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Our Washington DC Trip Report

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Bellevue, Nebraska
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Our Washington DC Trip Report

Here is our trip report. It is ridiculously long and has lots of random opinions thrown in there but hope you enjoy it!

On Friday the 12th we got into town around 8:00 and got to the hotel and settled around 8:30. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Crystal City and they came and picked us up from the airport which was one of the reasons I picked this hotel. They were there within 10 minutes and we were at the hotel within about 5 minutes. Very easy and made everything much less of a headache. We ended up asking for restaurant recommendations and there was several around but we decided to go to Legal Seafood. It was a bit pricey and there was a wait even though it was 9:00 on a Friday night. The wait was only 10 minutes. Food was delicious and it kind of topped everything off for that first day.

On Saturday the 13th we woke up bright and early to go to the White House Garden Tour. We had booked our “White House Tour” months ahead of time and ended up getting the Garden tour since they were not having regular tours during the garden tour times. We ended up having issues at the Crystal City Metro Station trying to figure out if we should get a 7 day pass or a Metro Card. Plus the Metro Card machine was broken. We only had enough cash to get one Metro card and then had to use the ATM to get another $10 out. It was a bit crazy as there were tons of tourist’s trying to figure this out and you could tell the Metro Cards were new. I think they should figure out an easier way to explain it or maybe get shorter ‘unlimited’ passes. We ended up getting the Metro Card’s because it was the $1 cheaper per ride and we didn’t think the full 7 day pass would be worth it. We put about $15 on and that lasted us the entire 3 days of back and forth and a few other here and there journeys. So off we were to the White House. We ended up leaving probably an hour and a half before our scheduled White House tour time. But we got there 45 minutes before. There were people outside of the gates just giving tickets away. I was pretty frustrated because I was so looking forward to a White House Tour and ended up getting the garden tour instead and they made this huge deal about how it only happens twice a year. Well they were practically trying to shove tickets in your hands outside of the White House. I know it is silly of me but I was just a little frustrated. The tour itself was kind of silly. They tell you in the pamphlet and in many different things that you can not bring bags, purses, backpacks, this that and everything else. But they actually let you bring them in. They just search them. Annoyance number 2 for the day. I didn’t get to bring my purse all day because of that and if you don’t follow instructions then they still let you in. Argh. So you start walking in and there were all of these signs with pictures of presidents planting trees, gardens, walking on the grass, giving speaches, all sorts of stuff. There were SO many people though it was hard to read anything and then when you took a picture one of the people would say “Oh don’t take pictures here, there is a better spot up ahead. Try not to stop and take pictures because it will bottle neck and cause traffic to stop.” So you keep walking and hope to get a better picture. The back of the White House is basically this big round walk way and they herd you through it and keep saying “Better picture opportunities later, don’t stop here!” and really, they keep saying that everywhere so there was no good opportunity so we just took pictures and ignored the people because at the very end they said the same thing “You should have already got pictures and now you are getting in the way so don’t take pictures”. Maybe not that mean, but pretty much. Overall it was nice to get close to the white house but it wasn’t really worth it. Too many people and craziness. I didn’t even realize it until we left but no one ever checked our ticket. We ended up getting in 45 minutes before our scheduled time and left by about 9:45. So we started walking and ended up right next to the Washington Monument. Neat little surprise. It was still early enough that no one was out yet. We got lots of pictures and started wandering down the Mall.

Our first scheduled museum that day was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We wandered around there for a couple hours. There was a lot of neat things inside there. I thought it was fun when I ran across the Hope Diamond. I didn’t know it was there! The museum was great. I thought that the Natural History museum in Northern Georgia was a little bit better but there were still a lot of great displays and the way they have it set up was great. Very educational especially for kids. Next we decided to find somewhere to eat food. We ended up going to the Old Post Office Pavilion and eating in their cafeteria. We went to the gift shop there and the prices were very affordable. I got 2 hoodies for my husbands little sisters for $30. I was pretty excited. The sales guy was great and then told us about going up into the clock tower. So we then proceeded to go up into the Clock Tower and had a great view of Washington DC. That was an added bonus to our lunch! After this we decided to just wander around because that was almost everything we had ‘scheduled’ for the day. We walked past the National Archives and the line was out the door crazy. Decided to keep that on the schedule for first thing Sunday morning.

We walked through the sculpture garden and then ended up close to the Air and Space museum so we decided to go in there. The museum was great. They have lots of very unique and high profile exhibits. I honestly thought the Wright Brothers plane was a replica until the security guard told me it was the original. Pretty crazy that can last 100 years. It was pretty crazy in this museum considering it was a Saturday but we still got to see a lot of neat things. The museum wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but it was great. Very geared towards kids but adults can enjoy it as well. After that it was getting close to 5pm so we decided to head back to Crystal City and take a break at our hotel since our feet were killing us. We were talking about doing a night tour but ended up relaxing a bit more instead. We got dinner at a local restaurant in Crystal City along this popular street with lots of bars and restaurants; it was called the Tortoise and Hare bar and Grill. Food was good. Service was okay. Overall it was a nice location close to our hotel and neat to come across a cute little strip of restaurants like that. After this we headed back to the hotel and went to bed. It was a long day and we were ready for rest! Especially since the next morning was bright and early.

Sunday the 14th. I am always scared that I am going to be late especially with circumstances like subways and other things. We ended up leaving the hotel around 8:30 to get to the National Archives and ended up right behind it at around 8:45. With a full hour to spare… So we wandered around the mall, people watched and had a great time. We took pictures at the Smithsonian Castle and had fun just watching the early morning runners and enjoying the peace and quiet that early in the morning. We walked over to the Archives at about 9:30 for the 10am opening and there were a couple people in front of us. From there it was just waiting till they opened the doors. They opened them at exactly 10:00am not a minute earlier. It was great being among the first people in the door. The security is very strict though. Make sure you take all metals off before going through or they will keep sending you through. They seemed a bit more strict then other security checks. Then it was off to find out where the founding documents were. The signs all point towards Rotunda and that is where you need to go. We didn’t have a map or anything so this was trial and error. Being one of only 2/3 people in the room was amazing. We got plenty of time to look at the documents and read through them. I honestly could not imagine going through when there were hundreds of people in there. Getting to the Archives early was well worth it. I was getting a little teary eyed reading them. It is amazing to get to see that piece of history though. As many other people say though, The Declaration of Independence is very hard to read. It is very faded and you can barely make out any of the signatures. The only one I could really see was John Hancock. Still neat though and very worth going. They also had the Magna Carta which is a huge document worldwide. I still just think to myself “Why do we have this… we weren’t even a country when it was signed!” Overall this was a great experience and well worth it. Be sure to be one of the first to get there, makes the experience a million times better!

Next on our schedule was the National Zoo. I had never seen a Panda and we are pretty big on Zoo’s we tend to go to the zoo in every city we visit so it was a top priority. We took the subway to the zoo. It was a bit of a walk up hill. I know on the website they say one stop further and you would have walked down hill. You should do that! It was a bit of a jaunt! Then we came across the zoo and there it was! No security which was a surprise since everywhere we went into had metal detectors and bag searches. WE went straight to the Panda’s since it was already a bit late in the day. We stopped by, I thought their exhibit was a bit sad. They were both inside. It was very small and not very open or roomy. I know it was right after the death of the baby panda so I think they just looks sad because of that. Or maybe that is how Panda’s usually look. Not sure… haha. We wandered around the rest of the zoo. The Elephants came and said hello to us which was neat. Then we saw the beavers which were very active. The seals weren’t very exciting. And I didn’t see the baby. By the time we got to the bottom of the exhibits we realized that we had to walk all the way back up the hill to exit. We walked through a bit of the rest of the exhibits on our way out but mostly just looked a bit and left. It was a lot of walking and my feet were killing me! After this we decided to get lunch in China Town before hitting up the Spy Museum. So we ended up looking at several restaurants and decided to go to Sushi Go Round because for some reason I love sushi places like that. It reminds me of the movies! Also we tend to hit up sushi wherever we go on vacation. Habit of ours.  Sushi was good. It didn’t have dates on it which was a little concerning but we saw them making new Sushi and it was right after lunch time. It wasn’t busy at all either. Nice little place and decent priced.

After that we walked to the International Spy Museum which is panned across the board on here. My husband really wanted to go and since I usually plan 95% of our vacations we went. We had coupons for $5 off admission so it was $15. This is a high price tag considering everything in DC is free, but I think it was well worth it. You start out by going up an elevator and into a room where you are to memorize your secret identity and your ‘background’ or backstory. It was fun to try to memorize all of that information when in reality it was only like 6 lines. Your name, hometown, age, destination and how long you are staying for. When we walked through the doors after we got our ‘identity’ we were in a huge array of rooms with tons of stuff to see and do. There were computers set up everywhere with little programs for different things. There were probably a dozen stations throughout. Some were deciphering secret languages, others were to use a satellite image to detect planes and other items that could be dangerous. It was really cool and very interactive. Throughout the exhibit there are other things as well like a James Bond Style car that lights up and shows the guns and other things every 5-10 minutes. Also there was a photo booth for a picture which was kind of neat. Then it emailed it to you. There is an area with duct work you are supposed to climb through and keep quit so that you can’t be detected. We stayed very quiet and most of the kids behind us (we aren’t kids…) did as well, but some people were loud. Overall it was fun. There was an area you could spy on other ‘guests’ and you were supposed to try and find out where the bugs were. We thought we would be in and out of the museum in an hour but we were there probably for 2 and a half hours. There was so much to do and see and it was so incredible. There are tons of spy gear to look at and see and it explains the history and the use for each item. The museum was very interactive with different levels of interaction from computers to puzzles and TV’s with movies it was all over the place. I really think almost everyone of any age could enjoy it. Considering how much it was panned on here I was thinking it would be terrible but I was incredibly impressed and really don’t understand why people tend to dislike it so much. We had a great time as a couple in our 20’s it was awesome and well worth the price on entry.

After the Spy Museum we wandered a little bit and decided we wanted to do a twilight bus tour. We happened across a couple of large souvenir shops that sold tours and got pamphlets to add to the stack I was already hoarding. And when we ran into those shops we also came across the Ford Theatre and the House where Lincoln died. It was completely an accident we came across those sites. We went into all of the souvenir shops because I am a sucker for those… And decided to eat dinner at the Hard Rock Café since we had a coupon for a free gift. We went through all of the brochures we had to figure out the best price for a tour and came across a few that were shady but then decided to book it with DC Trails. We got a couple of things at Hard Rock and made it to the $25 to get a free gift. The server we had rang up our desserts wrong. We ordered the mini desserts and he brought us the regular sized and charged us for them. So it ended up going up to almost $50. It was hard enough to get our servers attention to get the check so I didn’t feel like fighting it. We then went to get our ‘free gift’ and it ends up being a crappy little push pin button thing. Even though the picture showed a T-Shirt. Annoyed. Not a fan of places like this EVER. But we were right across the street when we decided to look for dinner and we just wanted to sit down and figure out our plan for the twilight tour and had the coupon. Never doing that again. So when we got out it was time to meet up at the hotel nearby for the twilight tour and we were really excited.

The twilight tour was great! We went through DC Trails and it was $39 a person which was a bit steep but we had been really good with our money and with all the museums and tours being free in DC it makes it a bit more worth it. Our tour guide was Vincent and he did a great job. He was the bus driver and guide and he had a ton of information and he was funny too which made it even better. We drove past a ton of monuments and other places but we made actual stops at The White House, World War II Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and The Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial. That was a lot to fit into 2 ½ hours but it was well worth it. It cut down on the walking time and organization between all of the sites and it gave us a lot of information and insider tips as well. We drove past a ton of other things as well and my favorite phrase was “Open to the public and free!” He was a great tour guide and I couldn’t have said enough about him. We had a variety of different people on the bus from families to other young couples and older people as well. There was a group of older people sitting behind us that were complaining because they thought they would be able to see the sites a lot better and it was too dark for them. Not sure what they were expecting since the tour started at 7 and it was a Twilight/Dark tour?!? They decided to just sit in the bus most of the time and gave up on actually getting out and seeing the sights. People like that make me frustrated for the ones who work in Customer Service. Silly and stupid. The tour was great and I would tell people over and over again it was well worth it. My feet were still killing me but it was nice to rest in-between the stops. After that they dropped us off at our hotel in Crystal City and we retired to bed! Last day was on Monday.

Monday the 15th of October we started with an early morning and decided to stop at Arlington Cemetery on our way to the Capitol. Our tour started at 10am and we were off at around 8am. The subway took forever and there were delays and back ups even though there was nothing scheduled. We ended up getting off at around 8:40ish and found out that the changing of the guard was at 9. We went to the information desk but found out that it was a mile and half walk to the unknown soldier but we could take a tram for $8.50 or something. $850?!?!? That is ridiculously expensive. Gouging you really. That annoyed me. Well since we had to be at the capitol by 10 we decided not to go. We wandered around a bit and then headed back to the subway stop. We got there probably at about 10 minutes after and had to wait another 15 minutes for the train. Our original route said to switch trains but how long we have had to wait all morning we decided not to switch. We got off and had to walk a mile to our Senators office and showed up right at 10am. We ended up getting a tour with an intern. He was a little bit on the bored side. He seemed kind of annoyed that he had to take us around and ended up ditching us at the end before we went into the Congressional Rooms. Most of the other people had their reps with them explaining things and telling them facts and fun little things and ours did a little bit of this but it was mainly just “oh this room has paintings and they sometimes have dinner”. My husband didn’t think he was bad as I thought, but I was listening to other people and they were given way better tours. We were out of the Capitol by about 11am and decided to take pictures and all sorts of stuff. At this point our feet were already killing us so instead of walking all the way back to the subway we jumped in a cab and went to the Department Of Treasury Bureau Of Engraving And Printing. We got dropped off and it was only about $7 for the cab ride which I thought was decent. Well when we showed up we found out they weren’t doing any tours until 12:30. So we decided to eat an early lunch. We got suggestions from the workers there and they said to head over to the building across the street which was the main building for Food and Alcohol and USDA or something like that, they had this great cafeteria with tons of food. They have little made to order booths then they have a huge buffet with tons of food to choose from. It was pretty awesome. The food was delicious and we would have never heard about it had it not been for the Bureau of Engraving employees telling us to go there. It was really close too.

So we walked back to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and got in like probably about 20 minutes before 12:30. They let us in after about another 10 minute wait and we went through security and unfortunately were not able to take pictures but it was neat seeing the process of how our money is made and how it works. There is a lot that goes into the process. Also we got a sneak peak of the new 100 Dollar Bills and they almost look more European then our previous bills. They have a gift shop too which was neat. After we got out of there it was raining and so we decided to take another cab to the National Art Gallery. We weren’t originally planning on going but decided since we had enough time to stop by and see some of the great paintings. Fun thing is they had a special about one of my extremely extended relatives, George Catlin. I wasn’t expecting that! We saw a few of the special things they had like Picasso and Da Vinci and wandered around a little bit then decided to go to the East Building and see the Last Supper. Everyone kept telling us about the Last Supper. We went underground and went through the awesome hallway with the moving walkway art piece and that was awesome. Then we found out that it wasn’t Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, it was The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Dali. Seriously?!? Very disappointing but funny in the long run. Overall I thought the East Building was a little boring. We aren’t very into art and as neat as the National Portrait Gallery is I don’t think we would have been upset if we had missed it. We went to the other side of the Mall and went to a few souvenir shops and then decided to go to the American History Museum. This museum was really impressive. Their display with Old Glory and the flags was very impressive. It is sad to see what bad shape that flag is in though. We went through the presidential exhibit and the exhibit about First ladies (little annoying that it was all about their clothes and not what they do as first ladies) and the history of the United States in War. Very good museum and not overly dry as many tend to be. I think it would have been good for anyone kids and adults.

After the American History Museum we decided to take a break on our feet. We sat outside for about a half hour and just people watched. The museums were closing but we weren’t very hungry yet and our feet were absolutely killing us. After resting we decided to wander around and get dinner. After walking blocks and blocks and seeing numerous restaurants we decided on District of Pi Pizzeria. We got there right when they started getting busy. We ended up waiting 50 minutes to get our appetizer which the manager did apologize for and gave it to us for free. The tables around us had arrived after us and had already received their pizza’s and were almost done eating by the time we got our appetizer. Our Pizza came a few minutes later and was a large instead of the Small that we ordered. At first I thought it was an accident but they billed us for the large. It was just the two of us so we were not able to eat the entire thing and had probably like 3-4 full sized pieces left. I didn’t want to be a pain so we didn’t complain but overall the pizza was good and it was great food. Lucky we weren’t super hungry when we got there but by the time the food did we were! After this we wandered around a little bit and took some more pictures like of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Ford Theatre again before making our way back to our hotel for our last night’s sleep in Washington DC. We left early the next morning.

Overall our trip was great. Washington DC was great. I liked how clean and pretty everything was. There was so much green and grass too which is different from most cities. One very odd thing was the amount of homeless people on the streets and just in every corner, park bench and nook. We especially saw them early in the morning and into the dinner time area. They seemed to find any surface and sleep there no matter what and that was a bit odd. We only ran into a few people begging which isn’t too bad. Overall for it being such a clean city though the amount of homeless people in the tourist areas was a bit shocking. But in general our trip was great! It was pretty affordable for a vacation and we had a great time. And hopefully one day we can come back and have a little bit more free time and visit some of the places that we missed. Thanks for everyone on here for the help with our planning and you helped out a lot!

Washington DC...
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1. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

Quite a long report, for sure. I haven't finished it yet. But I did want to mention that what you call the "Metro card" is the SmarTrip card. No need for more confusion on that issue.

So far it is an excellent writeup. Thank you.

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2. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

Wow, what a great report! It was fun to read about your time in Washington DC! :)

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3. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

I'll never understand why one would travel to a city full of gastronomical marvels only to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe (and then complain about it).

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4. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

Why are homeless people in tourist areas? Because that's where they can get people to give them money!

Nothing too shocking about that.

Bellevue, Nebraska
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5. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

DCer30 - Yes, complaining about Hard Rock Cafe was silly. My comments were more confirmation of why we never go to places like that. Even if we have a trifecta of reasons in the future we will continue to avoid tourist traps.

Matt B - Yes, homeless people tend to be around tourist destinations but I have never seen people sleeping in the street like that in a tourist place. Most places don't allow that. Even in my home city the cops would not allow that.

Thanks for the other positive comments. I tend to ramble and I know these type of reports really helped me. We tended to under plan instead of doing the opposite.

Thanks!

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6. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

Washington DC isn't DIsney World. The tourist destinations are in the city for the most part. And just like San Francisco, New York, the sad reality is that in a big city like DC you will see people sleeping in the streets, especially crowded streets where there are tourists.

Bellevue, Nebraska
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7. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

Apparently commenting on the homelessness was something that offends the general population of this message board. I didn't mean to offend anyone and I have been to several major cities across the world including London, Paris and New York. Of all of the cities I have been to Washington DC was the worst in terms of homeless people sleeping on the street. I didn't mean to offend anyone but my husband and I just noticed that it was very prevelent there and it was something that was a little off putting about the city itself.

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8. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

I think you wrote a great trip report! I am detail oriented so I don't mind reading reports with lots of detail. You certainly managed to fit a lot into your three days! Not sure why some folks seem a bit worked up about your "homeless people" remarks - I think it's good that you are willing to let others know that yes, it is a city and there are some homeless people around, I didn't take from it that you were totally freaked out. And some cities ARE a lot stricter on their homeless population than other cities. That being said, I didn't particularly notice many if any homeless people when I was there last November, but that doesn't mean they weren't there.

And ditto for the Hard Rock comments, I just felt that you were telling what you experienced. Some people do like to eat at familiar chains when they are on vacation, heck, some people even have a goal of eating at every Hard Rock in the world, so it's nice to have a review of it. I agree it's an overpriced chain, but I've eaten at a couple and had fun, and proudly wear my Hard Rock Osaka T-shirt that I got in Japan - and yes, I also ate in local restaurants during that trip! For the record, you mentioned a couple times that you were charged for and served a more expensive item than you ordered but didn't want to complain, I would certainly have brought it to the waiter's attention and had it adjusted on my bill, I think you are too nice!

Glad you had a great trip, I am hoping to get back to D.C. in the next few years so I can see all the things I missed when I was there last year!

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9. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

Considering I am the only way commenting on the homelessness issue, I don't see how this anything to do with the "general population" of this board.

I'm not offended by your comments, I'm just more surprised that you include the homeless in your trip report as something "off-putting" about DC and something we need to clean up rather than as an object of compassion for poor people in a tough situation.

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10. Re: Our Washington DC Trip Report

My experience at the District of Pi was so loud that the waitstaff can't hear your orders very well. As I recall, something we ordered came out different because they misheard, though I don't remember the specifics. It was so noisy I do not plan to go back.

DC is the capital of the USA and is where the President lives and close to the CIA headquarters. That means the city attracts people who have mental problems involving government control of their brains, etc, etc. And those people often end up on the streets. On top of that we have the more usual homeless problem found in many cities. It is a continuing problem that doesn't seem to have a solution.

Sorry, but your story about The Last Supper made me laugh out loud. I have seem them both and the idea of transporting da Vinci's Last Supper is so crazy. They would have to remove a wall of the building on which it is painted and then the building might collapse. I hope you did enjoy seeing Dali's version, which has its own charms.