May 24, 2016

April Travels – Part Two – Washington DC

Filed under: Family,Interesting Things,Outside AK — Susan Stevenson @ 12:09 pm

In my last trip post, I wrote about the time that Steve and I spent in Philadelphia with my siblings and their families.  We visited from April 1st until the morning of April 12th. On that Tuesday morning, my SIL Diane took Steve and I to the Cornwell Heights Station near their home, where we took the SEPTA train to 30th Street Station in downtown Philly, and boarded Amtrak for Washington DC. We were looking forward to spending time in our nation’s capital with Mike, Patti, Steve & Dee.

I found a wonderful condo rental (using the VRBO website) in Arlington, VA –  which is a short metro commute from the National Mall and in a much less congested area. The condo was in walking distance to restaurants, taverns, and small convenience stores. Watching the sun set from the balcony was gorgeous every night. With 3BR/2BA, living room/dining area, full kitchen, fireplace, laundry facilities, and all the comforts of home, the cost to rent this unit was much less than booking three hotel rooms in DC.

Unfortunately, my brother Marc and his wife Denise couldn’t accompany the rest of us to Washington. The other four couldn’t join us until the next evening due to work schedules, so they all drove down in Mike’s SUV.


View from CondoView from CondoGetting from Washington DC’s Union Station to Arlington wasn’t as difficult as we worried, especially once we figured out the metro card machine. We were only carrying backpacks and small rolling suitcases, as my brothers were bringing our large bags with them, thank goodness. Especially as we arrived in Union Station in the middle of rush hour and faced very crowded (standing room only) trains.

After checking into the condo, we took a walk down the street looking for a quick bite to eat. When we came upon an iHop, the “breakfast for dinner” craving came upon me, so there we stopped.  We arrived back at our unit just before sunset. It was beautiful.


(Wednesday) After enjoying a breakfast burrito from the first floor cafe, Steve and I walked a couple of blocks to the train station, and hopped on the metro to the Smithsonian Castle, which is about the halfway point of the National Mall and Memorials area. Our visit to Washington was too late for the cherry blossoms, even though the Cherry Blossom Festival took place on our final day, but the tulips were absolutely stunning.  We picked up a map of all the Smithsonian museums so we could plan our days. We love that the museums are free!

We visited the  National Museum of the American Indian, which I found quite fascinating. I didn’t take many photos in there as it was quite dark, and it’s difficult to photograph through glass with lights reflecting on the display cases. There was also quite a bit of information to read along with the exhibits. We spent more than an hour there. My favorite part of the museum was the “Our Universes” gallery (level 4) which focuses on Native American beliefs and creation stories.

The Capitol is undergoing renovations, so there was scaffolding surrounding the lower part of the dome. We didn’t try to tour the Capitol, but we did walk as far as the reflecting pool in front of it before crossing the mall and starting down the other side toward the Washington Monument. It was a beautiful spring day with temps in the low 60s. The sun felt deliciously warm without being too hot. Steve and I occasionally stopped  to rest our legs in a shady spot under a tree or next to a fountain or garden. It was nice not to feel rushed or to have a strict itinerary. I was thankful for comfortable shoes though! We walked more than 5 miles that day – and that’s not including the miles we walked inside the buildings and at the monuments.

From the greenbelt at the National Mall, we walked all the way to the WW II Veterans Memorial, and then onward to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. We stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, and climbed the many steps to see Lincoln perched in his marble chair. Our last stop was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I’ve visited the memorial a handful of times in my life and every single time I do, I cry. Seeing so many names on the wall, and all the messages and cards and flowers that are placed there regularly really touches me.
James Seals WW II Veteran, 100 yrs old, Survived Pearl HarborWhile we were at the World War II Memorial, we noticed that there were quite a few WW II veterans in attendance. With pride they wore their dress uniforms, meticulously decorated with the medals and ribbons earned for their military service. As we walked past them, we thanked them for their service.

We came upon a news crew interviewing 100 year old WW II veteran Colonel James Seals, who came to Washington DC on an Honor Flight. Colonel Seals is one of the last living survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when more than 2,400 Americans were killed. At the time, Col. Seals was a Marine Corps private and had just arrived in HI a week earlier. He was on his way to breakfast when the attack happened. If he’d have been a few minutes earlier, he would have been killed too. Colonel Seals lives with his daughter in TN.

Here are photos capturing our day:

Smithsonian Castle, National Mall, Washington DC Tulips in front of Smithsonian Castle, National Mall, Washington DC Popcorn!
Walking toward the Capitol Renovating the Capitol Steve
Rent a Segway These triangular glass shapes were actually skylights for an area below ground (looked like a lounge area or maybe cafeteria?) Beautiful Tulips!
Fountain Me and Fountain AMOR - like the LOVE in Philly
Sculpture - Typewriter Eraser Steel Tree Wisteria
White House Washington Monument Women's Service
World War II Memorial WW II Memorial WW II Memorial
World War II Memorial WW II Memorial Reflecting Pool walk
Reflecting Pool Korean War Memorial Lincoln Memorial
Washington Monument Walk Vietnam Memorial Park Vietnam Veterans Memorial

My brothers arrived a few hours after Steve and I returned to the condo. We ordered pizza and discussed what we would do while in DC.


The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world.  While I don’t have a huge interest in air and space stuff, I was intrigued by a lot of the historical artifacts and abundance of information. Especially some of the more “comedic” (for lack of a better word) memorabilia.  I laughed out loud at the ridiculous requirements to become an airline stewardess.  Sexist much?! I’m glad things have changed a lot over the last few decades, but we still have a long way to go unfortunately.

The gals and I pretty much stuck together, moving quickly past the exhibits that didn’t interest us, and slipping into the gift shop to browse. You know… “girl stuff” (said tongue-in-cheek).  The men, on the other hand, were in their glory in the Air and Space Museum. All three of them pored over gadgets and engines and electronics and tools and meters and other things relative.

The National Museum of Natural History, also part of the Smithsonian Institution, holds the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts including the remains of dinosaurs and tools used by early man, gems and minerals, insects, mammals, and so much more. I have memories of visiting the Museum of Natural History when I was in middle school. The African Elephant in the rotunda seemed so huge to 12 year old me! (There’s an interesting story behind the origin of that elephant)

After visiting those two museums (which took several hours and necessitated several miles of walking) we returned to the condo, freshened up, and walked down the street to CarPool – a unique auto-themed sports bar and grill that made my brother Steve’s eyes light up. (My brother Steve restores old gas pumps and other things automobilia) Their Happy Hour specials are fantastic and we gorged ourselves on high calorie, high fat, greasy, artery clogging, appetizers – chased down with a few pints of locally brewed ale. So bad for us, but oh so good!

Thursday was a great day.

Air & Space Museum Requirements to be a Stewardess , SIL Diane, brother's fiancee, Patti First Flight
Air & Space Museum Hot Air Balloon Air & Space Museum
Natural History Museum Early Human Natural History Museum Rotunda
Mineral Rainbow Woodpecker Skeleton The men (and Diane) mapping our walk to the Metro

Another beautiful sunset from the condo:

Sunset in Arlington

The next morning (Friday), after grabbing breakfast burritos from the first floor store/cafe, we boarded the metro for another trip to the National Mall. Our first stop was the Smithsonian’s  National Museum of American History.

I really like this museum. I remember visiting this museum on that middle school class trip. The two things that I remembered most were the Hope Diamond and Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. I also remember seeing the First Ladies Inaugural Gowns. Back then, the most recently worn gowns were those worn by Pat Nixon and Betty Ford.  Hard to believe there have been six presidents since then.

The First Ladies exhibit is really interesting and if you click the link, you can enjoy this exhibit virtually thanks to the Smithsonian.

We spent several hours in the Museum of American History, and were ready for a late lunch when we came out. What better way to experience the “fast food” culinary options in DC, than to peruse the offerings of the block-long line of food trucks parked nearby?

Each truck had a line of people waiting to place their order. I walked the block checking out each truck before deciding to give my business to Rami Healthy Delight.  I placed an order for a chicken quesadilla and fries and stepped aside to wait with the others. After about ten minutes, I asked one of the others how long they had been waiting. THIRTY MINUTES! By this time everyone else in my family was halfway through eating their lunch (purchased from other trucks), and they hadn’t even started cooking mine! I had no choice but to cancel my order. Fortunately they were gracious enough to refund me my money.  I ended up buying a hotdog.

After our picnic lunch in the grass and soaking up some sun, we walked over to the Washington Monument. What a BIG surprise to see one of Steve’s army buddies coming towards us on the path, smiling at Steve and yelling his name. The last time we saw John was when we were all stationed in Florida together, more than 13 years ago. What are the chances of this?! Needless to say, it was great to see each other, and Steve and John have reconnected on FB.

From the Washington Monument, we all walked over to the WW II Veterans Memorial, and then strolled leisurely along the reflecting pool toward the Lincoln Memorial. I rested my aching feet sitting on a wall, while my brothers and the gals climbed the many steps up to Lincoln.

We all wanted to visit Arlington National Cemetery and at first thought we’d hop the train the few stops to the entrance. But then Steve suggested we walk it. After all, it was just across the river, and there was a bike path we could walk on safely. It felt like we walked 10 miles, but in reality, we only walked about 3. However, this doesn’t include the miles we covered in the museum itself – which I bet amounted to at least 2. I am so glad I had on comfortable shoes!

When we arrived at Arlington National Cemetery, the first thing we did was purchase our tour tickets. It is free to visit Arlington National Cemetery, and if you don’t mind walking you can go on a self-guided tour. But we were indeed tired of walking, so we opted for the shuttle tour.  You can get on and off the shuttle at any stop along the way.

The photos below were taken in the American History Museum and on the way to Arlington National Cemetery. (More about Arlington follows)

Paint set of Theodore Roosevelt's son First Ladies Fashion All in the Family, Archie Bunker Set
Legalization of Gay Marriage in CA in 2008 Computers Dorothy's Ruby Slippers
Freedom Struggle, Woolworth's Lunch Counter James Brown's Suit Soul Train
Streetcar Train Pano Playing in the Old Days, Wood panel station wagon
Camp Trailer Green above Steve and Diane enjoying the sunshine
Brothers and Gals in front of Washington Monument View toward Lincoln Memorial Tree Silhouette
Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument Steve and Me, photobombed by future sis in law Patti Sea Bees Memorial
Arlington National Cemetery and Flowers Blossoming Tree Amphitheater at Arlington, near Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

One interest at Arlington was to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The guard changes every 30 minutes, and when we stepped off the shuttle, the last change had just happened. Despite the 30 minute wait, the growing crowd remained nearly silent. At times, you could almost hear a pin drop. Witnessing the ceremony was quite a solemn experience. You can read a lot more about this ritual in the link I provided.

Sunset in Arlington
But the most important reason for visiting Arlington National Cemetery was so that Steve could visit the grave of  SFC Johnathan McCain. Arlington National Cemetery offers a complimentary ride to the section where your family member or friend are buried. You can find that location in the online database. You can also search the database when you visit.

On November 13, 2011, SFC Johnathan McCain was killed while deployed to Afghanistan. SFC McCain not only served and deployed to Iraq with Steve in 2005-06, but was his friend too. His death hit Steve particularly hard, and it was very important that he visit his grave and pay his respects.  Steve left a shiny dime on his headstone, showing that he was there. A dime signifies that they served together.  In the photo below, the sun reflects off the dime.

It was very emotional, and I have additional photos that show the depth of that emotion. But they will be kept confidential, as they are too personal. The sight of bright white headstones for as far as the eye can see  – especially in this particular section (Iraq and Afghanistan casualties) – made the tears flow.  So many lives lost.

SFC Johnathan McCain
8/18/1973 – 11/13/2011
Dime on the grave of Johnathan McCain


Saturday was Mike, Patti, Steve and Dee’s last day in town, as they needed to get back to Philadelphia on Saturday night due to prior engagements on Sunday. Steve and I didn’t need to check out until Sunday morning. We all decided to spend our last day at the Smithsonian Zoo. Because it is part of the Smithsonian, there is no entrance fee. However, parking spaces can fill up fast and it is rather expensive at $24.00/carload. Of course, since there is no entrance fee, the cost to park is still worth it if you’re a large group (as we were). It was less costly to pay to park, than it would have been to take the metro. If your group is small, the metro may be a more affordable option.

The zoo is nice, but after living in Alaska for so long – where I am fortunate to see wildlife in its natural environment – I just don’t enjoy zoos much any longer. I do understand that many of these animals are actually getting better care in captivity, or may be a member of a vanishing species and need to be protected, but I’m still sad that they don’t have their freedom .

All in all, it was a very warm, sunny day at the zoo, which brought out people in throngs, and I was happy to see at least one of the pandas that lives there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see baby (male cub) Bei Bei. Check out the Panda cams and maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of him.

It was a nice day to be outdoors, and we all got a little bit of color; some of us more than others – as I nursed my sunburned scalp where my hair part had been fried.

Prairie Dog Monkey and Baby Panda
Piggy Back Bear Cheetah Golden Lion Tamarin

On the way home from the zoo, we passed the  United States Marine Corps War Memorial. I managed to grab this photo from the moving car, but even from a distance, this iconic image is quite impressive!

Iwo Jima Memorial
Steve and Dee decided to take a nap before they left for home. Mike and Patti and Steve and I walked a few blocks to a A-Town Bar and Grill, where we enjoyed a nice dinner and a couple of drinks.

It was hard to say goodbye a few hours later. We won’t let so many years pass between visits next time.


Next: Riding Amtrak, South Bend, RV shopping…

(Part One – Philadelphia)

1 Comment »

  1. Loved all the pic of D.C. Spent a lot of weekens there when I was at Averdeen Proving Grounds It really is touching to see the changing of the guard. My heart goes out to Steve and I’m sure it helps some to see his friends last resting. I guess I feel that as much as you hate to see loss of life in war to me as a vet its harder to see the loss of life that led to war. Glad you all had a great time.


    Comment by Bruce Rufer — May 27, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

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