Jamie – 1 December 2011
We flew into Washington a little sad, having had such a great time with family and friends in New York City. We didn’t realise how much we had missed this part of our lives until we had to say goodbye to it again.
We had a short ride from the airport to our hotel which, it turned out, was only three blocks to the White House. Being mid afternoon – and a surprisingly balmy one at that – we thought it important to drop in on Barack and Michelle but unfortunately they were out. Nevertheless we admired their fine house (from about 50m over the north lawn), spotted a few snipers on the roof (I spy with my little eye something beginning with “S”) and Sari proved she could get her entire body through the White House fence. We got her back on the right side of the fence pretty quick but Bec and I had visions of someone on the roof observing her closely through scope cross-hairs.
We decided to make the short walk around the White House to the Washington Monument when out of the blue (literally) the Obama’s arrived via two very large helicopters that came in low and slow from the south. We were too far away to see anything clearly but it was exciting and the children could sense that we were watching something significant.
This sense was magnified several times by the awesome sunset that played out over the next half hour, casting the White House, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in amazing colours which we caught on film. It was a lovely evening and we covered quite a few kilometres (“miles” over here) on foot – including along the Reflecting Pool (drained for repairs) to the Lincoln Memorial. The children recognised Abraham Lincoln (from “Night at the Museum, Part 2”) and half expected him to come alive I think.
The next day – Sunday – we visited the International Spy Museum, which displayed and explained everything a 7, 9 and 43 year old boy would ever want to know about the great art of spycraft. We saw all the tools of the trade – secret microphones, secret cameras, modified cars, disguises, you name it .. we even adopted false identities which we had to keep for the duration of the visit and which got tested as we passed several “border guards” along the tour. Great fun – even the girls thought it was excellent. I then visited the Arlington National Cemetery – a military cemetery that dates back to the Civil War which is set amidst 624 acres of rolling hills overlooking Washington. Amazingly (or maybe not?) it averages about 30 burials a day. I found it very peaceful and very beautiful to walk around.
On Monday Bec suggested we visit the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving, which is responsible for printing all of the paper currency that gets used in the USA. This was a fascinating tour which took in the entire production line from rolls of paper at one end to pallets of wallet-ready notes at the other. We observed everything from a long glass corridor above the printing presses and learnt that it rolls out nearly US$1 billion in physical notes every day! One woman employee down on the floor had written an amusing sign above her chair which read “How do you think I feel. I just printed my lifetime salary in 94 seconds.” It was a free tour and something we would definitely recommend to others visiting. You can even buy sheets of uncut notes in the Gift Shop – at well above face value!
The boys and I then walked to the National Air and Space Museum, one of the 19 museums that make up the Smithsonian Institute (the worlds largest museum and research complex), where we spent the rest of the day. This museum houses virtually every original item associated with landmark achievements in the field of flight and space – including the original Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 command module (which carried the first men to the moon). We also went on flight simulators, watched a 3D IMAX film on the history of flight, and then saw a documentary about the cosmos in the planetarium. I don’t think we saw half of the displays but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
We flew to Orlando, Florida the next day and that was NOT fun. You hear a lot of bad stories about people flying around the States and this was our turn to experience it. Having arrived in good time and checked in our bags we began boarding our 11.10am flight when there was an announcement that the plane had been deemed “Out of service” and we should collect our bags from the arrivals carousel and proceed to the ticketing counter to see what could be done in terms of re-booking. This is a pain when you just have hand luggage, but when you have a family of five travelling the world with luggage for six months it registers on the Richter scale.
Bec and the boys collected the bags while Sari and I tried to get re-ticketed. There are 25 flights a day between Washington and Orlando (obviously not all are American Airlines) but in the end the best they could do was send us to Fort Worth, Texas on a 3pm flight to connect (hopefully) with a flight to Orlando an hour later. A flight which would have taken under 2.5 hours took us 8 hours in the air (and halfway across the USA!) and we arrived back on the east coast at 11pm as compared to the originally planned early afternoon. At least we (and our luggage) got there – as it turned out we left Washington 30 minutes late and that seriously threatened our one hour changeover in Texas. The gods were smiling however – a favourable tailwind saved us.
We were all a bit grumpy the next day and don’t feel particularly well disposed to American Airlines but otherwise no harm done – bring on the warm Floridian weather and theme parks!