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Washington D.C.

My wife had a conference to attend so I tagged along. The weather was hot and humid which was okay since Minnesota had not kicked into summer yet as of mid-June. No kids along this time around so we could spend more time in the museums. Also, since this was a working trip for my wife so I was on my own so I could process museums my way which means doing a flyby of all the sections and then returning to my favorites to spend more time. The metro, while not as extensive as I would like, still made getting around fairly simple. Since my past experience in this town was during Spring break I was concerned about having to deal with lines and crowds. Fortunately this never became an issue and I’m not sure why. It’s supposed to be busy here in the summer, too. The longest and only wait I had was seven minutes getting into the Air and Space Museum using the entrance off the mall. I’ll bet there was no wait at the entrance on the other side. Sure, there were plenty of tour busses but getting into museums any time of day was easy.

Day 1: Arrived at Reagan during evening rush hour and took the metro to our hotel for the first night (Marriott Residence Inn – nice place) near the Federal Center SW stop. After getting settled it was a ten minute walk to the Capitol for photo ops. It was nice walking around in summer heat. The plan was to visit all of the monuments along and near the Mall but by the time we reach the Smithsonian Castle we decided to rent bikes to cover ground more quickly. This worked out very well and was a lot of fun, too. We never would of seen everything we saw by foot and had the added bonus of seeing the monuments lit up at night. We didn’t have locks and didn’t want the bikes to wander off so we took turns visiting the monuments and watching the bikes. We stopped at the Washington, Lincoln, Korean, FDR and Jefferson Memorials before returning the bikes where we picked them up and then walking back to the hotel. We knew this from past visits that distances are longer than they appear to be on maps relative to other cities we visit, so plan on doing more walking here.

Day 2: Started the day at the American History museum. Favorite things to see were the star spangled banner flag, Archie Bunker’s chair, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and war history displays. Now it’s time to transfer to the conference hotel (Washington Hilton – another nice place to stay) near Dupont Circle. I then went to the Phillips Collection which was presenting Made in America paintings. I spent a couple hours here enjoying the art in this homey place. Before meeting up with my wife for the evening I walked around the Kalorama Heights neighborhood and beyond checking out embassy’s, homes for the wealthy, DC’s version of the Spanish Steps and the Buffalo Bridge (two bison flanking the bridge on each end). I seemed to get a lot more attention than necessary from the people outside the Turkish Embassy as they tracked me until I rounded the corner and out of sight. Apparently clothing challenged middle aged tourist looking lost is the hot spy getup this season. The evening was spent at the Corocoran Gallery and it happened to be an uncorked event with a band and additional festivities to coincide with the World Cup. It was nice to visit a museum in a laid back environment like this. I’ll have to watch more closely for museum events like this back home.

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Day 3: Started at the National Geographic museum which was displaying a Peruvian Gold exhibit which was educational and interesting, exactly what you would expect from NG. Flew by the permanent displays rather quickly. Air and Space museum was next and I really enjoyed all of the hardware on display. Favorite exhibits were the Wright Flyer and the Aviation as it was in 1913. You could easily spend at least 30 minutes to an hour in each exhibit because there is so much content. Pretty much something for everybody here interested in aviation and space exploration. The National Gallery of Art was next. This art museum is one of my favorites. Dinner that evening was at Jaleo’s, a tapas restaurant, which was outstanding. This was a semi-formal business meal with my wife’s co-workers and clients. I’m not sure how the food was ordered but we all shared flight after flight of taste treats.

Day 4: Started the day at the Natural History museum and really enjoyed the gems and minerals exhibit (including Hope Diamond) with all of the beautifully colored stones and the variety of natural crystal shapes and also the ocean exhibit with the display about fish living in the twilight zone (deep water). A second visit to the Air and Space museum followed by the Hirshhorn (modern art), American Indian, Library of Congress (to see Gutenberg Bible), National Gallery of Art (again) followed by Jazz in the Garden after closing. The weather was perfect, the music was good and I sure would have liked a pitcher of sangria but it was time to meet my wife and go for a walk around the Kalorama neighborhood again before dinner and drinks at the Big Hunt bar and then gelato at Larry’s Home Made Ice Cream shop.

Day 5: We booked a bus tour to Mt. Vernon to visit President Washington’s estate. On the way the bus looped through old town Alexandria which we’ll visit during our next stay. The three hours we had was just barely enough to see what we wanted to see, which was just about right for me. There’s a wait to tour the house (25 min for us) but is the main site to see. The gardens, harbor, slave residences, tombs, etc. are either self-guided or there is an interpreter in period costume. After the tour we were dropped off at the mall and visited the Air and Space museum again since my wife hadn’t been there yet. Afterward we had dinner at an outdoor table at Carmine’s to celebrate our 28th anniversary. Good Italian food served family style so you really need four or more people to handle all of the food.

Day 6: Time to head back home via Baltimore-Washington International.

Getting around – we purchased a SmarTrip card to pay for the metro, did a lot of walking, and rented bikes.
Eating – except for the restaurants mentioned above we would get food at the museum’s cafeteria or some fast food place for fuel.

Wished we could’ve – 1) taken the Washington Monument tour. You can reserve tickets in advance but didn’t since we did not know what my wife’s schedule was going to be. We could’ve waited in line early in the morning for additional tickets to be distributed at 8:30 but didn’t want to deal with the hassle. We’ll be back when we have grandkids to share the town with and do the tour then. 2) visited the National Cathedral but will hit it next time.

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How nice it is to see our hometown -- and our nation's capital -- discussed on the Rick Steves Forum. We follow discussions on France, Italy, Amsterdam, etc. and take our city for granted. Shame on us! Thank you, Bob, for reminding us!

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Hi Bob, thanks for posting this. I'm actually going to DC right after Thanksgiving to visit an ailing aunt. I am hoping to visit the White House while there (applied for tix a while back). I will be staying the Marriott Res. Inn you mentioned, along with my mother. Was it easy to get the metro from the airport? Is the stop fairly close to the hotel ( How far a walk from the hotel was it upon arrival)? I'm asking because my Mom has bad feet, so we may prefer to take a Supershuttle or something similar (especially while lugging baggage).

Also just wondering if taxis can get you from one major site to the next on the Mall if my Mom's feet do start to really bother her? Or, is it unlikely they will be able to get any closer to entrances than us just walking from one building to the next?

Thanks for the detailed report. :)

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Hi Gretchen, We landed at Reagan and took the subway from there. I believe there was a bit of walking getting from the arrival gate to the subway. That depends on your carrier and where they park the plane. I would ask someone at the gate about distances to the subway and supershuttle stop and/or request a courtesy cart.

I believe the nearest subway stop to the Marriott Residence Inn was maybe a 5 minute walk.

I'm sure you could use taxi's to get around the mall but it is a bit of a walk to the entrances from the street. I think there were pedicabs and they might be able to get you closer to the museum entrances. You will do a lot of walking and standing visiting the memorials and museums. Have you considered renting a wheelchair ? We did this once when our son broke his leg playing indoor soccer a few weeks before our spring break trip to D.C. Our daughter benefited from some wheelchair rides, too.

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Wonderful report Bob. You packed a lot of touring in this great city. It has been a few years since my last trip there to visit Arlington Memorial Cemetery where my mother is buried. I loved the detail in your descriptions of the museums. BTW, I agree with Jaleo Tapas... fabulous.