First stop was Philadelphia, mostly because we scheduled our vacation to coincide with SQLSaturday #200, but also because we had never been.
- Subway is ok, but no where near as useful or as clean as the one in DC.
- We hoped to see the Liberty Bell, but the line was looooong
- The Constitution Center was good. In addition to the museum type stuff they do a great presentation that is a movie with live narration, very very nicely done.
- Philadelphia Zoo was also pretty good, if a little pricey.
- Franklin Square was fun
- Dinner at Max Brenner was interesting. Part restaurant, part chocolate shop. Over the top desserts with over the top prices – worth trying once, at least!
- Best lunch of the trip was Square Burger (in Franklin Square). Good burgers and fries, but they have frozen custard too, and we even tried a Cake Shake (made with Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpet®, creamy vanilla ice cream,and a slight swirl of butterscotch)
- Franklin Institute was also pretty good. Great advice from a staff member about the appropriate package to buy (said the Spy package wouldn’t be interesting for my kids yet). Lots of good exhibits. A human heart the kids could climb through,mild shock touching a key tied to a kite, a paper airplane thrower, and a Baldwin 6000 train engine that you could go into the cab and coal hopper. My favorite was a water wheel in the kids area, pull the rope the direct the water to what was probably an 8 foot diameter water wheel.
- We rented a car for a day for the trip out to Malvern, very nice drive, definitely has the New England feel to it, plus almost no billboards – just trees and mountains (or what I call mountains anyway).
We took Amtrak to DC, first train ride for the kids and my wife. Parked the bags with a Redcap so we could get a snack while we waited. He got us on the train nicely too. I was impressed with the Wifi, free and fast and I think only dropped once in a tunnel. Parts of it were scenic, parts of it were not, but entirely comfortable, and fast. Just over 2 hours. About $150 for the four of us. Not as cheap as renting a car, but a lot more fun and relaxing.
- We arrived at Union Station, little bit of a hike dragging bags down the walkway and up the escalator and through the terminal to the taxi stand.
- The International Spy Museum was the surprise hit of the trip. My oldest daughter wanted to go last time and we didn’t get there, it was #1 on the list for her this year. When you first go in you get to memorize your “cover” identity, then a couple times in the museum you take a test to see how much you remember. Lots of good exhibits on hidden bugs, guns, cameras, etc. Bond exhibit was good too, this one part has a projection of a shark tank, shark comes at you and then it looks like the glass cracks. Kids were sold 10 minutes into it when they discovered an air duct to crawl through with a noise meter. Yes, I had to crawl through too – nice to have carpet in your air ducts when spying. They liked it so much they went twice. I just ordered a Double Gnome 7 from the online store, was running out of room to pack things on the trip home. Also added to my todo list to learn to pick locks. Always wanted to as a kid and never got to it, have to plan some time to be a kid again for a few hours.
- Lunch at Ollies Trolley was ok. Burger was fine, the secret seasoning on the fries didn’t work for me, think it had oregano in it. Plus, refills were .60 – just wrong!
- Dinner at the Grist Mill was very good. They advertise comfort food and it is. It’s in a hotel and hardly even looks like a restaurant, but great food and great service. Found it on Yelp.
- Got to go to the National Archives this time. Declaration of Independence is definitely badly faded (leaving it in full sun for 35 years took its toll), a thrill to see those documents.
- Was less crowded this year. Last year our visit coincided with most of the Girl Scouts in the country visiting.
- Went to the Postal Museum, which was also better than expected. Great movie that shows the flow of mail, lots of stuff for the kids to try (cancelling post cards, hand sorting, keying zip codes from letters, sitting in a Freightliner cab, sitting in a stage coach), was interesting to hear them talk about the technology. Good for a 1-2 hour visit.
- Can’t beat breakfast at Au Bon Pain at Union Station!
- Breakfast sandwich and coffee at PotBelly for less than $5 and outside seating too.
- The National Cathedral was amazing. We had seen it on a West Wing episode. I’m not a church guy, but this was grand construction, all stone on stone – we don’t see that in Florida. It suffered some minor earthquake damage, they had a couple of the damaged stones out front – not cheap or quick to repair.
- The Washington Monument is also being repaired. Awesome to see the entire thing – 500 something feet tall – wrapped in scaffolding. I’ve still never been inside, maybe next time.
- Dupont Circle was interesting, went up to see Kramers Books and ended up stopping at Krispy Kreme so my youngest could have a hot glazed (well, me too).
- I spent an afternoon just walking, around the White House and down to the WW II monument and back.
- We did an evening trip to the Lincoln Memorial, the best time if you ask me. Cool enough to sit on the steps for a while, terrific view down the mall.
- Taxi drivers astound me. One didn’t stop talking on his phone for the trip from the cathedral back down town, all while practically laying down. Another was chatting animatedly with us about things the kids were seeing, pointed out the window on his side and bounced the cab hard – hard! – off the curb, never stopped talking!
- National Air and Space Museum, just so much to see. Kids loved a thermal camera, and they had a great exhibit on telescopes. Full size dupe of Hubble is something to see. Walked through the Skylab replica again, funny that most people look left and right, but not up – space is 3d, in space! I still look at the Apollo 11 capsule and think about the Right Stuff it took to survive in that small vehicle.
- Most interesting lunch was at the National Museum of the American Indian. I had a Buffalo burger, I think the only “normal” thing on the menu was chicken fingers. Definitely eclectic.
Of the two, we enjoyed DC more. We’ve been twice now and definitely haven’t seen it all. I suspect it will be a year or two before we return, let the kids grow some, but it’s a great place to take the family.
After 8 days I was ready to be home, grateful for the short ride to Ronald Reagan Airport, though we hit a lot of turbulence coming into Orlando as we crossed over the first tropical storm of the season. All in all a very nice vacation.