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A travel column by Denice Putland, CVT This month: Washington DC (home of the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting, October 17-21, 2005)
A travel column by Denice Putland, CVT This month: Washington DC (home of the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting, October 17-21, 2005)
Imagine a city on the eastern coast, 61 square miles with a population of half a million people, with abundant white marble and limestone buildings everywhere you turn, and you will find yourself in Washington, D.C. Even if you have a week to spend in Washington, D.C., you couldn’t possibly see everything it has to offer the Smithsonian museums, the theaters, parks, gardens and more. Let’s start with the Smithsonian museums. The Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History were the most popular with my family. The Air and Space museum has an IMAX theater and a planetarium, with planes and rockets from our past. On the first floor, the museum also features a large food court with a nice variety of food (finding a place to eat on the Mall, as well as walking to all the museums, is the hardest part of touring D.C. You can also take a tram tour of the city, which may be easier for some families). Recently, a second space museum called the Udvar-Hazy Center opened at Dulles Airport and features more current airplanes such as the SR-71 Blackbird, the Concorde, the Enola Gay and the space shuttle Enterprise. The only fee for this museum involves the parking. All Smithsonian museums are free, as are many of the museums in Washington, D.C. Don’t forget the Natural History museum as well, which has dinosaur skeletons, meteorites and the famous Hope Diamond. For some government buildings, you have to stand in line and get a ticket on the day of your visit. Among these are the Washington Monument and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The ticket booths for each are within about two blocks of each other. You can request tickets for the first available time, or a later hour in the afternoon. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is also called the Money Factory. There are guided tours available on weekdays. Get your tickets early, as only so many are issued each day. It’s very interesting seeing the government make sheets of $100 bills. Right next door to the Bureau is the National Holocaust Museum. Go inside to get tickets for this museum. The amount of people going through is staggered, but the museum does have other exhibits open, so you don’t have to just sit and wait. As you can imagine, it is a very educational and extremely emotional experience. To see how much of Europe Hitler occupied and what tactics he used to persecute the Jews, Norwegians, Soviets, gypsies, homosexuals, Seventh Day Adventists, Freemasons, the handicapped and many others, was very difficult. I’m glad we went our family learned a lot. When we left the Holocaust museum, we needed something uplifting, so we went to the U.S. Botanic Garden. It is located right next to the Capitol and is a wonderful place to relax. Many rooms display different environments with their indigenous plants and flowers. The Garden also decorates for the seasons, so if you visit in the spring, it will be different from what is displayed at Christmas. Next door is the U.S. Capitol building. If you want to see inside, you must contact your state senator at least two weeks before your visit. You are required to give the names, social security numbers, dates of birth and address of everyone in your party. Sometimes, on weekdays, if the House or Senate is in session, you can sit in the balcony. Unfortunately, the White House is another story. If you want to take a White House tour, you must write to your congressman at least two months in advance. Also, you have to have a group of 10 or more people, but check the White House website, as requirements may change in the future. Some of our family’s other favorite sites to visit were Ford’s Theatre, where you can actually visit the box where President Lincoln was shot, as well as the house across the street where he later died. The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building also has fascinating tours that are free to the public. One block from the FBI is The International Spy Museum, which opened in July of 2002, and is very popular with the kids. The National Geographic Society is also close by, as is the National Archives, which houses the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Washington, D.C. has a terrific mass transit subway, the Metro. As long as the weather is pleasant during your visit, we suggest catching a shuttle from your hotel to the Metro and walking to the museums and monuments. The routes are well marked, but we did miss our stop on occasion. You can buy a daily Metro pass, which allows you to ride as much as you want in one day, but check the times offered. Sometimes the passes do not include rush hours on weekdays. There is a Metro stop near the National Zoo. The D.C. zoo is one of the largest I have visited on the east coast. Of course, they have pandas, giraffes, hippos, gorillas and Komodo dragons. You could spend half a day just in the zoo, which opens at 6:00 am! Near the zoo is the National Cathedral, which was one of our absolute favorite attractions in D.C. The National Cathedral was built over a span of 80 years, and can be seen from the bridge to downtown D.C. It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world, and the second largest in the U.S. (New York City has the largest). Our docent told us that you could lay the Washington Monument on its side inside the Cathedral. It contains 215 stained glass windows that were crafted by multiple artists, and 110 gargoyles on the outside, attached to rain drainage spouts. The Space Window has an actual moon rock that was brought back by the Apollo XI astronauts. Even though the Cathedral has seen many dignitaries’ funerals, the only president interred in the Cathedral is Woodrow Wilson. There are seven other chapels off the main sanctuary and a similar number below the main level. One particular chapel could only seat two people. Some of the chapels on the lower level are for more informal services and have beautiful mosaic tile murals. Since September 11, 2001, you are not permitted to drive up to any monument. You must park and walk up to monuments such as the Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington, Vietnam Memorial and the WWII Memorial. Concrete barricades remind us that we live in a different world now. It is evident that security is foremost in the minds of people working and living in Washington, D.C. When many moms need a break, we go shopping! Some of the best shopping south of New York City is found in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas. Crystal City has an underground mall, and there is a huge four-story mall at Pentagon City. Tyson’s Corner in Vienna has a Galleria mall, complete with a Ritz-Carlton, and another mall housing Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom’s is right next door. Be sure to drive down Embassy Row and try to identify the foreign flags hanging from the various embassies before heading to Georgetown. Georgetown Park is a beautiful mall with upscale shops and eateries located near Georgetown University. Arlington National Cemetery is nearby, which is the resting place of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Jackie K. Onassis, and also has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can see the Old Guard change every 30 minutes on hot summer days, and every hour at night and throughout the rest of the year. If you are planning a trip to Washington, D.C., a travel book listing all of the museums and operating hours is a must-have. Don’t forget a Metro map also. There are plenty of parks in which to picnic. Watch out for the pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers, especially near the Mall (between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building). But most of all, have fun in our nation’s splendid capital! Questions? Comments? Email Denice at dpcvt@hotmail.com