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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » I'm going to Washington DC (updated with my travel dates)

   
Author Topic: I'm going to Washington DC (updated with my travel dates)
Shanna
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EDIT: Scroll down for details but I'll be in town from June 3rd-8th and want to meet some Hatrack members!

So I'm planning a trip to our nation's capitol during the first week of June. I don't travel much and I'll be doing this trip solo so I'll take whatever advice anyone has for me.

I'm still waiting to hear back on whether I have any family in the city I can stay with, but if not I've been looking into the whole hostel idea. Can anyone recommend for or against any particular ones in the city? What can I do to make my stay in a hostel more comfortable? I've seen recommendations to bring my own sheets, locker padlocks, ear plugs, etc. Are most hostels safe for solo travelers (25 year old female?) The mixed-gender dorm rooms kinda freak me out but not so much that I probably couldn't get over it.

Any advice for the metro and public transportation? If I don't go the hostel route, I won't be able to afford a hotel in the city but would a cheaper one on the outskirts offer shuttles into the city? I've heard great things about public transportation but since I've never lived in a city with even a decent bus system, I'm not sure what to expect.

If I'm staying for three days, what activities/sites should be on my priority list? I heard the Smithsonian and the National Zoo are free to the public. And of course, I'll be looking for a good tour of the monuments. What else should I look forward to doing and seeing?

And as a general travel question, how expensive would it be to rent a car in DC, drive to Richmond, and then drop it off at the Richmond airport the next day?

Any other advice you can think to offer would also be very appreciated!!

[ May 27, 2010, 05:53 PM: Message edited by: Shanna ]

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Hank
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Hey, I'm in DC, want to meet up? Also, the holocaust Memorial is often overlooked, but very moving.
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String
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Be careful on the road. That place has the worst drivers I've ever seen (and michigan drivers are pretty oblivious).
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Shanna
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I'd absolutely be done for any meet-ups with forum members in the area.

And yeah, I have no plans to drive in the city. The traffic is the first thing anyone mentions when I talk about my trip. I just need a rental car so I can get to a concert in Richmond (Barenaked Ladies! Woot!)

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Lyrhawn
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When I went to DC a couple years ago, we camped. It was a very nice camp ground, and the bus went right into the station and took us to the Metro line, which took us right into the city. We did tons of stuff and didn't pay for a thing.

I wasn't sure how I'd like camping there, but we met TONS of diverse and interesting people. I ended up having a weird franglais conversation with a family from Nice who were in town for the weekend and didn't speak a lot of English. My conversational French is murky at best, but we got by, and it was fun. It was completely safe too.

quote:
Originally posted by String:
Be careful on the road. That place has the worst drivers I've ever seen (and michigan drivers are pretty oblivious).

Ah the magic of being desensitized to bad driving [Smile] . I will say though, that drivers in Atlanta give us a run for our money.
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Samprimary
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I'd stay in Alexandria and take the metro into DC every day via the Huntington station. Naval memorial station takes you up right next to the national mall, where you can walk to pretty much everything DC has to offer, arts-wise.

been to the freer gallery yet?

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Mucus
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Hmmmmm, we've drove from Ontario to Washington DC a couple times, no real problems and the traffic/drivers didn't seem unusually bad. We did do the living in hotels in the outskirts and taking the metro in though because it ended up cheaper IIRC.

The Smithsonian is of course free and for me, the highlight was the two Air and Space Museum buildings (one is in the national mall, a larger one is in Virginia(?). This is due to the fact that not only have the Americans taken some cool things (ME-262s, rockets from the Germans) but they've built some cool things (Apollo, space shuttle, model of the Enterprise, etc.).

The other institutions that I found unique would be the National Archives and the Museum of American history, the latter IIRC has an exhibit with various American flags from places like Iwo Jima which I thought was kind of neat.

There was some art gallery with some Asian art which was a bit of a bust. I suspect that the US (like Canada) wasn't as good at stealing art.

At the time (a few years ago), it was difficult to get into Congress, I think the attendants said that you had to wait in line for tickets distributed in the morning(?). You may want to look up the rules on the higher security structures ahead of time.

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scholarette
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If you plan ahead, you can get tickets for a lot of stuff from your congressman- like you can have your congressman's aide give you a tour. I did that- well, not with my congressman but my sister's roomie who had that job at the time. Except that was the day the crazy guy shot at people in the building (like over a decade ago) so we ended up cancelling that plan (well, the security people cancelled it, but still. I was hanging out in one of the art museum's that blocked cell phones before my planned appt time and my sister totally freaked out that I had decided to meet her roomie early and why wouldn't I answer my cell phone.
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katharina
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If I'm staying for three days, what activities/sites should be on my priority list?

1. Museum of Natural History - it really is amazing normally, plus they have a great, fun, interactive exhibit on forensic anthropology right now, including a lab section where you get to pretend you are Temperance Brennan.

2. National Gallery of Art or National Portrait Gallery. The first if you like all kinds of art, the second if you are interested in the depictions of people and also seeing the originals of pictures you see all the time.

3. Take a bike tour of the Monuments or of the city. Cheap, easily the best way to see the monuments, and fun. ( http://www.bikethesites.com/ )

4. Shopping in Old Town Alexandria - see the artists at the Torpedo Factory, and then walk up King Street for food, art, antiques, and boutiques. ( http://dc.about.com/cs/sightseeing/a/oldtown.htm )

5. Library of Congress, Jefferson Building - prettiest building in DC, and you can see a reproduction of Jefferson's collection that was the seed of the Library of Congress. ( http://www.loc.gov/visit/ )

6. The rest of the Smithsonian museums - there are lots, and you can spend days ( http://www.si.edu/Museums/ )

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katharina
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You can get tickets to the White House ahead of time, but it's a bit of a let down. Long lines, and you don't see much. Go to Mt. Vernon instead for that kind of thing - better exhibits, better guides, more history, and it's prettier.

I haven't been to the Capitol, but I don't think you'll be missing anything fantastic if you don't make it. The Library of Congress building is prettier, especially for a bibliophile (authors and quotes are worked into the ceiling and scrollwork).

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scholarette
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I think with DC it really comes down to what you are interested is. There is a lot of history there and a lot of art and zoos and everything you can imagine. For a little less typical, I thought Dumbarton Oaks was beautiful and it was where a lot of the ideas for the UN were discussed. The Holocaust Museum is good, but depressing so maybe deeper than you want for that three days (I did the museum and then just wandered around the mall for a bit). Three days isn't enough to see everything so you kinda need to pick what you care about the most. Do you want to see the space ships or portraits? All the famous monuments and buildings or maybe you want to do a tour of scandal hot spots- my sister designed that one for me when she lived there- saw places clinton shopped for presents for monica, watergate, etc. Old town Alexandria is fun. I enjoyed the ghost tour. [Smile] Also, street performers and such. I spent a month straight there, plus a few spring breaks and I still didn't see everything (and almost everything I did was free or nominal fee).
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TomDavidson
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The Cathedral's pretty nice, too, especially this time of year.
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katharina
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Oh yeah...

If you are interested in nature:

1. National Cathedral, which includes the Bishop's Garden ( http://www.nationalcathedral.org/visit/ )

2. National Arboretum - the azealeas are on. Picture an entire hillside running riot with flowers. ( http://www.usna.usda.gov/ )

3. Botanical Gardens - on the grounds of Capitol, there are a half dozen different climes in there and a whole room filled with orchids and a room with handson plants to spices exhibits. ( http://www.usbg.gov/ )


Interested in the weird:

1. Georgetown cemetary - three centuries of notables' graves from times when people were more interesting about what they put on gravestones ( http://www.oakhillcemeterydc.org/ )

2. Museum of Crime and Punishment ( http://www.crimemuseum.org/ )

3. Spy Museum ( http://spymuseum.org/index.php )

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airmanfour
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If you're there on a Tuesday, I strongly recommend you block out some time around 7 pm for the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Silent Drill Platoon Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington. It's amazing.

There are some relatively cheap motels in Arlington and some of the outlying DC subway stops. A little internet research might land you a room for cheaper than you'd expect.

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Lyrhawn
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The National Arboretum was a lot of fun, but it's probably not something you'll want to walk around, FYI. You'll either want to rent a bike, or drive around it. It's huge. And getting from section to section would be a long hike. I really liked it though. The grove of state trees was neat, as were the Capitol columns, and the bonsai trees were absolutely mind boggling. I have tons of pictures if you want an idea as to what it's like.
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School4ever
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I hate these threads about D.C. - they make me homesick, and I have been away for 18 years.
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Uprooted
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What day are you going to Richmond? If you are going to be there on a Sunday afternoon, find a way to get to St. John's Episcopal church, where every Sunday afternoon in the summer they do a reenactment of the meeting where Patrick Henry gave his "give me liberty or give me death" speech. It really is an amazing experience.
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Jhai
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If you want, you're welcome to stay with Abhi and me while you're visiting DC. We're used to having lots of friends & family crash at our house to visit DC, so it wouldn't be any sort of hassle. We're out in Fairfax VA, and not directly on a metro stop, but there's a bus stop a block away that goes directly to the Vienna metro, and we both work right next to a metro stop in Virginia, so it'd be easy enough to work out a way to get you to & from DC. We both went to college with Raia, and I've been to a few meetups, so you can check with other Hatrackers to make sure we aren't crazy psychopaths or anything. :-) Oh, and you can't be allergic to dogs, because we have two large, hairy ones.

On the what to see in DC thing, I recommend spending one day on a walking tour of the main tourist sites and at least one day devoted to seeing some of the Smithsonian museums. The route for the walking tour (which really is a whole day thing) is as follows:
1. Start in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, VA, and walk to the Iwo Jima Memorial and then enter Arlington Cemetery.
2. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while in Arlington Cemetery, see the change of guard. There's also Arlington House, the Kennedy family graves, and the museum on women in the military at the cemetery if you're interested.
3. Walk east across Memorial Bridge (which gives a lovely view of the city) to the Lincoln memorial and the start of the reflecting pool. See whichever of the war memorials you're interested in as you walk to the Washington Monument.
4. From the Washington Monument, head south around the Tidal Basin to see the FDR memorial and the Jefferson memorial.
5. From the Jefferson memorial, head northeast to the United States Capitol, then head northwest through all the federal buildings to see the White House.
6. From the White House, meander northwest across the Foggy Bottoms neighborhood - there's a fair number of embassies here which sometimes have interesting exhibits - and into Georgetown.
7. Walk along M Street in Georgetown, stopping to see the Old Stone House, grab some Ben & Jerry's, and see the Georgetown University campus, if interested.
8. Head across the Key Bridge back into Rosslyn. Done! Total distance traveled is around 12 miles.

I like taking visiting friends on this tour because you see pretty much all of the downtown tourist sites, get some great views of DC from the bridges, and also get to see two very distinctive neighborhoods of DC (plus Rosslyn) where people actually live & work, rather than just the tourist areas. If you're into people-watching and just wandering a city then I suspect you'll enjoy it.

For Smithsonians, I think that Natural History, American History, and National Gallery of Art are absolute musts. Air & Space is a close second, as is the Holocaust Memorial Museum, if you can handle its effect on your holiday mood. I'm partial to the Portrait Gallery in Chinatown, too. The Newseum (News Museum) is also great, particularly for the collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photos, but it (like the Spy Museum) is not part of the Smithsonians, and thus has an entrance fee.

You should also eat some Ethiopian food while in DC, preferably from one of the many places in the U Street neighborhood.

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ClaudiaTherese
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You are such a remarkably pleasant person, Jhai. [Smile]
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Jhai
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Well, not always. But I do try - and it's fun to have people visit. [Smile] Thanks!
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Shanna
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Bumped because after much drama, I finally know my schedule. My parents decided to chip in as a birthday gift and then I was staying with my cousin, then I wasn't staying with my cousin, now I'm staying with him for a few days and then he's out of town.

ANYWAY...I'll be flying in on June 3rd afternoon (Next Thursday) and leaving on June 8th (Tuesday). I'll be in Richmond all day Friday with friends for our concert, but I'll be available all weekend and Monday if anyone wants to meet-up. I have another cousin who I might be hanging out with on Saturday but since we haven't directly talked about it and I've only met her once, I'm not putting it on my schedule quite yet.

So I know its short schedule but if Jhai or Hank and anyone else in the area wants to hang out, my email is banji4ever at aol dot com.

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Miro
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I'll put in another word for the National Arboretum. It's a pain to get to (no metro, have to take a bus or car), but totally worth it. They have an awesome bonsai exhibit.

The Smithsonian museums downtown are a must. All free, so you can wander in and out as you like. A little farther off is the National Portrait Gallery/Art Museum, also free. The zoo is lots of fun, and free. Be prepared to do a lot of walking and drinking a lot of water.

Thomas Sweet's, an ice cream shop at Wisconsin Ave and P St in Georgetown, has the best ice cream in the world - bittersweet chocolate.

It's too bad, I'm in town for my sister's wedding, but I'm flying out on the 2nd. Have fun.

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Dr Strangelove
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Oh, hey, I'll be in DC on the 7th! I'll actually be there all that week (7th - 12th I think) going to museums for a course.
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Jhai
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I'd be up for a meetup, on the 7th or another day, if that works better. I tend to work long hours at the office during the week, so it'd have to be a late dinner/drinks sort of thing if we meet on Friday.

Maybe lunch at an Ethiopian place on Saturday or Sunday? And if you want someone to go to a couple of museums with, I'd be up for that - it looks like we'll be moving back to California in July, so I need to get in all of my museum-going while I can!

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Shanna
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Jhai, the 7th will work for you? That's a Monday and I saw that you work in an office on weekdays. If its good for both y'all, I'll be there. I was going to hit the zoo that day but I can go Saturday or Sunday instead. And Ethiopian sounds good.

If you both email me, I'll send you my phone number so we can keep in contact and schedule when and where to meet.

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Jhai
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If it's the 7th, it'd have to be a late-ish meetup; the earliest I could conceivably be in DC is 7:30 pm (I work out in the burbs in NoVa). But if that works for y'all, it's fine with me.

I'll admit that I've never been particularly impressed with the cuisine in DC proper, except for the U Street Ethiopian places. So I vote Ethiopian or meeting outside of DC (there's some great places just a few stops into Virginia on the Orange Line).

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