If you ever want to channel your inner Ben Gates, take a trip to Washington, DC. Even for the most law-abiding citizen, the thought of stealing the Declaration of Independence will cross your mind while visiting the National Archives. It’s inevitable. Before you do tho, remember National Treasure is a movie and Nicholas Cage is an actor.
…but in all seriousness, Washington, DC is a truly fascinating place. Mom and I spent 3 ½, fast-paced, fun-filled days exploring DC and the surrounding area. While it’s difficult to put into words just how great our DC experience was, I believe this post does the trip justice 😉.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Transportation wise, Metrorail is the way to go. We loaded up our SmarTrip cards prior to the trip and hopped on and off trains throughout Virginia and Maryland – it was not only convenient but provided us with a glimpse into the daily life of everyday commuters. We were experts ourselves by the end of the trip, but never quite mastered the ole, DC-no-need-to-hang-on-to-anything-when-the-train-makes-sudden-stops, maneuver, that the locals seemed to be quite good at. If we weren’t riding the Metrorail, we were walking…10 miles a day in fact!
So where did all this ridin’ and walkin’ take us? Well, the real question should be, where didn’t it take us?
Day 1 – Freedom isn’t Free.
We began our trip at Arlington National Cemetery. Somber, beautiful, peaceful, moving and humbling are a few words that come to mind. The Changing of the Guard is incredibly moving, and I got chills down my spine when Veterans bound by their wheelchairs stood the entire ceremony to show their respect.
As we walked around the 624 acres of beautifully maintained grounds and looked about the rows and rows of perfectly aligned headstones of those who honorably served our country, the true cost of freedom was put into perspective.
For those who have never been, the best way I can transfer that perspective is writing exactly what I read in the visitor’s center. “Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for over 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families. The cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 services each weekday and 6 to 8 services each Saturday. More than 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services take place at the cemetery each year.”
For any servicemen and veterans reading this, thank you for your service.
We then went to the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon. Much like Arlington National Cemetery, somber, beautiful, and peaceful are a few words to describe the indescribable.
We ended our day in Alexandria, VA – exploring the quaint, historical town along the Potomac River. We actually stayed in Alexandria during our trip which was super convenient. It was a quick, 17-minute Metrorail ride into DC and our hotel was just across the road from the King St. Metro Station. I highly recommend staying in Alexandria.
Day 2 – E Pluribus Unum
We began day 2 by visiting the Rayburn House Office Building that is home to all the US Representatives’ DC offices. We stopped by Michael McCaul’s and Bill Flores’ offices, our respective Representatives. We then headed to the corner of 7th and C Street to take off on our Capital Hill and Monument tour.
Our ever so enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide, Montie, gave us an exceptional tour of the monuments, the White House, and DC in general. We even saw Marine One bringing President Trump back from one of his most recent travels. Montie’s lunch recommendation of Tortilla Coast didn’t disappoint! It was a bustling place, filled with many Capital staffers and lots of DC chatter.
We continued our day at the Library of Congress where we perused the hundreds of books in Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection and were in awe of the building’s architecture. We exited through the tunnel that is connected to the Capital to begin our tour of the Capital, which was another fascinating experience.
Additionally, we coordinated ahead of time with Representative McCaul’s office to obtain passes to the House and Senate chambers. I highly recommend this. It’s neat to take a seat in the two rooms responsible for our legislative branch of government.
We rounded out our day at the National Archives. Walking into the Rotunda and up to the Declaration of Independence was just like a scene out of National Treasure, “180 years of searching and I’m three feet away…I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence”.
In all seriousness tho, seeing the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Constitution from three feet away is neat. All the documents are difficult to read because they are quite faded, but John Hancock’s signature was the first thing I spotted while viewing the Declaration of Independence.
Day 3 – Justice, The Guardian of Liberty
Our second and last full day in DC began at the Supreme Court. This was arguably our favorite building and tour out of the three branches of government. Truly fascinating. We went into the actual courtroom and had a 30-minute program about the inner workings of the court. All the federal court cases from 1935 to present day, took/take place in that very room. It was remarkable to be just steps away from the chairs that seat essentially 9 of the most powerful people in the nation.
We continued our DC journey at the National Museum of American History and National Air and Space Museum. Both places were very fascinating, but The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem exhibit at the American History Museum was our favorite. The exhibit begins at the Battle of Baltimore where the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s lyrics is on display.
Our day ended in Georgetown along the Potomac River.
Day 4 – Mount Vernon
We squeezed in one last activity before departing DC, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We toured the 21-room mansion and Washington’s entire estate along the Potomac River. Washington was quite the businessman as evidenced by his operations throughout the estate. There were reenactors all around the grounds and the experience reminded us a lot of Greenfield Village in Michigan.
We then headed back to Alexandria to retrieve our suitcases, but not before stopping at the oldest farmers’ market in the United States, held each Saturday morning at Market Square Plaza in Alexandria for over 260 years. In fact, George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon to be sold here. What an all-American experience.
Even though we had a plane to board in a few hours, that didn’t stop us from stocking up on several baked goods and pastries. We had every intention on sharing our finds with Dad and Grandma back home, but between us and one of the stewardesses on the plane…the goods were gone by the time we touched down in Houston.
Take Me to Texas
As Mom and I reflected about our trip on the plane home – fun, educational, and moving were reoccurring words used to sum up our DC experience…. then Mom added one more adjective to the mix, emotional.
…and she is so right. Sure, Arlington National Cemetery and all the memorials will bring a tear to every American’s eye, but exploring DC in general is emotional. We get so caught up in what we see on TV and read on the internet, that it’s easy to place our government and Washington, DC for that matter as some unattainable organization for the everyday person. When in reality, it’s just regular people doing the most important work in the land.
What a blessing it is to have the right to vote, the ability to visit with our Congressmen, and the opportunity to explore government buildings. Most importantly, what a blessing it is to have the freedoms we do because of the brave men and women who give the ultimate sacrifice.
Although, emotional wasn’t the first word to come to mind for me when recapping our trip, it’s a word that’s become hard to shake. I’m not sure it’s possible, but this trip gave me an even greater appreciation for our country, the good ole USA.
Without a doubt, this trip will be hard to Trump!
If you’re curious how to pack all this education and fun into 3 ½ days, I included our exact itinerary we created and followed, here. It was a fast-paced, 10 miles a day of walking type of itinerary, but so worth it!