Tag Archives: Vacation

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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Seward, Kenai and Dolly Varden

Part III

We trained from Talkeetna to Anchorage, rented a car and drove to Seward. This is September, and we were late in the season. We went late in order to miss the big tourist season, and we did, but things were turning toward winter. We got the fall colors inland, but the rain was coming in in the coastal areas. It poured rain most of the time we were in Seward.

But it’s a fun little community and in the river behind our hotel a family of river otters gorged themselves on fish every morning. Very fun to watch. We took a tour through Kenai Fjords National Park and saw dall porpoise, harbor porpoise, stellar sea lions, lots of bald eagles, enormous jelly fish (Al thought the first one we saw was a submerged buoy), blue glaciers — and even some crazy guys surfing right in front of one. Big blue ice bergs floated in the fjords. Again, the landscape was fantastic. Photos do not capture the amazing scope of this amazing land.

After two nights in Seward, we jumped in the car and drove through more astonishing wilderness to Kenai, where we stayed with our fishing guide, Gabe Linegar and his lovely wife and two beautiful daughters.  Gabe, of Drift Alaska Charters, is a great fishing guide. Al fished first while I explored the galleries of Homer (Homer was virtually closed for the season), and he caught a dozen rainbows, the best of which was a 10 pounder. (No photos, because I had the digital camera.) Then the two of us fished the next day, and Al got shut out, only snagging one after another of the millions of spawned-out, dying pink salmon, but I caught a little rainbow and a nice, 5 pound Dolly Varden. The Kenai River is certainly salmon-choked, and while we missed the big salmon run, the evidence of bears was everywhere, in the matted down foliage at the riverbanks and all the salmon carcases left there to rot. The third day Al fished, he caught a 17-pound steelhead on the Kasilof River, and his trip was truly complete.

Then we drove back to Anchorage. I miscued about how often I might find a gas station, and we drove fifty miles through wilderness on fumes and prayer. Al was busy scouting all the trucks that carried spare gas cans. But fortunately we found fuel at the last possible moment in Girdwood and were ready to get back to Anchorage.

We got back to the hotel to find a sign up on the door that warned guests of a black bear in the neighborhood. We took a walk around that quaint and unusual little town and could easily see how a black bear could live in downtown Anchorage without being caught.

It was good to get home again.

Bottom line: We’ll go back. We’ll certainly go back to the Kenai for salmon fishing, and from here, we could actually do that over a long weekend. Now that we’ve done the whole tourist thing, next time we’ll get off the beaten path and go to Kodiak, and perhaps fly into Ilianna for some wlderness adventure.

If you haven’t seen Alaska, I suggest you do. Put it on your bucket list and be amazed.

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Bear, Moose, Wolf and Vistas

Part II

From Fairbanks, we took the train to Denali National Park. The rules for the park are very interesting, in that there is only one 92-mile road into the park, and private vehicles can only go so far in. The rest can be traversed only by park buses (hop on, hop off, hike your brains out in 6 million acres of wilderness) or tour buses. All of which is very interesting park management, and has kept the wildlife wild and the area pristine. I wonder if other parks ought to be so managed.

We took an 8-hour tour that went 62 miles up. Saw 13 grizzly bears, lots of moose, ptarmigan, Dall sheep, and three wolves, one of which trotted across the road right in front of the bus. At the end of the 92-mile road is a luxury resort on Wonder Lake. I’d love to go back and stay there for a week or so.

Mt. McKinley was only kind of visible at one point, but the rest of the views were incredible. The landscape is glacier-sculpted, so there are mountains, valleys, and “braided rivers in unfit river valleys” the likes I’m sure to never see elsewhere. Breathtaking, and I don’t use that term loosely.

We stayed two nights at Denali, and went for a nice hike across the river from our hotel, and then hopped the train for Talkeetna, traditionally a staging area for those who want to hike Mt. McKinley. And there, we found the real Alaskan color. Al made friends with a reindeer, we met a couple of true characters, ate breakfast–complete with reindeer sausage–at The Roadhouse, and saw the mountain out in all its glory from our room at the Alaska Talkeetna Lodge.

We took a little river trip and saw how the old trappers used to live, and we could have done without that particular tour. We stayed two nights in Talkeetna, and played lots of gin rummy. One night would have been perfect.  At least the mountain came out for us.

And then… on to the Kenai Peninsula. Stay tuned.

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Ahhh. Vacation

What is it about me that resists a vacation?

I love my life, for one thing. I like my routines, my rituals, my work, my husband, my dog. I like cooking dinner and having lunch with my girlfriends. I like going to school, and seeing my kids and my grandkids.

My life is a vacation.

So when Al and I were invited to the Big Island to watch the Mastercard Invitational Golf Tournament, I was excited, because we would stay with dear friends, in Hawaii, and I’d never been to a golf tournament before. As usual, just before leaving, we had furnace troubles. Tensions.

We touched down into 83 fragrant degrees (coming from a high of 40 and a low of 23), and I immediately relaxed. Two days later I was a different person. Granted we stayed in the opulent lap of luxury, with a “meeting” in the spa every night at 5, but it was a break in my reality. I stood twenty feet from Lee Trevino as he sunk a twelve foot birdie putt. How cool is that? Four days later I could barely remember my old life. I still checked email and voicemail, but found a sublime freedom when nobody was looking for us.

I’ve been through some trials since my last vacation, and my daily routine, I now see, had become more of a rut than a routine. I needed this vacation. It was like a ray of Hawaiian sunshine warming my back. Literally.

We’ve got another trip, completely different, scheduled for September, and I hope I will not resist it. I need to remember how I felt after four days, and how good it felt to come home and resume the routine.

It took me a good four days, though, to really feel the effects, and after seven days I felt brand new. A weekend away is a nice break, but it is no vacation. It’s still part of life. I think we actually need to vacate in a real way to gain the benefits.

Even though my life is like a vacation, I still need a periodic break. We all do. I hope I’ll remember this come September and look forward to it with the amount of enthusiasm it deserves.

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