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Solo Trip to Washington D.C.

It seems a bit silly to say it that way since I've traveled all over the US on business without any problems, but this is different. My best friend since childhood was killed in Vietnam in 1969 at the age of 23, shortly after I came back myself. I have carried a lot of "why him, not me" guilt for all these years and have gone to the Vietnam Wall because of it. As I thought about him yesterday I realized yesterday that yet another Veteran's Day has passed and decided to make that journey in a few weeks. I have 2 1/2 days there and since I haven't been to D.C in 30 years am not really sure how to put together a schedule that would maximize my time. I'm flying into Reagan National around noon on a Tuesday and leaving on Friday afternoon staying in a hotel not far from Dupont Circle. I would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you may have on what to see, where to go and how, i.e. rent a car, use public transportation, etc. I guess I'm trying to plan this trip to one of OUR big cities the same way I have done it for London, Paris and Rome....and they all started right here. Many thanks.

Jim

Posted by
837 posts

I am very sorry to hear about your friend. Unless you plan to see sites outside the city, I really don't think you need a car. Parking is expensive. Public transport is good. You can always take a cab. There are many restaurants near DuPont Circle.

What to do really depends on your interests. Smithsonian museums are free. I love visiting the Mall. You should get a guidebook or do some research to figure out what appeals the most to you. The Vietnam Memorial is very moving and there will be people there to help you find your friend's name.

Posted by
8416 posts

Jim if most of the sites you want to see are in the Mall area, the Metro is super easy to get around. Just about all the major museums and monuments are within walking distance of a Metro stop. In fact, getting from DCA to Dupont Circle area will be easiest by Metro during the day. You can walk to the Metro stop at the airport. There are a variety of passes and smart cards that make it affordable. Driving and parking a car would be horrible. There are also a couple of hop-on hop-off type tour trolley companies that take you to most of the main stops. Not sure if they run all year.

You have to decide what is of most interest to you, as any of the major museums can take up all your time. May be too late for White House tour. The Wall and the Korean War Memorial and the WW II Memorial are a short walk from each other and near the Lincoln Memorial. But the one absolute don't miss, is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington. On the hour. Go and be proud. Arlington Cemetery also has a Metro stop.

Posted by
141 posts

Hi Jim, I am very sorry to hear about your friend but glad you have decided to visit the memorial. I recommend going early in the morning or later in the evening, there will be less crowds and a little more privacy (although, there shouldn't be too many crowds now that it is close to winter).

As far as car, if you are staying in Dupont, I wouldn't recommend a car either, unless you are planning to go somewhere outside of DC that is not on the subway. Taxis & metro can get you anywhere in DC. Here's a list of 10 metro stops and the monuments you will see at each one: http://dctransitguide.com/t/Rail/Metro/TopAttractionMetroStops/. If you do use the metro, do yourself a favor and try to schedule so you aren't on getting on during morning or evening rush hour (my guess on peak worst times are 7a-9:30am & 4p-6:30p).

If you like food, there are good restaurant reviews and search by neighborhood/cuisine at the Washingtonian Magazine's website, http://www.washingtonian.com/restaurantreviews/, you can filter by price. Dupont has a lot of yummy choices.

Posted by
7314 posts

Jim-sorry to hear about your buddy, but glad you made it back, and thanks for your service in Vietnam.

I haven't been to D.C. for even longer than you, but if you're interested, you might stop by your senator or representative's office. Call their local office in Louisiana and see what their schedule might be when you're going to be in the Capitol.

Many Europeans I've talked to who want to visit the USA tend to have New York City and Washington D.C. on their priority lists.

Posted by
110 posts

I would just use public transportation. the Metro is easy to use and all the stops I have been to have been well signed and easy to navigate. All the trains have electronic signs posting destinations.

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I would recommended visiting the Smithsonian and the national park service websites. Each site has schedules and events that are free or low cost.
I would go to Reagan airport website and see about public transport into DC and where the cabs, bus or Metro (if Metro goes to it) stops are located.

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Last time I was in DC, the national geographic society had an exhibit in it headquarters they are easy to get to by Metro. I also just walked around to see the monuments. I also went to the national portrait gallery, the library of congress, national archives, Whitehouse (did not go in just looked at outside), and the natural history museum. Also some sites had free tours that were either behind the scenes or general tours of the building. Most time I spent in any building was maybe 2 or 3 hours so its easy to go from one building to the next.
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I was there in the milddle of winter and while it was windy and chilly but nothing to keep me from walking around until dark.

Posted by
8416 posts

The Metro stop at the airport is just across the street from the US Airways terminal. About $3.5-4 one way. Taxi ride is around $20.

Posted by
3391 posts

My father lives just outside of Washington DC so I get there quite often in summer and the bone-chilling winter!
I love seeing the Declaration of Independence and all the other founding docs in the National Archives.
The Museum of the Native American has the best food court anywhere - all of the dishes are based on Native American regional foods. I've never eaten anywhere else like it!
I find the tunnels underneath the legislative office buildings to be fascinating - act like you're going to your congressman's office and then hit the down button on the elevator. There's a whole world down there!
Georgetown is a lovely village to walk around in...great shops and restaurants.
Eat at Ben's Chili Bowl - expect heartburn but it's worth every bite!
Visit the Library of Congress - they always have temporary exhibitions on the second floor that are one or a kind.
The Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters has a stunning Victorian-era library. It's dedicated to genealogical research so I've spent a bit of time there, but it's one of the most beautiful rooms in DC. Victorian glass ceiling with library tables that look like something out of a movie.
The National Portrait Gallery has iconic paintings and wonderful exhibitions.
The National Sculpture Garden sets up an ice rink in winter - if you don't want to skate it's a beautiful place to sit at night, look at the lights, and enjoy. Might be a little too early in the year though.
The metro is very convenient but I also find that cabs are not terribly expensive, are plentiful, and sometimes more convenient. I'm always surprised at how much walking I end up doing in DC especially around the mall where there aren't as many metro stops as one might hope!
I hope you have a good trip full of positive memories of your friend.

Posted by
2359 posts

I would handle this trip just as you would going to any other city, figure out what you want to see and then group those sites together so you are not crossing back and forth. The metro is great and can usually get you close to what you want to see, car not really necessary. Since you haven't been there in years you might want to go to see the newest places, such as WWII memorial and the Holocaust museum, both really worthwhile. At the fountain at the WWII memorial there is one gold star for 100 service people killed in that war and I think there are 4500 stars representing almost half a million service people. We also always try to see the Iwo Jima monument, especially at dusk. And as others said, the changing of the guard, wow! have a good trip.

Posted by
552 posts

Sorry about your friend, and i also want to thank you for your service. This thread has some really good information. I will "file" for future reference. We haven't been there for 30+ years and are planning a return trip next year. What hotel have you booked?

Posted by
76 posts

I just posted my trip report for my visit to Washington D.C. last June. I was nearly a solo traveler since it was a business trip for my wife so I had most of the day to do things on my own. It was also my first trip to D.C. without kids so I could spend as much time as I wanted to at all of the boring museums.

I was warned by other tourists that waits were quite long for the hop on hop off tours so I didn't bother with this option but maybe it won't be so bad when you are there. It really seems like a convenient way to get around. As I recall there were options to add additional sights for extra cost. You might find an option you like.

I didn't go to Arlington this time but the subway will get you there. You may have to do a bit of walking this way versus taking a guided tour. I believe there is a tram that would help reduce the amount of walking. The subway will also take you to Alexandria. I didn't realize this until our bus tour to Mount Vernon. Taxi's can also get you to places off the Mall and I would've used this option for visiting the National Cathedral.

I wouldn't recommend driving there. Terrible gridlock and parking is expensive if you can find it. No real reason for a car if you're spending your time in the city.

Posted by
553 posts

Thank you all for this wealth of information. In response to one, I am staying at the Embassy Suites on 22nd Street between M and N Streets NW. It seems to be a good location to get to a lot of things I want to see. Besides, I love their cooked to order breakfasts. On another note, I have a good friend who is taking the Amtrak train from Philadelphia to DC to spend a couple of days with me there. His brother was also killed in 1969 just two weeks after my friend Kenny and we're going to the Vietnam Wall together. Do any of you know if there is a Metro stop in or near Union Station where his train will arrive? I'm taking the Metro from Reagan to a stop about four blocks from my hotel and it would be nice if my friend can get to the same place. Thanks again for all your help.

Posted by
8416 posts

Jim yes there is a Metro stop at Union Station.

Posted by
186 posts

Thank you for your service, Jim. I am glad that you will have a friend along when you visit the Viet Nam Wall. An excellent museum, devoted to journalism and covering every event you can think of, is the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. It's 4-5 blocks from Union Station. It's good for a half day's visit. www.newseum.org

Posted by
3 posts

So sorry about your friend... but you ROCK for honoring his memory with such a trip! I just returned from a trip to DC and made great use of the Uber App. DC has an Uber Taxi option, and the rates are decent, and you can request a cab to your exact location and even get a price estimate. The nice thing about this is it is an actual licensed cab that picks you up, rather than a random person in their personal vehicle.

Posted by
565 posts

Hey Jim, my dad, a Jim too, wanted to see the memorial a few years ago. He's got a Purple Heart and a lost friend also. My sister and I took him to the wall for his birthday. Most incredible experience of our lives. We also went to Arlington Cemetary and it was so moving. It was something my dad wanted to do, then we had some beers at the Dubliner :) We stayed in Arlington because our aunt lives there. Wouldn't do it again. I've stayed central and enjoyed it much more.

Posted by
223 posts

I grew up there. Metro is the best. If you go to Alexandria, go to Christ Church. It's where many who fell before your friend and before Arlington are. My mom's one of the last buried there.
Across the street from Christ Church is Le Refuge. It's classic French. Kind service. Go early. I've seen lunchtime reservations, but when they open, come on in. Oh, the trout.
The Vietnam Memorial is such a hard journey. Much love goes with you

Posted by
553 posts

I just returned from Washington DC and wanted to thank all of you who shared your thoughts, suggestions and advice, as well as your personal experiences. It was great having them (and you) along with me. I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on day one to find and touch the name of my best friend Kenny Gilliam who was killed in Vietnam in 1969. Truly a moving experience and it certainly brought back a lot of old memories, good and not so good. I learned that day that it isn't about the statues, the park surrounding it or even the wall, but the 58,175 names on it. To fully understand that you have to get up close and personal with The Wall. Finally, after so many years, I did.
Since all of you are devotees of Rick Steves you certainly know what a "back door" is. On the second day there I had visited a number of monuments and several Smithsonian museums before heading back to the Vietnam Memorial to see it at night. On the way down Constitution Avenue, which passes between the White House and the Washington Monument, I came upon the Ellipse and Presidential Park where I would soon learn the taping of the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and television show would start in an hour. Unfortunately you needed a ticket to get in and the closest you could get where I was standing was 500 yards. I was trying to take a few pictures with a zoom lens, but it was just too far. About that time a passerby suggested I walk about half a block to another place where I might get a better picture. As you who have been there know, the blocks in DC are huge and this one was no exception. I walked nearly a mile to the place she suggested and found it was about 300 yards away. Still too long for a good picture, but better than the other place. Just then I heard a disgruntled woman asking if anyone wanted her ticket. She had apparently been in a long line and decided to go home. I jumped at the chance and in I went. Heading out to the standing room only section I spotted a park ranger and ask directions. "Honey", she said with a grin, "you don't belong HERE. You're in the blue seats over there by the media" and walked me over. Just as I was sitting down in my seat just 20 rows in front of the Marine Corps band on the stage out walks Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, hosts for the evening. They in turn introduced the President and first family who after a short speech turned on the lights on the tree. Two hours later I filed out of the park with a thousand others after being entertained by a variety of well known performers. I was walking on air as I made my way down to the Memorial to say goodbye to Kenny, This week the show is being aired on PBS stations all over the country and last night I recorded it. I still can't believe what happened and what I would have missed out on if I'd just kept going. "Back Doors". I encourage you all to take them when you have the opportunity, no matter what city or country you may be traveling in, or even at home. Happy holidays and thanks again for your help.
Jim

Posted by
553 posts

Hello All
I just returned from four days in Washington DC and wanted to thank each of you who responded to my request for help. I can't tell you how having you and your comments along with me added to my trip. On day one I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where I found and touched the name of my best friend who died in 1969, Kenneth Gilliam. I also went back the following night and it was completely different. The one thing I learned is that it is not about the statues, the surrounding park or even the wall, but in reality it's about the 58,195 names of those who did not come home. To fully appreciate that you need to get up close and personal with the wall. Finally, after all these years, I did.
Now since all of you are fans of Rick I know you know what a "back door" is, something you stumble across if you're willing to turn and go off the beaten path or deviate from your plan. With that in mind, I have to share this with you. On the day I went back to the Memorial at night I had spent the better part of the day seeing monuments and the various Smithsonian museums, and was headed down Constitution Avenue to the Memorial. On the way it passes between the Washington Monument and the White House. On this night they were taping the lighting the National Christmas Tree show on the Ellipse. Unfortunately you needed a ticket to get in, even to the standing room only section, and without it the closest I could get was about 500 yards. As I tried to use the zoom lens on my camera to get a shot of the stage a passer by told me to walk around the block and I could get a better picture. If you've ever been to DC you know that around the block can be a long walk, but I took her advice and walked the 1/2 mile to the place she was talking about. It was still about 300 yards away, but while standing there I was offered a ticket by a woman who was frustrated with the lines. Having followed Rick's "back door" advice many times I took the ticket and went in. As I headed out to the standing room only area I came across a park ranger and ask where I should go. "Honey", she said with a grin, "you don't belong here. Your seat is in the blue section over there by the media". I arrived at my seat just as Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson walked on the stage, hosts for the night. From my seat just 20 rows in front of where the Marine Corps band was playing I watched in awe as Tom and Rita introduced the President and his family who turned on the lights of the tree. Two hours later I headed to the Vietnam Memorial again as I tried to absorb what I had just seen, my unexpected "back door" to a show that is being broadcast on various PBS TV stations this week. I recorded it last night and still can't believe I was there. I encourage everyone who reads this to be open to the "back doors" that may come your way, no matter what city or country you may be traveling in. You'll never regret it. Happy holidays.
Jim

Posted by
553 posts

Hello All
I just returned from four days in Washington DC and wanted to thank each of you who responded to my request for help. I can't tell you how having you and your comments along with me added to my trip. On day one I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where I found and touched the name of my best friend who died in 1969, Kenneth Gilliam. I also went back the following night and it was completely different. The one thing I learned is that it is not about the statues, the surrounding park or even the wall, but in reality it's about the 58,195 names of those who did not come home. To fully appreciate that you need to get up close and personal with the wall. Finally, after all these years, I did.
Now since all of you are fans of Rick I know you know what a "back door" is, something you stumble across if you're willing to turn and go off the beaten path or deviate from your plan. With that in mind, I have to share this with you. On the day I went back to the Memorial at night I had spent the better part of the day seeing monuments and the various Smithsonian museums, and was headed down Constitution Avenue to the Memorial. On the way it passes between the Washington Monument and the White House. On this night they were taping the lighting the National Christmas Tree show on the Ellipse. Unfortunately you needed a ticket to get in, even to the standing room only section, and without it the closest I could get was about 500 yards. As I tried to use the zoom lens on my camera to get a shot of the stage a passer by told me to walk around the block and I could get a better picture. If you've ever been to DC you know that around the block can be a long walk, but I took her advice and walked the 1/2 mile to the place she was talking about. It was still about 300 yards away, but while standing there I was offered a ticket by a woman who was frustrated with the lines. Having followed Rick's "back door" advice many times I took the ticket and went in. As I headed out to the standing room only area I came across a park ranger and ask where I should go. "Honey", she said with a grin, "you don't belong here. Your seat is in the blue section over there by the media". I arrived at my seat just as Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson walked on the stage, hosts for the night. From my seat just 20 rows in front of where the Marine Corps band was playing I watched in awe as Tom and Rita introduced the President and his family who turned on the lights of the tree. Two hours later I headed to the Vietnam Memorial again as I tried to absorb what I had just seen, my unexpected "back door" to a show that is being broadcast on various PBS TV stations this week. I recorded it last night and still can't believe I was there. I encourage everyone who reads this to be open to the "back doors" that may come your way, no matter what city or country you may be traveling in. You'll never regret it. Happy holidays.
Jim

Posted by
553 posts

I just returned from Washington DC and wanted to thank all of you who shared your thoughts, suggestions and advice, as well as your personal experiences. It was great having them (and you) along with me. I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on day one to find and touch the name of my best friend Kenny Gilliam who was killed in Vietnam in 1969. Truly a moving experience and it certainly brought back a lot of old memories, good and not so good. I learned that day that it isn't about the statues, the park surrounding it or even the wall, but the 58,175 names on it. To fully understand that you have to get up close and personal with The Wall. Finally, after so many years, I did.
Since all of you are devotees of Rick Steves you certainly know what a "back door" is. On the second day there I had visited a number of monuments and several Smithsonian museums before heading back to the Vietnam Memorial to see it at night. On the way down Constitution Avenue, which passes between the White House and the Washington Monument, I came upon the Ellipse and Presidential Park where I would soon learn the taping of the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and television show would start in an hour. Unfortunately you needed a ticket to get in and the closest you could get where I was standing was 500 yards. I was trying to take a few pictures with a zoom lens, but it was just too far. About that time a passerby suggested I walk about half a block to another place where I might get a better picture. As you who have been there know, the blocks in DC are huge and this one was no exception. I walked nearly a mile to the place she suggested and found it was about 300 yards away. Still too long for a good picture, but better than the other place. Just then I heard a disgruntled woman asking if anyone wanted her ticket. She had apparently been in a long line and decided to go home. I jumped at the chance and in I went. Heading out to the standing room only section I spotted a park ranger and ask directions. "Honey", she said with a grin, "you don't belong HERE. You're in the blue seats over there by the media" and walked me over. Just as I was sitting down in my seat just 20 rows in front of the Marine Corps band on the stage out walks Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, hosts for the evening. They in turn introduced the President and first family who after a short speech turned on the lights on the tree. Two hours later I filed out of the park with a thousand others after being entertained by a variety of well known performers. I was walking on air as I made my way down to the Memorial to say goodbye to Kenny, This week the show is being aired on PBS stations all over the country and last night I recorded it. I still can't believe what happened and what I would have missed out on if I'd just kept going. "Back Doors". I encourage you all to take them when you have the opportunity, no matter what city or country you may be traveling in, or even at home. Happy holidays and thanks again for your help.
Jim

Posted by
3391 posts

Amazing! No other word works for this!
I'm so glad you had a great trip and that it went better than you ever could have dreamed!
Cheers!

Posted by
141 posts

Jim, what a beautiful experience and fitting for honoring your friend. Thanks for sharing it! Whether it's serendipity, luck, fate, or blessing... It's wonderful!