We began our journey to Washington DC with an early morning visit to the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania. The site is thoughtfully designed and operated by the National Park Service. A reservation is required to enter the visitor center though a limited number of walk-up tickets can be acquired at the Learning Center early in the morning when the doors open. There is no fee. However the Learning Center does sell ‘9/11’ merchandise which we both felt was unnecessary and a little tacky.
The visitor center houses numerous artifacts and displays that recount the events on September 11, 2001. A visit to the site would be incomplete without spending at least an hour at the visitor center, so be sure to make a reservation or get there early.
The black pavement marks the flight path of UA93 before it was deliberately crashed in the field beyond when passengers bravely tried to retake control of the airplane…
After a somber morning at the crash site we headed east and stopped for lunch in the quaint town of Boonsboro, Maryland. It just so happened that they were having their annual craft festival in the local park so we decided to check that out too.
We didn’t have much choice for lunch – Kristi’s Bakery & Cafe being one of the few businesses open on a Sunday – but it was reasonably good. In hindsight we could have saved a few bucks by eating at the festival.
Our AirBnB was located in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC and we were delighted to have an entire studio (with private entrance) all to ourselves for four nights. Our hosts Eleanor & Andrew were very welcoming and they thoughtfully stocked the refrigerator with some goodies.
The public transportation system in Washington DC is adequate enough to allow one to leave the car at home. Conveniently it uses a travel card called SmarTrip that eliminates the need to pay fares in cash. The card can be acquired at any metro station.
Our apartment was located next to two bus stops and within 20 minutes walk of two different metro lines. You can’t go wrong if you have Google Maps on hand to let you know which stop to stand at and which bus or metro to take.
What to Do
Our visit was mostly spent in the National Mall area of DC where all of the popular tourist attractions are located. Prepare to walk a lot and don’t expect to find cute cafes and cheap eats near at hand – the area is dominated by the federal government and mainly caters to the business attire crowd.
National Mall Walking Tour
The National Mall walking tour is a free tour provided by Free Tours By Foot – the company we used in Boston and were very much pleased with. I would highly recommend taking this tour first in order to get your bearings and learn some useful tips about the area from the guide.
It is worthwhile to see the White House by day and by night but also from the front and the rear.
Be sure the check out the small museum located to the left of the final set of stairs. It is also where you’ll find the restrooms…
World War II Memorial
Korean War Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial
Some interesting facts about this memorial:
- No federal funds were provided to construct the memorial. All money was raised privately through donations.
- A 21 year old undergraduate from Yale University named Maya Lin won a national design contest that was open to the American public.
- There are over 58,000 names inscribed on the blank granite walls.
- More than 50% of the dead were under the age of 22.
- Offerings and artifacts left each day are collected at night by National Park Service rangers and sent to storage in Maryland. Flags and perishables (e.g. flowers) remain.
Memorial to the women (mainly nurses) who served in Vietnam…
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Some of the quotations to be found inscribed at his memorial:
“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
Lincoln Assassination Walking Tour
The Lincoln Assassination walking tour is another free tour provided by Free Tours By Foot. Our guide Carolyn did a nice job of telling the assassination story through a series of vignettes as we strolled by many of the relevant buildings including the Ford Theater. Make sure you have your walking Booths on for this tour!
Capitol Hill Walking Tour
The Capitol Hill walking tour was the third and final tour of our visit. The first half of the tour took in various buildings ‘on the hill’ including the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. The second half was a formal docent-led tour of the Capitol building for which one needs a reservation. This was all arranged by our Free Tours By Foot guide. That said anyone can independently make a Capitol Hill tour reservation online at the official website. This tour takes about 45-60 minutes.
On the day we visited a small group of 6 people were undertaking a silent protest outside the Supreme Court which apparently is a regular occurrence on the hill.
Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is worthy of a visit and is sure to leave you feeling cold once you are done. Interestingly there are many parallels with the plight of refugees in the 1930s with those today:
In the late 1930s, a severe worldwide economic depression reinforced through Europe and the United States an existing fear and mistrust of foreigners in general, as well as antisemitism in particular. Above all, people were wary of immigrants who might compete for their jobs, burden their already beleaguered social services, or be tempted as impoverished workers by the promises of labor agitators or domestic Communist movements.
Even government officials in democratic countries were not immune to those sentiments. Most foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, were unwilling to increase their immigrant quotas to admit very large groups of refugees, especially the impoverished and the dispossessed. Indeed, the United States refused to reduce the many obstacles to getting an immigrant visa, with the result that until 1938, the immigration quota for Germany was unfilled. Many German Jews who were in immediate danger were forced to emigrate elsewhere, such as France, the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia, where eventually the wave of German conquest overtook them.
A powerful exhibit with 4000 shoes confiscated from victims of the concentration camps in Poland…
The Smithsonian complex includes 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. With limited time you have to make some tough decisions so we choose to visit the Air & Space Mueseum (awesome) and the Natural History Museum (good). There are so many exhibits in each of these museums that you could easily spend an entire day (or two!) in each.
When you need a break from monuments, memorials and museums, Georgetown is the place to get away from it all. There are lots of cafes and restaurants to choose from in this area.
Georgetown University is not quite Yale but it ain’t too shabby either!
The Antietam Battlefield is located in Sharpsburg, Maryland just 90 minutes west of Washington DC. We visited on the way from Pennsylvania but it’s an easy day trip from DC.
Antietam is the site of the single bloodiest day in US military history having 22,000 casualties in just 12 hours. Neither side could claim outright victory but this Civil War battle did mark the end of General Lee’s first invasion of the North and paved the way for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Where to Eat
The Sweetgreen is a small chain of salad bars serving healthy and tasty ‘fast’ food.
Simply Banh Mi
Amsterdam Falafel Shop
The Amsterdam Falafel Shop is a franchise in the DC area but don’t let that put you off as the quality is very high.
In advance of meeting our friends Arianna and Charlie for drinks in Dupont Circle we had a late lunch / early dinner at the popular Keren Ethiopian restaurant nearby. Having recently had a mediocre Ethiopian meal in Zanzibar we were hoping for better and boy did we get it – really friendly service and very tasty food – the leftovers were enjoyed the following day next to the Washington Monument!
Washington DC offers something totally different from its northern neighbors of New York and Boston. If you have any interest in history or politics then this is a must-see on any United States road trip.
North and South Carolina.