Tag Archives: bucket list

A Vacation in the Nation’s Capitol

I think Washington, D.C. is one of the world’s great cities, under appreciated by Americans. I lived there for seven months back in the ‘90s (another story for another time), but my husband, a Vietnam veteran, had never been. I think everybody should go and see what belongs to us, and particularly the moving memorials.

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One of three remaining Gutenberg Bibles – at the National Archives

This was as perfect a tourist-vacation could be. If you’re thinking of going, here are some of the things we did that made it so sweet.

First, the right travel agent. We use Mary North Travel. They are, for my money, the best in the biz. They made perfect flight arrangements and got us an excellent deal at the Kimpton Palomar Hotel. Highly recommended, not only for the price we paid, but for the superb location. (They get a demerit for sucky television reception.) There were excellent restaurants of all kinds within walking distance. We ate at Turkish, Syrian, Indian, and Chinese restaurants, all within two blocks of the hotel, found an excellent breakfast place where we ate every morning. I’m vegan, and had no trouble finding accommodating menus, particularly because I use Yelp and HappyCow for research.

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Details of the ceiling at the Smithsonian Castle, an architectural marvel.

Second, do your research about getting around. We bought a unlimited-ride week pass on the Metro (subway trains) for $28 each, and boy did we get our money’s worth. Metro stations are conveniently everywhere, and the system is clean, well lit, supervised, safe, and pleasant to ride. We traveled with friends who are fans of Uber, the non-taxi service, and we utilized that regularly when we were with them.

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The nine seats where the Supreme Court sits.

We flew into Reagan National Airport (DCA), which has a Metro station, so we just jumped on the train and it took us to within three blocks of our hotel.  And back, when it was time to leave. Very convenient.

Third, make a list of things you want to see and prioritize them. I lived there for seven months and when I wasn’t working, I was busy doing the tourist thing, and I never even scratched the surface. We spent all day in the National Art Gallery and only saw a fraction. TripAdvisor is good for the top 60 things to do/see, and that’s a good place to start.

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Al, a veteran of the Vietnam war, looks for names of his lost Army buddies.

I wanted Al to see the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery (we got there just in time for the changing of the guard – a bonus). Our traveling companions wanted to see the Air and Space Museum (one of the 30+ Smithsonian museums), the Smithsonian Castle, The Supreme Court, and The National Archives. Al wanted to see the National Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden. Through our friends’ congressman, we got a White House tour, which we all agreed was the lowlight of our visit, and that the National Archives was the highlight. In addition, we spent $20 each to see the Newseum, which was not all that great except for the beautiful display of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, which moved me to tears.

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Mike Sack, me, John Saul, and Al after lunch at the National Archives cafeteria, with the capitol dome in the background. A nicely overcast day.

We needed to schedule a Pentagon tour 15 days in advance, but opted instead for the White House tour. We would have enjoyed the Pentagon more.

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Looking across the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument and the Capitol building beyond. Taken from the steps of the Lincoln memorial.

We spent a day on Capitol Hill, my old stomping grounds, visiting old haunts, a little trip down memory lane of 20+ years ago, and walked and walked and walked. (tip: Take two pair of shoes and alternate.) Then we went back to the hotel for a nap, went out for dinner, and roamed the city after dark. We felt completely safe in the neighborhood of our hotel (Dupont Circle), on the Metro, and on the national mall, where all the monuments are beautifully lighted.

Finally, see a show at the Kennedy Center, if you can. We had dinner on the waterfront before we went to see the whodunit comedy “Shear Madness,” an overpriced but delightfully funny show geared toward the mostly middle-school, high-school audience members.

All the monuments are free, all the Smithsonian museums are free, all the federal buildings are free. They all belong to us.

Take your camera, take your travel journal, but most of all, take yourself and take your kids. It’s a trip worth taking.

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The Little Bucket List

I was talking with my good friend Mike Sack the other day and he said he was making his “little bucket list.” I asked him to explain, and he said that after all the years he and John have been living in Seattle, there are so many things right there in the city and environs that they’ve always said they wanted to do but never done. Isn’t that the truth?

Usually, “bucket lists” are grand schemes. Sail around the horn. Fly cross country in a balloon. Raft the Colorado through the Grand Canyon… But what about the amazing little sights and events and natural wonders in our own back yards? Where I live, in Oregon, they are legion, and my eyes, thanks to Mike, have been newly reopened to them.

Al and I regularly take what we call “ExplOregon” days and weekends, where we visit a place we’ve not been before, but it’s been a while since we’ve done that. And there are so many other things that I’ve always meant to do that are right here, twenty minutes or an hour away that would take an hour or a day to do.

I don’t know about you, but long-distance travel isn’t much fun any more. I don’t mind sticking close to home for the next year or so, but now that I see the local, experiential riches that are on our little piece of note paper stuck to the refrigerator, I’m happy to be right here.

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We started at the Arctic Circle

Well, we really started with our list of things we absolutely had to do before we die. The current buzz word is “bucket list,” but that is just flat-out too cliche for me. Regardless, Al and I spent some time considering the reality of how many summers we have left of adventure travel, and how we want to spend them.

This trip to Alaska was at the top of both of our lists, and while there wasn’t too much adventure involved, we did the grand sweep of Alaska and found out what we want to go back for. And boy oh boy, will we be back.

While trying to arrange the trip myself, there were just too many possibilities, so we put ourselves in the most capable hands of Alaska Tour and Travel.  They were quite amazing, and with one small exception, everything they set out for us to do was spot on. I even argued with them about the twelve hour (!) tour to the Arctic Circle, but they assured me we would enjoy it. They were right.

So we started in Fairbanks, and spent an afternoon in the amazing Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The next day, we flew an hour and half or so in kind of a rickety 1980 Piper Navajo bush plane with a pilot that seemed a little too casual, but landed safely in Coldfoot. There we met our tour director, Barbara, and the five of us drove 10 hours back to Fairbanks. 

What a great trip. We inspected the pipeline, met strange and wonderful people, watched the sunset from the Yukon River, saw caribou, moose, a lynx, gorged on wild blueberries and most of all, luxuriated in the vastness of a wilderness so immense it’s hard to grasp.  The fall colors were breathtaking.

Even the aurora came out and gave us an incredible show from Joy, Alaska, where we stopped for late-night coffee. There were only five of us in the little van, including Barbara, the tour guide, who had just retired from the UAF, and she was very smart about everything. The Haul Road (Dalton Highway, built to build the pipeline 30+ years ago) is not for the faint of heart, as we drove 230 miles on this dusty gravel road with gigantic semis zooming past throwing rocks as big as my fist.

An amazing adventure. I don’t need to go this far north again (although Al would like to traverse the Brooks Range and go all the way to Prudhoe Bay), but I’m glad I saw it. There’s nothing quite like walking on tundra (it’s like walking on a trampoline) and getting the whole story from a woman who majored in soils management. What a day.

Next: Denali National Park.

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