The White House (Apparently, some visitors think the Capitol Building is the White House–this is what it looks like.)

After a wonderfully relaxing free day (and time for my back to recover…), we got up early (7/15/12) and headed into Washington. We decided to go on Sunday, figuring there would be less traffic to deal with, and we were right
. . . until we got INTO Washington. I can honestly say you couldn’t pay me enough to deal with the traffic, construction, and parking hassles that go with that kind of city. We drove around looking for a parking space for easily a half an hour. Finally, we found a parking meter (free parking on Sunday) by the Daughters of the American Revolution building and set out.

We started out by heading to the White House. We had attempted to schedule a tour, but, though I scheduled a month ahead of time, there were none available. So, for those who are unfamiliar with travel to Washington, you have to book tours through your local Congressman–they recommend a month ahead of time–in our case, that wasn’t enough, even with the two-week window we gave them for possible tour dates.

Smithsonian Castle–We didn’t visit, but it’s a cool piece of architecture!

After the White House, we headed to the Smithsonian. This amazing group of museums (19 in all) could easily take all day. As we were standing in line to get in, one of my students remembered he’s wearing his knife. It’s a pocket knife that belonged to his grandfather which he wears all the time, so it had completely slipped his mind that he had it on. “Well, we’ll see.” I said. Before we even got to the check point good, the man asked him for it. We asked if he could leave it there and pick it up on the way out. No dice. “You have two options,” the man told us, “You can take it back to your vehicle and come back, or you can leave.” Sigh. The car was a good mile and a half away easily. “I’ll take it to the car.” He decided. “Grab lunch,” I said with a smile (our lunch bag was in the car.) Lest you think me cold and unfeeling, I DID offer to go with him…

So a good hour later, he returned with our lunch and Gatorade, sans knife–did I mention it was over 100 degrees outside? We sat in the cafĂ© and ate our lunch before beginning the tour of the American History Museum. This amazing museum houses the original “Star Spangled Banner,” which was one of my favorite exhibits. (No photography allowed, alas.) It’s a surreal experience to sit in the same room as an artifact that witnessed such crucial history. Other favorite areas of mine included the areas devoted to the presidents, with special exhibits devoted to those who had been assassinated. I also loved the areas devoted to the wars America has experienced. I know we didn’t see half of what was available just in this one museum, but we decided to move on.

Some of Washington’s supplies

We next went to the National Air and Space Museum. One of my students wants to be a pilot, so this museum is a favorite of his. In addition to a huge collection of planes (as seen in the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, it also has a flight simulator where you can practice either your flying skills or your bombing skills, depending on which seat you occupy. It is an remarkable experience. I opted not to go this time, since the last time I was there, my co-pilot (student), was quite inexperienced, and I spent most of the time hanging upside down from my seatbelt and laughing, which resulted in bursting a great deal of capillaries in my face….Memorable, but not something I wanted to repeat. Ironically, the student who loves this museum was on that trip as well, but his plane had no such “hang-ups.” Alas…The moral of the story is, if you opt to do the flight simulator, make sure you have a good pilot.

We had planned on going to the Holocaust Museum as well (MY favorite of the museums–not part of the Smithsonian, but nearby), but it was almost 6, and unlike the Smithsonian, which had extended summer hours (to 7:30 instead of 5), the Holocaust Museum still closed at 5. We were coming back Wednesday for our Capitol tour, so we decided to call it a day and begin the longer trek back to the car, since we were now on the farthest side of the Smithsonian instead of the closest. Thankfully, the “Scattered Thunderstorms” held off just long enough for us to get to the car before letting loose. Definitely a memorable day!