National Mall Rats

The Washington Monument reflected in the Reflecting Pool from the Lincoln Memorial

9-June 2014 to 11-June 2014: By about 10:35pm, we were finally back at the Residence Inn. We didn't do as much sightseeing as I had hoped on this day, so that meant that tomorrow would be all or nothing in terms of National Mall touring. Hopefully my work-related stuff would conclude earlier rather than later in the afternoon so I could join Julie and Tahia for some sightseeing fun.

In any case, I definitely felt like I was coming down with something as my congestion was now stuffing my nose. Fortunately, I was so tired that I was ultimately able to sleep, and I knew that I would get perhaps an hour or more of sleep on this night than I had been getting in the past two weeks, and this was despite my 5:30am wakeup tomorrow (or 2:30am in west coast time!)...

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Today got started off with a 4am wake-up. Tahia refused to sleep early last night so all of us woke up reluctantly to our alarms. Tahia was unsurprisingly very cranky, but at least the promise of going to Washington DC to see statues and monuments seemed to improve her mood and coerced her into fighting her reluctance to get out of bed. After all, she had asked to go to Washington DC all weekend long not aware that we were scheduled to fly there on Monday morning.

In any case, we got our stuff that had been packed the last couple of days, loaded up the car, and headed out. By about 5am, we got to LAX where I dropped Julie and Tahia off (along with the car seat) at the American Airlines terminal, which was already busy at this time of day. It turned out that they had to catch a separate flight from me because we used our miles to fly them out there and it was a very last minute decision to get them out to DC (as of this past Sunday). I had booked my flight about a month ago for business, but I had no idea that we were flying into Reagan as opposed to Dulles, and some of my coworkers encouraged me to turn this business trip into a sightseeing scouting trip.

But Julie was thinking out of the box and thought we should use our miles to seize this opportunity to do a little sightseeing as a family when I wasn't working. Plus, they would get to tour the museums on the day when I had to work.

Speaking of which, this was the first time we did a trip like this. I couldn't wait to join them on the sightseeing once my work stuff was over. However, until then, my mind was elsewhere not the least of which involved hoping that Julie and Tahia would make it safely to the Reagan airport without delay. After all, they had to connect in O'Hare before getting to DC, so their 6am flight was earlier than my 7:30am flight, but they were supposed to arrive at 4:30pm which was an hour later than my arrival.

So I saw them off for their 6am flight after taking care of the parking situation (the Wally Park on Sepulveda was misleadingly close to the Lot C signs so I was fooled into going there instead of Lot C), and then I had to wait patiently for my flight.

My flight took off on time, and it turned out that it arrived in Reagan on time just before 3:30pm so now it was time to wait for Julie and Tahia to arrive. I was concerned that my throat started to feel scratchy and that I might be coming down with a cold. The timing was terrible as I had to make a presentation tomorrow. In any case, I was determined to push through the work and the sightseeing regardless of how crappy I knew that I would feel if I was indeed coming down with a full blown cold. Who knows when this opportunity would present itself again?

That said, the rest of my coworkers who were on the flight with me went ahead to the hotel without me. But I was a bit disappointed to see that Julie and Tahia's flight was already 45 minutes late (from 4:30pm to 5:17pm). So I had to suck it up and spend more time at the Reagan Airport than I wanted.

So I took this time to have a late lunch while taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi in the airport, but that still left me well over an hour of waiting for Julie and Tahia to arrive - especially when I saw that the delay increased from a 5:17pm arrival to a 5:27pm arrival time! It was still around 4pm at the time so I had to find another way to kill time at the airport.

As I was aimlessly meandering about the terminals and concourses, I noticed on a directory that there was some kind of Heritage Hall section of the airport. Perhaps that might help me kill some time while also learning a little bit about the history of this airport and of aviation in this region, I guess. So I slowly made my way towards what appeared to be an annexed or satellite part of the airport at gates 1-9, and at first I was disappointed at the lack of displays and information when I got to the entrance of that terminal.

But as I was turning around and ready to head back to the main concourse, I noticed a series of steps leading up to a glass double-door that appeared to have a few more displays and signs. So I went up there and that was when I realized that this was the heritage hall section the directory must have been talking about. The funny thing was that the whole time I was here, I was the only one. Either most of the airport patrons didn't care about this place or perhaps it was not that easy to find.

The Heritage Hall section of the Reagan Airport Whatever the case, I was getting some information about things like the Ages of Abingdon, which seemed to have something to do with trade in the earlier colonial days of the region. I spent the time to take photos of the signs so I could read about them later, as reading through all of the signs in real-time would take way too much time.

A model of an early airplane in the Heritage Hall of Reagan Airport There were also some models of the airport as well as early models of airplanes as well as a TV set with a handful of chairs facing it. The TV was off though. Apparently, this Reagan airport dated back to the 1930s when it was sanctioned by congressional action to begin construction.

When I had my fill of this place, it was about 4:45pm. I still had a good 45 minutes to go! So I decided to go downstairs towards the baggage claim where I expected Julie and Tahia's checked stuff would show up. Julie had left me a series of text messages so I could see that their flight didn't take off from Chicago until around 2:15pm because the original pilot had called in sick. I guess we were never one to have much luck with O'Hare since I remembered on our 2005 trip to Norway, our roughest landing ever was at O'Hare (when the plane literally bounced on the runway, got some air, before finally settling into the runway).

Finally at around 5:30pm, I saw that the carousel for Julie's flight started to move. Apparently, they were delayed further after landing because the gate they were supposed to go into was occupied. So it wasn't until almost 6pm when I finally saw Tahia and Julie in the flesh, but not before I managed to pick up their stuff from the baggage claim carousel.

So with the car seat and our two carry-on rollerboards in our possession, we then faced the humidity and took the shuttle to the rental car area, and by 6:30pm, we finally got our rental car and started leaving the airport. Clearly, we could have used the time ate up by the delay to do some National Mall sightseeing, but what was done was done. Still we were determined to salvage something from today so once we checked into the Residence Inn after having driven by the Pentagon, we got into our sightseeing clothes, and proceeded to head out.

The metro stop at Ballston-MU It turned out that it was about a four-block walk to the metro stop at Ballston-MU. Apparently, that was the nearest entrance to the metro from where we were staying, but the humidity made this hike turn out to be a bit more strenuous than what we had thought. Eventually, we would get into the metro stop at around 7:30pm where we saw that we had to wait another 7 minutes for the next train on the Orange Line, which seemed to be a bit of a long wait compared to what we saw in New York or even Boston.

Looking towards the Washington Monument from the Smithsonian stop In any case, we took the train to the Smithsonian stop, which we thought was the appropriate stop for the National Mall. This National Mall itself was a very long lawn area that seemed to be at the center of all the historical attractions like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, all the Smithsonian Museums, Capitol Hill, and more.

When we got back up to the surface and right onto the National Mall area, we could see just how extensive this area was! Even walking to the Washington Monument took quite a bit of time (and sweat thanks to the humidity), and that was the nearest noticeable monument that drew our attention; it was really hard to miss! There were also tents placed everywhere on the lawn (due to some kind of festival) so that kind of obstructed our views of Capitol Hill or the Lincoln Memorial on opposite ends of the National Mall.

Julie thought this massive lawn area was very reminiscent of the big lawn area surrounding the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. But somehow I sensed that this lawn area was even more extensive than what I could recall from our France trip a couple of years ago. Perhaps this reminded me more of the Garden of Tuilleries which was a large lawn area between the Champs d'Elysees and I think the Louvre.

Looking back towards Capitol Hill from the National Mall quad area Another look at the Washington Monument as the sun was setting Looking back towards Capitol Hill from the National Mall quad area

It was already getting dark, and I had hoped to make it all the way to the Lincoln Memorial to get twilight views of the honest Abe statue itself in lights, but it turned out to be too far of a walk. It was about 8pm when we came to realization that this recommended foodie place called Luke's Lobster was closing at 9pm. And we had quite a bit of a walk to get from the Washington Monument to get to the Penn Quarter where Julie's Google Maps app on her phone guided us.

Closer look at the Washington Monument at sunset We'd ultimately make it to the Maine-style seafood place where Tahia was very tired and essentially forced me to carry her for most of the walk before arriving at the restaurant. Lesson learned here was to bring the child carrier when in doubt so at least my hips could support her weight instead of my arms and back. Anyways, we still had about 15 minutes to go before they closed up shop.

Looking towards Capitol Hill as we were walking towards the Penn Quarter for eating dinner Having to eat awkwardly since Tahia was in no mood to change her position with head on my shoulder while clinging onto me (so we couldn't disturb her nap in any way), I was trying not to get cocktail sauce or lobster scraps onto her as I was shoveling food into my mouth with the utensils having to travel above her to get from cardboard to mouth.

Luke's Lobster The food was pretty fresh and good though Julie said she liked Cousin's Maine Lobster better (a foodie truck that would swing by near our home in LA). She also liked the Maine Lobster rolls that we had while we were checking out the Portland Head Lighthouse last October.

In any case, the food hit the spot. However, we were pretty dehydrated from having insufficient water. Plus, I knew that my cold was getting worse so I had to savor the flavor of the food before my congestion would ultimately mess up my ability to taste this or any other kind of food.

Eventually after finishing up with our dinner, we left Luke's Lobster at around 9:30pm, and then we walked over to this gelato place called Pitango. Julie had yelped it and apparently it had gotten good reviews. So we went over there for our dessert.

Julie and Tahia waiting patiently for the subway train to get us back to our accommodation By this time, Tahia was wide awake again as the promise of Italian ice cream really got her juices flowing. Julie ended up getting some sorbets, which she said was very good. I got my vanilla and cream flavors, which Julie thought Grom's was better for those flavors. But whatever the case, we enjoyed our gelato, and shortly thereafter, we caught the metro stop at Archives, which we ultimately took back to the Ballston stop.

It turned out that we were short a few cents when we left the Ballston stop, and since we had put $6 each in our tickets, that meant the round-trip distance was a little over $6 and therefore pretty pricey! Since Julie and Tahia were going to have all day at the National Mall tomorrow, I encouraged Julie to go ahead and buy a day pass (at $14).

By about 10:35pm, we were finally back at the Residence Inn. We didn't do as much sightseeing as I had hoped on this day, so that meant that tomorrow would be all or nothing in terms of National Mall touring. Hopefully my work-related stuff would conclude earlier rather than later in the afternoon so I could join Julie and Tahia for some sightseeing fun.

In any case, I definitely felt like I was coming down with something as my congestion was now stuffing my nose for good. Fortunately, I was so tired that I was ultimately able to sleep despite the discomfort. Besides, I knew that I would get perhaps an hour or more of sleep on this night than I had been getting in the past two weeks, and this was despite my 5:30am wakeup tomorrow (or 2:30am in west coast time!)...

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The day began with another early wake-up, but I had no problems getting up at 5:30am knowing that I had to give a presentation on this day. To make a long story short, I went through the business aspect of the trip, and it seemed like it went pretty well (at least that was what my gut was telling me). I had always been nervous in the rehearsals before this day, but maybe having the family with me on this trip somehow relaxed me.

Anyways, I was very relieved when it was over by around 3:30pm, and so I immediately headed back to the hotel, where both Julie and Tahia were still out and about taking advantage of their full day of sightseeing. So much for both of them coming back in the early afternoon for Tahia's nap.

So I called Julie and learned that they were touring the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It sounded like they were having a great time though Julie told me that they got the hard part of their sightseeing over with. Apparently, both Tahia and Julie walked a large chunk of the western end of the National Mall seeing things like the World War II fountains, the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial, the front of the White House, and the Washington Monument before checking out the museums.

Julie said she had bought two full-day passes by mistake (she didn't know Tahia was free) so I only bought enough for a one-way trip into the National Mall area before I would use Julie's extra day pass fare. I had put $3 on my transit card.

Some fancy buildings around the Federal Triangle Stop Passing before the US Environmental Protection Agency Looking back towards the Smithsonian Castle from the steps of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum

By about 3:40pm, I was on the subway train to the National Mall vicinity. I was already a bit of hot and sweaty mess given the humidity and the four-block walk to even get to the Ballston metro stop. But whatever the case, once I got off at the Federal Triangle, I then meandered about alongside some Roman-influenced buildings, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). I'm sure that latter building would be a place a lot of people wouldn't mind targeting and channeling their hate and anger.

The elephant in the main lobby area facing the National Mall inside the Smithsonian Natural History Museum I eventually made it to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum at 4:15pm where I finally got some reprieve from the heat and humidity by staying within the air-conditioned confines of the museum itself. I was waiting by the big elephant as I was coordinating with Julie about meeting via cell phone (I still had my old-school flip phone and hadn't made the plunge to go smart phone). Eventually, we would finally be touring as a family together once again as we spent some more time checking out some of the exhibits within this museum.

Checking out an Eastern Island moai statue Every time I think of the Smithsonian, I can't help but think of the cover of operative Annie Walker on the show Covert Affairs. But what we came to realize was that the Smithsonian was really a collection of museums. I guess the fictional character worked in the fine arts whereas we wanted Tahia to check out the natural history stuff.

Tahia holding onto a live grasshopper with the help of one of the workers there She definitely enjoyed being able to hold and touch a live grasshopper as well as a giant larva. She also got to see some live bees as well as some other creepy crawlies like a black widow, a tarantula, and other things. We were too late to check out the live butterfly display.

Some fancy building behind the IRS building We also checked out the Easter Island moai statue, which seemed to be a real popular one as well as a T-rex skull and a totem pole nearby. Clearly, it was easy to spend the whole day just within this museum itself, but I was ready to do the sightseeing for DC's iconic sights like the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, so when we had our fill of the Smithsonian, we proceeded to re-enter the mugginess of the National Mall, and take the train towards Capitol Hill since neither of us had made it to that domed-shaped building yet.

When we got off of the Federal Center stop, we had to walk about 3 blocks or so before we finally made it to the reflecting pool before the Capitol Building at 5:30pm. The grand building once again demonstrated to us the Greek and Roman influence in its architecture, especially since we had seen the real things in Greece and Italy. I guess this was sort of a homage to the Greek's Democracy and the might of the Roman Empire.

Approaching the impressive Capitol Building Distant view of the Washington Monument seen from the Capitol Building Looking across the Reflecting Pool towards the Capitol Building

The thunderclouds were really building up and blocking out the sun by the time we made it to the Capitol Building so that kind of muted the colors a bit. Still we probably had perhaps our cutest family photograph in front of the reflecting pool before the Capitol so I was at least somewhat glad that the tripod I was lugging around paid some kind of dividend.

The Capitol Building reflected in the Reflecting Pool Tahia checking out the Capitol Building reflection When we had our fill of the Capitol Building, we then walked back to the Federal Center stop where we had to get ripped off on another pair of bottled water (prompted by Tahia's complaints of being thirsty). Clearly to this point, we didn't bother finding a convenience store or grocery store where we could get water on the cheap. I guess when time was running short, saving money took a back seat.

When we finally got hydrated, we then descended back into the subway where we proceeded to take the train to the MacPherson Square stop where we thought would be closest stop to the White House. Since Tahia and Julie had already seen this, this stop was mostly for me.

The backside of the White House The pedestrian-friendly part of Pennsylvania Avenue Distant view of the front of the White House

Once we left the train station, we got oriented and proceeded to walk towards what turned out to be the backside of the White House (the so-called North Lawn). There were already a lot of people even over here, but Julie contended it was nothing like the iconic frontal view of the White House. So after getting past the anti-Nuclear protests, the cops on watch, what appeared to be one News cameraman, and the many kids that were here to try to get a closer look at the White House through the prison-bar-like fence, we then proceeded to walk around the White House alongside the US Treasury Department Building.

Distant view of the front of the White House As we passed by its columnar side facade, I couldn't help but think this was probably where the decisions were made to keep printing more money and devalue the dollar in the name of staving off the inevitable...

When we finally got to where we were at least somewhat closer to the front of the White House, we could see that there were police or guards shooing people away from the ellipse part of the lawn where Julie told me they were able to get to earlier in the day. I guess when I showed up, it was too late in the day.

Leaving the White House and getting closer to the Washington Monument So we continued walking further back along the lawn area in the direction of the Washington Monument, where we could at least take advantage of the 200mm zoom to get a decent frontal shot of the White House without the hideous fence making the shot look like we were looking through prison bars.

I guess that was enough for my tastes, and we then proceeded to cross the busy street towards the bustling and extensive lawn area surrounding the Washington Monument.

Julie and Tahia on the walkway leading closer to the Washington Monument with rec league softballers on the lawn There were lots of what appeared to be organized recreational softball or kickball games. It kind of brought back memories of my youth when I always looked forward to playing these organized sports growing up. And with the giant obelisk of the Washington Monument as the backdrop, it was quite the place to have such games despite the stifling heat and humidity.

Watching these fully-grown co-eds play the sports, it really seemed to me that these people were pretty good. These certainly weren't newbies.

Looking past the World War II fountains towards the Lincoln Memorial Looking back towards the World War II fountain Making my way towards the Lincoln Memorial

Anyways, we were busy staying on the walkways so as to not get nailed on the head with one of the softballs (especially for Tahia's sake), and we eventually made it to the fountains at the World War II memorial where Julie and Tahia agreed to wait there for me while they were trying to cool off and I would continue trekking towards the Lincoln Memorial.

About to go up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Approaching the statue of Abe Lincoln Looking back towards a glowing Washington Monument reflected in the Reflecting Pool from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

There was no way they were going to make the long walk from these fountains to the Lincoln Memorial, so I was on my own at that point.

Contextual view looking at the crowd around the Lincoln Memorial The crowd gathered before the Lincoln Statue Looking back towards the crowds before the Lincoln Statue

With the stifling weather, I was really taking my time making the 0.8-mile trek past the Reflecting Pool to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I could see up ahead that there were already a lot of people loitering around at the memorial itself so I knew that I would be but one of thousands of people crowding that place even though it seemed like it was quite a bit of a hike to get here in the first place. Perhaps there was a way to drive to some lot nearby and cut down the amount of walking.

The familiar view of the Lincoln Statue with some inscription above him I was getting routinely passed by locals who were jogging in both directions. It seemed like running back and forth along the National Mall was a decent exercise route though I swore everything seemed longer and more strenuous given the muggy weather.

Looking between the columns towards the Lincoln Statue By the time I finally made it to the Lincoln Memorial, the sun finally started to show itself as the pop-up thunderclouds were continuing to make their way east. So as I was ascending the Lincoln Memorial steps, I was able to look back at the Reflecting Pool and see the obelisk of the Washington Memorial glowing orange with the late afternoon sun.

The familiar view where the Million Mile March ended I recalled seeing pictures of million man marches where people literally surrounded the Reflecting Pool, and now after making the walk here in person, I couldn't imagine how many people it took to fill in all that area for a common cause! Wow!

In a way it kind of hit me at that moment what an inspirational leader Martin Luther King Jr. must have been during the Civil Rights movement. More recently, there was the Million Man March, the Obama Inauguration, as well as the Occupy Movement when I recalled seeing similar images of the mass of humanity gathered about the National Mall, and especially surrounding this reflecting pool.

Anyways, I then proceeded to go through the columns and into the chamber containing the statue of Abe Lincoln sitting on a chair with some inscriptions above him. Flanking him were more columns and other inscriptions containing some revelatory words written by Honest Abe himself concerning our Nation at a time of Civil War.

Looking back at the Lincoln Memorial after having my fill of it Not surprisingly, it was very crowded inside the Lincoln Memorial so after taking my obligatory shots of the statue, I then went ahead and tried to compose some unusual photos to try to convey just how popular this place was.

Another look back at the Lincoln Memorial as I was walking further away from it After having my fill of the Lincoln Memorial, I started to head back down the steps when I just kept getting drawn by the glowing obelisk of the Washington Monument. So I took some more time to photo the scene while also trying to fight fatigue that was definitely conspiring to make me quit now.

Back at the World War II fountain I couldn't believe that there was a group of well-dressed youngsters seemingly celebrating someone getting married or something. Whatever the case was, I'd imagine it couldn't have been comfortable in such spiffy clothes under the heat and humidity. At first I couldn't believe all these folks walked here, but then I realized that they must have been driven here to reduce the walking because I simply couldn't imagine people walking nearly a mile or so in high heels or something.

Looking back at the silhouette of the Washington Monument at sunset Julie and Tahia were getting antsy as I called to let them know that I was headed back to them as I had had my fill of this monument. It was about 7:40pm when I left. I ultimately rejoined Tahia and Julie at the World War II fountains at almost 8pm. Now, it was time to make the trek towards the nearest metro stop which we determined to be the Smithsonian stop.

Tahia and Julie deliberately making their way towards the restrooms before going to the Smithsonian stop With our legs practically jello, we thankfully got to the stop then made the transfer from the L'Enfant Plaza to the Archives stop. Once we got up out of the Archives stop (seeing a different part of this stop than yesterday), we then proceeded to walk into the Penn Quarter in search of a dinner place.

The National Archives building seen from the Archives stop We were royally bummed that we couldn't do one of the Jose Andreas restaurants (which we were well aware of thanks to dining at the Bazaar in Beverly Hills a couple of times) without forking over $100 per person for their Dine and Dash program that apparently we happened to catch during our visit that started this night. So we ended up settling for this barbeque place called the Hill Country Market.

Twilight at the Penn Quarter It turned out that the food wasn't that great, but we were all just itching to get off our tired feet. At least Tahia seemed to enjoy her food as she must have been hungry at the time. She was also very thirsty so all that restaurant water was very welcome.

The only bad thing was that the AC in the restaurant was quite strong and all of us were starting to get the chills. Even Tahia was starting to complain.

So after paying for our bill and leaving the Texas-influenced restaurant, we got back into the humidity, which was actually a little welcome as we made our way past Oyamel Restaurant towards the Pitango Gelato place again. Once again, Julie had her sorbet and I had my vanilla-style gelato flavors. Of course, Tahia didn't need prompting as she wasn't shy about taking huge bites of both of our gelati.

Once we had our fill of the gelato, we then walked back to the Archives stop where we then took the subway back to the Ballston stop. Since the train ride would take a bit of time, Tahia ultimately fell asleep, and I knew that I would have to carry her the brutal four blocks back to the Residence Inn.

Sure enough, when we got to the stop, Tahia was draped over one of my shoulders while I tried to support her with one of my arms. Both of us were sweaty messes, and my lower back was starting to feel some discomfort even after walking a block or two.

We finally noticed a 7-11 liquor store across the street from the Ballston stop, but by now it was too little too late.

Finally at 11pm, we made it back to the Residence Inn. I saw a coworker chatting with a college friend and took this time to introduce her to Julie and a sleeping Tahia, before letting them continue catching up while all of us went back upstairs to crash and finally call it a day.

By now, I was feeling like crap as I knew my cold wasn't getting any better from all the exercise and lack of rest, but when you're tying to seize the moment, I figured I could take the rest of the week to recuperate before getting back to the craziness of work next week. And the rest won't stop come tomorrow because we planned on doing Great Falls Park, which was our waterfalling reason to talk about all the historical sites of the National Mall on this trip in the first place.

So with that, we had no problems sleeping and sleeping in for tomorrow morning knowing that the only thing that would force our hand to wake up would be to not miss breakfast which was supposed to close at 9am.

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It was 8am when I finally pried myself out of bed. With some chest congestion and a runny nose, I knew that my cold wasn't going to get any better on this day. Actually, Julie had been up since about 6:30am and she was dismayed that it was pouring rain outside at the time knowing that today was supposed to be our waterfalling day.

But by around 8am, the ground was still a bit wet, yet the cloudy skies were lightening up and I swore I started to see a hint of sun starting to break through the thin layer of clouds.

In any case, it was about 8:30am when we finally got ourselves ready to go downstairs and have ourselves the brekkie that Julie and Tahia had overslept and missed out on yesterday. Sure enough, Julie got to do the whole waffle thing, which to her was a sign of a good continental breakfast that was included in the room fare.

So all three of us were happily having our brekkie, and I also noticed some coworkers who were sticking around to do more work as their meeting would continue on Friday. I also saw some clients around as well. It felt strange to be in total casual mode while everyone else was working, so I tried to make sure to not rub it in while keeping to ourselves unless prompted.

At 10:15am, we were finally packed up and ready to go. We loaded up the car, and I proceeded to go back upstairs to check out. I saw the room rates and realized that there was another $100 or so tacked on to the original room rate totally in taxes and the $15 per day parking fee. Boy does that stuff really creep up on you.

At 10:35am, we were already well on our way out of the Washington DC area as we were driving past Dulles Airport (after paying a $1 toll) and then we were in what appeared to be the woods as we were making our way towards the Great Falls Park. Apparently, it was only 15 miles from DC to the entrance of the park, but man it really felt like another world as we saw a lot more trees and nature than buildings.

The busy car park at Great Falls Park Tahia and Julie on the walking path leading to the overlooks Tahia following Julie on the walkway towards the overlooks

At 10:45am, after having paid our $5 vehicle admission, we parked at the busy car park for the falls and proceeded to walk towards the Visitor Center. Actually, the restrooms were closed and we had to use portajohns, which Tahia didn't like very much as they were pretty disgusting.

Julie and Tahia approaching the pole indicating historical high water marks at Great Falls I was pretty surprised at how busy this place was for a weekday. Yet as we were making our way towards the last of the Overlooks (the so-called Overlook 3), it seemed like the crowds thinned out and we got our first glimpse of the impressive Great Falls of the Potomac, which had a brownish color and was more of a large series of cascades wrapped around a pair of rocky islands.

Before getting to the overlook, Tahia and Julie approached this high water mark pole, which showed over the years where the highest water levels in recorded history were. It has hard to believe that even as late as the mid 1990s, this overlook was under water!

Contextual view of Great Falls from Overlook 3 Closer look at the main part of the cascades of Great Falls Another contextual look at Great Falls of the Potomac

Apparently, this place had some historical significance because it was a barrier to trade. So the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company built a canal to go around it, and apparently that was on the Maryland side. I was hoping to check out the falls from that side, but I somehow got the sense that we were running out of time to do that along with the Jefferson Memorial and that we had to choose one or the other. Julie already put in her vote that this falls wasn't significant enough to go out of our way to see it from the other C&O side.

A kayaker making his way into the white water of Great Falls Anyways, we could see the overlook on the Maryland side, and it really looked like there would only be just the one lookout whereas we had three on the Virginia side. This third lookout was the most distant of the three lookouts yet it was said to be the most contextual. It was hard to photograph the falls since its width made the falls appear flat if I tried to get it all in the frame.

Kayaker navigating his way through the lowest tiers of Great Falls It was almost as if I had to be selective in the way I framed the falls in order to get a pleasing photo of it.

A sunnier look at Great Falls from Overlook 3 In the mean time, we noticed there was a kayaker who was scaling some rocks with his kayak at the lowermost section of the falls, and eventually he put in at the top of the rocks. It was fun to see him navigate through even this seemingly class 5 stretch of whitewater as he was dwarfed by the rushing waterfall all around him. I wondered if there would be more extreme kayakers who would attempt to run the entire drop of the falls.

Tahia and Julie making their way to Overlook 2 There were also some herons that were chilling out by the falls or at least circling above. Their long wingspans were definitely noticeable and quite unlike the run-of-the-mill birds we were so used to seeing.

View of Great Falls from the Overlook 2 Once we had our fill of this lookout, the timing was right as there was a very large crowd that descended upon this overlook. So while that was going on, we headed backwards towards the Overlook #2. Once we got past the drowning signs, we got to the tame overlook which got us a little closer to the falls, and it seemed to have a fairly satisfactory view of the Great Falls as well.

Julie and Tahia making their way towards Overlook 1 However, it also seemed like there were foreground rocks and foliage that conspired to conceal part of the falls so I could see why the park signs said Overlook 3 was supposedly the best.

Angled view of Great Falls from Overlook 1 In any case, we got our fill of this overlook and got our movies and photos. Julie and Tahia were trying to chill out in the shade as the heat and humidity of the day was really starting to take its toll despite the fact that we really didn't walk all that far.

More direct view of Great Falls from a different part of Overlook 1 Even though I was curious about seeing some other waterfalls on the Potomac like Stubblefield Falls and Seneca Falls, I knew that we didn't have much time nor were we willing to spend the energy knowing that they both were more rapids than impressive falls.

Vertical view towards the far left side of Great Falls Next, we proceeded along the footpath as we backtracked towards Overlook 1. This time, the overlook was a bit rockier as the park signs had warned us. The views of the falls were partial (also as the park signs warned us), but at least we were close enough to the cascades to really hear and essentially feel their power. The overlook was a bit on the rough side for Tahia, but she merely saw that as a challenge to keep climbing since she didn't seem to have a fear of heights.

Julie helping Tahia navigating through the rocky terrain of Overlook 1 All that did was to make us worry about where she was intending to go as we wouldn't want her to fall over the rails.

Looking towards the Great Falls Visitor Center There really wasn't much of an opportunity to do a family photo here so I got my photos and movies like at the other two overlooks, while also observing a couple of folks where were painting the falls.

At 11:55am, we were back at the car park all smelly and sweaty as we had anticipated. The cool AC of the car was very welcome but my runny nose and chest congestion was not.

And so it was definitely decided at this time that we were going to go find a place for lunch before visiting the Jefferson Memorial on the way to the Reagan airport. I pretty much relinquished the shot at visiting the C&O Historial Park on the Maryland side of the Great Falls. Maybe I might get lucky and do this again the next time I'm in the DC area.

The neighborhood around Amsterdam Falafel The charming buildings lining the neighborhood around Amsterdam Falafel Another look at the charming neighborhood around Amsterdam Falafel

So we followed Julie's Google Apps map and ultimately found this place called the Amsterdam Falafel. Apparently, this place was well liked by Yelpers and locals using Yelp. So we decided to give it a go. Too bad the parking situation was very bad so we ultimately settled for structured parking at $10 for the first hour! Ouch!

Looking towards the Amsterdam Falafel shop That said, we promptly walked into the tight hole-in-the-wall place and got ourselves a couple of falafels. Once we got them, we then used the Falafel bar to put toppings on them, essentially letting us customize our falafel the way we liked it.

I knew the falafel would be messy, which it was. And in my congested state, I was able to taste the food, but I really couldn't say that I was able to enjoy it. Tahia wasn't very crazy about the falafel ball we gave her, but she didn't mind eating Julie's pita.

Looking the other way towards the Washington Monument from the Amsterdam Falafel Shop Once we had our fill of this falafel place, we then briefly checked out this charming neighborhood that this falafel bar was located in. Indeed, there were some rounded towers and facades that made it seem like we were somehow in a charming part of Europe or something, and when we looked in the other direction, we could see the Washington Monument in the distance.

This was definitely an unexpected surprise and it was too bad that I didn't feel like paying another $10 to extend our parking so we quickly made our way back to the car and left.

After making a short stop at a different Pitango Gelato shop than the one in the Penn Quarter, we then proceeded to fight some of the traffic on our way towards the Jefferson Memorial. This was the one National Mall attraction that seemed pretty difficult to reach on foot from any of the metro stops, so we decided long ago that we were going to drive here.

Julie and Tahia making their way beneath the bridge towards the Jefferson Memorial Julie and Tahia walking towards the Jefferson Memorial along with others in front of us The Washington Monument across the Potomac with threatening thunderclouds above

Sure enough, we parked the car and then walked to the memorial at 2:20pm. With our 4:55pm flight looming, we knew that we didn't have very much time to enjoy this Jefferson Memorial as we still had to check in our car seat as well as return the rental car and hop on the shuttle to the airport terminal for American.

Julie and Tahia making their way to the Jefferson Memorial with the sun making its appearance again Julie continuing to walk towards the Jefferson Memorial About to ascend the steps leading up to the Jefferson Memorial

Anyways, as we were walking towards the Jefferson Memorial, I could see across the Potomac the impressive Washington Monument pointing towards the dark and threatening storm clouds above. As we got closer to the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, we joined quite a crowd of people enjoying the attraction, while also enjoying the shade that the memorial itself provided.

Inside the Jefferson Memorial Looking back across the Jefferson Memorial towards the crowd admiring the Thomas Jefferson statue Looking back at the Jefferson Memorial's side

We even took an elevator downstairs towards some restroom where the AC there was very welcome.

Julie and Tahia making their way out of the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Monument in the distance So when we were back up in front of the dark Jefferson statue in its circular room, I was busy trying to compose photos that conveyed its grandeur as well as the crowds of people checking it out. Indeed, even on a weekday like this, the monument itself drew quite an audience.

Julie and Tahia descending the steps of the Jefferson Memorial as we made our way back to the car park At about 3:10pm, we had finally finished touring the memorial and made it back to the sanctioned car park. With about 90 minutes to go before our flight, we couldn't waste any more time pursuing other matters (including filling up on gas) so we headed right back to the Reagan Airport, returned the car, got all of our belongings, took the shuttle, and ultimately got into the air-conditioned confines of the American terminal at Reagan.

The ticketing lady enjoyed looking at Tahia after doing an ID check of her passport, and noted to us that her middle name was appropriately named "pretty" in French. I think she was the only third party person that noted that about her in all of our travels so far.

Anyways, by about 4:15pm, we were waiting to board the plane, and it was a good thing that Julie and Tahia were in group 2 so we would at least have a shot at putting our carry-ons in the overhead bins.

Our plane was actually about 30 minutes delayed because some pop-up thunderstorms halted departing flights from Reagan, but when we were finally allowed to take off, they even changed the route to essentially go around the nasty weather further west and I'd imagine that might have prolonged our flight into something that was closer to 6 hours than 4.5 hours.

Well, whatever the case, we finally made it home at around 9:30pm, and Tahia was quite excited to see grandma again. It was a short but sweet trip, but now it was time to get back to the normal ebb and flow of life; of course I still had this issue about getting over my worsened cough and congestion - a fair price to pay for seizing the moment and sightseeing in a place we don't get to very often...

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