Friday, May 6, 2011

The Trip

So: the trip. It was awesome. The end.

Okay, obviously no, not the end. First of all, we booked first class seats on Amtrak's Acela Express from New Haven to Washington, D.C. First class! I am forty years old, and other than my education, I've never experienced anything first class in my life. Dudes, it is a whole 'nother world over there. We had a table to ourselves, and people who kept trying to give us things. Bloody Mary? You betcha! How about a hot towel? Why, thank you! Could I interest you in some chocolates? You certainly could! It was lovely.

Also, Sarah discovered the world of the iPad (courtesy of our lovely neighbors, who lent us theirs).

She is a fan. It was her faithful friend for the entirety of the trip.

Just arriving in D.C. was an event in and of itself. I was too flustered to pull out the camera, but Union Station in Washington is a beautiful edifice. Really stunning architecture, and it set the tone beautifully for what we were to expect during our time there. We stepped outside the station, and bam! Capitol Building! Washington Monument! Crazy landmarks everywhere!

We laid low that first night, ordering room service in our lovely hotel. Sarah is a fan. She begged for room service for every meal of our stay.

The next morning, Day One, the site seeing began in earnest.

The Air and Space Museum. Sarah  is very interested in space (among many, many other things) these days. We walked through a model of the Skylab, saw real! rockets! and moon rocks and astronaut gear and all kinds of cool space stuff. Sarah's response? "Where are the aliens?"

Something I didn't expect, just didn't think about really, was the amount of public art in D.C. There were stunning and interesting and thought-provoking pieces throughout the city. This one, just outside the Air and Space Museum, was one of my favorites. Isn't it so perfectly Space Age?

We had lunch at the Museum of the American Indian (I highly recommend its cafeteria, by the way -- an incredible assortment of Native American foods). The building is itself a work of art.

Oh, hey! The Capitol. Again. Right there. It did not stop wowing me, seeing these Significant Places everywhere I turned.

And then. Oh, and then. The Lincoln Memorial. My god, that's an awesome sight. And I mean awesome in its truest sense, not the smart-assed tongue-in-cheek way I normally apply that abused word.

I did get a bit choked up a bit here. I really did.

And I didn't even know that this was there:

That's the exact spot where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech. THE EXACT SPOT.  Did you know that was there? Because I didn't, and I almost stepped on it, and I just about broke my neck stumbling over my own feet to avoid inadvertently treading on an actual Significant Place. Shouldn't they have that thing roped off or something? Or maybe the whole point is that anyone can make their (literal) mark in this country, even at a place already secularly holy, and that we shouldn't treat such places as being so precious that they become removed from accessibility. Or something. 

We moved on from there to the Korean War Veterans' Memorial. The wall there is etched with the ghostly faces of those who fought in that conflict, beside a company of US soldiers wading through a field (of pachysandra, I think). Fortunately Sarah was more interested in the birds wading in the pool at the end of the wall and didn't ask too many questions about why there were soldiers there.

She and Tom took a break for some Italian ice while I went to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial by myself.

A friend of mine's father's name is on that stark wall. And I found him there.

His name was just about in the middle of the wall, in the middle of the monument, just west of where the two wings join. I was thinking about his story (which I won't tell here, it's not my story to tell), and looked to either side of me, and saw people looking at other names, remembering other stories. So many thousands of stories left unfinished on that wall.

I left, and found Tom and Sarah and we headed back to our temporary neighborhood for some excellent pizza and bed. It was one heck of a first day.

Day Two: National Zoo!

Somehow, we hit the zoo at just the right time. The animals were all out and still active (except for the red panda and the tiger). There were, by my conservative estimate, one zillion schoolchildren there on class trips, but Sarah somehow was not overwhelmed and got to see some very cool critters, including gorillas!

And lions!

And also elephants playing with tree-sized toys (and by tree-sized, I mean actual tree trunks hung by enormous chains from girders), and pandas eating bamboo and an orangutan swinging overhead. Not a bad first trip to a zoo, I have to say.

We went to an Ethiopian place for lunch, which Tom and I loved. Sarah got a kick out of the flatbread, but given that the mildly spicy food had jalapeno, and the not-spicy offerings were chock-full of ground pepper, she ate sparingly.

That night Tom went off to the event that was our excuse for the trip, and Sarah and I (and one of Tom's colleague's kids) spent the evening with room service. I swear Sarah was thisclose to turning into Eloise, she loved hotel living so much.

Day Three: More Significant Places

We started the morning at the National History Museum, where Sarah got to see dinosaurs! And a for-real mummy! And a mummy unwrapped! And bugs! And just all kinds of cool stuff. We could have spent the entire day there. But we moved on and after a longish walk we found ourselves here:

Someday we'll plan ahead enough to get the tour (turns out you have to make reservations ages in advance, but in my head, it's still 1980 and you can just show up there and they'll let you walk around). We didn't do that this time. But we had no idea we could get so close. I mean, we were practically in the front yard. (This was last Saturday. Thirty-some hours later, the very same spot was packed with crowds of people celebrating the death of Bin Laden. Is it possible that the President was being briefed on the mission while we were out there, taking pictures through the gates and marveling at the beauty of its setting?)

Oh, hey. There's the Washington Monument. Again. People, you can NOT get away from this sucker. We could see it from our room. We could see it from everywhere. I mean, I realize this is the point of the monument, but the thing is ubiquitous.

A quick cab ride and, there we were at another Significant Place.

I don't know why, but the Jefferson Memorial didn't hold the impact for me that the Lincoln Memorial did. A gorgeous structure, of course, and filled on every side with some of the most important words ever written in our country's history, but being there didn't move me the way Lincoln's memorial did. Still, a wonderfully beautiful place, and oh hey! There's the Washington Monument again, across the water.

We headed to Georgetown for our last evening, pushing through the ebbing and flowing crowds of people. Is there ever a time when Georgetown isn't just packed to the gills with wandering people? It was as intense as Provincetown on the Cape is at the height of the summer season. I'd love to go back when it's less... well, just less.

And then it was time to set the alarms and pack our bags.

Sarah and Howard (Jane's Howard; Sarah brought him "so I won't forget Jane while I'm away") watched the miles pass as we rattled our way north.

I don't think I can ever go on a family trip again. Nothing could possibly go as well as this one did. No crankiness, no whining, no scheduling mishaps. It was like the Platonic ideal of a family vacation. I'm almost afraid to go back, because there's just no way it could possibly be that good a second time.

But I'm willing to give it a chance. After all -- what if it's better


Anonymous said...


Cindy said...

Fantastic post!! You're making want to book my own train trip.

But I'm afraid I'll have to borrow your Sarah.

Tell her I have an iPad!

(and Happy Mother's Day)

Laura Herbert said...

Can I just say that I LOVE reading your blog. You are an amazing writer! Your trip sounds fantastic - glad you had so much fun in DC!


AG Ambroult said...

sounds like a pretty fabulous trip, starting with the first class train ride and the *loaned* ipad!
Sarah need not look too far to see the aliens, really now.
Maybe they don't have the MLK plaque roped off, so that you can stand in that exact spot, and look out over the imagined crowed and feel it.