Quick Road Trip: Washington, D.C. Part Two

Washington, D.C. is the perfect place for a spur of the moment trip. [See Part One] The only thing I had planned when I loaded up the car to head out of Columbus was visiting relatives and friends with my daughter and her best friend. Our first view of D.C. was similar to this shot by husar on Flickr. Wrong season though. That tree had leaves. It was dark when we arrived in the Georgetown section of D.C. Just like in this photo, M Street was bustling when we drove down it to get to my friend’s apartment building.

1. Coffee at friend’s apartment. My friends were at work when we got up, so I browsed their shelves for a guidebook of D.C. hoping to get ideas of what we might do. Good hosts–they had one. Took the guidebook and walked out the door about 10:30 AM.

[My friends were staying in a place similar to this one in the photo by Rictor Norton and David Allen, posted on Flickr.]

2. 11:00 AM–Picked up friends who were visiting from Vietnam via Atlanta. He’s on a Fulbright and his wife and two kids are in to the U.S. for the summer. Lucky for them–were staying at the townhome of a friend’s mother while she was in France.

3. Dropped wife, two kids (ages 4 and 11) and two teenagers (age 14) at the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) National Historic Park Canal Boats while we found a parking spot. Finally, I relented to the lack of available meters and parked the car in a nearby parking garage. One price for all day–$16.50.

4. 11:30 or thereabouts–Hooked up with wife, kids and teenagers and bought tickets for 1:30 PM canal boat ride then headed to M Street to scout out breakfast which was now lunch. Friend had guidebook and coffee, the most essential things, but no food. Teenagers left sandwiches in cooler all night, so they were no longer a breakfast option. Ate lunch, 1 gyro and 2 BLTs at Mon Cheri Cafe, 3051 M St. NW. French fries were free since the head cook liked us. Three sandwiches and six drinks, about $30. There are several places to eat along M Street. We’d have gone for Vietnamese, but our Vietnamese friends said, “We get that all the time.”

Teenagers drooled at shopping spots along the way and again noticed that Georgetown is pretty darned swanky. Here’s Georgetown through 14 year-old girls’ eyes. “Look at the bus stop signs. They have ads for Bebe. Gee, in Columbus, our bus stops have ads for Department of Social Services and food stamps.”

5. 12:50 PM–Stopped in The Old Stone House for a quick tour since it was only a couple doors up from the restaurant. This is the oldest house in Georgetown, and one of the oldest in D.C. You can still smell the smoke from when the fireplace was used for cooking. The park ranger tour guide happily gives talks to whoever walks in. The house is set up with period furniture just the way it would have been when people first lived in it. There’s lush flower garden outside that we didn’t have time to walk through. I love this stuff. The house is now part of the National Park Service. Free.

6. 1:30 –Canal boat tour: The tour gave a history of the canal and Georgetown and a lesson in how locks work. We went through the locks, a process that raised the boat 8 feet when the water was let in. The kids on the boat got to wear period hats and accompany the tour guide in period songs by playing instruments he passed out. Price of boat ride. Adults, $7; teenagers and 11 year-old $5; 4 year-old, free.

The canal boat is actually a reproduction. The original had space for an extra mule and didn’t have a top. During the time period that the canal was in its hey day, Georgetown was a real dump. Not anymore.

The boats are pulled by two mules. The tour guide explained how a mule is made–female horse, male donkey and that during the days of the canal, kids as young as 11 years-old would guide the mules several hours a day. The canal almost was paved over to be used as a highway until it was decided that it ought to be a National Historic Park.

The teenage girls enjoyed the park rangers dressed in period costumes, particularly the guy on the right. I’m pretty sure this is the same guy we saw.

7. 2:30 PM–Walked to the George Washington University / Foggy Bottom Metro subway stop. On the way, bought strawberry and chocolate and banana crepes from a fundraiser/hotel promotion for charity. Two for $3. Spent too much money at the Metro stop for tickets since I misunderstood the system. Unlike New York City subways, you pay different prices for different distances. I put $10 on one ticket thinking we could share (my daughter and her friend.) Each person needs his or her own ticket. The one-way fare to the Smithsonian was less $1.35

8. 3:15 PM.–Arrived at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Since the 4 year-old and the 11 year-old don’t know English, this was a great choice. Dinosaur skeletons and animals are easy to recognize. My son would have loved this. Jeff Kubina has some wonderful photos on Flickr of this exhibit. Here’s one of them.

My favorite part was the “African Voices” exhibit. Through interpretive signage, artifacts and videos, it presents an excellent overview of African history, geography and culture and its world-wide influences. I could have spent most of my time here, but 20 minutes had to do. This wood carving is by Lamidi Olonade Fakeye, a Yorube master scuptor. You can see more of his work on the Web site by clicking on The Focus Gallery section and then going to “The Carver Among Us.”

We also went to the IMAX movie Sharks 3-D– very cool. The jelly fish part in the beginning was pretty wild. It looked like they were floating all around us. Admission to museum, free. Imax. $8.50 for adults.

9. 5 PM –Left the museum when it closed and wandered over to the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art. There was a live music concert and people picnicking among the outdoor sculptures. My Vietnamese friends were enthralled by the crowd, the music, the art–basically, the whole thing, particularly since we came upon this scene without knowing about it beforehand. If you’re in D.C. on a Friday, head here. We snacked at the Pavilion Café on bread bowls (boule) filled with spinach and artichoke dip to tide us over until we met up with my cousin and his wife for dinner. I needed a pick me up cup of coffee. Bread boules: $8.50. Coffee: $2 ? Concert: Free

10. 7:15 PM –Met my cousin and wife at the Thai restaurant, Rice. We took the Metro from the Smithsonian to Dupont Circle. The restaurant was a bit of a hike from the metro stop (blocks and blocks), but the food was excellent. This is a very hip part of D.C. with many outside dining offerings and places to mill. Entrees at Rice ranged between $15 and $17. Thank you, cousin for treating the gang. Not cheap–but not over the top for a yummy meal.

11. 9: 15 PM–Headed back to Georgetown after walking from Rice back to Dupont Circle. We took a shuttle bus shuttle that dropped me, my daughter and her friend off at the corner near the parking garage. Remember the car? Our friends stayed on so that the bus could take them on down M Street. (When I said bye to my cousin, I handed him my leftover metro ticket. About $7 remained.

12. 10:00 PM or thereabouts–Arrived back at friend’s apartment in Georgetown for more catching up.

(We left D.C. the next morning after a quick trip to see my cousin’s new house.) Since this trip was mostly to visit people there are a number of things it would have been great to have had the time for. This was a spur of the moment, quick trip occassion. Next time, I’ll head back to the African Voices exhibit for starters. The smartest move I made was parking the car.