When we planned this trip we realized that it could be a really fun and exciting time to be in DC or a really depressing one. I'm very glad - for all sorts of reasons beyond the weekend, obviously - that it turned out to be the former. There was a decidedly celebratory feel about the city and it was wonderful to just kind of bask in it.
We traveled by Megabus. I've never done that before but had read about it in Budget Travel magazine. They're cheap inter-city buses, with comfortable seats and free wi-fi. They save money by not using bus stations (you just get on on the street) and not selling tickets (only web-based reservations and payment) and no one helps you with your bags (they open the compartment and you put your luggage in). It was a little chaotic on the NYC end, just because they had a lot of buses leaving from the same corner, so we got off to a late start, but other than that I thought it went great and plan to use them again. The first seat on each bus goes for $1, and even with just two or three weeks advance planning you can get buses to Boston for $5-$10 each way or DC for $10-$20 each way. By contrast, the cheapest Amtrak fares are $144 r/t and Greyhound is over $200. We had a 6:15 bus on Friday night and got in close to midnight.
We stayed in a Marriott right at Metro Center, which was very convenient and easy to get around. I got two rooms on priceline. We weren't able to get connecting rooms, but were just down the hall from each other.
We spent pretty much all of Saturday on and around the National Mall. We saw the Museum of Natural History, site of one of my favorite childhood stories.* Vicki and I looked at the rocks and minerals section for a long time (I always like to visit the Hope Diamond) and the Mammals Hall. The kids split off and looked at different exhibits. We all saw the IMAX 3-D Deep Sea movie with Johnny Depp, which was excellent.
Then the big kids (Kendra and her friend Gabe) went to the National Gallery while the rest of us went to the Washington Monument. We met up at Air and Space, where we touched a moon rock, saw lots of space ships and planes (always gives me a thrill to see the actual vehicles that went into space and landed on the moon) and saw a 3-D movie about the sun and a planetarium show about Black Holes.
After the museum closed we had dinner and then visited the Lincoln Memorial. What a stirring sight that is at night! We hung out with Abe a while, then stopped at the Vietnam Memorial, then headed back to the Natural History Museum. It's closed in the evenings, but they show feature films in the IMAX theatre. We saw The Dark Knight. I liked it a lot better this time! We got back to our hotel close to midnight and went to sleep right away.
Sunday morning we made use of the hotel pool and jacuzzi for a while, then checked out and checked our bags. We headed over to the U Street neighborhood, a cool area with great housing stock that's very much an up and coming part of DC. We met Vicki's niece, who lives in DC, at a neat cafe called "Busboys and Poets." It's named for Langston Hughes (since he was both a busboy and a poet) and has a great bookstore attached. So we browsed and ate lunch and hung out with Melissa. We also bought some Obamarabilia while we were there. I got an inauguration button, since I will be at the inauguration in spirit.
From U Street we went to the International Spy Museum which is a very fun and interactive museum and a great way to spend a few hours. I've been there before but enjoyed it again this time. I was pleased to see that they've added an exhibit on Valerie Plame and the reprehensible actions of the Bush Administration in blowing her cover since last I was there.
Our bus was scheduled to leave at 4:45, so we left the museum at 3:30 and picked up our bags and walked to the bus stop. Things were much less chaotic at the DC bus stop and we left on time and got back to NYC at 9:15, right on time.
* Family of Origin story set in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum: I went to DC for the first time on a family trip when I was nine years old. There were five of us kids at the time, and my brother Joel (age 10) and I planned the whole trip (except for the hotel and the driving route to and from our home - we did all transportation routes within DC and chose all activities, sights, etc) as an educational exercise. We spent a lot of time in the Smithsonian museums.
We were all in the Hall of Minerals when my parents noticed that my sister Kayo (age 5) was holding a small rock that looked suspiciously like one of the large rocks on display on a pedestal. They did the parental interrogation bit ("Where did you get the rock?" "I found it" "No, really. Where did you get the rock?" "I found it." "You'd better tell me the truth." "I found it.") but she didn't crack. They weren't sure they believed her, but thought it best to just give up at that point.
Only my brother Hart (age 7) kept pestering her:
"Let me see your rock."
"No! It's mine."
"Just for a minute."
"No! It's mine."
"Come on. Let me see your rock."
"No! It's mine."
Finally she got so frustrated that, in that amazingly loud and clear voice that small children use only when saying something you wish were not overheard, she said, "Oh go chip your own!"
We left quickly and after that whenever you caught someone lying in my family you said, "Oh go chip your own!"