Washington D.C. 2018–#6–Supreme Court, Conservatory, Air and Space

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Our first tour of the day was at the Supreme Court.  It was a lovely walk from the Metro to the building, and I was awed at the sheer size of the columns in front of the Supreme Court.

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This is a model of the room where we had a very informative tour, once again reinforcing many things we had studied in preparation of our visit.  The woman in charge did a great job explaining the process involved with the Supreme Court and cases that were heard there, and I was delighted with the whole thing.

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Upon a tip from a reader, we ate in the cafeteria at the Supreme Court.  It was great!  It was much quieter than the cafeteria at the Capitol Building, decorated up in a fashion that we knew which building we were in, and the food was delicious.

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We spent quite a bit of time peering up into the spiral staircase.  There are 2 of them in this building, and they are amazing.  A kindly worker who was passing by informed us that there are only 5 of these in the world, and 2 of them are in this building, and yes, indeed, he climbed up and down every day.  We didn’t see anyone climbing, but the staircases were not open to the public, or I would have gone up!

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Our next stop was the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory.  I could have stayed there for the rest of my life.  It is divided into sections, with plants from every region on earth, and the orchids are SO beautiful.

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The center section is a huge greenhouse, with a catwalk that allowed us to view it from above.

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There were many full-sized trees growing.

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We had an amazing time before we headed down the street some more to the Museum of Air and Space.

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We had checked the website, and read that the museum would be open until 7.  Sadly, it closed early that day for a private event, and we only had about an hour and a half/2 hours there.  Still, we saw what we could and enjoyed it very much.

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Michaela’s favorite was Amelia Earhart’s plane.  She even found a t-shirt with a picture of it, and bought it in the gift shop.  After all of that, we went back to the townhouse.  We had quickly slipped into a pattern of calling an Uber from the Metro station so we would not have to navigate the streets in the dark, and because our legs were tired.  This day was no exception, and we once again ate dinner using the groceries we had ordered in, and the things in the suitcase we had brought, plus a few odds and ends from the fridge.  By this time, though, everyone was beginning to drag (ya think?), and we decided that the next day would be a little less action packed.

 

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Washington D.C. 2018–#5–Bureau of Engraving and Printing and White House

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The evening before, we stopped at Crystal City underground mall for some dinner, and so the girls could experience the mall.  Of course, they would have liked to stay at the mall forever, but we did go back to the townhouse fairly early because the next morning, we needed to be at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing very early for our scheduled tour.

We packed very, very lightly for the day.  We put our passports, cards, and money in our pockets because we had been warned that security was going to be the tightest we had seen when we went to the White House later that day.

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We had a great time looking at the money presses and hearing about how money was printed and distributed.   I do want to point out that the picture is from the visitors center, not from the actual process of money making.  There’s nothing like a speech stating that, “If you even so much as take your phone out of your pocket you will be arrested and your phone will be confiscated!”  They did not want photos taken, and trust me, none were!

After leaving that tour, we walked some distance to the White House.  Although we had driven past it several times, and even walked past it once, it is hard to see since it is tucked back amongst some trees.  We were eager to get inside and look around, and felt blessed to have received tickets, as they are very hard to get.

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The walk was lovely, and the cherry blossoms were such a gorgeous sight.

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Michaela was extremely interested in Abraham Lincoln during this entire trip, and was delighted to find a statue of him at the White House.  Alissa, on the other hand, was starting to feel sick to her stomach.

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Although we had been warned numerous times about the fact that there are no available bathrooms, no drinks, no eating or drinking, etc., etc., etc., she felt badly enough that her mom finally asked an attendant if there was any restroom nearby that they could go to and come back.  Boy, oh boy, those secret service men and women sprang into action.  Before we knew it, my aunt, Ja’Ana and I had been sent on to look at the green room, red room, blue room and dining room, while Alissa, her mom, and Michaela (who plaintively said she wanted to stay with mama), were all whisked away to a hidden bathroom.  After some time, Alissa felt well enough to continue, and they were escorted to where we were hanging around upstairs.  Later on, the secret service woman tracked the girls down, and gave Alissa and Michaela little metal badges and told Alissa she was sorry she had such a hard time during her visit.  I though that was so nice of them.

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IMG_6708In the meanwhile, we saw the upstairs several times, and even got to listen in on a man who was obviously giving a tour to a bunch of schoolchildren, and learned a lot about the dining room.

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You may notice that the rugs are rolled up for all of us tourists.  When they want to use these rooms, they take away the barriers, roll out the rugs, and have their party/event.  It was made clear to us that if an occasion arose, all tours could be cancelled with no notice.  I’m glad it didn’t happen to us.  We loved our self-guided tour.

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Of course, I had to admire their piano.  I wondered if it sounded good, but didn’t play it.  Obviously.  But, it was lovely.

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After our tours, we went back to the townhouse so everyone could rest.  Along with Alissa not feeling well, Ja’Ana had been fighting with a low-grade fever, headache, and stuffy nose all week. (It turned out that she had a sinus infection the whole time!  Poor kid) So, we rested for the remaining part of the afternoon and evening, in preparation for our tours and outings the following morning.

 

 

Weekly Update and Saving Money–April 22, 2018

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This week was all about getting back to normal after our wonderful, but exhausting, trip to Washington D.C.

Traveling is not inexpensive.  But,even  with the high costs of food, travel, Ubers, etc., we did manage to save money in some areas.

We cooked in our rented townhouse a lot, and ate out only when we were out and about sightseeing.  Because eating out is expensive at any time, we saved hundreds of dollars that way.

We had many, many tours and visited Smithsonian museums that were free.  There were a couple of places we went that cost money–Mt. Vernon and Museum of the Bible, but almost everything else we saw had no admission cost.

There was food left in the fridge and cupboards that was left by previous guests of this VRBO townhouse we had rented.  There was a note stating that we were to eat all we wanted.  So we ate a lot of it.

We used public transportation and did not rent a car, saving on car rental and parking.  We used public transportation.

We ordered groceries in from Safeway and used a Promo Code to get free delivery.

Once home, I went shopping and spent $200 in groceries.  I had over $100 left from last month, and used the rest from the new grocery envelope.  I had not been shopping for a week or so before the trip, and I was gone for 11 days.  It was time.

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On Saturday, we went to the beach with our friends Harnet and Danait.  Because both of the older girls were working, we were able to take the smaller car, saving gas.  It was sunny, but quite cold, with a wind that could cut right through any coat.  So, we briefly went down to the beach, where Danait wanted to pick up all the rocks (millions) and throw them in the small stream or ocean.  She finally decided to chase birds:). It was adorable.

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I packed a picnic.  I had purchased portable food such as Go-Gurt, made potato salad, packed lunchmeat and cheese and bread for those who wanted it, and took along some fruits and veggies that my sister brought down on Friday.  We were fortunate enough to find a picnic table that was sheltered from the wind, and had a very fun time.

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We went over to the Mark Hatfield Marine Science Center and enjoyed the exhibits. They have just re-done many of them, and we enjoyed seeing both the old familiar ones, and the new ones. The Center is by donation only, and we did donate, but it was not expensive.

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We stopped off to see the sea lions on the dock at Newport.

After that, we drove to a couple of view points along the coast to admire the waves and the gorgeous blue sky and ocean in the comfort of the car and ended up at Dairy Queen for some ice cream.  No surprise there:)

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At the rest stop on the way back, Danait loved the field of English daisies and dandelions.  She and I ran around the grassy patch, then she picked a flower for every person she could remember the name of–quite a few flowers.  Then, she handed them out to those of us in the car and went back for more.

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It was a good day.  Even our patient driver was tired!  But, we all had a wonderful time.

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How did your week go?

 

 

Washington D.C. 2018–#4–The Capitol Building, Tidal Basin, and Kennedy Center

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My aunt had contacted Representative Kurt Schrader’s office to arrange for a tour of the White House, if we could get one, months ago.  His aide, Adrian, got us several tours.  We were so grateful.

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The Capitol Building was our first one.  We found our way to Kurt Schrader’s office in a different building and were guided through underground tunnels by the aide, until we emerged at the Capitol Building.  Security was quite intense, and we were just beginning to get used to what would be our new norm–emptying all pockets, putting cell phones in little dishes, and going through the security gate.  There, we me another aide/intern(?) and he gave us our own tour around.  The other groups had around 50 people in them, and we had 6.  So, you can imagine, we could hear everything well, and were able to learn a lot on this tour.

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There were beautiful frescos on the walls and ceilings of the rotunda.

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Looking up was breathtaking.

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There were statues everywhere.  We were told about several of them, and allowed to wander about a bit, admiring which ever ones we wanted to see.  Of course, Ja’Ana ran over to Rosa Parks.  You may notice:  Rosa Parks is STILL sitting down!  We got a real kick out of that:)

After our tour, we went upstairs to the House of Representatives, hoping to see them in session.  After another round of security, and having to leave our cell phones and other personal items in a check room, we were disappointed to find out that they were out to lunch and would not be returning for more than an hour.  So, we enjoyed looking around in the required silence, and went downstairs to eat in the cafeteria.

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The flowerbeds were beautiful, and we admired them as we walked toward our next destination.  Our plan was to hop onto the “Hop-on, Hop-off” bus again, as our ticket was still good.  After running back and forth a bit, we did manage to catch up with the bus, and got on.

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We rode past the Jefferson Memorial.  The Red loop was the one that would take us around the Tidal Basin, where many famous memorials were located, so we stayed on that one this time.

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We hopped off at the Lincoln Memorial.  We all wanted to see Abraham Lincoln, but Michaela really, really was in love with everything associated with Lincoln, so we couldn’t miss that one.

I was amazed by how big the memorial is.  I’ve seen it on t.v. and seen pictures, but it does not do justice to the amazing size of the entire structure.

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The view from the top was amazing, and of course, there were a few jokes from the girls about how we needed to run through the water like Forest Gump:). Thankfully, they restrained.

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Then, we walked over to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  For me, this one was more sobering because I was alive during this conflict.  I was very young, so it did not touch me very closely, but my aunt knew school friends who had gone.  So, it was a meaningful experience for all of us.

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I saw that some schools had left memorial wreaths at the Wall.  I thought that was touching.

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After a conversation with a very helpful gentlemen, who assured us that the Foggy Bottom Metro station was just a block or so this way, and 2 or 2-1/2 blocks that way, we set off walking.  It became a joke for the rest of the trip.  Those were the longest blocks I’ve ever seen.   We walked and walked and walked!   The route did take us past the State Department, and up a hill to the station.  We grabbed some lunch, then took the shuttle to the Kennedy Center, where we watched a play.

After the play, we took the shuttle back to the station and rode back to the townhouse, where we sank into bed and let our tired legs get a good rest.  The entire time, Michaela was still laughing because she thought the Metro station had such a funny name.  It was good to see her in such a good humor.  This may have been the day we got 17,000 steps.

 

Washington D. C. 2018–#3–African American Museum

IMG_6614 Gail and I crept downstairs well before 6:30 in the morning to try to get tickets to the African American museum,  Alissa had decided to sleep on that couch after a non-successful night of non-sleep on the basement couch, and we all started punching the “get tickets” buttons on our phones.  Much to our amazement, Alissa scored and got through.  She got 4 tickets for 3:30, and so when I got in, I got the 2 more required.  Gail never got through.  So, we were so glad there had been 3 of us trying. Although it was late in the day, we were delighted to have received any tickets at all!

We decided to take the yellow loop on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus during the morning, as we had those tickets to use as well.

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We started this loop near the Washington Monument, and it took us to another part of town, including past the Kennedy Center.

Then, we went to the African American Museum.  I didn’t take any picture inside.  It was so well done, we were enthralled.  We rode a massive elevator to the bottom floor, and then followed the exhibits and ramps up, all the way to the 3rd floor, symbolizing the rise of the black people from slavery to where they are now.  It starts with slavery, then moves on to the Civil Rights movement, and beyond.

In the 2 hours we had before it closed, we were able to really take in those 3 floors.  There were a couple more floors above the main level that Ja’Ana and Alissa may have skimmed through, but the rest of us ended up on a large bench with our feet up, ready to return to the townhouse.

Because 2 of my girls are black, I have been extremely mindful to study African American history with them over the years.  I want them to know their heritage.  So, this museum was such a visual reminder of many things we had studied and much that we had not.  Neither Ja’Ana nor I were disappointed at all.  It was worth the trouble of getting the tickets for us.

 

 

Washington D. C. 2018–#2–Getting Our Bearings

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After sitting in the sunny, but brisk, air for a couple of hours, the correct blue line bus finally arrived.  We talked to another driver, of a special “pink” line that had been created for the festival and it took him 2-1/2 hours to drive around the Tidal Basin 1 time.  It’s not very far, folks.  The traffic and crowds were just that busy.  We were starting to worry that we would not get to our next destination (Arlington Cemetery) in time,  so were quite relieved when the bus driver called to ascertain that, yes indeed, a blue one was on the way.  He did point out that we would have no bus back, though.  It was too late.  We were fine with that, and figured we would take the Metro, which we easily did.

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Upon pulling up to Arlington Cemetery, and entering the visitor’s center, My sister recommended that we buy a ticket for the tram, taking us to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, showing me where it was located on a map.  I blithely quipped, “We can if you want to, I can walk that little distance easily.”   After all, my backpack was no longer loaded with cheese, or any other heavy items, and we had walked from the Metro with all that!  Little did I know.  I am so glad her wisdom prevailed and we got the tram ride.  It was quite far, and very much uphill.

Because it was so late in the day, the tram only stopped at the tomb of John F. Kennedy, and only for 15 minutes.  We hopped off and trotted over to take a look.  After studying his death, and the history surrounding it so thoroughly last year, it was very special and amazing to pay our respects to him.

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The view from his tomb was breathtaking.

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We could see the Washington Monument in the distance, along with the rest.  We soon became accustomed to orienting ourselves with the Washington Monument since it was so tall, and easily visible.

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We hopped back onto the tram and were shuttled up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just in time for the 6:30 Changing of the Guards.  They closed at 7, so we felt fortunate to have made it in time.

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With the shadows lengthening, and dusk approaching, we watched in sober silence as the guard who was on duty was replaced with another one, all in silence punctuated with sharp clicks from their shoes, snaps and clicks from their guns, and a few choice words.  The crowd was silent and respectful, and everyone was asked to stand for the ceremony.

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I’m not sure exactly how long we stood there.  Just minutes, but so filled with meaning for me.  It was such a reminder of those brave servicemen and women who came before me, who fought and died to make America what it is for me today–a safe place where I can rear my children in freedom, a place where I can live and breathe and worship how I want to. I felt an enormous sense of gratitude to both them, and the ones that are still serving our country today.

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By this time, the wind was biting right through our coats, and the sun was beginning to dip low behind the grassy knolls covered with the uniform white gravestones.  We were only too glad to hop back on to the tram and ride to the base of the cemetery, and briskly walked a “D.C. block” to the Metro.  (D.C. blocks are very long, much longer than our blocks here.  It became a joke to us how long they were!). We were learning how to navigate the system, and that both the blue and silver lines went back “home” and what names to read so that we didn’t get on the train going the wrong way!  We went back to the condo with no trouble, and found our groceries on the doorstep, ate dinner, and went to bed.

We had already gotten up at 6 a.m. that morning, D.C. time, (3 a.m. our time which our bodies thought we were still on) to try to get tickets for the Smithsonian African American Museum, and were not successful.  The next morning, we were going to try again, and every morning, until we hopefully got tickets.  This museum is so popular that it has been over-run with guests, and although the tickets are free, they were out months ago for our trip.  The only ways to get some were to a)show up at a certain time/place/day and hope there were a few being handed out, or b)get on-line at 6:30 a.m., and repeatedly push “buy tickets” until you either got through and got some, or you didn’t.  It was the one thing that Ja’Ana had asked that we visit, and we were going to make that happen if we could.  Each person could only have 4 tickets, and we needed 6, so at least 2 of us needed to be up early to try, each morning until we were successful.

 

Washington D.C. 2018– #1–The Beginning

 

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I returned last night from a wonderful trip to Washington D.C.  I want to begin to chronicle the journey in words, to go with all the amazing pictures I took, so I don’t forget.  I will be breaking the trip up into several segments, because we did so much and saw so many things that it would never all fit into one post.

After successfully making it to the airport, and sailing through security, we sat down to wait for our plane.  The 2-lb brick of Tillamook cheese Gail asked me to carry in my backpack did cause the TSA guys some consternation, as did the large pack of ham lunch meat she was carrying.  But, they x-rayed them, and confided that they had never seen anyone bring an entire 2-lb brick before:) Of course we were there the recommended 2 hours early, and thankfully, it didn’t take very long to get settled into the departure gate.  We each had a backpack to carry onto the plane, and each checked one moderately sized suitcase, and one extra bag, full of gluten-free and Michaela-preferred food.

I went off to take a little walk, and when I returned, I was surprised to see my sister, Gail, and the girls talking to someone.  It was Congressman Ron Wyden.  He was going to Washington, too, and was very gracious to answer questions, visit and pose for pictures.

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He rode on the same plane as we did, in the same regular class section, and I was pleased to see how friendly he was, answering multiple questions and visiting with several passengers as they travelled to and fro on the 4+ hour flight.

When we arrived, our first task was to figure out the Metro.  We did not rent a car, and used public transportation and Ubers the entire time.  My sister and aunt had done research, so we knew which train to take to the townhouse my sister rented, we just needed to find it, and of course, drag our suitcases with us.  After fumbling with the Metrocard machines, buying a pass for 1 week for low-peak hours, plus putting a little extra on for if we rode at peak times, we rode the escalator down, and were off on the yellow line, then changed to the blue line in mid-trip.  Later, we would realize that although the yellow line was a short cut, we could have ridden on the blue one the entire way, saving ourselves a bit of suitcase dragging-through the crowd…..

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Upon arriving in Maryland, where our townhouse was located, we dutifully followed the map on the phone–down into a gully, to the right, then up steep hills, through a neighborhood of cute brick houses, to the left down a busy road, past a large brick church and daycare, over a small bridge, across the street, up another hill, and finally…the 3-story townhouse.  We had screaming calf muscles, but felt triumphant in our victory.  To make this journey even more challenging, it was bitterly cold, and the leaden skies even dropped a few fluttering snowflakes on our heads as we toiled along, towing those suitcases and my heavy, cheese-filled backpack seemed to get heavier with each step.  Later, we would figure out that there was a much more direct, shorter, easier way, but……we made it:)

We ordered in some food for dinner, and also ordered some groceries from Safeway.  My niece, Alissa wanted to do it, so I told her about the promotion on my app for delivery of groceries–your first order was free delivery, plus $25 off when you ordered a certain amount.  I think it was $75 or $100.  So, she did ordered it with the help of her mom, and the next day food and drinks were delivered.  When combined with the food in the suitcase, we were able to make out nicely for most dinners and breakfasts.  The other kind of strange, kind of wonderful thing was the fact that there was a note that any food in the cupboards and fridge was for us to use, if desired.  The house had been rented out right before we came to someone else, and the fridge contained lunchmeat, butter, cheese slices, milk, and much more, all still good.  So, we ate a bunch of it.

The next day, we got settled for a bit, and made a plan to head out to get familiar with the city and try to find out about the Hop-on, Hop-off busses.  So, we headed to Union Station, where we were to buy the tickets.

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Of course, the girls thought it was hilarious that they had an area called the Kiss and Ride area at the metro station and had to goof around.

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Union Station was breathtaking, and we looked around the extensive shopping mall a bit.  Michaela was so happy to see trains.  It’s a hub where various kinds of transportation comes together, so she posed by the Amtrak trains, brimming with happiness.

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The other girls were more interested in the stores, but we soon found the ticket booth for the desired busses and some food to eat.  It would become a never-ending quest to find food and transportation, one that we conquered with not a little effort, but conquer it we did!

Because it was afternoon, we were given tickets and allowed to ride that day, and the other 2 days we had purchased tickets for.  So, we got right on!  We wanted to ride the Red line for a while, and change over to the Blue line.  We climbed up to the upper deck of the big red bus, plugged in our earphones and started admiring sights I had only seen on t.v., books and movies before.  In a way, if felt very familiar, in others, very foreign.

We rode past the Capitol, some of the Smithsonians, and were dropped off at the Washington Monument to wait for the Blue line bus.  And wait we did!  And wait, and wait, and wait.  The cherry blossom festival was in full-force, and there were people everywhere.  Traffic was so snarled that the busses could not get through.  Thankfully, we had snacks and water in our bags, and the sun peeked out for a while.  We quickly claimed a bench once we realized the bus was not coming any time soon, and sat down to wait.  We enjoyed watching the teeming masses of people.  Some were trying to ride bikes through the crowds, steering and wobbling through the people.  Still others were trying to catch a bus, and spent their time running back and forth from our waiting area to the one on the other side of the street and down a little, hoping they would find one they could get on.  The food carts were doing a brisk business, so people went past with dripping ice cream cones, and other street food in hand.  There were people from every tribe and nation represented in that crowd–speaking countless languages along with English.  Some were so young they were carried, or pushed in a stroller. Some were so old they were pushed in a wheelchair.  Some were on Segways, but most were walking.

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What a fitting place to sit on my first day in Washington–under the Washington Monument, surrounded by cherry blossoms, and most important, surrounded by a huge crowd of people that make America what it is–the land of the free, and the home of the brave.  As Michaela said…”Mom, this is a very patriotic place,  isn’t it?”  And, her mother’s reply?  “Yes, Michaela.  If Washington D. C. doesn’t make a person feel patriotic, I don’t suppose any place will.”  I couldn’t agree more!