Wednesday 15th May - Charles Town WV (via Maryland and Virginia)
On arising after a flood-free night, we found that both our colds have finally gone and so had the rain. In fact it was a beautiful clear sunny day – although still only 54F (12C). We headed to our next destination, again, with a plenty of scenery and more evidence of livestock that had been allowed out to play in the sunshine. We left Pennsylvania and passed through the Maryland for a while, then brushed by Virginia for 5 minutes - not that we needed to go back to those states, that’s just where the road went. We arrived in West Virginia at Harpers Ferry, which was considered a strategic location during the Civil War and changed hands 8 times during the conflict. We stopped in the National Park for a few pix, but didn’t bother to do the self-drive tour of the battlefield.
By the time we arrived in Charles Town, we had crossed the Susquehanna (for the second time), Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers – all very historical, we felt. Again, we were too early for check-in at the motel, so we took a drive around Charles Town – which is very quaint – and finished up at the Hollywood Casino, which is at the racecourse and is bloody huge. Naturally, they had a lunch buffet and, naturally, we had to give it a try – at $13.99 each you’ve just gotta, eh! By the time we were done, and I had lost $20 (and Carolyn $14) on the pokies, it was time to check in at the motel.
Thursday 16th May – Chantilly VA
We got away early and it was only a little over an hour to reach the motel which is near Dulles airport and the Steven F Udvar-Hazy museum (the off-site Air and Space Museum run by the Smithsonian). Carolyn was feeling a bit poorly again, so we thought we would try to book into the motel early (it was only 9am) or, at best, drop Carolyn and her luggage so she could check in when a room became available. At first they told me that nothing was ready but, when they checked the booking, they found a room that was available as I was a Wyndham Rewards Gold member so they would check us in immediately. Sometimes loyalty programs do actually provide real rewards. Go Wyndham Hotel Group (that’s my plug for them)!!! After getting Carolyn settled into the room (which is large and rather nice) I set off for the museum and arrived just in time for it to open, and just as 4 buses turned up disgorging hordes of schoolchildren.
Still, the museum is big enough to dodge most of them, although they do have a tendency to not look where they are going, and they can get a trifle noisy which can be annoying when you are trying to watch the movies in the iMax theatre. I finally bailed out at 4pm and headed back to the motel to see how the invalid was getting. Which, as it turned out, was not too great, so we had another supermarket dinner and an early night.
Friday 17th May – Washington DC
The rental car had to go back to Hertz today, and Carolyn was still feeling seedy, so she decided to stay in. The battle of the $55 overcharge was a non-event, even though the agent said the car I had “upgraded” to was considered a luxury model, not the “full-size” I had ordered. Anyway, he sent an email to Hertz in Baltimore for an explanation of the additional charge and when they hadn’t replied after 15 minutes, he just deducted it from the bill. Hertz's shuttle bus took me back to the airport where I then took the 5A Metro Express bus to Washington DC @ $3.75 (for us seniors). This took me to L’Enfant Plaza, which is 2 blocks walk from the National Mall, and the on-site Air and Space Museum. Again, I arrived just before opening and, if I had thought there were boundless schoolkids yesterday, today's offering blew the doors off that!! There seemed to be trillions of them, made worse by the fact that this museum is tiny compared with the one at Dulles and every single person has to go through security as tight as any airport. I had noticed yesterday that the Dulles museum had signs that said the City museum was being renovated and many of the exhibits were in the process of being relocated temporarily to their facility, Sure enough, about half the museum was closed off (which made the rugrat problem even more pronounced), so it was as well I had seen most of it when we last visited back in 1989.
Believing that maybe most of the schoolkids were probably more interested in the A & S museum, I fled across the Mall to the Museum of Natural History – the other one I had found so interesting on our previous visit 30 years ago. Well, that didn’t pan out either – there were just as many kids there as the last one. On top of that, the gallery that I was most interested in, Dinosaurs etc, was closed for renovation and not due to open until the 8th June. It was still interesting, though, and the exhibits have changed quite a bit in 30 years. The Hope diamond is now in an entirely different enclosure and far more accessible – visually, that is. I’m curious to look back at my pix from 1989 and see what else has changed
By now, I was starting to run out of puff and figured I would need to manage my time carefully to ensure the legs would last long enough to get back to L’Enfant plaza and the bus back to Dulles airport. So I decided the next place of interest might be the Holocaust museum, which is right down the Washington monument end of the Mall on a side street. You know how, when you’re a little kid, everything looks big and far away. Then when you grow up, those big places look little and close together. Well, let me tell you when you get old and stuffed, they go back to being big and far away. I remember when we were here in 1989, we raced around the museums in the mall, and from one to another as we only a short time there – didn’t seem that far back then. Now, 30 years later, going from one to the other feels like crossing the goddam Himalayas! To make matters worse, by the time I reached the Holocaust museum, they were no longer issuing passes (tickets) to the “main exhibit” for the rest of the day, as it was full up with a billion or so schoolkids. So I took a wander around the rest of the museum then, having decided that enough was enough, I headed my weary way back to the 5A bus to Dulles. On the way I looked for somewhere to buy a late lunch (and a beer). Well, in that part of DC there seems to be nothing but Federal buildings and not a Bar or restaurant in sight – just streets lined with these cute food trucks where everybody was having lunch. There being nothing else on offer, I partook of a hot dog from one of them, then promptly walked around the next corner to find a Holiday Inn that had a sidewalk bar and restaurant (big sigh).
Fortunately I arrived at L’Enfant Plaza in time to grab the 1.25 bus back to the airport, which took 15 minutes longer than scheduled due to the traffic (and we think Auckland’s traffic is bad – you ought to see it here!). I then had to wait for the Hotel shuttle to pick me up, but did have enough time to squeeze down a beer – very necessary, even at airport prices! I finally got back to the hotel at 4pm. I think tomorrow will be a day of rest!
Saturday 18th May – Chantilly VA
Funny, yesterday I could have sworn it was Saturday and only this morning I discovered it wasn’t. No wonder the 5A bus didn’t run to the Saturday schedule I was looking at – and why there were so many kids at the Smithsonian. It were a schoolday, weren’t it?
On that subject, I was thinking about how come our return to Washington DC has seemed a little anti-climactic. When we visited DC in 1989, it was one of our first visits to the USA and the Smithsonian is a microcosm of that country packed into a (relatively) small area in one place – hence its popularity with schools to send their kids to. Back then, we only had 2 days here and though we were younger, and (relatively) fitter, there was just not enough time to get round all the museums in the Mall area, hence our desire to return some day and spend more time. However, since then we have travelled to the USA many times, and even lived here for a short while, and over that time we have been to a lot of places and attractions that the Smithsonian represents. I have been to the Space Centres at Huntsville, Houston (twice) and Kennedy (three times), and even watched a launch from Cape Canaveral. I have been to air museums at Dayton (twice), Davis Montham and Atwater as well as those associated with other militaria, such as the USS Intrepid, USS Alabama and USS Yorktown museums. Even an ICBM silo in Arizona at the Titan missile museum and several plane “graveyards” in the deserts of Nevada and Arizona. So there is not much that I haven’t already seen examples of, that is on show at either of the Smithsonian aerospace sites.
Likewise, we have visited the Grand Canyon and Death Valley plus Dinosaur museums at Vernal and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, and Casper and Thermopolis in Wyoming. We’ve been to Meteor Crater, Yellowstone and, of course, we live in a geologically active, geothermal/techtonic country so there isn’t much shown in the Natural history museum we haven’t experienced before.
Although we haven’t been to any of them, I doubt that the Museum of the America Indian would tell us about any more than what we have encountered on our trips though Apache, Navajo and Dakota Territories and visits to the Little Big Horn and Crazy Horse Memorial. The American History museum? Well, we’ve travelled the California trail, visited the Wild West at places like Cody and Deadwood, been to Texas and the Alamo and hey, we’ve just spent the last month travelling up the east coast, at times with our own Historian telling us all about the Revolutionary and Civil wars, as well as all the historic battlefields and other places we visited during our 7 months on the Great Loop.
Getting to the Smithsonian from where we are is not difficult but does require an expenditure of energy – and then there is getting round once you’re there, which is far more tiring than I remember from 30 years ago (as I found out yesterday). With Carolyn feeling unwell, it would not be possible for her to make the expedition and therefore it is unlikely we will try, even though we don’t leave for LA for 2 more days. I would have expected to feel bad about “missing out” on seeing more of the Smithsonian but, for the reasons already expressed above, I don’t. We’ll spend the next couple of days resting up for the journey home and I’ll try not to feel too bad…. about not feeling bad…..about not seeing as much of the Smithsonian as I thought we should.