With Mother Nature continuing her winter mood and no travels since Thanksgiving we decided that it was in our best interest to take a short sojourn in a southerly direction in mid March. After hemming and hawing for a week or two it was decided that our nations capital would be the destination.
After a 3:30am wake up call for me, much earlier for the wife, we were on the road by 5:15am heading south for a few days. Traffic was light through New Hampshire and Massachusetts and we were sailing along just south of Hartford when the first hiccup occurred. Our map app decided that a tour of the Connecticut interstate system might be a good idea taking us on a ridiculous zig zag across the nutmeg state. Once recovered from this set back we proceeded back on route with the only traffic issues occurring as we approached the George Washington Bridge. It was smooth sailing through New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland so we arrived at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum right on schedule at around 2:30pm. I love this museum and of the two Air and Space Museums this one, in my opinion, is better. The crowds were light, the student tours were leaving, so viewing everything was very relaxed. As you enter the enormous hanger you are greeted with a truly incredible aircraft, and my favorite, the SR 71 Blackbird lurking below almost like it was still ready for action. Only then do you notice the Space Shuttle Discovery in the background. I am often in awe of how these machines were created so long ago without the powerful design tools that are available now, the people who created them are truly geniuses.
The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around enjoying the museum. To see the Enola Gay an aircraft that changed the course of human history is both inspiring and disheartening at the same time.
Tired from a long day we spent the night at the nearby Hampton Inn Dulles/Cascades in Sterling,Va. This is another good Hampton property with a clean comfortable room, friendly staff and decent location near a shopping center with plenty of restaurants to choose from. Dinner was really good take out pizza from the nearby Don’s Wood Fired Pizza. Ready in less than 10 minutes it was just what we needed after the long day.
After a good nights sleep we started our day with the standard Hampton breakfast today was a pepper and onion omelet with sausage patties and of course coffee. We were changing hotels so we decided to drive to the National Zoo and head to the hotel afterwards. Traffic was fairly heavy on this Thursday morning so it took it a little over an hour before we were parked at the zoo. While the zoo is free the parking is $25 so the Metro might be a better offer for people looking to save a few bucks. We have been to the National Zoo a few times and enjoy it every time. On this Thursday morning in March there were not a lot of people at the zoo yet so we headed right for the pandas to enjoy watching these really cool animals.
They were very active on this cool pre spring morning and we watched as they had their breakfast. The rest of the morning we meandered around checking out the other animals on display. The Andean Bears were another favorite (they are the bears Paddington is based on). As morning became afternoon we headed for our other favorites the primates and apes. The gorillas and orangutans are spectacular to watch while they play, we watched a mother orangutan interact with her toddler for a half hour or so. They have a skyway for the orangutans called the O-Line that they transit to get from one house to another really cool.
The zoo is quite hilly and we were starting to tire out so we decided that we had enough of the zoo for one day. Very enjoyable!
Our accommodations for the next 3 nights were at the Embassy Suites hotel in Tyson’s Corner Va taking around 30 minutes to get to from the zoo. Our room was ready when we arrived at around 2:15pm so we carried our things upstairs and sat for a few minutes to get acquainted with the room. All rooms are suites consisting of a living area with a couch, wetbar,refrigerator, desk and a large, for hotel rooms, television a smallish bathroom and a decent sized bedroom with another large television.
We were located on the 6th floor with the living room looking out on the atrium and the bedroom overlooking the back parking lot. It cost $10 a day to park the car which compared to other lodging options we had looked at was really reasonable. Overall we liked this hotel, breakfast was included and consisted of a buffet with bacon, sausage, potatoes, scrambled eggs, french toast, pastries, fruit and a toast/bagel area. Omelets and fried eggs were cooked to order. The buffet was actually pretty good and we filled up before starting our days excitement. The only issue I really had with this Embassy Suites was that there were only 2 elevators which definitely was not enough for the amount of people staying here.
The hotel was located between 2 Metro stops with each being about a 10 minute walk and the plan was to utilize the trains in and out of D.C. leaving the car for the most part at the hotel. On past trips to Washington we had good luck with this plan as we find the D.C Metro one of the best public transport systems that we have used. Grabbing the Metro at the silver line Spring Hill station we headed into the city planning to check out the Wharf area which was not built yet on our last trip. We walked the 20 minutes from the L’Enfant station to the Wharf and had an early dinner at Shake Shack a burger chain that we enjoyed on a prior Boston trip and it didn’t disappoint this time. We both enjoyed double Shack Burgers ,which were flavorful and juicy, with crispy crinkle cut fries. The table looked out over the water and was perfect for people watching. That afternoon there was some sort of awards ceremony happening at the nearby Anthem venue so the people strolling by were dressed to the 9s in evening gowns and suits a surreal sight at 5pm in the afternoon. We walked around the Wharf for a while checking out the different stores and restaurants, sitting out on the pier by the fire sculpture and perusing the fish at the incredible seafood markets located at the far end. The selection of fresh fish, crabs and shrimp was amazing and if we lived here I would be there every week!
Having seen the Wharf and filled our bellies it was time to enjoy the scenic views from the mall area so we hiked 20 minutes back to the awe-inspiring views of the Capital, Washington Monument and buildings that surround the mall. Cherry Blossoms were still a few weeks away but some of the trees we came across had started to flower and bud making our walk a little more interesting. The experience of seeing where our government operates and all the monuments is something everyone in our great country needs to see at least once and we are lucky enough to have done it a few times.
With sunset approaching it was decided we would stroll down to the Lincoln Memorial, it looks close but I believe it is a mile plus from the Capital, the Washington Monument is still under construction so we were detoured around it and we spent a few minutes at the World War 2 memorial before continuing on. I love the views down the reflecting pool towards the Lincoln Memorial and, being the aviation buff that I am, the planes on final approach to Reagan Airport.
A 20 minute walk to the Foggy Bottom station found us heading back to our temporary home in Tyson’s Corner happy and tired after a long productive day in DC.
Friday dawned with the promise of the best weather we have had this year calling for 70+ degrees and partly cloudy skies after filling up at the buffet we headed for the metro and ultimately the Air and Space Museum on the Mall. There were quite a few closed exhibits at the museum and a lot of school groups so we did a quick tour seeing the Wright Brothers plane, the rocket garden and a very interesting exhibit about the possible future of space travel. Next on the agenda was one of my favorites the National Museum of the American Indian located almost right next door to the Air and Space Museum. The actual building is stunning looking to me like a windswept southwestern rock formation, it is beautiful. We spent the most time exploring a history of treaties made and broken by the US Government with the American Indians very eye opening.
The Botanical Gardens is a often overlooked gem to see while in DC. It contains a extensive collection of plants and flowers from around the world. We especially enjoyed the Southwest display and also the endangered plants that they have with explanations of why they are endangered and what we can do to help.
After enjoying the gardens we decided to head back to the hotel to relax a little and plan that evenings activities. Still a little tired from our travels and a ton of walking we drove the 5 minutes to the nearby Tyson’s Corner Mall for dinner and a movie. Arriving with not a lot of time before Captain Marvel we ate a different Shake Shack again enjoying the burgers. Captain Marvel was a good movie, we have liked all the Marvel movies and this one entertained as well. The mall itself is large with all the usual mall stores including an Apple Store, Microsoft Store and the other mall staples. This ended our 2nd day in DC and we both slept well after all the walking.
Day 3 dawned sunny but much cooler with the high forecasted at 50 degrees and windy. Being Saturday we thought we would drive in today with plans to visit the Museums of Natural History and American History. Parking nearby the museums at the Ronald Reagan Building was easy and they offered a weekend rate of $15 all day. We started at the Natural History Museum and were able to see about half of it before the crowds descended. The exhibits on early man were very interesting and I especially enjoyed a photography exhibit that featured award-winning nature photographs from around the world. By the time we departed the lines to get in were very long as were the lines next door at the American History Museum. Instead of standing in line we headed North to see the White House and came across a demonstration against US involvement in Venezuela it was very interesting to witness a demonstration of this magnitude in person.
Seeing the passion the demonstrators brought to their cause showed why live in such a great country where you are allowed to express your beliefs in a public forum.
As we had seen everything we had set out to see it was decided to relax back at the hotel in anticipation of the 9 hour ride home facing us on Sunday. For dinner we checked out the other large mall in Tyson’s Corner the Galleria. This is a very upscale shopping venue reminding me of Copley Place in Boston. Maggiano’s Little Italy, a chain that we had neither been to or heard of , was where we ended up having dinner. It was actually very good with a large menu and reasonable prices. My wife had a risotto with Filet and I had a Chicken and Mushroom Rigatoni both were delicious. A warm Brownie with Ice Cream finished our meal and we browsed the mall a little before heading back to the room. A movie in the room and then it was time for bed. Sunday arrived cool and sunny for our ride home as we bid adieu to DC. 9 hours later after an uneventful ride we were home from another great excursion.