36 Hours – Washington, DC [USA]

I recommend you invoke the little known yet wildly popular 11th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Steal All Good Ideas.”  If you think this is a worthy trip, take it!  Living in Baltimore, MD affords me and my family the opportunity to do some wonderful day trips and one-nighters.  We live a short drive, train or bus ride from so many fantastic places, the least of which is not our nation’s capital.  In my mind no time is a bad time to visit DC, my favorite city.

Pre-departure I booked a hotel room using one of my favorite sites, Magellan.  Magellan often has better rates than you can find elsewhere online and this was no exception.  Given that it was spring break and the beginning of cherry blossom season in DC the rates I was finding were higher than usual.  Secondly, I booked a parking space using SpotHero.  This app is one of my new favorites. With dramatically cheaper parking options, I selected a garage that was right across the street from the hotel with a valet option.  Super simple.  Super savings.

We arrived without incident, parked the car and checked into the Loews Madison Hotel.  This was the best hotel I could find in the neighborhood that met my priority criteria of having two queen beds.  Doubles are no fun for our family of 4, so I always opt for the slightly larger bed when possible.  The hotel was centrally enough located to our main attractions that I knew we could walk.

First stop, a quick lunch.  We chose to eat a Shake Shack, partly out of nostalgia (we lived near the original in NYC and were frequent customers when they opened) and partly because it was on our way to the National Mall.  After our fill of burgers and shakes we visited the National Archives to see some of the nation’s original founding documents, namely the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  Every American should see these at least once.  The penmanship alone stirs the intellect!

Next stop, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  Earlier in the school year we watched a documentary on the Hope Diamond.  I knew it was a permanent exhibit at the museum so I thought it would complete our cycle of learning to actually see arguably the world’s most famous gem. My son commented that he thought the diamond would have been bigger!  Although the Hope has its own gallery, there is a rather huge gems hall exhibit that is world-class.

We also had time to see the Egyptian mummies, having learned a fair bit about ancient history this year.  Finally we paid a small entrance fee to visit the butterfly pavilion.  Inside the enclosed area these dainty creatures flutter at leisure and can land anywhere they desire including your head!  The kids loved it.  And from what I saw, the butterflies loved my kids too!  Needless to say the museum is large and you can’t do it all in a day.  Check out the website ahead of time to plan your visit.

We opted to head back to the hotel for a breather and take a load off our feet.  Around 8pm our stomachs led us out in search of Estadio, one of the places I’d hoped to eat.  This Spanish tapas style restaurant is a short walk from the hotel in the now trendy Logan Circle neighborhood.  The food is sublime.  Even our young kids enjoyed eating their way through the menu, which by the way can be pricey!  My husband and I agreed, it’s worth it.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast on the way to the Lincoln Memorial.  [Note: I didn’t like the place, so if I had it to do again I’d have opted for Le Pain Quotidian, one of my favorites which I later saw.]  We walked down 17th Street toward Constitution and saw the World War II Memorial on the way.  Then we simply headed toward the Lincoln Memorial viewing it first from a distance across the reflecting pool.  This is one of my favorite monuments.  I love to imagine the many historical events that happened right under my feet.

Next stop – the Library of Congress.  Having lived in DC for six years there were far too many sites I hadn’t visited, one being the Library.  It is worthy of your time.  The Library not only contains books, but also over 11,000 archeological objects.  The Geography and Map Division claims the world’s largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection with over 5 and a half million maps and much more!  For information on how to request books or to make appointments check out the library’s website.

While you are there be sure to visit the Jefferson building, an architectural work of art itself.  The view of the Capitol from inside this building is one of the best in the city.  Gutenberg’s Bibles are on display as well as the recreated Thomas Jefferson’s Library.  Exploring the Early Americas exhibit includes fascinating rare maps and artifacts, the Main Reading Room and the Congressional Reading Rooms are here as well.

Finishing up at the Library about 4pm meant we had time to continue to explore.  We made our way to the Capitol Hill neighborhood via taxi and enjoyed wandering for bit before heading to Ambar, the second restaurant on my list.  It was a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.  In fact, I recommend you also go out of your way to eat at this Balkan tapas style restaurant.  The food at this roomy and friendly neighborhood joint is as superb as it is unique. You might also learn a bit about geography.  How many Balkan countries can you name?  Vegetarians beware: Ambar is the carnivore’s delight.

That completes our adventure except for picking up the car, which was quick and painless.  I wish I could say the same for the drive home!

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