Following advice from Claire we parked at the airport in the Economy Lot (a mere $12 per day rather than the $30+tax we had been quoted for parking at the hotel), from there we caught a shuttle bus and then the Metro into DC. Since we had left the car behind, we had rather a lot to carry so the four blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop to the hotel seemed like miles. The hotel was all suites, which was great as it meant that we had a kitchenette where we could cook for ourselves, as well as a dressing room! After a quick pasta supper, I headed out to meet Claire (Meaney) and some friends for drinks. I was very proud that I managed to find my way there and back all by myself. It was really good to see her again (its been over a year) and catch up as well as meet her boyfriend and some of her friends. On Friday after a much needed lie in, we ventured out into the swirling snow (yes, more snow!) at around lunch time, our first stop being the Capitol for a guided tour. After some confusion finding the entrance, eventually we asked directions from a policeman with a gun on one of the higher levels, who directed us down the steps behind us. Once through security we went into the main foyer to collect our free tickets for the next tour. Like most places we have visited, this tour started with an informative video. After the video we were handed headsets (so we could all hear the guide) and taken up to the Capitol itself. Unfortunately, I appear to have had my camera on a rubbish setting, so all my photos have come out pretty badly. Once the official tour was finished, we were able to go into the viewing gallery of the House of Representatives. This would have been much more interesting if it had actually been in session, or if we had been allowed to take our cameras. As it was we were just allowed to look at the empty seats, which was not so great. On emerging from the visitor centre we were delighted to see that it had stopped snowing.

The Capitol

Our next stop was the Smithsonian Castle Visitor Center, to watch the introductory video narrated by Ben Stiller. Since it was half past four, we decided to head to the Museum of Natural History which claimed to be open until 7.30pm.

Shiny, Pretty, Colourful Rocks

On arriving we discovered that due to an event we only had an hour, so we raced around the things we wanted to see. While wandering through the rocks exhibits, Lizzie commented that her mum would love this, I agreed that mine would too, and then we realised that both our mothers come back from walks with pockets full of interesting looking stones. Since our time was somewhat limited, we only had time for rocks, and under the sea, but it was good none the less. On the way home we took some sunset pictures of the Washington Monument and then cooked a courgette and onion risotto for tea.

Saturday was a very very early start in an attempt to squeeze in everything we wanted to do. Leaving the hotel at half past 8, we started with White House photos and the visitor center (with obligatory video). Our next stop was the Air and Space museum, where we played in the children’s area before going through the less hands on exhibits. Once we had finished the space exhibits, I wandered around all the flight exhibits while Liz went to the Black Hole film. That done we headed to our next stop the Museum of American History. I should probably mention at this point that most of the museums in DC are free, which meant we could go to most of them. Our first stop was the Stars and Stripes cafe for a quick lunch before a whistle stop tour of the exhibits that interested us, which included the original Star Spangled Banner, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Abraham Lincoln’s hat and Julia Child’s kitchen.

Kermit the Frog - Museum of American History

We headed back up the Mall to take pictures of the Supreme Court (closed at the weekends) and visit the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library. While the Library of Congress was impressive, I would have liked to get a little closer to some actual books. The Folger was amazing, especially since the guide took us on our own private tour just because we had come all the way from England, AND we got to see a first folio of Shakespeare! Our next mission was to find a Ben & Jerry’s to continue our quest to try all the flavours. Unfortunately the particular one we were looking for was closed for refurbishment and we could not find the other one, which, as we discovered later was inside another building. We had planned to visit the Natural History Museum again but the streams of people exiting as we arrived did not fill our hearts with joy… it was closed at 5.30pm again, FAIL. On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at the White House again for some dusk shots.

The White House

After some reheated risotto (made so much tastier by the salt I had taken from the Stars and Stripes Cafe) Lizzie discovered ants in the bathroom. After a brief discussion, we concluded that I should be the one to complain, so I phoned down to the front desk and they offered to move us to a new room. About 15 minutes later, once we had gathered all our stuff together, a member of hotel staff appeared at the door with our new keys and the words “You have been upgraded to a bigger suite.” WIN! Our new suite had a separate living room and dining area in addition to the bedroom, dressing room, bathroom and kitchenette. 🙂

Sunday was a very early start as I had arranged to Skype my mum in the morning, before Lizzie went to the Newseum as she wanted to take her iPhone with her. So, after my 7.30am chat with Mum, the plan was to go back to bed but that didn’t really happen. I did, however, have a quiet morning in, which was necessary at this point because my legs were aching after all the walking of the last few days. I met Liz near the White House and after a brief failed trip to find Ben & Jerry’s (again!) we took some photos of the White House (the other side) before heading to the nearest metro to go to the Pentagon. Since we had not known to book several days in advance, a tour of the Pentagon was out of the question. But we did wander around their 9/11 memorial, a series of benches set over pools of water, arranged in diagonal lines to mark the years of birth of those killed. It was a very moving experience, especially to see that the youngest killed was only 3 years old. After that depressing experience it was on to Arlington National Cemetery, where we visited JFK’s grave, with its eternal flame. The view back over Washington was stunning and it was a real shame that it was still a bit hazy with cloud as the photos came out badly. At this point, Liz headed home, and I walked back over the bridge towards the Lincoln Memorial. It was all lit up by the sun which was stunning, but unfortunately, only at the back so my photos of the front are all in shadow, but I did manage to get some images of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool that I am quite pleased with.

Washington Monument

After that there was just enough time to walk back towards the Washington Monument before going back to the hotel for a brief break before meeting Claire for dinner. Dinner was a quiet affair, but it was lovely to get another chance to catch up with Claire, since she had work in the morning and I had more sightseeing it wasn’t a late one and I headed back to the hotel for a relatively early night.

On Monday morning after a lie in we packed up all our stuff and stored it with the hotel before embarking on a final day of intense tourism. After much research we finally found a Ben & Jerry’s, and it was definitely worth the hassle… a small cone included two massive scoops and when we told him about our mission to taste all the flavours he gave us two more samples! At this point we divided again, Liz back to the Newseum to get the full use out of her $24 ticket, and me to the National Archives. After seeing the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, which were all I was really there for I wandered through the public vaults and multimedia exhibitions. They were actually really interesting and I found out that there are probably records on my paternal grandfather in the National Archives, which is quite exciting. Since I wasn’t sure how long Liz would be, I found a Starbucks and made use of the free Wifi to Skype my brother (on my Mum’s Skype, imagine my surprise!) and then my Dad. Once Lizzie arrived we went up the Washington Monument, and although it was cloudy and overcast, the views were still stunning (the photos less so). Then on to our final destination, the Lincoln Memorial for photos before back to the car (via the hotel to collect our luggage) and on to Front Royal.