My wife Kathy and I spent the better part of spring break in our nation?s capitol. Our daughter has been living there this spring as she finishes a practicum in social work. She will graduate at the end of April from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia.
Anna has only lived in D.C. since the first of the year, but she is already a competent tour guide. Between her knowledge of the metro (train) system and the use of her GPS, we got around the city quite nicely.
Our plane landed at Ronald Reagan National, the smaller of the two Washington-area airports. As usual, my wife had scouted out a little side trip before we checked into our hotel. Gravelly Point Park was packed with all makes and models of humans when we arrived. In fact, it was so crowded we had to jump a curb and drive our rental car onto the grass to find a parking spot.
Besides providing a place to enjoy the first sunny day in a couple of weeks and a view of the Potomac River, area residents were drawn to the park to do some plane spotting. When the wind is out of the north, the big jets take off so near the park you can feel the ground shake as they make their steep ascent off the end of the runway.
Even though Reagan is smaller than its big sister Dulles, planes were ascending every couple of minutes. As they climbed rapidly skyward, they were forced to veer to the west almost immediately to avoid the airspace over the Capitol. It was quite an awesome sight and the price was right?free.
That?s one of the cool things about Washington, D.C. There?s so much to do that doesn?t cost anything: some of the best museums on Earth, world-class monuments and, in season, all the cherry blossoms a guy can stand.
The hotels are a bit pricey, but with a little online shopping, we managed to find one for about $100 per night that was old, but adequate. It was only about a block from a metro station and allowed us to park for free.
Washingtonians are rightfully proud of their train system. For about a buck and a half, a traveler can race under the city from place to place, unhindered by the crawling traffic on the surface. The stations and cars are clean and efficient.
Once you get the hang of reading the maps, it is smooth sailing. Not being able to see where you are at any given time is part of the fun of underground travel. The city seems much smaller and much more accessible. Who wants to sit in traffic when you can be zooming around through tunnels and popping out to cross bridges once in a while?
The toughest task on a D.C. visit is deciding what to do with the time you have. We only had time for one Smithsonian offering, so we chose the Air and Space Museum. We also visited Mount Vernon, George Washington?s home. Cost for entrance to the estate was $15 per person. There was plenty to see?and read.
I have to admit I can only take so much history in one outing. It all starts to blur for me. In the main building, we came face to face with George?s dentures, which, by the way, were not made of wood.
One morning we visited the Eastern Market, a cross between a farmers? market and an arts and crafts fair. I?ve never seen so many varieties of fruits, meats and vegetables in one spot. I always thought an apple was an apple. All the samples I tried convinced me otherwise.
Of course, no trip to Wash?ing?ton would be complete without a visit to the National Postal Museum, according to my spouse, who just happens to work for the USPS. It was a most impressive building, featuring an exhibit of Hindenburg and Titanic artifacts. The two ships operated as the world?s largest mobile post offices, and each met with a disastrous end. I hope that will not be true for the postal system itself.
We took a day trip to Manassas, Va., where the first and second battles of Bull Run took place. Near Leesburg, we boarded a tiny ferry to cross the Potomac into Maryland. The charge was $5 per car, one way, for the five-minute trip. But, it was unique and a cool way to travel.
Another day we traveled to the historic village of Annapolis, the Maryland home of the U.S. Naval Academy. The scenic Main Street runs down to the harbor. We at the counter of a crowded little cafe that has been featured on cable TV?s ?Man vs. Food? for its giant milkshakes and one-pound crab cakes. The food seemed pricey, but the local flavor was priceless.
On our way back to D.C., we stopped at the famous George?town Cupcakes shop, home of another TV show, ?D.C. Cup?cakes,? on TLC. For a mere $15, we picked up a half-dozen of the tasty little treats. Though the line is sometimes formidable, we had a harder time finding a parking spot. I fed a handful of quarters into a meter to buy two hours in the college town along the river. That was long enough. Traffic was crazy, and so were the people.
The weather was perfect all week. Until we were ready to come home, that is. Our plane was set to take off at around 10:30 a.m. But the airport was fogged in, and we were delayed until early afternoon. That meant we would miss our connection in Chicago, and, for some reason, all the flights from the Windy City to Kansas City were booked to capacity.
After a two-hour wait at the ticket counter, we were told the best United Airlines could do was issue a ticket for Monday morning. Keep in mind, we were supposed to fly home Thursday. We decided to take our chances on stand-by in Chicago. As it turned out, we found seats on the first flight to KC. That almost never happens, frequent flyers tell us.
Since Anna headed east to college, I have been blessed to do some extensive traveling. I enjoy visiting her, but I have learned to love seeing what lies outside Kansas as well. Kathy and I will be heading out to her graduation in a few weeks. We will be driving four days to get there and back.
What we see of our great country between here and there is what makes this type of trip even more fun.