Every summer I love to make at least one big trip. Last year that big trip was to Europe. And it was by far the best trip I’ve had in a very long time. And it has totally given me travel fever. I now want to see as many cities and countries as I can.
So when it came to a big trip for this summer I knew I had a few options. But as I started thinking about it I realized that if I had seen the capitol cities of three major countries but I had not been to the capitol of the country I was born in. So I knew that needed to change. I also knew that I wanted to visit our nation’s capitol with my family. It had been at least 15 years since we had taken a real family vacation.
Thankfully both of my parents are teachers and my brother was able to get the time off from his job. So our Norris Family Vacation 2016 was a go.
We spent 5 fun filled days exploring DC. I, being the planner in the family, created our itinerary and it was pretty perfect if you ask me. I made sure to spread everything out over the course of the 5 days because I wanted us to be able to really enjoy each place.
For my recap, I figured it would be easiest to divide posts and pictures by days. So today I’m sharing Days 1 and 2!
We flew into Reagan International on June 29th. My parents and I flew in first and my brother followed by about 2 hours. So the first few hours spent in DC was in the airport while we waited for Drew to catch up. Once we were all together we started our journey to the hotel.
While searching for hotels before the trip, I quickly realized it was going to be much cheaper to stay in Arlington than it would be to stay in DC proper. Out hotel was called the Virginian Suites and was just across the bridge from DC, it was about a 5 minute Uber drive into DC and about an 7 minute Uber drive into Georgetown. So it really was the perfect location.
By the time we got to the hotel and settled in a but it was already close to 6:00pm. And I was ready to start exploring. One of the great things about the Virginian was that it was within walking distance of Arlington National Cemetery. So we knew that would be the perfect way to start. We made our way over to Iwo Jima Memorial first and snapped some pictures. Then we started walking through the park to the cemetery.
It was such a gorgeous walk. The weather was perfect! And it was great seeing people walking, running, biking, and just relaxing within the park itself.
We quickly realized that our leisurely walk through the park probably shouldn’t have been so leisurely because of two things. First of all we didn’t know that the entrance we found was actually the very back of the cemetery. Second of all we had no idea that closing time for the cemetery was 7:00pm. By the time we walked through the little side gate into the cemetery it was already around 6:40. So we only had about 20 minutes to wander through.
Mom found a worker who gave us a map and quick explanation of the layout of the cemetery. We were about a 20 minute walk from all the main attractions within the cemetery. So we had to settle for just wandering around the back section. But it honestly didn’t feel like we were settling at all.
It was absolutely gorgeous and so humbling to be able to wander through the gravestones of all the men and wives of those who have given their lives so this country can be free. The back portion is an older part of the cemetery and so most of men buried in the sections we wandered through died fighting in the wars fought during the 20th century, WWI, WWII and Vietnam.
As Mom was looking at the map she had been given she realized that we were in the section where the first soldier to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery was buried. Sadly we couldn’t find the exact grave but we did find a bunch of gravestones marked with “Unknown Soldier”, as well as, gravestones for soldiers who died during the Civil War.
Promptly at 7:00pm a man came by and politely asked us to leave grounds since the cemetery was closing. We decided we would come back in the morning or evening another day.
By this time I was feeling particularly hungry. So we headed back to the hotel and figure out what to do for dinner. My Dad and brother were in charge of finding all of our dining locations and so the first night in town we headed to Hanks Oyster Bar in the Dupont Circle area of DC. My family loves oysters but I have always hated them. But seeing as I am now a sophisticated adult I decided I would give them one more try. And y’all, I thoroughly enjoyed them.
Hank’s Oyster Bar was the best possible choice for a first meal in DC. It was hype little restaurant in one of the hype areas of the city. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was perfect. Sadly I didn’t snap any actual picture while were were there (all I did was Snapchat.) So I’m pulling a pictures from their website.
We sat just inside those glass windows. One of the interesting things about Hank’s is that all the chef’s in the restaurant are women. Hank’s is named after head chef and owner Jamie Leeds, father, Hank. We had several different kinds of East coast oysters and what is fascinating is that they all tasted so different! And they were so much small than the oysters we’re used to here in Texas, the Gulf Oyster.
Day 2 dawned bright and early. But rather than jump right up and start sight seeing we decided to have a leisurely morning in the hotel and then head to our first scheduled tour. (Ok sidenote, it was not my decision at all to go at a leisurely pace. But I quickly realized that that was how our entire vacation was gonna go. I wanted to go go go and the others, minus my Mom, weren’t having that.)
Anyway our first stop of the day was a tour of the Capitol. I booked our tour through my Congressman’s office. I’m part of the 10th Congressional District in Texas and the Congressman is Michael McCaul. It was the easiest process ever. And the Congressman’s office was so friendly and accommodating. All you have to do is visit your Congressman’s website and fill out their form for requesting tours. I HIGHLY recommend going this route as opposed to going through the Capitol Visitor’s Center. (I’ll tell you why in a few paragraphs)
Our tour of the Capitol was a private tour given by one of the Congressional interns in Congressman McCaul’s office. His name was Jared, a student from Texas Tech University and he was on the very last day of his internship. We met Jared in Congressman McCaul’s office (sadly the Congressman was not in the office when we got there) which is actually in a building directly next to the Capitol building itself. Shortly after we arrived we got to walk through the tunnels! Yes! The Capitol has a tunnel system that connects the offices of the Congressman to the Capitol building. JUST LIKE DISNEY WORLD! We went through a security check before we could get into the building. But had we scheduled a tour through the visitor’s center we would not have gotten this opportunity! It was way cool!
Jared did an amazing job taking us around the Capitol. He was full of knowledge and even took us down a few hallways that weren’t on the tour. The history nerd/ US History teacher in me was salivating the entire time. Being in the building that where our laws are made and passed is such a thrilling feeling. One of the main things I teach is the Constitution. 8th graders not only need to know how and why our country functions the way it does, they also need to know each of the principles we as a nation follow. I think that if they had the opportunity to see and walk through the building where some of those principles are carried out, they would appreciate why it’s important to learn them and appreciate learning them period.
Hell, every American needs to visit the Capitol building once in their lives.
Ok, I’ll get off my soap box.
Our tour took us through both sides of the Capitol. We save the old Supreme Court Chamber, the old House of Representatives Chamber, and the Old Senate Chamber The Supreme Court now has it’s own building and the Capitol has expanded their rooms on either side of the Rotunda. Unfortunately the inside, as well as the outside, of the Rotunda is in the process of being renovated. So when we got inside the Rotunda itself all of the walls were covered by large white tarps. But we were still able to see all the painting around and at the top of the room.
Painting inside the dome in the rotunda of the US Capitol building. The painting is called Apotheosis of Washington painted in 1865 by an Italian artist.
On either side of Washington are the angels Victoria (Victory) and Liberty and the other angels surrounding him represent the 13 colonies. Apparently there are 3 or 4 angels who have their back turned to Washington and these angels are meant to represent the colonies that were still in rebellion as the painting was painted during the last few months of the Civil War.
Old Senate Room. 1815-1859
It also served as the Supreme Court Chamber from 1860-1935.
Once our tour was over, we were given vouchers to go inside the present day House of Representatives and Senate rooms. Sadly, Congress was not in session while we were there. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had just placed the House in recess until July 5th, after the House Democrats refused to leave the House floor regarding gun control disagreements. But we also heard that there was like a 3 hour wait to get into the viewing areas when that happened. So it’s probably best we missed that. Additionally we weren’t allowed to take cell phones/ cameras into either room. So that was a bummer but it was still very neat to see the actual room where laws are suggested and passed!
Our tour lasted about 2 hours and it was amazing. By far one of the coolest things we did while in DC. Now the reason I highly suggest going through your Congressman rather than through the Visitors Center is because it’s a much more intimate tour. If you go through the Visitor’s Center you’re looking at a 30-50 person tour and through you’re Congressman you’ll have a max of 10. Or you’ll get lucky like we did and have a private tour.
Now if you’re going to go through your Congressman’s office you must put your request in at least 4 months in advance. I put our request in in February for our end of June/beginning of July trip. It was super easy and again the tour was so much better!
Supreme Court Building- completed in 1935
We didn’t actually go into the Supreme Court Building but I did stand outside of it while I was looking for a place to buy water! I wish we had gone inside but we didn’t have time.
So following the Capitol we decided to pop over to the Library of Congress. There was a hallway that connected right to to the Library so we didn’t have to walk outside, which was nice because this was probably the warmest day!
This is the main reading room inside the Library of Congress. Which I learned is the second largest library in the world, second to the British Library. It’s home to roughly 32 million catalogues books, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and a Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bible the Library has is one of only 3 perfect vellum copies known to exist in the world. The book nerd in me was salivating at this point! 🙂
Now this is not a library where anyone can just go in and check books out. You must be a government official to borrow items and you must have permission to use any of the reference materials. There were only a handful of people sitting in the reading/research room on the day we were there. So if you’ve seen National Treasure, it’s total BS that Ben Gates and Riley were in there planning how to break into the National Archives. They would not have been allowed in this room.
SO…after our little jaunt into the Library of Congress, we all realized we were starving. We had a slight bump in the road when my mom got bitten by a squirrel while we were waiting for the Uber driver to find us in between the Library of Congress and the Capitol Building. But thankfully she was fine.
We headed over to “linner” at a Food Network favorite, Ben’s Chili Bowl. Which was very tasty!
The second highlight of the day happened later that evening though. I went and had drinks and appetizers with a blogger friend! I have been reading Jenn’s (Going the Distance) blog for, gosh, like 5 years now. I found her blog when I first started blogging and have exchanged emails and most recently Snaps with her like crazy. She lives just outside of Arlington and since I was staying in Arlington it was super easy for her to drive in and meet me somewhere. We met at the restaurant OZ, which was totally appropriate since it’s owned by one of the Real Housewives of the Potomac. It was pretty tasty!
It was so great finally meeting Jenn in person. I just love when blogger friends turn out to be great in real life friends! 🙂
Once I got back from happy hour with Jenn, Mom and I decided to ditch the boys (they were being lame and decided to stay at the hotel) and head to the Mall to see all the monuments at night. I’m glad she and I had the chance to spend some time together, the just two of us!
Look at the monuments at night though. SO FREAKING GORGEOUS!
Well that about wraps up our first two days! Stay tuned next week for days 3 and 4! 🙂
Have a great weekend!
Linking up for Wanderful Wednesday!
(Yes I realize it’s not Wednesday but this post was supposed to go up then and it didn’t. womp womp. I’ll be better next week!)