A "Revolutionary" Journey (Williamsburg & Washington D.C.)Author: Host Ciao (More Trip Reviews by Host Ciao)
Date of Trip: December 2008
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. http://www.hotel-harrington.com/
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. http://www.wmata.com/index.cfm 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. http://www.grayline.com/Grayline/index.aspx Click on Destinations to see if they cover the place you are going. You can read descriptions of all their tours.
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