Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back East Trip: Mr & Mrs Mertz Go to Washington

Aaron and I have a habit (good or bad is still to be determined) of planning our next vacation while we are on another vacation. So our plans for this trip began while we were laying on the beach in Mexico on our honeymoon! Our honeymoon was our first big trip together - flying together, staying in a hotel together for more than a few nights... actually our honeymoon was the first time we were ever together for more than 48 hours full time! Luckily we discovered we were really good at it. We travel really well together. We are laid back, but like having a plan. We also like the ability to change the plan if we want. So while we sat on the beach enjoying the success of our honeymoon, we decided that we wanted to take another big trip in the next year. We thought since Mexico was international, our next trip should be domestic... and since I had never been to DC and Aaron had never been to New York, we would do a big back east trip!

We only were able to swing a week away from work, so we were going to JAM PACK both DC and New York into 1 week!

Our trip began in Washington DC. I had never been before and was so excited to see all the wonderful historical stuff! I was a history major, so I am all in for museums, government buildings, and monuments. Aaron studied History too in college and had been to DC several times, he had actually studied at the University of Maryland for a semester and so had lived in this part of the country for a semester. He was the perfect tour guide!

Day 1:
First off, let me just rave about our hotel for a bit!! Aaron found an awesome deal on Priceline for the Willard Hotel! This was the hotel where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration as President. Ulysses S Grant would drink whiskey in the lobby during his presidency and would often be approached by people for political favors, which is where the term "lobbying" began. Also Martin Luther King finished his "I Have a Dream" speech from his room at the Willard. So to say this hotel is a piece of history is an understatement. It is also just a 2 minute walk to the White House and the Mall.
Our room at the Willard

The Entrance of the Willard

Our beautiful hotel is right behind us!
We arrived in DC during the evening and after settling into the hotel, immediately went off to find dinner. We found this awesome cigar bar and restaurant called Shelly's Back Room that served one of the best corn chowders I had ever had! They also allowed people to smoke cigars inside, which was a fun atmosphere.
Dinner at Shelly's Back Room
After dinner, before we turned in for the night, we HAD to walk down to the White House and have a look.
Hi Mr President!

Day 2:
This day was a little rainy, so we did inside activities... which meant lots of museums! We started at the National Archives to look at a bunch of old, famous paper.
National Archives
 Not gonna lie, the Declaration of Independence and Magna Carta and pretty much everything else in this building is pretty stinkin' fantastic! I got a little choked up looking at the Declaration of Independence and all the famous signatures. Truly incredible what they did to create our country!

After the National Archives we were on to the Smithsonian museums! We stopped into the Museum of Natural History to see the Hope Diamond, but didn't stay long.
Entrance to the Museum of Natural History

The Hope Diamond
One of my top things we did was go to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. We saw an exhibit on the creation of the Star Spangled Banner and a HUGE American flag that inspired the song.
But my favorite part of this museum was the Pop Culture Wing. It was so fun to see things we have only seen in movies of on TV.
Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz

Old School Apple Computer

Julia Child's kitchen
HIGHLIGHT! Harry Potter's robes

Hi Ho Kermit the Frog
We could have roamed around the museums for hours, but we wanted time to relax as much as we could, since this was a vacation. And we just loved our hotel, so after a morning of Museums, we had lunch and then headed back to the hotel for a nap. We of coursed stopped along the way for some photo ops with statues around the city.

Good Ol' Ben Franklin
 We also enjoyed walking through some of the parks around the city. There was one park that had a bunch of modern art sculptures around.
A tree made of steel
Relaxing in the hotel. Man I love traveling with this guy!!
Our hotel was quite a tourist attraction all its own. The lobby has exhibits for its history and includes Abraham Lincoln's first check ever signed as president made out to the hotel to pay off his stay.
The lobby of the Willard.
And speaking of presidents, we couldn't help by make another visit to the White House, this time during the day.
The back of the White House
Day 3:
This was probably the busiest day of our whole back east trip. I swear we walked nearly 10 miles through the Mall and the streets of DC.
One of Aaron and my favorite things to do on vacation is to pretend to be locals and people watch. So today began with a warm drink and a pastry and sitting along the reflecting pool. We were up earlier than most tourists so it was super quiet and peaceful.

Along the reflecting pool
Then we started the marathon of monuments and memorials!
World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial - Arizona
The Vietnam Memorial was incredibly somber. I definitely got emotional seeing all the names and flowers left by visitors.
Vietnam Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial was just as awesome as I thought it would be. The building is huge, the Lincoln Statue is impressive, the quotes from his speeches lining the walls are inspiring and the view is majestic!
Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

View from the Lincoln Memorial
We then continued our walk to the FDR memorial. They had a bunch of sculptures representing the depression and all he did to provide jobs and hope. They also had a scene representing his fireside chats he did over the radio. They had the chats playing for people to listen to.
FDR fireside chats
To break up all the memorials, I also did some geese chasing
geese chasing along the Mall
The Jefferson Memorial was pretty awesome too. Way bigger than I expected it to be. Also a way farther walk than it looks on a map. by this time I didn't think my feet would ever recover.
Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial
After all the memorials, we stopped off at the Ford's Theater to see where Lincoln was assassinated and the house across the street where he died. It was a bit creepy, but still really cool to see. They also had a whole room dedicated to an explanation of the timeline of events and some of the conspiracy theories about John Wilks Booth.
The theater box to the left is where Lincoln sat

The room of the house across the street where he died
We also walked to the Old Post Office just down the street from the theater to see views from along the Mall.

From the top of the Old Post Office.

View of Capitol Hill from the top of the Old Post Office.

That night we met up with some of Aaron's grad school friends from the University of Georgia who now work in Washington. It was so much fun to meet people who he did life with for 2 years and listen to them reminice about their grad school days and adventures in Athens, GA. We also were eating at the Old Ebbitt Grill, which is a must visit place in DC.
Aaron's Grad School friends

Day 3:
Our last full day in DC was all about the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress!
The Capitol Building, being one of the most recognized buildings in the world, was a site to behold and was so incredibly beautiful in person. Fun fact - it was designed after St Paul's Cathedral in England, which just happens to be my favorite building in the world.

The Capitol Building
The walking tour of the building was super awesome with all sorts of fun facts about the building and photo opts!
Since there are so many tours going on at once, you have to wear headphones to hear your guide
The old Superior Court Chambers

the gorgeous Capitol Dome

There is a mosaic all the way around the room showing the history of our country

This spot is where John Quincy Adams' desk once stood. It is also perfectly placed acoustically to be able to hear a whisper said from across the room.

Aaron and Dwight D Eisenhower
The tour definitely wasn't long enough and I would of course have loved a peak at Congress and the House of Representatives, but it is unfortunately not apart of the tour.

The day was beautifully sunny, so we had a beautiful view of the Capitol Building from the front and all the way down the mall.
The Capitol Building from the front

The Capitol Building

View of the Mall

We ate lunch in the dining hall of the Capitol and then headed over to the Library of Congress to see old books.

Aaron and I had been dreaming out our visit to the Library of Congress and how we were going to check out super old books at the reading room and just hold them and take pictures with them... yes, we are super nerds!

The Library of Congress reading room.

The Gutenberg Bible!
 In order to get into any of the reading rooms and be able to check out books, you had to have a Library of Congress Reading Card. We had to wait in a bit of a line to get one, but it was totally worth it!
Library Cards!
 After we had our cards in hand, it was quite a trial trying to find the right room to find the books we wanted. We kept getting conflicting directions and wandered around the library for some time, probably in places we shouldn't have wandered, but we finally found a room with the right books. You have to request books that old to be gotten for you by the staff and I swear the librarian was thoroughly annoyed by us the whole time... but I didn't care. I got to touch first edition copies of some awesome books.
1813 copies of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

First Edition copy of Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Aaron reading the first edition of Adventures of Tom Sawyer
We barely touched the books and I think I held my breath cause I was so afraid I would ruin the book copies. We sat and stared at the books for quite some time, whispering to each other in excitement and trying to contain our laughter at how insanely excited we were.

We were definitely riding a high from all that we had done so far for the day, but we were determined to squeeze in one last famous site before we left DC that evening. We quickly ran to Arlington Cemetery to see the tombstones and JFK's grave.
Arlington Cemetery

The Eternal Flame by JFK and Jackie Kennedy's graves.
Such a sobering experience seeing rows upon rows of those whole have died in service to our country. Definitely worth the visit.

We felt like we truly soaked in all that Washington DC had to offer, but with all places, there was so much that we wanted to still see. This place definitely warrants another trip, but for this trip, we headed out that night for New York by Bolt Bus! It was the cheapest way to New York and was SUPER affordable. I couldn't believe it was so cheap with it having wifi onboard, AC, and pretty comfy seats.

Ready for the bus ride!
Next Stop The Big Apple!

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