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A “Revolutionary” Journey (Williamsburg & Washington D.C.)

Author: Host Ciao
Date of Trip: December 2008

While I must admit my first plan had nothing to do with the Revolutionary War or most of the big changes or new ideas I came up with or found, I think that this title might just fit. My first thought was simply to go to New York City in December to see the famous tree when it was lit. I had seen it just standing there several years ago, but wanted to see it as it should be seen. Then I began to realize that with future travel plans I have been thinking of and considering my age, I might not get back to the eastern part of the country and be able to wander around as I like to.

So new plan — why not also go to Williamsburg, a place I had never visited; Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Boston, places I had not visited in over 35 years, as well as New York? From this I proceeded to another revolutionary idea — I will take the train! My travel agent suggested flying out to the East as more sensible and then “training” between cities before flying home. So that is what I did. His advice was sensible about the order of the cities too.

I flew into Baltimore’s airport and took a shuttle bus to the Amtrak station. And here I began to wonder about my travel plans. The train, which had been due in an hour, was already almost an hour late. However, it finally arrived and despite having to creep along at 20 miles an hour on one section of track, we finally made it to Williamsburg about 9:30.

I had decided to stay on site because of advantages I will mention later, and I had chosen the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel and Suites. This seemed the most reasonable of the on-site lodging options at $129 a night plus the ever present tax. This also included a very nice continental breakfast. The room had two double beds, a lounge chair, a table with two chairs, a refrigerator, a TV, and a nice bathroom. And I had a great dinner of corn curls and water!

Staying on site offered a couple of financial advantages. My two-day pass was less expensive at $29 and four extra evening programs I chose to take cost only $6 each instead of $12. I ordered all of these by phone after reading on line about the offerings for the days I would be there. This website offers lots and lots of information. By clicking on Calendar in the upper right corner, you can come to a page of activities for the week and also type in the dates you will be there to see what will be going on. You can also order a very helpful vacation planner.

The following website also offers information about the area including Jamestown and Yorktown. I was not able to visit these because I did not have a car, but I have been told by friends that they are worth seeing. I did contact a tour company I found mentioned; however, its regular tours had closed for the season. A clerk in the shop of the Visitors’ Center told me that Colonial Williamsburg offered buses to these places. I had not heard of this until it was too late to go.

After breakfast on my first day I headed to the Visitors Center. First I checked out the book store and the other shop — lots of nice items in both. I picked up my tickets there and watched a short film called “Story of a Patriot,” starring Jack Lord. I highly recommend it — a story of a man in Williamsburg who has to decide whether or not to support the Revolution.

From there I took the shuttle bus and with a small group took an orientation tour with a costumed interpreter named Crystle. I saw her sitting and chatting with other “Colonial” women later in the day on the main street. Since the tour ended on the Palace Green I first toured the Governor’s Palace. This consists of a very interesting guided tour through the rebuilt palace furnished with some original furniture and some reconstructed to match the period of Lord Dunmore, the last Royal Governor. I also wandered in the extensive garden which was beautiful in November and would be spectacular in spring and fall. A maze and a canal add to the scenery.

In the kitchen building an interpreter was making soup as a demonstration. He also explained the mock food items on the table, mostly very recognizable. Besides the soup he had put together a salad of real greens, the last of the season he said.

From here I walked to the Wythe House, the home of George Wythe under whom Thomas Jefferson studied law. This is one of the original buildings and again it is furnished in the period style of when the Wythes lived there. I also walked through the gardens and saw the privy building and the slave quarters.

I wandered down to the Bruton Parish Church, which is still an active Episcopal parish with youth groups and other organizations. A brief noon service was about to start so I attended with about six other people rather then head some place else and perhaps not make it back there. After the 10 minute service I could stay and take pictures.

Next I went to the courthouse, where the guide explained it to us and mentioned that on the next day there would be some brief enactments of actual trials. This is also an original building. After eating lunch of crab cake sandwich and beer at the Chumley Tavern I toured the weapons magazine. The upper level was full of guns and the lower level was the powder storage area. This is where the Royal Marines at Lord Dunmore’s order took all the powder the night before the people of Williamsburg heard about the battle of Lexington and Concord.

All the interpreters in the buildings and also the staff at the tavern are dressed in 18th Century clothes. They are performing tasks as they were done then. The people are also very knowledgeable about what they are doing and about life in that time of our history.

I spent the afternoon “doing” Revolutionary City. While many of the buildings and other areas are free, this is presented in a roped off area of the main street-Duke of Gloucester Street and you need your entrance pass to attend. It is a series of scenes presented at different areas. First we had a demonstration of dancing from the 18th Century on a stage in front of the Raleigh Tavern. We could sit and watch on benches next to that or across the street. We also were entertained with music on a flute and songs including audience participation of “Yankee Doodle.”

While still at this place we heard about five minutes of Thomas Paine’s “These are the times that try men’s souls…” and the whole of Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or give me Death” speech. The next scene was in the Coffeehouse Backyard, furnished with another stage and benches. Here we heard “This Freedom Ain’t for Me,” a conversation between slaves Lydia Broadnax from the Wythe House and Eve from the Randolph House. They had heard of the Declaration of Independence and wondered what the words “all men are created equal” could possibly mean to them.

From there we wandered to the front of the Capital, where we welcomed Mrs. Washington on her visit to Williamsburg. She arrived in a handsome coach accompanied by a military outrider. She received honors in her husbands name for his service to “The Glorious Cause” of liberty. We then heard a wounded man grumbling about not receiving his pension. She also hears him and, much to his embarrassment, calls him up. She talks with him and promises that her husband will see that he receives his discharge so he can collect his pension.

Next we went back to the Coffeehouse Backyard for “Thy Rod and Thy Staff.” Here a former slave and pastor of a black Baptist church exults that his church has been recognized by a state or national Baptist organization. (Sorry I didn’t write down the name.) Here he is confronted by a woman who appears to be a religious figure who accuses him of selling out to the white man. Eventually she gives him a blessing, tapping him on each shoulder with her staff and giving him a string of beads before she leaves. He is still certain that he is doing the right thing. I was so engrossed by the argument between the two people I forgot to take any pictures of the two of them together. (Believe me that’s really engrossed for me!)

The day’s program ends with a Founding Father talking about the future of the American Republic. Back at the Raleigh Tavern we heard George Washington’s Farewell speech after his two terms as President. I headed back to the hotel briefly and then to the Visitors Center. I wandered in the book store looking for what I would like to buy. Then I took the bus back to the Historical Center for my evening programs.

The first was about Revolutionary Viewpoints. It was a discussion in the Capital about whether or not the colony of Virginia should declare independence. (And here we couldn’t take pictures — darn it. However, I did understand this rule.) We received some background information and listened to three people explain their positions. One was a woman whose millinery business was failing because of no goods from England. Another was a man who loved Williamsburg but felt he had to follow the crown. He was going back to England even though his brother was fighting for the colonies. The Chairman of the House of Burgesses was the third. He was for declaring Independence.

Everybody was given a card with a description of a real person who would have attended such a meeting along with a speech. I was John Tabb, the delegate from Amelia County. We could be recognized and give our speeches if we wanted to. Mine was a fairly wishy-washy man. He was worried because his father-in-law in England said the only way to defeat Great Britain was to ally with France, our enemy in the recent war. Might that not mean a French king and would that be better or worse than a British King? “Gentlemen, think about what you are asking us to do.” I gave my little speech early to get the fence sitter out of the way.

After listening to some more speeches (some did not participate), I decided to “change my mind.” I spoke again saying that just because other colonies were afraid there was no reason why Virginia shouldn’t be the first to proclaim Independence. There had been some mutterings about those wild men dumping tea in Boston Harbor. Finally a vote was taken and we (the Virginia House of Burgesses) voted to declare Independence.

I had a short break before my next program and looked for a place to get something to eat. The only nearby restaurant required reservations, and I didn’t have time to go farther down the street so I headed back to the Capital. I was early for my next program, “Cry Witch” so I ended up being seated next to the Royal Governor on the main court of justices.

A widow woman was accused by a man and his wife of causing her to lose her baby boy after the widow had told the man he would regret his actions. The widow was also said to have been seen dancing around a fire in man’s clothes and also she floated instead of sinking in the water trial. A midwife testified that she and 11 other midwifes had inspected the widow and the black marks on the widow’s body did not bleed when pinched. The midwife also threw a wonderful fit of hysterics. The Prosecutor kept pointing at the widow and calling her guilty, very loudly too.

The Governor tried all the questioning he could do and finally insisted on one more test. Though the Prosecutor said this test was only for a church court, the Governor said it must be done. The widow had to recite the Lord’s Prayer. She said that she could, but had problems and finally collapsed without finishing. She was helped out and we had to vote. While none of the witnesses seemed at all believable in 2008, we had agreed to be citizens and justices in the early 1700’s. It was difficult, but I, along with most of the people there, voted for conviction, which was a death sentence. No one voted not guilty.

This widow was a real person, but there is not record to tell if she was executed. The records were moved to Richmond when Jefferson moved the capital there and were burned in a major fire. A will in her name from a later date was found in Williamsburg so no one really knows what happened to her after the trial.

Both of these programs were marvelous and the actor/interpreters were too. The second was described as not for children and some of the language and actions could be scary for them I believe.

A special bus was near the Capital to take us back to the Visitors Center, which was very close to my hotel. But it was after 10, when Huzzah, the next door restaurant closed so my wonderful supper this night consisted of corn curls and a cookie I had bought somewhere.

I started my second day by doing some Christmas shopping at the two stores in the Visitors Center and shipping purchases home. Seemed really cheap compared to all the boxes I have sent home from Italy over the years.

I decided to walk over to the Historical Center, and I am very glad I did. I discovered New Hope, a farm plantation that is being set up. While it is not finished, it is still very interesting, and interpreters are there to explain what they are doing and what will eventually be done. For example the main house is only staked out. This will be a working farm, not one of the big plantations we may have read about in history books.

First I visited the cook house where a black interpreter discussed not only the cooking but also how those who survived slavery had to be strong, and after questions from several people told us that she also visits schools to let children know that this strength was necessary. Other buildings that are done include the smoke house, barn, slave house, and two gardens.

In one area of the farm a crew was working on building the coffee house that when finished will be taken apart and moved to the main street in the center. This will be above where two Revolutionary City scenes were held the day before. The men were using 1700 tools such as hand drills. One was trimming a long wooden beam by using an ax to take off thin slices.

I also talked to the candle maker. He said that at the present time they buy the beeswax, but they melt it and dip the candles in the old fashioned was. I highly recommend a visit to this farm. I spent well over an hour there.

At the courthouse three civil cases were tried in the presentation. All five or six parts were played by audience members given information about the characters. The judge was the same interpreter who had taken the part of the Randolph who was going back to England in last night’s Revolutionary Viewpoints. All three cases were bound over until the next month for decision or further evidence.

After watching the shoe maker working with the 18th Century tools, I found out about a tour at Wetherburn’s Tavern, another original building. The guides here are not costumed interpreters. I believe they might be members of the Williamsburg Foundation. Colonial Taverns sold food as well as drink and offered lodgings. According to the guide this tavern was a cut above the others and offered special rooms and more than one level of accommodation and dining.

Up at the Capital two guides explained the Court side (where we had convicted the witch the night before) and the House of Burgesses side, where the Royal Governor dismissed the House when they were talking Revolution. Again there was much interesting information given. I ate lunch at Shield’s Tavern, a warren of small rooms, but very interesting. Food was very good. I had a country ham sandwich with cheese served with a bit of red pepper relish; also roasted potatoes. I drank Shield’s ginger ale, which was very good too.

The weather Tuesday November 18 was very cold for Williamsburg so the Revolutionary City activities were somewhat curtailed and all moved inside. Two scenes were held in the capital, both in the Court. The one I can remember featured a trial of a man heard talking against the Revolution, and one or the other of them ended with the defendant being taken out to be tarred and feathered. One of the main witnesses, a very nervous bar tender, was played by the same interpreter who had lead the House of Burgesses in the Revolutionary Viewpoint night program.

Another scene between three slaves was held inside Raleigh Tavern. They had heard about the Royal Governor, who was sailing a bit out to sea on a British ship. He was offering freedom for slaves who would volunteer to fight for the British Army against the Revolutionary Army. However, none of these fit requirements.

It is really too bad that it got so cold. While the scenes were well done, the whole experience was not as fun or as interesting as on Monday. I wandered some on Duke of Gloucester Street and visited the Apothecary Shop which offered medicines, surgery, dentistry, and midwifery. The proprietress showed several instruments including a nasty looking one for pulling teeth.

I took one of the circulating shuttle buses to the museum area. Two museums are situated near the modern shopping area, The Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. These are down stairs from the rebuilt Public Hospital. The hospital features displays relating to care for the mentally ill. This was the first public institution in the British colonies devoted to the care of the mentally ill. The displays covered the years from the hospital’s opening in 1773 to when it burned down in 1885 and showed the decline in care and treatment.

Instead of going through the museums and because the afternoon was winding down, I took the bus to Merchants Square, a shopping area with 18th Century architecture, but more than 40 mostly modern shops. I am not a shopper so I looked in some windows and only went into one store—a Christmas Shop.

Did a bit of packing at the hotel and then took the bus back to the Capital stop for my night program, Crime and Punishment. This program is also listed as one not for children, and I think it would be very scary for them. It was scary enough for those of us who took it. We met in front of one of the buildings near the capital. There was a fire burning in an iron basket to light our way there. The guide explained that no questions could be asked during any of the scenes, but she would answer later.

The first scene is usually outside but had been moved into the House side of the Capital. This was a soliloquy by Jack, an undersheriff. He spent the whole time sharpening his knife and waving it around while he described the whippings he did and also nailing the ears of certain criminals to the hand/head stocks. He made it clear he enjoyed his work.

Next we went to the warden’s room of the jail. The speaker wasn’t the warden, but worked for him. And we had another sadist here. He described how he kept the old rope for hangings just right and how he tied the knot. Then he told us about branding and showed us the iron. It had been in the fire and he jammed it down on a piece of leather, and we all jumped at the sizzle and smoke. He then passed around so we could see the brand. I seem to remember it was a “T” for thief.

Then we went to the jail courtyard. The interpreter here played the part of a woman who had left England as an indentured servant. She worked for a couple, and the man took her as a mistress, promising much. She kept getting more and more upset because nothing happened so she took an axe and hacked the wife to death. She was tried and convicted of murder. All through the scene she kept acting out what she had done, including sea sickness on the way over, the hacking, then riding in the cart to be hanged. Finally she acted out the hanging and not being able to breathe and collapsed. Believe me we all left that scene very quietly.

I had signed up for another night program, In Defense of Our Liberty. I knew this was to include marching and other military actions like rifle drills though I had been assured there would be no crawling around on the ground. I thought it would be fun. But because it was so cold and I knew this meant another hour plus out in the cold, I skipped it—coward that I am! However, I did not regret this decision since it meant I had a very good dinner, not like the last two nights. Back at the Visitors Center I walked up to Huzzah and really enjoyed the meal. I had delicious corn soup and delicious macaroni and cheese. And I enjoyed two glasses of wine.

From Williamsburg I planned to travel to Washington DC by way of Quantico, VA, where I wanted to stop to visit the Marine Corps Museum, which my brother highly recommended. The stop was possible by train, but this caused a slight problem. There was no way to send my luggage from Williamsburg straight through to Washington, and there were no checking facilities in Quantico. I decided to ship my luggage to my Washington hotel and survive for three nights with my tote bag. Hey! Nylon dries over night and so do my “Super T’s.”

This actually was a pretty good idea. I travel with two small carry on size bags (the 15 by 15 or so size), and I check both. Shipping cost me only about $10 more than checking my two small bags would have cost at the time because my airline was then charging for the first bag too.

This train trip taught me two more good qualities of Amtrak. Luckily I had found out from my travel agent before I left home that because of track work I had to leave Williamsburg at 6:30 am instead of 9:15 or so. The taxi took a while to get to the hotel because of a shift change, but I arrived with extra time. When I checked in with the agent, he told me he was glad to see me because since I had arrived, there was only one other passenger they were worried about. So they do keep track.

This train was a local so there were quite a few stops, and I managed to forget what stop came before Quantico. The train crew had changed so when the new conductor came through the car, I asked him. He proceeded to tell me he was glad to see me because he knew he had one person getting off at Quantico, but he didn’t know who. It turned out the first conductor had put the ticket check above my seat so that it looked like my destination was Washington.

When I arrived in Quantico, the station had a few tables and chairs, restrooms, and a coffee/snack bar, not even a pay phone. So the clerk at the coffee shop very willingly called a taxi. The ride to the museum took about 15 minutes (took the taxi that long to get to the station too). I had not realized the station was on the Marine base, but heading to the museum we went through the gates to the base.

The museum building is striking. When you look at it imagine the flag raising at Iwo Jima. The triangular part of the building is the group of marines and the part of the building that shoots off into the air is the flag. The only quibble I have with the whole experience is that there is no coat room and not only did I have my winter coat, but also the tote bag, which was a tad heavy.

Retired Marines serve as docents in the museum. The one who met me explained the main gallery to me where there is a scene of a helicopter on the ground with Marines disembarking in Korea and also a scene featuring a landing at Tarawa in WW II. He told me the very realistic Marine figures were made by the same company that makes human figures for Walt Disney parks. Four airplanes are suspended overhead.

Separate galleries feature scenes from every war the Marines fought in and are fighting in from the Revolution to the Global War on Terror. The latter will grow bigger and these two are the smallest right now. World War II, Korea and Vietnam are the biggest galleries featuring different scenes including wounding and death. Some scenes offer virtual reality experiences. You can “ride” in a landing craft and see the water and other craft moving in front of you and the land approaching. In a scene taking place in winter, the room it is in is quite cold.

The “Making Marines” gallery is also interesting, showing the process followed by recruits from the hometown recruiting station to graduation. It explains why Marines always remember their Drill Instructor. A final gallery is called “Combat Art.” By going upstairs to one of the two restaurants you find other information as well as different angle views of the main gallery. One restaurant is a cafeteria, and the other smaller one is a sit-down restaurant. The food in the cafeteria was fine, and I was glad to sit there and set my bag down.

I also visited the gift shop and bought a book (of course) about the museum and a Christmas ornament to go with the one I bought in Williamsburg. The Marines at the front desk called a taxi for me (another 15 minute wait), but that was OK. I had the time. We had to stop at the gate into the base for the driver to have his papers checked. Back at the station I had a latte and waited for my train—and to find out which track it would come in on. One was next to the station and one meant skirting the street barricade and crossing a set of tracks. I “won” the walk on the street across the tracks.

I would certainly recommend a stop at the National Museum of the Marine Corps (its full title). While some of the scenes seem sad, the museum gives you an excellent picture of an honored and historical service and will give you a definite sense of pride in the Corps and the country.

My train arrived at Union Station in Washington, a huge building featuring great architecture and lots of shops and restaurants—more about this later. I walked through its rather cavernous main hall and found a taxi out front. I had decided to stay at the Harrington Hotel, known as a tourist hotel. It was the most affordable hotel that was in the area where I wanted to stay—within walking distance to the Mall and its many sites/sights, the White House and near a Metro stop.

I could have had a room there for about $98 a night, but since I was staying a week, I decided to “splurge” on a room with a window for $119 a night. And I am glad I did because out my window what should I spy but a big Barnes & Noble, one of my favorite places to spend some time. And I did spend an hour or two there most evenings because it was more fun place to sit than my hotel room.

It was a fine room with a double bed, a desk, TV, bathroom and a small refrigerator. It was definitely on par with the two star rooms I have stayed at in Florence and Rome, probably bigger than most. So I am not complaining about the room at all. Though if you go there, bring your own hair dryer and toiletries. The hotel only supplies soap.

Probably the reason I spent so much time at B&N is that all the museums close at 5 or 5:30 and I was usually too tired to venture out too far. It took me over a week to really get in gear to go out and walk much in the evening. I generally ate at Harriet’s in the hotel or one night when I was late at Harry’s, a bar and grill also in the hotel—excellent hamburgers in both places and nothing fancy, but plentiful and usually good food. The hotel provides a list of nearby restaurants, but the Mexican franchise one I tried was so blah, I didn’t travel far afield.

I will explain right now how I travel in most places. I couldn’t find much to read about Williamsburg ahead of time, but did read much on my other stops–as I usually do. For this trip I used mostly Insight Guides for each city. I decided what I wanted to do and then checked out these places on the Internet, copying lots of info. Then because my local B&N is more interesting than my dining room table, I headed there for a couple of hours two nights a week and came up with a daily plan of places and, as much as possible, how to get to them. My days looked very full, but with very few exceptions I accomplished everything. I made as many reservations for tours, etc. ahead of time as I could.

Another general note I will make about Washington is that the Metro is very easy to get around on (except on January 20 this year). I certainly recommend it. In fact I bought my week long pass ahead of time on the website. I never did take the regular bus that I can remember and I am not sure the pass I bought would have worked. You can figure out your journeys on the planner on the home page, but most of the places I went had directions on their own websites as well as info on times that were more accurate and up-to-date than guide books.

The first night in Washington I walked down to the Washington Monument and took some pictures of it and other lit areas. On Thursday I first went to the White House Visitors Center. Lots of exhibits are featured as well as an interesting movie. The people working there are very friendly and very willing to answer questions. I walked from there over to see the back of the White House through the fence. I had asked, and I could walk where traffic could not go. I did not tour the White House. If you want to do that I believe you have to go through your Congressional Representative’s office and do it plenty ahead of time. And then I headed down past the Red Cross Building and the Organization of American States, where I went in and was allowed to step into the atrium I had read about.

I had made 10:30 reservations for the National Archives though I’m not sure that would have been necessary in November. There were school groups there, but no one checked my reservation. There are several areas to visit. First I watched the film on how the Declaration of Independence has been preserved as much as possible. Even though there are excellent facsimiles, people want to see the real thing. I visited the Public Vaults where there are lots of interesting exhibits and then went to the rotunda, where the historic documents are kept. Of course, I visited the shop and found a book and a Christmas ornament with the Declaration on it. Also I had acquired a nice ornament of the White House.

The Navy Memorial was on the way back to the hotel and it is different and like a big piazza with a ship’s mast with flags and a ways from that a statue of a lone sailor with his duffel bag. I dumped books and ornaments back at hotel and went out to a sandwich shop for lunch. Walked to Peterson House where Lincoln died. Three rooms are furnished as they were when he was brought there after being shot in Ford Theatre across the street. It was not possible to visit the theatre since it was being refurbished. This was disappointing

I went to the combination Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. There is so much there to see that it can be overwhelming. Also it was not easy to find some of the areas I wanted to see. I did enjoy the Herblock cartoon exhibit. It was fun to see them over the years.

I decided to walk to Lafayette Park and see some of the statues my map told me were there as well as the front of the White House. It turned out to be a bit dark to see and take pictures of most of the statues, but the White House was lighted and the fountain in front of it was running. Also the reviewing stand for the Inaugural parade was going up there.

Good old Gray Line! I had made an on-line reservation for the Monuments at Night Tour. The man in the hotel ticket/souvenir office told me there was hotel pick up so I called, and a big bus picked me up. After short stops at other hotels, it turned out I was the only one on that route. The tour was excellent as was the driver/guide. He was full of information about the city and the monuments. He stopped at the ellipse for us to walk over to see the back of the White House.

Then we went to the Jefferson Memorial and had time to walk up to visit it. Jefferson towers over all at, I believe, 19 feet in height. Our next stop was the Roosevelt Memorial. This is made up of four “rooms.” It even shows the President in his wheel chair as well as elsewhere in his characteristic cape accompanied by his dog Fala. There are several water features and bas reliefs including a Depression bread line and people listening to the radio. Because of all the work she did for the United Nations after the President’s death there is also a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, the only presidential wife shown in a monument. This is a monument I would like to visit during the day, but it is one of the ones farthest from the Mall’s main attractions.

We had more time at the Lincoln Memorial, but if we wanted to see the Korean and Vietnam monuments we had to do it then too so it was a bit rushed. The Lincoln Memorial was wonderful, and I went to the other two, but decided to go back in the day time when I think it would be better to appreciate them. A really great thing that the National Park Service does at most of the monuments is have kiosks whether staffed or not where you can pick up informative brochures explaining the monuments. These are very helpful.

After this we headed over the river to the Iwo Jima monument near Arlington. We could go take pictures of this and then boarded whichever bus was to take us back to our respective hotels. It was late, and I was hungry so I went to Harry’s and had a “baby” burger and a salad. The burger was a half pound and the salad overflowed the plate. I couldn’t eat it all. This was a late night—about midnight when I got to bed.

In all the years I have traveled in the United States and in Europe, I cannot remember a Gray Line tour that disappointed me. I do highly recommend them. Click on Destinations to see if they cover the place you are going. You can read descriptions of all their tours.

I had planned an early day for Friday. I headed by Metro to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a huge Catholic church on the campus of Catholic University. It is quite far from the center of town and doesn’t appear on many maps of the city. I attended 7:30 Mass and ate breakfast in the cafeteria there. This is a huge complex with many different areas. I spent well over an hour and a half touring and taking pictures and visiting the shop. I knew I had to drop off purchases at the hotel and needed to rest a bit so I did that and then set off for the zoo.

I did not intend to visit all of it, and that’s good because it was a 10 or 15 minute uphill walk from the Metro. My main purpose was to see the panda’s—like most every other visitor’s purpose I imagine. I swear they are the most lazy animals! I have never seen anything but balls of black and white fur in several different zoos I have visited. However, I actually was able to see one walk when I was in the Panda building and looking at one of the many TV screens they have trained on them all the time.

I visited the elephant house too where the hippos also hang out. A pygmy hippo was wondering around, but the big one was just staring malevolently with only the top of his head and eyes and nose out of the water. A researcher was by this area and had the skeleton head of a hippo—the grandfather of the one in the water. He showed us the tiny brain cavity in the huge head and said a hippo is a very dangerous animal. The live one looked it.

The way out of the zoo was all up hill so I was glad for the down hill walk to the Metro. I saw a sign pointing to the National Cathedral, which I had planned to visit next, a short metro jump from the zoo. But this turned out to be one time I had to give up! I decided I was churched out for one day. I headed back to the hotel and ate lunch. I took a half hour nap and a shower and felt much better.julia child’s kitchen

The newly refurbished Museum of American History reopened and held its grand opening on Friday and was staying open until 7 pm so I walked down there. What a great museum! Not all the exhibits were open yet, but even so I could have spent more time there. I started out with Julia Child’s kitchen, set up here behind glass just as it had been in her home. There were also videos of her. In one she was explaining some of her stranger kitchen gadgets. In another she was with a younger, thinner Emeril eating a crab boil with him. Delightful to watch.dumbo

Some of the other areas I had time to visit had lots of information on Jewish immigrants, slaves, the Presidency, where they already had Obama’s picture with the other 43. Another large area is titled “Protect and Serve.” This is about the armed forces and deserves more time than I could give it that night. I also went to the Entertainment section, which I think is not all done. Dumbo (glass I think) was there as well as Dorothy’s ruby slippers and some display cases of athletics, comedy and musicals. After 7 pm closing I went to Barnes & Noble, worked on my journal and drank hot chocolate. I bought a pretzel and chips and took those back to my hotel and ate them for supper along with a small bottle of wine I had bought at a liquor store I passed. Sounds strange but it all tasted good.

Saturday’s plan was to take an early Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. I arrived shortly after it opened. Because my knee had been bothering me, I decided to take the Tourmobile to begin. We stopped first at the Kennedy grave site, but we only had eight minutes there because we had to make the Changing of the Guard, which in late fall and winter only happens hourly. A large group of Navy men and women was also present so there was not really enough time to read the quotations carved into the wall around the tomb.Arlington National Cemetery

We arrived at the Tomb of the Unknowns with plenty of time. The guide had told us about the guards. They follow a 21 second schedule. The guard on duty takes 21 steps, turns very sharply, slapping his feet together; counts 21 seconds; turns again and takes another 21 steps. The guide had also said that they dress for the weather because an hour in the cold can be really tough. I expect they have lots of layers, and their head gear reminded me of World War 1 pilots’ hats with the ear flaps.Arlington National Cemetery

The ceremony of the changing is very formal. A sergeant comes out and requests quiet from the audience. Then he meets the new guard and they go through the ritual of changing, always with the count of 21. The sergeant then marches off with the old guard. It was a very impressive and solemn time.

Near the Tomb of the Unknowns, I also visited the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle monuments, the Iran Rescue Mission monument and the grave of Audie Murphy, the most decorated service man of World War II.

Another Tourmobile picked us up there and we went to the Custis-Lee Mansion where Robert E. Lee lived at one time. A lot of rehab work was going on there and the view of Washington from the front yard is great. After arriving back at the visitors center, I walked up to the Kennedy graves and was able to spend the time to read the quotations and take some more pictures. Robert Kennedy’s grave is marked with the only white wooden cross in the cemetery. This was his request because he did not want to detract from his brother’s grave. I guess I am displaying my age when I say I can’t believe how much these two graves can still affect me after so many years. I happened to be there on the 45th anniversary of JFK’s assassination and flowers were being brought and left on the grave.

I also visited the large Memorial to Women in War. You can see this as you come in the gate. Inside are many interesting displays tracing the history of women serving their country in the armed forces. One of the most interesting is the story of the WASP’s. These women flew transports and other planes in WWII. At the end of the war returning male pilots were afraid they wouldn’t get their commercial jobs back so because of their lobbying the WASP’s were disbanded immediately with no benefits and no credit for service. They even had to pay their own way home. It took 33 years before they were given veterans’ status.September 11th Memorial

I took the Metro to the Pentagon and walked from the station to the 9/11 memorial, a long windy walk. The memorial is impressive though simple. Each victim has a bench which reaches out over a little rectangular pond of water. The names on the benches are hard to read; they are just engraved in the metal on the end. The benches and water are surrounded by an area covered with small white pebbles. A man was raking them—I would think a constant job. Also it was obvious that pebbles do get kicked into the water.

Back at the hotel I dropped off my packages and took the Metro to the Ferregut stop. I was heading to the National Geographic building and then to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Seeing the church first confused me until later study of the map showed me I had exited the Metro up to a different street than I had planned. Luckily it wasn’t one that lead me too far astray.

I thought maybe this would be a day of no lunch since I walked for 15 or 20 minutes before finding a sandwich shop open near my first stop. I think I was expecting more at the National Geographic building. The main building had only one open exhibit. It was an excellently done and interesting exhibit about whales and included different types of media and also some interactive exhibits. The other building contained an interesting exhibit of photographs taken by three of their top-notch photographers.

I headed to St. Matthew’s and took lots of pictures before the evening Mass started. Many beautiful mosaics decorate the church and there are some interesting frescoes about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua.

This is the church where JFK’s funeral was held.

After the Metro ride back to the hotel I went to Barnes & Noble to read the day’s paper and write in my journal. I believe there were several people in the café who were homeless. One was a woman with many bags and packages and another was a man who at times would mumble and sort of hum. The manager asked him to be quiet and he was. I’m sure they were allowed to stay there because it was so cold, and I was glad to see that. It is sad to see the number of homeless I saw on my trip.

I will save the rest of my adventures until another time when my typing finger have more energy, and I will take you from Washington on to Thanksgiving in Philadelphia.

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