We headed not far to Shenandoah National Park and checked into a nice place only 1/2 hour from Shenandoah. We wanted a place close to the park but also not far in order for Brandon to take me to the nearest train station so that I could head to New York City for a health coaching conference. This campground was really beautiful and felt very similar to South Dakota. It had a pool they were opening up that week due to the unseasonably warm weather and a nice restaurant on site and a huge rec room where Brandon could work.
Brandon and the boys dropped me off at the train station the next morning and because the train was 2 hours late, I started my adventure of the Amtrak and being at the mercy of its unpredictable times. It was a good 5 hour ride and I got to get some good reading done! My friend Shelly and I rented an apartment in the East Village through Airbnb and I cannot say enough about how wonderful it was. I felt like a real New Yorker and by the end of the weekend I could make my way around on the subway by myself!
While I was gone, the boys had quite a wonderful time doing another overnight camp out with a strenuous hike which you can read all about when my husband catches up on HIS blog!
When I came back from my long weekend refreshed and ready to conquer the health coaching world, we knew we wanted to do a family hike on the Appalachian trail. This has been a bucket list item for Brandon and me for years. Hiking on the trail makes you feel like you are a part of an inner “club” of cool people that have all hiked before. As usual we dealt with much whining and complaining from the youngest of our group, but once he was out there, he was all in and we had a wonderful time. We even met a father and son team (the son being 10 years old) that have been hiking the trail since February and they were very inspiring for the kids to meet.
Next came another big highlight of our trip and culminating the end as well – Washington D.C.!! The other highlight about this week was that my Aunt Laurie and cousin Jacob and Noah who is the same age as Alec would be joining us! The boys were so excited and could hardly wait for them to arrive. We met them for dinner right when they got there and spent time planning our trip.
A couple tips I learned for visiting DC – you must go through your congressman or woman’s office to book a white house tour (its the only way to get a tour unless you know someone like secret service, etc.) and booking a capital tour through them is very beneficial as well. I did this, and we found out we DID receive a white house tour. We were super excited about that because they tell me that about only 8% of white house tour requests are actually granted, so if you can get one you are in the minority.
By going through our congressman Justin Amash, we were treated like VIPs. We arrived for our capital tour and were able to stash our bags and purses, were asked if we needed anything and given a wonderful tour through the hallways that the congressmen walk (and sometimes run) back and forth to vote on issues at hand. We were in a small group tour while watching all the very large group tours going on. It was wonderful and I would highly recommend it. I didn’t get a ton of pictures of the capital outside because it is still under major construction with no end in sight I am told.
When traveling back and forth to DC if you are staying outside the city, I also highly recommend getting a SMARTrip Card rather than a one time use paper card for the subway. First of all you save $1 each way when you use this and it is much easier to track and add money to it. Most train stations have a SMARTrip card “vending” machine – you just need to look around for it – but it is worth it.
We also really enjoyed the Supreme Court. You can actually hear live sessions of the justices debating cases if you are there during the right time of year. They were done for the season, but we were able to go inside the actual courtroom and hear a lecture on how it all works. We ate lunch in the cafeteria and enjoyed going to the administration office to get our own copy of one of the latest cases and its final decision. The spiral staircases there were gorgeous!
Another tip – plan more time for the Smithsonians. We didn’t even make a dent. One incredible highlight, however was an old friend from high school who treated us to a private tour of her office in the Museum of Natural History and gave the boys a wonderful lecture on meteorites. They even got to hold pieces of the moon and Mars. They really enjoyed that and I was so grateful for such a neat addition to our time in DC.
My own special highlight was Julia Child’s kitchen as it was originally and now located in the Museum of American History. Though I didn’t spend long there, I did take pictures of every angle of her kitchen to get inspiration for good storage solutions. I just love her.
Seeing all the monuments was very inspiring and a nice walk through the National Mall on a nice day. We were in DC at such a good time due to spring break being over and summer not quite started. Other than dealing with stinky 8th graders on field trips – its a perfect time to go.
Arlington Cemetery was up next, which was moving and powerful. Once there, you must make your way to the center of the cemetery to watch the changing of the guard. Soldiers of a very special unit guard the tomb of the unknown soldier and have been doing so 24 hours a day 7 days a week since 1930. they have stood here through 9/11, hurricane Sandy and many other things. Its fascinating.
We also made sure to go to the Holocaust Museum. So many blogs and reviews I read beforehand warned of taking children there, but unless you have super sensitive kids, I would recommend taking them. I feel like the museum did a good job of discreetly keeping the most intense footage out of sight that you would have to be more in tune to find and this museum is so important for kids to experience. We also did the dedicated children’s part on first floor, which was great as well but really geared for much smaller children. My 9 year old did love this and it was nice to do this last after the more intense upper floors. Boy did we talk a LOT about Hitler and the war and hatred. My kids will not forget this.
The White House tour was, in my opinion, great. Was it what I expected? No, but it was just neat to be there, to go through security clearance and to feel the history seeping through the walls. To see rooms where press conferences are held, to walk where Lincoln walked, to view the painting that Dolly Madison rescued from the fire that burned the white house during the revolutionary war and to see the pictures of the Kennedy’s children having a picnic on the lawn was inspiring. Even if you do not get a formal tour or if you do, you must go over to the white house visitor’s center. The movie there is wonderful and the wheel to see what some famous presidents ordered from the white house kitchen was just neat. Our kids did complete their junior ranger badges here as well!
When you go to Washington DC – please wear good walking shoes. We averaged 4 miles a day – and we exhausted by the end of the week.