Saturday, June 13, 2009
Washington D.C. Day 1 Afternoon
We had collapsed on the park benches by the hotdog stand. Hot, tired, grumpy, and hungry. The look on the kids' faces told me I had better get my own grumpiness under control in order to help them get through theirs, or the afternoon would deteriorate fast into a resentful, awful time, instead of enjoying more of what D.C. had to offer. The lemonade, hotdog and chips did help, but the sitting helped the most...............until we got up to go again.
But up again we did, and began a somewhat leisurely walk down Constitution Avenue. We had a bit of time to kill before our turn to tour the Washington Monument. We walked to the base of The Ellipse (the big circle in the block south of the White House) and took a few fun pictures.
The kids sank down to the sidewalk taking every opportunity to rest their tired legs and feet when we weren't walking (see the Washington Monument in the background?).
See my shoes? They're my Birkenstocks. I wore them because I didn't think we would be walking that much today, only some walking interspersed throughout with riding a trolly. For whatever reason they were rubbing my heal the wrong way and blisters were developing.
We then walked on over to the Washington Monument, awaiting our turn, enjoying the nice big stone benches. When it was our turn, we went through security and were taken up in the elevator to the viewing floor. It was a nice clear day, so we were able to see for quite a distance in each direction.
View to the North - The Ellipse (at the bottom of which we took the previous pictures), and the White House:
Here is a closer view of the White House and the White House Christmas tree (to the right of the dirt path that bisects the ellipse):
View to the South - The Jefferson Memorial (which we never got to) sitting at the edge of the Tidal Basin with the Potomac River behind to the right and the Washington Channel behind to the left:
View to the West - WWII Memorial (the round circle with water near the bottom of the picture), the reflecting pool, and the Lincoln Memorial at the top of the reflecting pool, the Potomac River behind the Lincoln Memorial:
View to the East- The Capital at the end of The Mall (the big grassy area), various Smithsonian museums lining either side of the Mall:
Once we were all done seeing and taking pictures (we could stay as long as we wanted, which was nice, we didn't feel rushed at all), we waited for our turn to take the elevator back down to the ground. During the descent, the elevator went slower than the ascent. The operator spoke to us about the Washington Monument and at two points during the decent, slowed down the elevator and two "windows" on each side slide open allowing us to see the inside of the Washington Monument. We could see plaques on the wall and were told these are from each of the fifty states. It was really neat and I really wanted to get pictures. But, I hadn't been prepared for such a treat and by the time I got my camera out and snapped a few, they all were of the elevator and not so clear of the plaques on the wall. Oh well. Nathan said this was one of his favorite things to do on our trip.
Once we reached the bottom, we found a free bench and sat down to decide what else we wanted to see that day. We all decided on seeing a museum and picked the Air and Space Museum, so off we began walking (the recurring theme of this vacation) down Jefferson Avenue. Once we reached the Smithsonian Castle (about half-way there), we stopped for a snack, some french fries and water. It really is amazing how that little bit of food can help make the children (and the parents) less grumpy! We finally made it to the Air and Space Museum, but Hannah hadn't finished her water yet. She wouldn't be allowed to take it in, so we waited for her to finish.
As she was drinking, David and I wondered what were all those tents for on The Mall. We had seen them from the Washington Monument (the Smithsonian Castle is on the bottom right of the picture - the castle-looking building ;-) and the Air and Space Museum is the one that looks like four parallel lines just to the top of the circle building):
but now, close up, it looked like something we might be able to walk through. David walked across the street to take a look. He then motioned for us to follow (thank goodness I had been watching for such a motion) and boy oh boy were we in for a treat!
It was tents full of servicemen and displays as it was some sort of appreciation week for them. As we walked through the tents, we saw and talked to many different service men from the various branches of the military. Sam drove a tank (video game style) while Nathan was the gunner, they picked up free posters, bags, calendars, and pens, were able to hold all of the various weapons and talk to the men who use them.
One whole tent was dedicated to the Special Operations guys. Inside were the men who, in some way, helped in these operations, ready and willing to answer any and all of our questions. Only a couple of times were we told, "I'm sorry ma'am I can't tell you that." One fascinating discussion for David and I was with an Air Force parachutist. He was standing there with all his equipment and explained how it worked, some of the training, and other things that go along with his job. We talked with him for about 20 minutes or so. Standing just beside him at the same table were the pilots. Every serviceman we talked to was very respectful, helpful, and willing to talk to us, answer any question, and let the boys hold any and everything (even assuring this Mom that, "he can't hurt it ma'am."), and planting seeds of, "we'll see you in a few years, young man," into the boys ears.
We also were able to walk through a mobil mess hall which feeds 800 soldiers three meals a day in the field. The serviceman inside was one of the operators and told us how everything worked - it was a fascinating set-up. We were also able to walk through a field hospital and talk to a surgeon inside who explained how they treat injured soldiers, from decontamination to surgery, again very fascinating!
Outside of these tents there were tanks, and helicopters and artillery, all of which we were able to climb inside, touch, look at, and ask questions of the men who use these to protect our country. As you can imagine this fascinated the boys (both young and old) and the rest of us. Here is a servicemen explaining to the boys and other interested parties how to fire this artillery. (See how captivated Nathan is!)
Hold the string like this:
Await the call of fire and then pull like this:
Then he let anyone try, telling adults that if they couldn't do it they had to drop and give him 10. Of course Nathan and Sam had to try:
Neither were able to pull it to fire, but they learned a good lesson in how hard it was and sure had fun trying. They also got to sit in a helicopter and Sam wanted me to be the pilot:
They climbed in the backs of tanks, and inside this:
It was simply a wonderful experience and one we we were lucky to have happened to run across and we're so glad we did. We learned so much and looking back I wish I had taken more pictures. But I was so fascinated with talking to the men and learning from them, I forgot to take any pictures. By the time we finished walking through, it was 5:00p.m. and we decided it had been a long, but great first day of sight seeing. We walked back to a Metro Stop, rode back to the end of the line, got into our van, and drove back to the Wolf's where we had a delicious supper, some good chatting, and then a good night's sleep.