During our kids winter break from school, we decided to take an overnight trip to Washington DC. Fortunately for us, we live close by and can make it into the city in an hour’s drive (depending on traffic). We did have hotel and dinner reservations, but nothing else planned. That’s not usual operating procedure for us; we generally have our days mapped out before any type of adventure. But for this overnight, we just couldn’t pull it together.
With the car packed and kids not fed, we started out. We left later than planned. The goal was to leave early, but no one was packed. Once in the car, no one was fed, so we had to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a not-so-healthy breakfast and coffee. It was not the best start to our day away.
Fortunately, traffic was light as it was a Saturday. We decided our first stop would be the Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington DC. Our drive took an hour, and we parked a block away from the museum. As we walked onto the edge of the Mall, we were faced with lines to the museum, wrapped around city blocks, both left and right. We had a choice: wait in line or come up with Plan B.
Plan B was the choice, not without much disappointment from our youngest. However, we hadn’t really figured out Plan B, since we never even considered the now-obvious situation that a free, internationally-recognized museum would be mobbed during a school vacation. Instead, we stood in the rain, surfing our phones for things to do nearby, and hoping for a quick and easy solution.
I had seen some recent posts on Instagram of this really cool museum called, Artechouse. I knew nothing about it, but decided if it looked cool in Instagram, it must be cool, indeed. We plugged it into our phones’ GPS, and started walking. It was less than a mile away. The rain let up a bit and we followed my phone only to head the wrong way for a bit. Getting back on track, after a brief side journey, we headed straight towards our destination and arrived within 20 minutes from leaving the Air and Space Museum.
As we walked into what looked like a storefront, and entered a very small lobby area. As we went to buy tickets, we were asked if we had reservations. No, we did not: we hadn’t realized we needed them. The woman working went on to tell us that it is highly recommended to have reservations before a visit. However, there was still availability for the next tour and our party of five would be able to join.
We waited for 10 minutes before we were escorted downstairs to another lobby area. Our guide gave us an informative description about the museum and about the artist. He explained who the artist was and what the artist had created. He went on to tell us what our experience would be like and how to interact with the exhibit we were about to see. There are four rooms, all created to be interactive, and can be visited any order we wanted.
The exhibition we visited was by a digital artist named Marpi. His digital exhibit was his expression of interpreting the ecosystem and its natural processes. Along with motion-sensing hardware, the digital artwork created real-time, computer generated graphics, while the user interacted with the art.
The kids ran from room to room, interacting with the digital art. In one room, they were able to virtually hold creatures and watch them move in sync with their movements. In another room, large digital bubbles were created in the kids form and as the kids moved, jumped, and swayed so did the bubbles. There were even some oversized beanbags where the kids could just relax and take in all of the digital creations in the rooms, and they did.
The museum rotates artists on a three-month schedule. It even has a cocktail bar for visitors coming for happy hour without young ones. Make sure to make reservations in advanced or you may not have luck getting in like we did.
National Geographic Museum
As we finished up with our first museum, we discussed our next destination. It was raining, so instead of walking to the next museum (which was a little over a mile away), we called for an Uber.
As we sat in the car, we passed the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, two places I would like to go back and visit with the kids. Unfortunately, pointing them out to the kids in the back of an Uber ride did not do much to engage them in the importance of these historic sites.
As we pulled up to the museum, I was excited to see they had an exhibit on the Titanic and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We had just spent some time in Israel and Jerusalem–perhaps the kids would be able to relate to the exhibit. We bought our timed tickets; fortunately, they hadn’t sold out. Running out to grab lunch, we found a small greasy spoon with 7 bar stools for seating, and had a quick bite.
Our National Geographic tour started with the history of the original Titanic discovery. Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic, was actually hired by US Navy to locate two sunken nuclear submarines and photograph their location. I had no idea the finding of the Titanic was actually a covert mission.
The exhibit gave an in-depth history of the two sunken submarines, as well as how the Titanic was located using sonar to find a trail of debris leading right up to the wreckage. The exhibit was followed by installations from both the movie and of the real Titanic. It had pictures of passengers, their life history, and their cabins on the boat. It showed the different classes of berths on the ship, as well as having some of the costumes worn by the actors.
The exhibit combined the original finding of the Titanic using real footage and artifacts as well as some of the movie props to bring It all to life. It let us see what different classes could buy and put the cost in today’s terms so our kids could understand just how much people spent to go on the journey.
We then headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre exhibit. Our tour started off with a short movie about Jerusalem and its historic importance. We were then ushered into a room designed to look like a street block in the Old City of Jerusalem. I
mmediately our kids recognized where they were, as we had just visited Jerusalem. The guide took us to a recreation of the front door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and we were given a history of the building and its past. From there, we were ushered into another room and given 3-D glasses.
We watched as the entire room came to life. We were inside the Church and got to see it from all angles, all rooms and learn all of its history. We saw what the church originally looked like to what it looks like now. For some of us, it was a bit of a dizzying experience, but the kids loved it. The entire experience was innovative and drew us in and kept our attention.
We checked into the Fairmont Hotel located in Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC. After dropping out bags, we walked out the door and headed straight for the shopping district of Georgetown. The streets are lined with shops, food shops, and restaurants.
We stopped into Blue Bottle Coffee Shop,a coffee shop dedicated to top-quality coffee and pours. Our coffee was perfect and my husband would not let me add milk and sugar as he said it would ruin the perfection of the taste. From here, we strolled through the historic blocks of Georgetown, lined with old, grand, townhomes as we headed to Via Umbria, a market dedicated to everything Umbrian. We had spent part of our honeymoon in Umbria, Italy and wanted to show our kids the goods, foods, ceramics, linens and wines from the region. The shop has a great collection of ceramics from the area, food from all over Italy, and a room with a small but well-chosen wines exclusively from Umbria.
We had dinner reservation at Fiola Mare, which was the only other thing we’d planned. The restaurant specializes in seafood, while we specialized in ordering all the seafood possible. We started with a large seafood plateau and asked for additional oysters for our daughter.
Good thing we did, as she managed to eat almost two dozen. The kids devoured lobster, tuna crudo, prawns, mussels and crab. Following this we shared a whole bronzino in a salt crust and a black bass served in a citrus sauce. The fish was presented whole and served filleted. It was fresh and flaky and we enjoyed our almost three-hour meal with our three kids. With our bellies full, we headed to the hotel for a comfortable night’s sleep.
National Air and Space Museum Dulles, Chantilly VA
Based on our experience the day before, we knew the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC would again be crowded with long lines. At the same time, our youngest had his heart set on going. Our solution was to drive 20 minutes to the other Air and Space Museum, outside the city in Chantilly, VA. We walked right in, with no lines and headed straight to the exhibits located in two massive plane hangars. We immediately saw the impressive Lockheed SR-17 Blackbird on display. We continued to tour all generations of planes, including the Concorde. We finished our tour with a visit to the Space Shuttle.
Northern Virginia has a large Korean community, and there are a number of authentic restaurants near the Air and Space Museum. As we left, it was lunch-time. We chose to end our trip by stopping in Taste of Koreafor some bibimbap stone pots. The stone pots were sizzling hot, cooking rice on the bottom while keeping the protein and vegetables hot throughout. The one pot meal was satisfying and scraping up the crunchy rice at the bottom really was the best part of the meal. We headed home from our unplanned vacation happy with all of the things we did.
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