryland that had a Target no less than 10 minutes from our Airbnb because that's life with kids). We found ourselves at Target the next morning on our way to the church and had to add pants to the list because the oldest outgrew the pants we bought for him four months ago. There was a minor breakdown in the dressing rooms due to mom making him try on several pairs of pants, but we lived through it and made it to the memorial on time. Boom!

But first, espresso!

Just a mom, keeping her cool, not flipping out on her teenager who is flipping out at her from a dressing room stall. Parenting is loads of fun sometimes.

The rest of Saturday was all about family. I am honored we were able to be a part of the burial service for my aunt, uncle, and my aunt's parents. It was beautiful. We spent the rest of the day with family, the kids swimming in the pool and the adults catching up on life. Most of us were exhausted by the end of the day, but Elizabeth knew just what she needed to relax: a wine glass of cold water and an episode of Virgin River when we returned to the rowhouse. I will never underestimate my daughter because by the age of ten, she's figured out the importance of doing the things that make you happy. Quite honestly, she's got life in the bag.

Sunday was one of my most favorite Sunday Fundays ever. We slept in, explored downtown Frederick (all within walking distance from our Airbnb), went on a river float with family, had a Maryland crab and Iowa sweet corn dinner, looked through pictures of "old times," and sat around chatting until bedtime. It was one of those days that leaves your heart full and body energized. 

Frederick Coffee Co & Cafe was perfect for a quick breakfast during our walk through downtown. After breakfast, we stopped in numerous vintage shops, a record store, and passed by numerous yummy looking restaurants packed with brunch goers. Our last stop of the morning was to Glory Doughnuts for a treat for later. They wound up being the best vegan donuts we've ever had!

My bucket list for Northern Maryland and surrounding area (basically within a two hour driving distance) keeps growing with each visit. Last visit, I added a river float to that list and we completed it this time around. River & Trail Outfitters has numerous options: white water rafting, floating down the Shenandoah or Potomac Rivers, kayaking, or paddle boarding right under the historic view of Harpers Ferry, WV (highly recommend a visit to the town). We chose a river float down the Shenandoah River (ending right before the Shenandoah and Potomac River's meet). I fell in the river a couple of time due to the slick rocks at the beginning, but overall it was a great experience!

The rivers are quite shallow (think ankle deep water) minus a couple of spots in the river, so there was a little bit of hitting our butts on rocks as we floated. I fully expected to see some bruises, but apparently I didn't hit as hard as I thought. Sections of the river were flowing so slowly that we had to use our hands to paddle to move us along. The real treat came at the end when there were rapids to go down (off to the side of the main river). The two teens went down this natural water slide at least twenty times. 

I would 100% do another rafting trip in this area again. River & Trail Outfitters made it easy, as we booked tickets online the day of and then had to call and change our "put in" time to a half hour later and had everything we needed for a fun, relaxing rafting trip. We left our keys and valuables up at the check in desk, but I kept my phone in a heavy duty waterproof phone case to capture some of the adventure.

I am not a seafood person. I only eat it occasionally and only when it's fresh, which basically means I only eat it when I travel to coastal areas. We had a Sunday dinner with family that featured crabs and Iowa sweet corn. I have to admit, I have never had crabs like these and I loved them! It's a real work-for-your meal, or a dinner experience as I called it, but we sat around chatting while everyone worked and ate. It's definitely not a first date meal! The crabs were seasoned with Old Bay and now my children are obsessed, asking if we can use Old Bay on nearly everything.

We looked through old family pictures and took a trip down memory lane. I'm the one with the curly hair and bangs (head shake and eye roll). As usual, the visit seemed much too short, but was absolutely perfect and we were already planning our next visit before we even left.