Making Memories…Molly, Mary And Mimi Do Washington, D.C.

Sunday, March 23, 2014 - by Diane Siskin

So far, so good!

I am on a non-stop Delta flight from Atlanta, Ga. to our nation’s capital. With me are two of my granddaughters, Molly just turned 12 and Mary, almost 9.

We have planned this spring break trip for months and here it is.

Our choice of an early-morning departure was made with the idea that if the weather had been inclement or the flight delayed because of any number of reasons we could still have a daytime arrival.

We landed at Ronald Reagan National Airport on a day which the sun shone and the temperature rose just after the city had been shut down because of a winter snowstorm for two days.

There is no audience or group of people that Washington, D.C. doesn’t appeal to on some level.

The city offers 197 things to do. Currently there are 1,021 restaurants and approximately 145 places to stay.

Because of the destination’s amazing and varied attractions, hidden gems and experiences, springtime in the district means thousands of visitors come to see the Cherry Blossoms or to participate in school trips.

Therefore any trip must start with a plan that fits your own (and traveling partners) personal needs and wants. Ordinary or mass-market itinerary won’t make for a satisfying sojourn.

Our spring break trip was strictly “child-generated” geared to the girls’ enjoyment and schedule.

Choice of hotels had to meet my needs and those of my granddaughters.

My must-haves, required that the hotels be comfortable, secure and within an attractive neighborhood with easy access to a variety of transportation means.

I wanted to be able to use the Metro (mass transit and DC Circulator buses) if so desired, but also be within a reasonable perimeter to attractions to use taxis if necessary. Therefore they had to be centrally located but not in areas which were noisy or crowded.

I also wanted hotels which would provide indoor entertainment for the girls if the weather once again turned inclement and we couldn’t venue out.

Our first stay for two nights was at The Jefferson, Washington, D.C., a building originally built in 1923 as an upscale apartment house. In 2009 a two-year renovation was completed that turned the Beaux Arts building into a grand hotel, resembling a home. The original barrel-vaulted skylight in the spacious foyer once plastered over was uncovered permitting natural light to accent its intricate 18th-century-style moldings and pilasters.

The hotel itself is small and intimate, with all sorts of unique hideaways such a paneled library, filled with books written only by well-known authors who have been guests of the hotel. This great retreat also offers a fireplace and cozy antique furnishings. In fact, on the night we arrived it was the scene of a small private wedding ceremony, which was followed by a dinner in Plume, the hotel’s five-star restaurant.

Diners in the restaurant can choose from more than 1,000 wines, including vintages from President Jefferson’s own vineyards.

Most fascinating for me were the framed original documents signed by Thomas Jefferson which are displayed in the lobby and the 19th-century McKenney Hall American Indian engravings which grace the walls of the Jefferson Cabinet rooms, two meeting spaces which can only host no more than four for private meetings.

There is a dumbwaiter in the Private Cellar and parquet flooring in Quill which re-create Thomas Jefferson’s own designs for Monticello, his historic home and plantation.

In our guest room the draperies and pillows featured designs of Jefferson and individual, framed quotations by Thomas Jefferson decorate the walls of many of the guest rooms.

The entire décor and ambience of the guest accommodations at this hotel were designed to evoke the years that Mr. Jefferson spent in Paris.

So, what you might wonder was the attraction of this hotel for the girls. A fair question and one that was easily answered on our arrival at the hotel.

The entire staff, from the front door to our bellman genuinely reached out to the girls to make them feel welcome as guests. The concierge rolled out a Radio Flyer red wagon and told the girls to choose any item from the wagon as their welcome gift. Molly chose a cuddly stuffed animal and Mary chose a book about Jefferson.

In the room pretzels dipped in chocolate awaited the girls.

The hotel was elegant yet entirely warm. Modern comfort in a classic, traditional hotel. The hotel was also quick to respond to my request to bring a microwave to the room and empty out the hotel refrigator of for sale items so that we could purchase our own “treats” and adhere to special dietary restrictions. A Nespresso coffee machine is also provided in guest rooms.

The hotel location, security and amenities make it welcoming and responsive to the needs of families. There are Play Station 3, Wii and Xbox 360 to use along with complimentary Wi Fi. The room also had an iPod docking station and even an in-mirror TV in the bathroom.

Our choice for a second hotel was generated by the desire to provide an indoor pool and health club for the girls to enjoy as their nightly entertainment. And while The Jefferson with its 96 rooms was a more intimate in style, The Fairmont in Foggy Bottom on the outskirts of the well-visited Georgetown was another wonderful choice.

With its beautiful light-filled lobby and roofed Courtyard the hotel was both a happening place and another secure hotel with an excellent service staff.

The room featured an armchair and ottoman, bed reading lights also stress comfort. Our room also included an  electronic set-up whereby the girls could upload photographs to be watched on the room’s television screen.

Once again this hotel quickly provided an in-room microwave and refrigerator. There was also a Keurig coffeemaker for our use.

We were able to dine at will for breakfast and late night dining.

Most of our “out-of-the-hotel dining” in Washington, D.C. took the form of “Early-bird dining,” but not the kind that first comes to mind.

We ate a late lunch-early dinner because that was the time of day when the girls wanted to eat.

Sometimes these meals were taken in the cafeterias of the city’s museums. Other times in well-known chain restaurants such as Hard Rock Café, Chipotle Grill or Au Bon Pastry Shop were our destinations.

Five-star eateries were not on our dining choice list. Rather places that offered nachos, Mac-n-cheese, French Fries and salads were the menu that appealed to the girls.

The Fairmont Hotel does offer a wonderful Kids Room Service menu which was a prize choice one night. The food was delicious, served beautifully and surprisingly very affordable.

Believe or not the hotel has its own rooftop honey bee culture. There are more than 105,000 Italian Honey Bees housed on the roof. The Chief Bee Keepers harvest the honey for signature hotel dishes and use the honeycomb to create candles, soap and lip balm. This is part of  the hotel’s sustainability mission.

While you certainly can immerse yourself in any number of the capital’s museums or attractions, I will point out the highlights for our trip.

1.    The Peterson House, now part of the Ford’s Theater National Parks Service site. The spiral staircase in the center of this site features in its center a very interesting display of hundreds of books about Abraham Lincoln, including five books written by  Charles M. Hubbard, PhD,  the paternal grandfather of Molly and Mary Hubbard  (and a Chattanoogan). There was also an exhibit on the second floor which was put together and constructed at Lincoln Memorial University. Mr. Hubbard was a historical consultant on this project because of his association with the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee. The exhibit, which runs through July 6, is entitled Abraham Lincoln and the Technology War. There is a charge to enter these museums and exhibits.

2.    If you have a tween, teen or child in your group that loves curiosity, creativity and independent thinking, don’t miss the Smithsonian’s Q?rius  (pronounced curious) at the Museum of Natural History. This new gallery within the museum was highlight for Molly and one that grabbed her attention for hours. Also at this museum the fabulous Gems collection with the Hope diamond. Another must see along with the dinosaurs. This museum is free. Donations welcomed and  accepted.

3.    The sky is not the limit at  The National Air and Space Museum, outer space is represented with the Apollo II Command Module Columbia, Apollo Lunar Module (exploring the Moon) and a Touchable Moon Rock. This museum is free.

4.    The Smithsonian American Art Museum (and National Portrait Gallery) with its elegant glass canopied Kogod Courtyard has a water feature that literally provides the means for kids to literally walk on water. This year-round public gathering space for performances and special events is also a great place to take a break, grab something to eat from its adjoining Courtyard Café and rest awhile. After you get a second wind don’t miss the third floor with iconic Andy Warhol paintings of 20th-century Americans, such as Marilyn Monroe. The girls loved the Nam June Paik neon installation which depicts a road trip across America via an Electronic Superhighway. (Also on the third floor in Contemporary Art). This museum is free. Donations are suggested.

5.    At The Smithsonian National Museum of American History our “must sees” included the American flag (Star-Spangled Banner) which flew over Fort McHenry and inspired our National Anthem (Francis Scott Key saw these broad stripes and bright stars in the dawn’s early light during the war of 1812). Also the ruby red slippers worn by Dorothy (Judy Garland) in the Wizard of Oz, the First Ladies Gowns (including those of Michelle Obama) and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat (the stovepipe hat worn by the President at Ford’s Theatre during his last hours) and Thomas Jefferson’s desk. We raced all over the building in and out of galleries which ever the girls chose. On the lower level of this museum the girls’ found more “must do’s” and they were six state-of-the-art Motion Simulators which provided ways to partake in America’s love for adventure, speed and thrills! They could choose their adventure and take a virtual trip within these simulators, for $7 a ride.!  They each rode two simulators. After that they dined in a great “Old Fashioned-style school cafeteria,” the highlight of  that meal was “Dipping Dots” ice cream dispensed from a vending machine. This museum is free. Donations of  $1 are suggested for a Museum Guide.

6.    Madame Tussauds Wax Museum was a surprisingly enticing museum for the girls because it permitted them to take “selfies’’ with the wax figures representing all our historic American presidents as well as many American sports figures and celebrities.  There is an admission charge.

7.     The International Spy Museum, (the only one in the United States) is located right across the street from Madame Tussauds was another winner for both the girls and me. I could have spent a whole day there. The girls loved the interactive aspects of the attraction, including the ability to assume the persona of a spy. I loved the true presentation of just how real spies had to operate. There are also original artifacts from spy missions and lots of video and audio explanations of spying throughout history. Put this museum on your to do list. It is worth several visits. The gift shop is large and features extensive items of a spy nature which are enticing to all ages. You can access this shop without going through the museum.  Next door is the Spy City Café. There is an admission charge to the museum and additional cost of some special interactive events and to participate in a separate spy mission. To control crowding, tickets to this museum are assigned an entry time. This museum (along with Madame Tussands and Ford’s Theatre) is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, a revitalized arts and entertainment district.

8.    Newseum. The motto/mantra of this fantastic museum is the history of the  amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This facility does demonstrate these freedoms in a spectacular way. The galleries, inactive displays and the collectibles, front pages of daily newspapers from all over the world are just the beginning. For the girls the current Anchorman The Exhibit, which features an entire gallery (not to mention a separate gift shop) reflecting the Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues movie. Kids are drawn to it like a magnet. It enables them to be an anchorperson and see themselves on TV. Needless to say, I loved the Newseum and will have to make more trips there. You should allot several hours for a visit. There is a charge to visit and there are timed entrances. The  6th floor outdoor deck provides endless views of the city. Another special highlight here is the prominent display of former Chattanoogan Robin Hood’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a military veteran in a wheelchair watching an Army Forces Day parade in Chattanooga. Also several large concrete slabs from the Berlin Wall are on display.   

9.    Pedi cab ride and Big Bus tour. Two options for seeing the city, getting around and obtaining an overall view. Don’t miss doing either. We spent 3 hours one day on the open top of the double Decker Red Bus and didn’t want to get off. The tour guide was wonderful and the ride provided a close look at many of the sights that we couldn’t visit on this trip. Close-up views of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Capitol, other museums on the Mall. The Pedi cab ride from the Mall to Georgetown was special personal highlight for all of us. All of which were worth the cost.

10.     The White House. Another very special highlight of this trip for Molly and Mary, a first for them, was our tour of the White House. Their only disappointment was that the First Family wasn’t in residence, they had headed to Florida for the weekend. Nevertheless, this visit capped a very memorable visit for all of us. A reserved, self-guided tour of the White House is arranged months in advance and requests must be submitted through one’s Member of Congress. Tours are held on Tuesdays through Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays (excluding Federal Holidays or unless otherwise noted). They are free of charge, and of course, may be subject to last minute cancellation,…..especially when the government shuts down because of a snow storm!

The above were just the top 10 highlights for our Washington adventure. Places to visit and things to see are seemingly endless in this beautiful city. This visit to Washington, D.C. sandwiched between two major snow storms which literally shutdown the city for several days turned out to be a perfect “spring break” for us.

For More Info: Destination DC @ Washington.org . You can request a free Official Visitors Map and Official Visitors Guide.

dianesiskin@mediacombb.net

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