Trina came to visit me in Connecticut in late June for holiday. I had not taken a true vacation in about 2 years. During that time I was either worried about classes or looking for a job. It is hard to go on a good holiday when you are constantly thinking about what awaits you when you get home. Fortunately, I got a much more carefree break this time. There were a number of places Trina and I talked about going to within the US. It was a hard decision because there are just so many good choice destinations. We decided that DC and Virginia would be good places to go since it was 4th of July weekend and that area of the country is rich with US history.
Friday, July 1
To kick off the travel day I needed to do a last minute revamp to our plans. I arranged this trip about 3 months in advanced. Apparently, I thought our flight was going to Dulles, so I reserved a car and a hotel near there. Just a day before I checked the flights and realized we were going to DCA. Fortunately, I was able to get everything rearranged on the fly. (Get it? Hahahahaha! Okay, I won’t do that again).
The flight to DC was uneventful as all good flights should be. Getting the car was a different matter. I went to pick up the car I was assigned, a Ford Hybrid, from the rental lot. When I got in the car I had no idea what to do. There were no keys. I finally turned the contraption on by pressing a few buttons, but I heard no motor. After fumbling with the guide book I tried to go forward, but the brakes were too sticky for my taste and I kept lurching. After a few more moments of this incompetence I went back to the rental car agency and asked for a regular gasoline combustible engine. The agency gave me a Toyota Corolla, a car I am quite familiar with since I own one. That made the trip to the hotel easy. Trina and I were starving after unpacking so we traveled to DC for food. I thought using the Metro would be easy. It turns out that it is easy but it is a long trip into town from the Dulles airport area. We must have commuted over an hour.
We got off at Federal Triangle where we went to Elephant and Castle for lunch. Trina had Fish and Chips, while I had the Bangers and Mash. During our lovely meal we watched the Welsh soccer team play in the Euro 2016. We had a very British start to the 4th of July weekend.
After lunch we walked over to see the National archives. It was incredibly crowded, since it was a holiday weekend, but it was cool to see all the old documents. The Declaration of Independence looked very worn out, but there were still faint traces of the historical signatures. We also saw the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There some neat exhibits explaining the mechanisms for creating and passing the amendments. I thought the museum did a good job of displaying such typically dry subjects in animated and engaging ways.
After our museum fix we headed to a baseball game. I booked tickets to see the Washington Nationals play the Cincinnati Reds. We headed over to Nationals Park by the Navy Yard. There was a rain delay from a quick passing storm. We ended up buying some expensive ponchos. Despite the wet weather the whole park was gorgeous. There was plenty of space and lots of food choices. The audience was very well-behaved and polite. Not what I was expecting at a baseball game. It was a fun atmosphere despite the early rain. During one of the inning breaks there were Racing Presidents. It was very amusing to see the large Styrofoam heads of past US Presidents bobbing up in down as they ran around the warning tracks. It looked like George Washington beat out Lincoln, Jefferson and (Teddy) Roosevelt. While the game was tied we left after the 9th inning since we had a long commute back to the hotel. Overall, it was a great way to start our holiday break.
Saturday, July 2
For our second day I originally planned to go back into the city see a museum or two. I neither had the patience for the Metro, nor was I willing to endure the infamous beltway traffic. Instead, Trina and I opted for a trip to see Mt Vernon the home of the first US President, George Washington.
The trip down the Potomac was not very long, maybe an hour or so. The views were pretty nice as we approached the grounds. When we arrived around 10 in the morning there were already a number of people there. The estate was expansive and pretty vast, but very impressive. Washington liked to keep a very orderly layout. Even though this was his home, Washington spent very little time there. After marrying Martha, he spent a good number of years as a part of independence talks, fighting a war, presiding over Constitution Conventions or being President. As a result, he had to oversee the farm from someplace else in the country.
George Washington’s house was smaller than I expected. He designed the architecture himself, adding different layers over the years. The tour of the house itself was just okay. Each room had a curator who answered questions, but it was hard to figure out what they were talking about when you first enter a room. I always felt like I was walking in on someone else’s conversation, or there just happened to be a well dressed crazy person talking to themselves.
After the house tour we opted for some shaded education. There was a learning center near the entrance with a lot of interactive exhibits. It was really cool to see the different phases of George Washington’s life. It gave a broad overview of key moments in US history that involved Washington. And, most importantly, it displayed his false teeth. Something every patriotic American should see in their lifetime. After a few biographical videos we headed back to the estate. There was a museum there also, but it was closed. I wish the museum was open because it looked like it had some cool exhibits.
What I was most impressed with was the acknowledgement of slavery at Mt Vernon. There was a memorial at a burial ground next to Washington’s tomb. The exhibits in the learning center brought to life the lives of the slaves such as William Lee, who stuck with Washington throughout the war and presidency. Even though Washington profited from slavery he was one of the few Virginian planters who emancipated his slaves in 1799. The grounds do a good job of bringing out the complexity and contradictions Washington lived with during his time.
After getting a good history fix we then drove to Charlottesville Virginia. We checked into the Boar’s Head Inn. After going to the gym Trina and I had nice late snack at the on-site pub.
Sunday, July 3
The next day was a bit rainy but we went to visit Monticello the home of the 3rd President of the United States and writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. He was arguably one of the most complex individuals in US History. He wrote about equality and freedom for all men, but was a slave owner. He was one of the creators of organized political parties but also openly detested the system. His home was extremely interesting. The grounds of Monticello were a laboratory of sorts for Jefferson as he tried out different crops and designed buildings. It is such an iconic place that it is on the back of nickels and is a World Heritage site. After parking we needed to take a tram up to the “little mountain” since it was raining and we didn’t want to hike up.
Despite the cloud cover we had an amazing view of the surrounding hills. It was an inconvenient place but it definitely had good vistas. We walked around the underground tunnels where the servants mainly worked before going on the tour of the house. Our guide was extremely enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the house and Jefferson. What was most interesting was how eclectic each room was. The entrance was full of maps and Native American art, he had a library that connected to his bedroom and then a guest room in the shape of an octagon.
After the tour we went back to visitor center for lunch and to examine the exhibits. The learning center was more focused on the architecture rather than Jefferson himself. We then returned to the house for the tour about slavery at Monticello tour. The tour guide was very good about describing the lives of the people who worked there. Afterwards we continued exploring the impressive gardens and visited Jefferson’s tomb. It was also cool that people were getting ready for the immigration Naturalization ceremony on the 4th of July.
Afterwards, we headed back to the Boar’s Head Inn where we did some walking around the resort, exercising and then dinner at Bistro 1860.
Monday, July 4
On the Fourth of July I had planned to go to the Shenandoah National Park for hiking. However, it was raining off and on. Not ideal hiking conditions for amateurs such as ourselves. So instead we went to the gym to exercise. After we worked out we showered and ate before we headed to downtown Charlottesville. There were not many people around due to rain and it being Fourth of July. Some of the stores and restaurants weren’t open either.
Fortunately, Grit Cafe was open for lunch. There we ate some grits, of course! They were pretty tasty and filled us up quite nicely. Afterwards, we wandered through the pedestrian mall. We went to Kilwin’s and had peanut butter chocolate ice cream. Even more filling. We did some book browsing at Blue Whale books. I got a really nice book about George Washington. There was a neat retro movie theater nearby called Violet Crown. There we watched Independence Day: Resurgence. It was a terrible movie but the theater was really cool. We could get full meals if we wanted to. Instead of theater food we opted for dinner at The Nook, where I ate a hearty meatloaf. Feeling satiated we went back to the hotel for an early night in. The next day we were going to be travelling back to Boston.
Tuesday, July 5:
On our last day we returned to the airport. It was a nice drive, though for some reason the GCPS stuck to back roads. We still got to DCA on time, but it was just a very winding road. The flight back to Boston was also pretty uneventful, though I forgot that I had bought some pepper jelly for my parents. That didn’t make it through the security screening.
After got back, Trina was interested in doing a nostalgic trip through Boston and Cambridge, since she spent 6 years studying there. So one of the first places we went to was to get ramen at Porter Exchange. The place was pretty much the way we remembered. We then took the T to the MIT campus and wandered around. It was just as nerdy as always, much to Trina’s delight.
We took a nice stroll across the Charles River and stopped at one of my favorite places, Trident Cafe on Newbury Street. There we browsed books and ate apple cobbler. It had to be healthy because of the apple and the oats. Never mind the large serving ice cream that came with it.
We ended the night by going to Red Sox game at Fenway Park. It was Trina’s first game even though she had studied in Boston for 6 years! The atmosphere was way more fun than the Nationals games. The crowd was livelier and noisier. It would have been nice if the Sox had won, but I guess you can’t win them all. After an exhausting day we traveled to Lexington to sleep before heading back to Connecticut. All-in-all a fun trip!