Vacation to Washington DC
After returning last night from our vacation to Washington DC, I would say the trip was "horrendously successful".
Monday and Friday were dedicated almost completely to travel, leaving us only three real days in the city. Plus, Wednesday was devoted completely to the Annapolis Naval Academy, cutting one more DC day, leaving us really only two days to see about a month of material.
Washington DC can come across as a boring educational field trip and not as a fun family vacation. Typically monuments, memorials and museums are three M's that I try to avoid. However, Washington DC has done a fantastic job of maintaining a wonderful environment for visitors.
The city is remarkably clean. It's almost strange how little garbage there is. After living in a smaller town, and visiting NYC, I would compare the cleanliness of DC to... a suburban neighborhood. No trash. Anywhere. Very strange for a city the size of DC, and a city that welcomes millions of visitors every single day.
The variety of the people was also astonishing. Most of the visitors were not Americans. I would place the numbers at maybe 35% American citizens, and 65% foreign visitors. It was amazing to see how many visiting tourists came from overseas to view our nation's frameworks.
This was my third trip to the city, but for some reason, nothing seemed old or dull. The monuments were larger than life. Everything had new life and somehow was still refreshing to see. I would even say that it was more fun this time. It was a good mix of being the group tour guide acting like I knew what I was talking about, and being excited at the changes inside the city.
We did not have a car, we relied on the Metro subway system and walking. The Metro never failed, and was just as clean as the streets above. When are city streets and subways EVER like this? It was weird. The Metro never felt dangerous, never took forever to work, and was always quick to get us to our destination. The maps were easy to follow, and we easily stayed together as a group. I would highly recommend the Metro instead of renting a car, because traffic was a little tight, and parking was difficult.
The first night we took the metro to the center of everything and just walked everywhere for three hours. Seeing the monuments lit up at night was beautiful, and navigating a foreign environment for the first time in the dark was interesting.
As a group, we relied just as much on our iPhones as we did the Metro. Caleb and I both have 3G iPhones, giving us GPS-like walking navigation. We also kept a Metro map loaded on our phones. Between our phones always displaying our current location, knowing where we wanted to go, and understanding the Metro system, we got around just fine.
We had four point-and-shoot cameras out and firing the entire trip. Before we boarded the plane to come home, I dumped everyone's memory cards to my mac. Now I'm burning "master" DVDs for everyone, so that each person has every photo. This was a big success, because at each location if I saw my mom take a photo of something, I didn't worry about it. As long as somebody pushed a button, we were all good. Sorting through them, there are still duplicates, but this isn't a problem, it's a bonus. Now I have the option to delete the worst of the two photos only keeping the best of the best from everything. I'm using iPhoto to process everything. The latest feature in the application is Faces and Places. Faces finds everyone in your photos and names them. Places finds the locations of where your photos were taken and maps them allowing you to see all the places you've been, and who was with you. Love it.
Thursday morning we went all out and hopped on a guided tour of the city. We had wondered around the first night, but we wanted to make sure we saw it all, which can be difficult on foot at night. The tour took us all over, doubling up on some stops and filling in holes of stops we had missed. This allowed us to see what we wanted at night, and everything else during the daytime. I don't exactly remember, I think it was about $10 and hour, per passenger. We rode for about three hours.
Eating was weird. The entire monument hotspot region district area of the city had NOTHING to eat. It was an interesting shock. We ate hotel breakfast, hunted lunch in random locations, and rode the Metro out to places for nice dinners. When I say hunted lunch, I mean somebody would see a Subway sign and an arrow, so we'd walk two blocks to find a narrow staircase to a second story apartment that had been shifted into a tiny subway with a few tables and a bathroom. Weird random places like that wherever we could find them. That worked for a few days, but I don't know how it be for a full week or two.
The Naval Academy at Annapolis was fantastic. We rented a minivan Wednesday and drove the 45mins out of the city to get there. Nick met us on the sidewalk and toured us around the campus. We grabbed some lunch and got seats for the Blue Angels F18 air-show that afternoon. After a mind-blowing display of our Navy's power, we said goodbye to Nick, got some shopping done nearby, and headed back to our Arlington hotel.
The trip was fantastic. Bringing Aubrey and Vickie along kept the group lively, and made each day a lot more fun. We were each other's photographers, making sure that everyone got in plenty of photos. We had two navigators, four photographers, one driver, two shoppers, and six goofball tourists. With three girls, three boys, three kids and three adults we made the finest group of clueless tourists you've ever seen, and it is going to be hard to travel anywhere now without this exact crew. I couldn't have asked for a finer group of people to travel with, and couldn't have built a more balanced group. What a trip.
If you didn't get completely overloaded with pictures, here are a few more: