Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vacation 2010: DC - Natural History Museum, National Archives, Pentagon Memorial.

By the time we took the Metro back to DC, the rain had stopped. We had free time until our reservations at 4 at the National Archives, so we took a gander at the Museum of Natural History.

We didn't have a ton of time, but we were able to make a quick sweep through the dinosaur area.
Being here led to some Night at the Museum 2 flashbacks!

We had barely scratched the surface at the museum, but we had tickets for another destination across the street.
My big advice for folks traveling to DC in peak seasons: Reserve, reserve, reserve! Book everything you can in advance. We booked our visit at the National Archives online, and that spared us from waiting hours in the sun. The line to get in through the main entrance on the left wrapped around the building. Because of our reservations, we were able to enter through the right door, the one with absolutely no line. (In fact, as we walked through that door, a couple walking out told us that was just the "special entrance" and we'd have to walk around. Not so much!)

As soon as we got through security, we made a beeline for the rotunda where the Charters of Freedom are kept. There we did have to wait a little while, but before long we were wading through the crowds to glimpse the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Looking at those faded, centuries-old documents, I was all-too-aware of their importance. Everything in this country comes from the ideas put into words on that parchment. And I got chills when I saw those three little words: "We the People."
After walking through the rotunda, we explored the rest of the National Archives Experience. We saw ship logs and farm deeds. We read letters and saw photos. We got a good idea of just how much information is stored in those archives. We knew we couldn't do everything in DC, but I'm so glad we made those reservations so we could visit the National Archives.

After our Archives visit, we wandered back toward the National Mall. The Smithsonian museums were about to close, so we just walked through the National Gallery of Art's sculpture garden.

I loved this piece, and then I read that it was donated by the Nancy Lee and Perry Bass Fund! Go, home team!
For dinner we indulged in delicacies from a hot dog stand. Katie had seen the food vendors all over the mall, and she really wanted to give one a try. We all enjoyed the dogs...
...and the desserts! Although we might not have had as much fun as the dad and daughter who photographed every moment at the hot dog stand as if they were spending their entire vacation there, we still had a good time.
And Katie was really "livin' the dream"!

The view from the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue

So we had the whole evening in front of us, and many of the sights close to the hotel were already closed. A quick check of the guidebook helped us find something that was open and just a Metro ride away.

It seemed like the perfect complement to our Arlington Cemetery visit to pay our respects at the Pentagon.
Cantilevered benches represent those killed on the plane and in the Pentagon on 9/11/01.

Names of those killed are on the memorial benches. The benches' positions indicate where people were when they were killed. If you can see the name and the Pentagon, that indicates the individual was in the building at the time of the crash. If you see the name and the sky, that means that person was aboard Flight 77.
The memorial units are arranged along "age lines," so the youngest victim, a 3-year-old, is at one end and the oldest is on the other side.

The memorial was such a sobering place to be. This ground is now hallowed, just like Ground Zero in New York and the field outside Shanksville. Visiting here led to one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. As we left the memorial and headed back to the subway station, Ryan and Katie were filled with questions about September 11th. Brett and I were able to recall certain memories from that day. It was poignant to be able to talk about those things as we walked in the shadow of the Pentagon.

In one day we covered a lot of ground. We saw sacrifice and tragedy; we saw art and nature. And in between all that, we saw the words that gave our nation life and continue to give us hope.

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