No matter how many times I go to DC, I always find that I’m never there long enough. Here are ten things we did on our trip this time:
1. Starting with the last bit first, we ended our trip at the National Portrait Gallery.
I had never been – I KNOW; I can’t believe it, either! – and I’m SO glad we went. There was a lot to take in, but my favorite bit was rounding the corner to see this guy;
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you my favorite Revolutionary War badass, Henry Knox.
Mr. Knox was a Chief Artillery Officer in George Washington’s Continental Army. After the Continentals took Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, Knox suggested to his friend Washington that the fort’s cannon might be useful in breaking the Siege of Boston, so Washington sent Knox to retrieve the arms. Knox and his crew reached the fort on December 5th, 1775 and commenced to haul some 60 tons of cannon and other armaments by boat, horse and ox-drawn sledges over a 300 mile trek through some pretty rugged terrain (let’s recall we’re talking 1775 here, People; no interstates – or even real roads – to speak of, AND in the middle of the opening of shitty weather season in this part of the world). Knox arrived in Cambridge on January 27th, 1776, and the armaments he provided helped to free Boston from British occupation. The Noble Train of Artillery, as Knox’s amazing logistical feat came to be known, is still considered one of the Continental Army’s great successes, and it is one of my FAVORITE Revolutionary War stories.
Dork that I am, I didn’t even need to read the accompanying information card to know who this is and what he did, and I caught other museum visitors listening in as I gleefully recounted Knox’s adventures to my daughters (again).
2. The MLK Memorial.
We drove in the first day we were there, though in hindsight, that may have been a poor decision on our part (we took the Metro for the rest of the week). The parking spot we found was on the far side of the MLK memorial, so we walked through on our way to our destination, which was…
3. Ford’s Theatre. Mr. Chili and I had gone to Ford’s Theatre many, many years ago, but the girls had never been, so that was our first official stop.
The museum part of the building wasn’t opening until later than we wanted to stay, so we got tickets for the play that they put on a few times a day and called it a win. The play was very well done; it was a meditation/imagining of what the actors in the playhouse were thinking and feeling in the days immediately after Lincoln’s assassination, and was by turns moving and rueful; there was a lot of “what if” in the play, and I felt the actors did a good job of conveying the frustration, anger, and grief that the people they were portraying must have felt.
4. The Udvar-Hazy Center
We spent the whole afternoon of our first day here. It’s an annex of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and even for someone like me (who’s not especially enamored of machinery), it’s a really cool place. They have the Enola Gay, a Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery in the exhibits, and even though visitors can’t go in the aircraft, we can get close enough to see the rivets in the skins. Mr. Chili adores the place, and since it really is kind of cool, we girls don’t mind spending time there.
5. The American History Museum.
Edith Wilson’s 1915 evening dress image credit
It seems that I always end up here. I’ve seen the First Ladies’ dresses exhibit a number of times, but I never get tired of it. There are a lot of great things in this museum that I never get around to (I’ve only seen the Ruby Slippers once), but I always feel like I’ve missed something if I don’t go through the dress exhibit.
6. National Gallery of Art.
I learned something on this trip. I had always assumed that the National Gallery of Art was a Smithsonian outfit, but it’s not. I learned this because I bought a membership to the Smithsonian while I was at the Udvar-Hazy Center on Tuesday, and I tried to use my sparkly new membership card to get a discount at the National Gallery gift shop, where they politely informed me that the were NOT a Smithsonian museum. Huh. Who knew? Not I.
Anyway, we had lunch here after the American History Museum (we often have lunch here; I’m not sure why) and then we made our way to my favorite exhibit; the Massachusetts 54th Memorial:
The bronze of this is across the street from the State House at the top of the Commons in Boston, and whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I go and have another look at it. I love the complexity of the piece, and I have a particular place in my heart for the story and the people it commemorates.
7. The National Air and Space Museum
After getting our fill of fine art, we trekked across the Mall and into the Air and Space Museum. Mr. Chili went off to look at all the space flight stuff (because, you know, that’s what he does) and the girls and I ducked into a movie in the planetarium (narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson!).
The chairs are reclined (to get a better view of the domed screen, of course) which made it difficult not to fall asleep. I discovered that afternoon that Mr. Tyson’s voice is very soothing…
8. The National Zoo.
I have a love/hate relationship with zoos.
I love them because they offer me a chance to see critters that I would never, ever see in the course of my life. Let’s be honest, the most exotic thing I’m likely to spy is a moose, really, so being able to see real live zebras and elephants and lions (and pandas!) is kind of a big deal.
That being said, the “hate” comes from the knowledge that these beautiful, wild creatures live in pens that are far too small (no matter how big they are) and in climates for which they are ill suited.
I have yet to come to terms with my warring feelings about zoos, but this one was lovely. It was clean, the animals seemed well cared for, and there’s some significant research and outreach happening in association with the National Zoo. I suppose, if we’re going to keep wild things in zoos, we should keep them as the Smithsonian does.
9. The World War II Memorial
I love this memorial precisely because there are outfits whose sole purpose is to bus veterans in to visit the site every day. As we walked by on our way to Ford’s Theatre on our first full day in the city, we saw literally dozens of veterans being helped into the memorial and, knowing that we’re fast losing this generation to old age, it was gratifying to see them.
We also passed a British school trip (all the kids looked so cute in their matching uniforms!). As we were walking by, one of the teachers asked the kids about what e pluribus unum meant. One little boy practically dislocated his shoulder raising his hand, and as he blurted out the English translation of the motto, Bean observed under her breath that we’re kind of doing a shitty job with the whole “out of many, one” thing lately. God, I love that kid.
10. Everything from home to DC and back again.
The Chili family has figured out that we’re pretty good at car trips. My husband is a great trip planner; before we get in the car, he’s printed out maps, (note with circles and directions to where we’re going to stop for lunch and gas along the way) so we’ve got a good idea of what to expect. Observe:
I load up the car with snacks, the girls bring books and games, we set Pandora to a station we can all agree on, and away we go. It is my custom on this trip (which we’ve taken several times now) to snap a picture of the Tappan Zee Bridge on our way through. This is the homeward-bound side. We’re still a long way from home here – I feel like we’re finally close to home when the road signs start mentioning Boston - but the bridge feels like a ceremonial halfway point.