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  • Writer's pictureAnne B 10milesfrom

Big Trip 2024 Washington DC, family reunion and Summary!!

(It is a bit epic, but the last one! Hurray!)

Our final stop was Washington DC, primarily to meet up with our lovely cousins, but also a city we all wanted to visit for the first time. The flight was just 2 hours, and we landed at Ronald Reagan Airport which is alongside the Potomac River in the heart of the city. Our plane flew up the river then circled back so we had great views in both directions of Capitol Hill, the monuments in the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon!

That's the sightseeing done then! We had been led to believe it was often pretty chilly here in March, but we had lovely warm jacket required! Our air bnb was a small WW1 house in the heart of the beautiful, and very old suburb of Alexandria, where our cousins live. The town was founded in 1749 and is characterised by many streets of historic, timber clad colonial buildings, and various museums.

It is a very desirable, historic suburb, and the shops reflect this, with some very lovely art, antique and handicraft stores, and an excellent grocery store called Trader Joe's which had a real emphasis on healthy eating, vegan options and only issued paper carrier bags!! A contrast from our Florida experience! Our first day, Friday we headed into the city, using the excellent metro just 10 minutes walk from the house. Our destination was Foggy Bottom station, which had Arthur in fits of giggles, especially when we solemnly pointed out it was better than windy bottom! (Sorry.. a childish diversion, but these are precious moments, as you watch a young child's sense of humour developing!)

From the station, a 10 minute walk brings you to the enormous Lincoln Memorial at the river end of the Mall.

It was modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, and built of marble. The 38 columns represent the number of states in the first Union. You are never in any doubt as to how highly regarded Abraham Lincoln is, as a man of integrity, father of the Union and freer of slaves. After climbing the steps, you find him sitting in his vast, open chamber, surrounded by his most famous speeches, the Gettysberg address, and his second inaugural address. It is a very powerful monument.

From here, the views stretch down the National Mall to Capitol Hill.

Having this wide green space in the city centre is wonderful. The Mall contains many other memorials, the two most central being the WW2 memorial and the Washington monument.

In addition, many great museums border the Mall, and all are free. We decided to split up, and Peter Tracy and Arthur headed for the Smithsonian Natural History museum which they said was brilliant. We walked past the George Washington monument.

Built in 2 phases in the 19th century (you can see the join!!), in tribute to the Father of the nation, it was dedicated in 1884, and, at 555 feet high, was then the tallest building in the world. It contained an iron staircase which was quickly supplemented by a steam driven elevator which took 12 minutes to reach the top! Today's electric one is much faster, but you need to book tickets well in advance. Walking away from the monument you get a good view of the White House, tucked away in the trees and looking surprisingly small!

We headed to the National Gallery of Art, also free, and full of works of Art from most centuries.  It contains the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in the Americas, which, unusually, is double sided! It is of Ginevra de' Benci, a 16 year old who is just betrothed. She doesn't look too keen on the idea! The reverse is her motto Beauty adorns Virtue.

The most striking painting was this amazing canvas, the Adoration of the Magi by Fra Fillipo Lippi. Painted in 1440, the colours were so vibrant, the frame is incredible and it is huge... 54inches wide!

We love Impressionist paintings and here we were spoilt for choice. Renoir, Monet and Manet were well represented, as were Cezanne, Gaughin, Pisarro and many more.

A Van Gogh I had never heard of, Green wheat fields Auvers, has become an instant favourite with its unusual green colour range.

Sadly, it wasn't for sale!! There was a good collection of artists from all nations, and we loved the Rembrandts and the super trio of pictures by Vermeer. (I could only photograph 2!)

Britain was well represented with Constable, Gainsborough, Reynolds and some glorious Turner canvases, including a few of his less familiar townscapes!

Of the home artists, my favourite was this seascape by wonderful Edward Hopper.

There was also a special exhibition of the 1930s photographs of Dorothea Lange, who specialised in capturing everyday life in all its gritty reality.

The way her photos captured human emotion, or displayed reality through a detail, like the repaired stockings, was very moving, as were the pictures of farming families, driven west by mechanisation, drought and crop failures. They travelled miles on the promise of work, only to end up in poverty, virtually working as slaves, or in camps. Think The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Lastly, we wandered through the sculpture garden, and this house was incredible. It looks different from every angle, but it is actually almost flat!

Across the Mall was the museum of the American Indian, where we shared tacos with traditional fillings including pulled pork with poblano salsa and prickly pear mole! Delicious!

The exhibits were fascinating, telling the stories of different tribes, and the deals they negotiated with each other, occupiers, and later the Government... and how those deals were usually reneged upon. The double wumpum belts were woven representing the 2 sides inextricably bound together, the canoes travelling together, or so they thought. Sadly they were duped many many times. There were many artefacts on show.

Battles were often depicted in drawings, like this one on hide. Parallels with the treatment of aboriginal groups in Australia were clear. Children were taken away from their families to be 'Americanised' in white families and schools. They were often very cruelly treated.

The story of Pocahontas was fascinating. She was seen as a hero because she was responsible for breaking down barriers between her tribe, the Powhatan, and the struggling British colonists. This contributed hugely to the success of the trading ports like Jamestown in Virginia. People were proud to claim descendency from Pocahontas, and in 1907, a Virginia fair proclaimed her Queen of America! This led to a bizarre sequence of events. The horribly devisive Racial Integrity Bill in 1924 aimed to separate whites from blacks, banning inter racial marriage and fuelling discrimination. In what was known as the Pocahontas exception, people with 1/16th or less black heritage could still claim the rights of white people and perpetuate their status as descendants of Pocahontas.

Finally we walked up and over Capitol Hill, enjoyed the view back down the Mall, and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, past a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, and the spot where the Stars and Stripes was first sung!

A return on the metro, an a quick change, and we were ready for collection by our cousins. We had a wonderful evening catching up with the cousins we already knew well, and making new connections. Arthur was a star, especially when he gave everyone big hugs goodnight. He was especially fond of Lily the Labrador! One sad part was that one of my close cousins, Marti, passed away earlier this year, and she was hugely missed by everyone, but it was wonderful that some cousins had travelled long distances to be there, particularly Mike and Maureen, and Nancy who flew in from Canada, so we were very honoured. It was a super evening.

Next day, we headed back into DC, to meet with 3 cousins, Nancy, Susan and cousin Jamie who was our excellent tour guide and self styled Uber! I remember babysitting Jamie when he was 3 and I was 13!! His mum is my very close friend and cousin, Yvette who couldnt make the reunion as she lives on the west coast. We had a wonderful day, firstly ascending the Old Post Office tower. Currently the 2nd highest building in DC, it has great views and is free to ascend. The impressive building is now a Hyatt Hotel, with an impressive atrium, excellent restaurant and an impressive array of whisky!

Buildings in DC can only be a maximum of 12 stories, so the city has a very open feel to it. Next we split up again. Peter and Tracy took Arthur to the Smithsonian zoo where he had a great time. We walked in the sun down the Mall to the tidal basin, where the most famous Cherry trees are. By sheer fluke, we were there on one of the peak blooming days of the season!

They were planted in 1912 after a long campaign led by President Taft's wife who had lived in Japan, and asked for trees for Washington. After a few false starts, over 3000 trees were sent by Tokyo Mayor Ozaki.

There are more memorials here, the most notable being the Martin Luther King, the Jefferson and the Rooseveldt monuments.

An uber took us to the wharf, a regenerated part of the city full of very busy up market eateries, including these two!

We had a lovely light lunch at the Pendry overlooking the marina, then went back into town, past the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated, and got Jamie's car. He then drove us through pretty Georgetown, and past many of the beautiful embassies and fine houses, before heading back to Alexandria, and another wonderful evening with our cousins, who were really spoiling us. Some very sad goodbyes too as some people were leaving the next day.

Sunday morning saw us heading out for a last lunch in Hanks fish bar, where we tried the amazing local oysters, and I had clams... one of my favourite memories of my trips to stay with cousins when I was younger.

Then Peter, Tracy and Arthur left for the airport, and we mooched around town with Nancy and Susan learning more about the history of Alexandria, and enjoying some of the live music celebrating St Patrick's day!

Evidence of habitation in Alexandria goes back 1300 years, but most famously, it was home to George Wahington, and he is commemorated here by the huge Masonic memorial and museum, and his house at Mount Vernon. Alexandria was an important port, heavily associated with the slave trade, but later became an area that pushed hard for civil rights and equality. Other famous people associated with the town are Gerald Ford, and, musically, the eclectic mix of Mama Cass, Jim Morrison and Dave Grohl!

That evening, the remaining 5 of us met for a farewell dinner in their favourite Italian restaurant and we had a super meal, and said some more very sad goodbyes, but we are hoping a number of them will be visiting us in the UK next year, which would be super. We were so impressed with Washington, and I love my American family dearly and always feel very at home with them. I am so pleased that I have been able to keep the connections going and am now passing them to the next generation, who seem equally keen to maintain them! To all the relatives up in New Hampshire, and on the west coast who couldn't join us... we will be back... or our door is always open!

Our final morning of the whole trip was spent exploring Alexandria on our first cold day in 9 weeks! It was preparing us for home! We visited Georgian style Carlyle house, built in 1751 by Scottish businessman John Carlyle, where important dignitaries and businessmen would meet.

Finally, the fascinating old Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary museum, opened in 1775, and left exactly as it was when it closed in 1939.

A good final lunch in Virtue Feed and Grain, and then it was our turn to take the metro out to Dulles International Airport for our flights home. We had our bargain business class tickets , so great food, and the lie flat bed was so comfortable, although again, we didn't sleep much.

Our landing in Frankfurt was a bit dramatic. It was foggy, and we thought we were nearly down, when suddenly the plane pulled up steeply and climbed back up high... quite a feat in a 747! Apparently there was a plane blocking the runway! The second attempt was fine and a quick transfer to our London flight saw is back in grey, wet London by 9.30am. Well, most of us. Chris' suitcase didn't appear!! When we reported it, they said it hadn't been scanned since we checked in. So where was it? Well, we heard much later it had been found in Frankfurt, and was flown to London that night and delivered to us next evening!! After all this travelling, and 17 flights, it was the home stretch that let us down! And we had been relying on German efficiency!!

But what a trip! We travelled over 32,000 miles and visited 8 countries.

We both agree there wasn't a day we didn't enjoy, and we liked all the accommodation, which, you will be pleased to hear, passed all my rigorous bedbug checks. The expected problems with mosquitos just didn't happen, we only wore our jackets on the first and last days, and had hardly any rain, even when it was quite often forecast. It was incredible.

(These were my only shorts! They were worn nearly every day.. and washed frequently!)

And what won the coveted Anne and Chris Oscars?

The most surprisingly good place?

Chris: Washington DC Anne: Mexico

The country we would most like to return to.... Chris: Western Australia Anne: Bali and more of Indonesia

Our top 3 experiences to include historical, wildlife and travel. (Meeting up with the cousins is automatically included, so we get 3 more!!)

Chris: Burma Railway, the Kookaburra encounter and the Mekong river trip.

Anne: Angkor Wat, meeting the elephants (and the sting rays!) and the Mekong river trip.

Thank you all for journeying with us. We have loved sharing our diary with you. It has been amazing! Take care ❤️



Mar 29

Oh, Trader Joe’s. Our favorite grocery store! Glad you only had positive experiences in the States.


Penny Lewin
Penny Lewin
Mar 29

Lovely, I want to go to most places! Welcome home.

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