I spend a considerable amount of time in Washington D.C. as a tour leader. Regardless of where I travel, Washington D.C. holds its place firmly as one of my favorite cities in the world. It is remarkably beautiful. On any given day, one can walk in the footsteps of great leaders of our country and be a part of living history. You would be hard-pressed to find another place in the world where you can learn and experience so much in such a short period of time. Although this list can be heavily debated, the following make my list for my 5 favorite places in Washington D.C.:
- Library of Congress: The Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, is absolutely stunning and hands-down my favorite building in Washington D.C. See Thomas Jefferson’s library, the Gutenberg bible, artifacts from the early America’s and much more. Numerous touch-screen kiosks are dispersed throughout the library to further engage visitors. View the reading room or take an art tour. The Capitol can also be accessed via an underground tunnel.
- The Capitol Building: Go on a free tour of the Capitol and marvel at the artwork of Constantino Brumidi. The Capitol rotunda will not disappoint.
- Arlington National Cemetery: Our nation’s most sacred and hallowed grounds, Arlington National Cemetery is incredibly peaceful and picturesque. Soldiers are buried here from every war in our nation’s history, from the Revolutionary war through the war in Afghanistan, as well as President Kennedy and President Taft. It is a beautiful place to walk and to feel gratitude for the men and women who have served our country.
- Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns: Although occurring at Arlington National Cemetery, the Changing of the Guard deserves independent recognition as a Washington D.C. must-see. This solemn ceremony never fails to issue chills. It is a huge honor to be a member of the honor guard, and the men and women of the 3rd infantry conduct themselves with admirable reverence and respect for their duty. During spring and summer, the guard changes every half hour and during fall through winter, every hour. It is certainly worth the wait to see.
- Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum: Personally, I prefer the Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles International Airport, over the Air and Space museum on the National Mall. The Udvar-Hazy Center is an actual hanger, with cement floors and high ceilings. The set-up is more open, and the crowds are minimal. Despite the historical aircraft, it feels as if a pilot could walk right in and take a plane for a spin. The SR-71 and Discovery space shuttle are located on ground level, where visitors can walk around all sides and view the air/space craft up close.
- Smithsonian American History Museum: What is not to love about the American History Museum? View artifacts from your favorite pop culture icons and presidents. See the star spangled banner. Tour Julia Child’s kitchen and see the Greensboro sit-in counter. Watch live performances from museum personnel.
What makes your list for a Washington D.C. must-see? Do you agree or disagree with the items on this list? Comment below!
Who Lived There: Mount Vernon is where George Washington lived as well as his wife Martha, his step-children John and Martha, and his grandchildren George Washington and Eleanor.
Where is Mount Vernon? Mount Vernon is located on the banks of the Potomac, 16 miles south of Washington, D.C. and 8 miles south of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, at the southern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
What You Can Do There:
- Tour the Mansion: See George Washington’s chair, bedroom, kitchen, etc. The rooms are restored to their 1799 appearance, the year that George Washington died. The outside of the mansion appears to be sandstone, but it is actually pine! The wood was beveled, painted, and then sand was added to give the appearance of sandstone.
- See the tomb of George and Martha Washington.
- See the demonstration by the working blacksmith.
- Visit the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center which included over 500 original artifacts and video presentations. You must see the 4D-film on the Battle of Yorktown, Trent, and Boston. You feel the vibrations of cannons in your seat and snow falls during the movie!
- Watch the inspiring film, We Fight to Be Free, in the Ford Orientation Center
- Visit the heritage animals, including hogs, chicken, sheep, lambs, oxen, and more.
- Talk with a Martha Washington, a character performer who is happy to discuss life at Mount Vernon.
- Visit the dozen original structures on the plantation.
- Walk through the vegetable and flower gardens.
- Dine at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant
- Hang out on the back porch of the mansion and gaze out at the Potomac
- Shop at the shops at Mount Vernon
- Walk to the demonstration farm and go inside the 16-sided barn.
When You Should Go: Plan to spend several hours there, 2-3 hours passes very quickly! Mount Vernon is open 365 days of the year. April through August, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. March, September, and October, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. November through February, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m The least crowded time of day is in the afternoon, as school groups tend to go when Mount Vernon opens until right before lunch. Mondays are the least crowded days of the week. Peak season is during holidays and March 15-May 31.
Why You Need to Go: Personally, I think visiting the home of our first president is an incredible opportunity. The fact that it even exists should be enough of a reason to go. However, visits to Mount Vernon are very enjoyable. Life at the plantation is active, the grounds are beautiful, and there is plenty to see and do. It is a great place to spend an afternoon outdoors and you inevitably walk away knowing something you didn’t know before you arrived. The education center will teach you in an hour what you likely learned in a year of school using engaging, hands-on exhibits. Go see Mount Vernon! You won’t regret it.
Have you been to Mount Vernon? What did you think? Comment below!
In no particular order, here are some of the amazing things I have seen or witnessed this month during my travels:
- Witnessed a full honors wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns
- Stood beneath the space shuttle Discovery
- Toured the Capitol
- Saw a performance of Shear Madness at Kennedy Center
- Saw a giant squid
- Looked through Thomas Jefferson’s library
- Went on a ghost tour of Alexandria
- Stood where Abraham Lincoln spoke the Gettysburg Address
- Walked through George Washington’s home
- Saw a duck ramp, and watched a duck almost go down it.
- Cheered for the red and yellow knight at Medieval Times
- Saw Roberto Clemente’s jersey and batting helmet
- Saw a $100,000 bill
- Saw Franco Harris’ helmet
- Walked around the SR-71
- Saw Pieces of the Berlin Wall
- Cruised on the Potomac
- Saw the hat and shoes of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz
- Met a Holocaust survivor and heard his story
- Saw the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz
- Saw dinosaur fossils
- Saw the Hope Diamond
- Watched students reading excerpts from the Martin Luther King’s“I have a dream” speech on the same spot where he stood
- Saw Archie Bunker’s chair
- Watched my husband balance the following, jenga-style, in or attached to our truck (at the same time): a sailboat, 2 kayaks, 4 bicycles, 15 bike tires, 5 fishing poles, 2 oars, 2 kayak paddles, and varying yard tools. He proceeded to drive for 8 hours with all in tow.
- Saw a 16-sided barn
It has been a very busy and exciting month in Washington D.C.! I feel so blessed to have experienced what I did and I look forward to the exciting adventures of the summer!
What have you experienced this month? What are you looking forward to experiencing this summer?
Let’s get the litany of excuses for the lack of blogging out of the way:
- I’ve been leading tours of Washington D.C. for the majority of May.
- Blogging hasn’t been prioritized.
- I’m moving to a different state in less than a week.
- I’m packing for 6 weeks of international travel.
There, fine. I said it and it’s all out in the open. My plan to write ahead of time failed! I have been fully immersed in tour leading this month and have loved it! It has been such a wonderful, welcomed challenge. Tour leading has developed and used so many skill sets including:
- People Skills: Adults, students, teachers compose the groups. Each person begins the trip with varying expectations and apprehensions. Relating to the different types of people, gaining their trust, and making sure their expectations are exceeded (not just met) are the responsibilities of a tour leader.
- U.S. History Knowledge: When traveling through Washington D.C., all U.S. history is fair game for questioning. All people, events, and buildings with even a minor tie-in to the past or present workings of our country is on the table.
- Navigation: To be effective, a tour leader must know the efficient routes around the city, where buses can and cannot park, what building entrances groups can use, and alternatives to all of the above in case of a road closing. A few weeks ago, President Obama decided to return to the White House during rush hour at almost the exact time the bus was to pick our group up on 15th street, which had just closed.
- Public Speaking: Tour leaders are relating facts, stories, and directions for days on end. If you have a fear of public speaking, you overcome that very quickly.
- Handling Logistics: There is so much to see in D.C. Figuring out how to fit it all in, while keeping the group interested and happy is certainly a developed skill. Coordinating meals, hotels, buses, night security, etc. also plays a major part.
- Entertainer/Story-Telling Ability: Tour leaders must not just relate facts, but must also entertain and be a great story-teller.
- Fitness: D.C. is best seen on foot, no questions about it. Miles are covered daily
Scholastica Travel tour leaders aren’t city guides who step on the bus, show you around, and then say goodbye at the end of the day. We are with our groups from the time they leave their school until when they return, including at hotels, for all meals, and for all bus travel. These multi-day tour elements certainly add new challenges along the way, but allow you to get to know the people and customize the experience to their interests.
This month I’ve traveled with students who have never left their home state, who have never stayed in a hotel, who have never been to a major city. I’ve also worked with students who likely wouldn’t have an opportunity outside of this trip to experience the nation’s capital. I am so grateful to the teachers who are making these experiences possible for their students and am honored to play a role in the process, to teach and to hopefully inspire.
I am very thankful that I live in area that experiences four distinct seasons, as seasonal change is always a time of reflection for me. As March draws to a close and spring kicks into full gear, I am reminded to do a quarter year check-in. Am I growing? What lessons have I learned over the last three months? Am I on track with the goals I laid out in January? How can I improve this quarter? Spring is a great reminder to let go of what happened in winter, to look forward, and to grow!
Last week I had the immense privilege of being in Washington D.C. for the peak bloom of the cherry blossom trees. This year holds special significance as it is the centennial celebration of the gift of the cherry blossoms from Japan. Beyond the layer of whimsy that the blossoms added to the city, the scent was unbelievable! It was a wonderful feeling to close my eyes, take a deep breath of the blooms, and feel the cool breeze of spring. Happy Spring!
More Cherry Blossom Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157629695158235/
What have you been doing to celebrate Spring? What do you look forward to about this season? Comment below!
This past weekend I had the immense privilege of traveling to Washington D.C. with Scholastica Travel Inc. The trip was a blast! I feel so blessed to have seen authentic historical artifacts, to have walked where influential leaders have before me, and to have witnessed the memorials dedicated to great leaders of our country. Washington D.C. still holds its place as one of my favorite cities in the world.
Two posts were published on the Scholastica Travel blog detailing where we went and what we saw. I shot many of the photos (Nikon D300) on their FlickR page, which offers a play-by-play picture view of the trip along with informative details of each location. Please check it out!
Although I have traveled to Washington D.C. on numerous occasions, there were several things I did this trip that enriched the experience. These include:
Revel in ‘Real’: This trip I made a conscious effort to revel in the authenticity of what I was viewing. I can comprehend when something is a replica, but the concept of the real thing can often be difficult to grasp. It’s hard to imagine that in one weekend I saw personal belongings of Holocaust victims, the inaugural dress worn by Jackie Kennedy, and the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln. I stood where John Adams sat in the Old Hall of the House and where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke “I have a dream”.
Read Ahead: It is always on my to-do list before a trip. Read about the culture, the location, the history. Unfortunately, it soon becomes read the week before, on the plane, or while I’m there. This trip, however, I made it a point to read ahead of time. Each monument, statue, and building took on greater significance as I thought about the symbolism behind the design and the great men and women who inspired it.
Go on Foot: The best way to see Washington D.C. is by walking, no exceptions. This trip we walked from 8AM to almost 10PM. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It is a truly beautiful city and the monuments, museums, and parks are located very close to each other. The city just isn’t the same through a car or bus window.
Go with a Professional: I traveled through Washington D.C. this weekend with numerous professional tour leaders. Not only was their company and guidance very welcome, but I learned a great amount just from hearing their stories! Each knew intriguing and hilarious historical tales that you can’t find in brochures. For example, did you know that there is a house on Embassy Row with cat sculptures built into the architecture? That takes a cat obsession to a whole new level!
- Washington D.C. FAM Trip 2012 (scholasticablog.com)
- Washington D.C. FAM Trip 2012 Preview (scholasticablog.com)
Have you been to Washington D.C.? What has enriched your experience? What are your favorite things to do or see in Washington D.C.? Comment below!