Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 11: American History and Money - What Could be Better?

Here's how we started our morning ride on the Metro. It was the boys' first time on a subway, and they were thrilled.

And here's how we ended our day on the Metro. ;)

There are over a dozen different museums that are part of the Smithsonian, and most of them are lined up around the National Mall. We had visited the Udvar-Hazy air and space museum on the first day of our trip, and I had the Zoo planned for a later date. I narrowed down the other museums to the three I thought would most interest the boys: the main Air and Space Museum; the Natural History Museum; and the American History museum. I was sad to miss out of the beautiful artwork at the other buildings, but one can only take Team Danger to so many museums. And my general idea was to just do one of these each day, so we didn't get museum-ed out.

I also had arranged through our senator to get tickets for events you need security clearance, like the Capitol, the Bureau or Printing and Engraving, and the White House (oh , right... not the White House, since the tours were cancelled... not cool, Mr. President. I love you, but this really disappointed two future voters) As my tickets came in, I had to rearrange my schedule to accommodate those events. The BEP, for instance, was set for 4:30 p.m. on our first day, which limited what and where we would be in the afternoon.

First up: the American History Museum.

My personal favorite, and I thought the boys would dig it, too.

They have several interactive family-friendly events, like washing clothes like the pioneers did, or participating in a Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-in, and singing freedom songs.

Plus, cool things to see, like Lincoln's hat and clothes he was wearing the night he was killed.

The original Star-Spangled Banner (which is not where it used to hang - see below - but is now behind closed glass and not able to be photographed).

Big trains, planes, automobiles, and boats (part of a transportation exhibit).

One of every type of coin and bill currency ever used in America.

Even a $5,000 bill! Did I even know these existed?

And some fun modern popular culture artifacts, like Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, Dorothy's ruby slippers, Archie Bunker's chair, and Idinia Menzel's dress as Elphaba (which didn't photograph well for me, but its such a cool image, I'm including it).

A huge exhibit all on our presidents, and you get to speak at the president's podium.

And the First Ladies' gowns. (no big surprise, but this was NOT a hit with Team Danger. Some days I really miss not having a daughter)

We ate a truly horrible lunch in the museum's cafeteria that cost us over $50. Oh. My. God. I'm still bitter at how bad that food was, and how much it cost. I think this may have jaded our memories of the good parts of the museum, but somehow, which is a shame. My original plan after this museum was to then go down to the Jefferson Memorial, and do a paddleboat ride. We would have just the right amount of time to do both, and make our 4:30 money factory tour. Alex really wanted to do the paddle boats, but when it came time to head that way, it was raining. We could walk in the rain, but even Team Danger wouldn't be foolish enough to take a boat out on water in the rain. Cue some unhappiness. Our rain alternate, though, was to head to the National Archives.

The National Archives houses the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. In large part due to National Treasure, this was a must-see spot for Team Danger.

Except... its crowded, your visits are time-controlled, and its hard to get your time in front of the documents. Plus they are faded. No pictures are allowed. And, well, let's just say, this was not what we were expecting thanks to great and not-so-great Hollywood movies, like Protocol. (I don't remember it being this way, either... not sure if the place has grown in popularity, or of security measures dictated changes) Oh, and did I mention that a good 20 minutes of our line was out in the rain?

Since we couldn't take a picture inside, we pretended outside.

The best part of the Archives was its hands-on "research archives", which is a museum of sorts. Alex really liked this. Ryan really liked finding a place to sit down and "watch" a movie for twenty minutes.

When I decided to move the Archives to this day to help with rain, well, I'm not sure what I was thinking, because it was in such the wrong direction from where we needed to head next, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We had a good 20-30 minute walk in humid conditions to get there, and we were worried we would be late. we did pass the Washington Monument, all covered up after its earthquake damage.

We weren't, happily, but we were all sorts of sticky when we got there. The money factory, as Ryan called it, was a big hit. Even bigger than I had hoped. The boys absolutely LOVED watching millions upon millions of dollars being printed.

You can't take pictures inside, but there was plenty of pretty awesome money in the lobby where you could take pictures. Here's Ryan with one million one dollar bills.

My little money collectors were super happy with their money factory, so this day ended on a good 'note.'

Oh, and if we measure Ryan by a stack of $100 bills, he'd be worth $1,281,000.

We were in great moods on this walk. The money factory was a hit, and they knew we were headed back to our hotel for food, swimming, and sleeping.

Up Next: Spying in the Nation's Capitol

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 10: Mount Vernon (which was definitely not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright)

Monday morning we packed up our rental car and moved north in Virginia, ready to take on the nation's capitol. But first - a visit to the home of our first president, George Washington, located just outside of Washington D.C.

While we were on vacation, our neighbors Jeff, Noel, and Tatianna were also on vacation, making a huge driving circle from St. Louis to Niagara Falls to Boston and down to Atlanta and home. We had compared our itineraries, and somehow it ended up we would all be at Mount Vernon on the same day. What are the odds! It took some wiggling to make it fit, but we all met up right before our 1pm tour of the house.

The kids were excited to see each other, and I think Jeff, Carl and I were equally excited to let the four of them go off a bit ahead of us and give us a chance for more grown-up chats.

When you arrive at Mount Vernon, the kids were all given an Adventure Map.

They had fun filling it out, and working together as we went on a scavenger hunt around George Washington's vast property. And when you finish your map, you get a special souvenir pressed penny, "For Free!!" as Ryan put it. The boy loves his pressed pennies. (I like them, too, since they are at most $1.01, and sometimes 51 cents)

Washington's home has been carefully preserved, like Jefferson's was, but unlike Jefferson's, all of the huge outer buildings, slave quarters, blacksmith shop, carriage houses, and various other buildings have all been preserved.

Each plantation was a mini-town, and it was fascinating to see how it was run. We had heard about it at Monticello, but seeing it is SO much better. Alex was especially interested in seeing some slave quarters, so I was glad these had been preserved and maintained.

George Washington's carriage was even still there. Amazing!

It was also interesting to see the archaeological dig going on outside the kitchen. They apparently find all sorts of things on a daily basis, and when you are older, you can go to an archaeological camp at Mount Vernon. Both Ryan and Noel seemed interested in this.

We got to see where Martha and George are buried, outside of the family crypt.

They were originally buried in this old vault, but were later moved to where they are now. Kinda creepy, in my opinion. (I'm also pretty sure this old vault was used in National Treasure 2. They have a special tour related to the movie you can take - you meet here, and then it opens to the secret tunnels. I had bought tickets for this extra tour, but when the time for that tour came up, the consensus from 3/4 of Team Danger was that we were toured out. I'll let you guess which one of us wanted to go on the tour I had spent $5/person ordering in advance.)

The kids other favorite part of Mount Vernon? The farm and animals.

Could they see these animals anywhere? Yes. Did it make it any less fun? Not in the least.

I'm using pretty reluctant to ask strangers to hold our camera, but thanks to Jeff, we were actually able to get a family photo for once on this trip.

Instead of our usual photo of just the boys... or sometimes me and the boys.

You can't take any photos inside the house when you are on the tour, but the one thing that stayed with me was that this house seemed much bigger than Monticello to me. It might be because you only see a one floor at Monticello, and you get to see two here at Mount Vernon - but I don't think so. I'd love to know the square footage of the two homes. Oh, the other thing of note from this tour - he was always "General" Washington. Never President Washington, never Mr. Washington. And I'll end our Mount Vernon recap with our requisite presidential statute photo, which the boys decided was almost as good as the real thing. Okay, boys. If you say so.

After we said goodbye to Jeff and the twins, I had Carl backtrack a few miles to the sign I had seen for the Pope-Leighey House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Many moons ago, when Carl and I were dating, we were spending a weekend in parts of Pennsylvania. We had visited Gettysburg, and we went white water rafting in Ohiopyle State Park. On our way to the rapids, we had passed a sign that read, "Fallingwater." I was so excited - Frank Lloyd Wright's home! - but due to time constraints, Carl said we would stop on our way back from the rapids. Well. Let's just say that Carl's "near-death" experience, as he puts it, meant we didn't stop anywhere on our way out of Ohiopyle. Which meant I did not get to see Fallingwater, and almost two decades later, I have still not seen Fallingwater. Nor have we ever been rafting on any rapids again, either. I have yet to let him forget how close I was to Fallingwater, and its something of a joke with us. Especially every time I see the Lego set in the Lego store for what is certainly the most famous Frank Lloyd Wright house ever. 
Suffice it to say, when I saw a sign on this trip for the Pope-Leighey house, I wasn't going to let hell or high (river rapid) water keep me from seeing this Frank Lloyd Wright house. Well, nothing but the simple fact that it was 4:10 p.m., and they close the house at 4:00 p.m. Mother f@ckers. I did, however, walk past a sign that says "all visitors beyond this point must hold an entrance ticket" and snap this picture.

Which is, apparently, as close to a Frank Lloyd Wright house as I am ever going to get. 

Fortunately, the drive to our new hotel wasn't too much further. And we arrived just in time for our free happy hour, with unlimited wine and beer from 5:30-7:30 p.m. every day, and free unlimited popcorn and other odd snacks. Let's just call us all very happy with the Embassy Suites happy hour.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 9: On a Revolutionary Quest, in the Revolutionary City

For our second day in Colonial Williamsburg, we had two goals to accomplish.

First and last up, the Revolutionary City feature of Colonial Williamsburg.

Basically, throughout the day, you have the opportunity to witness and participate in all the main steps of the American Revolution, and I wanted to do as many as possible, keeping with my educational vacation plans. You start with storming the Governor's Palace at 10am.

The basic story is that, in the time leading up to war, British soliders came into Williamsburg in the middle of the night and removed all the gunpowder from the Magazine. Town leaders decided to march to the Governor's Palace and demand its return.

A large crowd (or an unruly mob, as David Dewhurst might call them) assembles, and before you know it, the soldiers arrive to 'keep the peace.'

The boys decided the sit up front for the best view, but in my opinion, they missed out on the most fun aspect of the event...

Because probably about half of this crowd were the Colonial Williamsburg people in costume, intermingling with us tourists.

Its a LOT of fun, because they interact with you as if you were one of them, talking quietly to you as they stand next to you in the crowd, whispering what nonsense this is, or Yes! By George, he's got this figured out! And as the crowd became more demonstrative, we all stormed the palace together. LOVED this!

More events occurred throughout the day. We would miss some, based on our other big event for the day (details to follow below). The Declaration of Independence was read at the Capitol steps, for instance, while we were eating lunch. But we did make it for The War Comes Home: the British Invade to Virginia, which took place in 1779.

We were hoping to see a bit of a battle here, but instead, its just the townspeople assembling and discussing the fact that the war is now at their doorsteps, and worrying about whether Williamsburg will be next. (In other words, this was a bit of a let down for Team Danger - not a musket was in sight)

The next listed event was The Town is Taken, for 3pm. After a brief inquiry to ensure that some soldiers carrying muskets would at least be present, we settled in an hour later to watch British General Benedict Arnold arrive in Williamsburg, seize it from the colonists, and raise the British flag back over the Capitol. Here he is announcing the rules for his occupation of Williamsburg.

The final event for the day, On to Yorktown and Victory, would likely have been interesting as well. But since this was set for 5pm, and Team Danger was clearly done at 3pm, we headed back to the hotel for swimming instead. We really enjoyed these little bits throughout the day, though. Each event only takes about fifteen minutes, and by staggering them, they help give kids a chance to enjoy them more, and get a real taste for the American Revolution. Had I been able to plan my exact Williamsburg days a bit better (grrrrrr, still annoyed), I would have liked to have done this day before our Yorktown day - it just makes more historical sense, that way.

Backing up a bit, the Revolutionary City events were just one part of our day. The biggest event of our day in Williamsburg was RevQuest: The Black Chambers.

What is RevQuest? Well, its an interactive treasure hunt, of sorts. When we checked into Williamsburg, the boys were handed these two RevQuest scarves. You have to wear them while on your revolutionary quest, so that you can be identified as friends of the revolutionaries. You then text a code to the "Screenmaster" who send you your very first clue - and you have to make contact with the Sentinel for further instruction.

Alas, the Sentinel only appears every thirty minutes, and he's pretty prompt.

We missed him by minutes the first time, and it was a long wait for his next appearance. Which gave us time to explore the Governor's Palace a bit more.

Finally, he came out to make contact. Alexander correctly remember the secret code question to ask him, How do America's friends pay their way?

And we were in, and ready to await further instruction.

The Sentinel then comes in to explain to us that we need to find the secret location where are troops are hiding (or something like that... it might have been treasure or ammunition or... I forget, just some sort of important secret that they called "The Threat to America").

The Sentinel sends us on our first mission - back to the stables at the Governor's Palace, where with some sleuthing, we find this map, freshly captured from our enemies, and containing the location to the Threat to America.

Our first mission: to find this snake flag, and solve a clue.

Our three clues we have to solve are on this mission.

Our "friend" gives us a cipher wheel to help solve the mystery.

And with some help from Danger Daddy.

We have the word: Chickahominy.

We text our answer to the Screenmaster, and he texts us back: Admirable work! Now we know that the Threat to America is somewhere the Chickahominy River. Circle the letter D on your captured map.
Pleased with our success, we take a minute to visit the Gunsmith and Foundry, which is where our mission took us.

We had missed the gun-maker the first day, and it kind of goes without saying that the gunsmith was a must-see for Team Danger.

Our next mission involved more of a walk through Colonial Williamsburg. We stopped off at the open-air market.

I resisted buying one of these hats for myself (because really, where and when would I ever wear it after today??). But ohhhh, how I wanted one.

These women just cracked me up, playing a colonial lawn game, as if they were really were back in time three hundred years ago.

And who doesn't want to put their children in the stocks? hahahahaha!

Even when they are as cute as this little one. ;)

I just loved walking all around Williamsburg.

The British flag flying outside a restaurant or building meant that it was open for business. Any place that flies the Union Jack is pretty good in my book.

But we needed to get back to our RevQuest. If you get stumped (like we were), you can look for those who are Friends of America and ask for help. You can identify them by their secret-membership ribbon that is black and white. This one helped get us to the print shop for our next clue.

We were told to look for a letter C on the shopfront, and sure enough, there was a colonial letter C in the corner. (side story: we had studied the Colonial (or Hotch Potch) alphabet over dinner the other night - basically, they left out some letters and only used the ones that your body could form in a shape - this amused us, and we searched a lot to see what was missing. When we first heard the clue for the letter C, Alex immediately decided it would be a Colonial C. And he was right! Some days, I just burst with pride at my little genius. I'm sure all other moms out there can relate.)

And here's an image I snaffled of what we called the Colonial Alphabet.

Once we found the C, we found this woman handing out our next code to decipher.

Basically, it was a printed book, and we had to look up the page number, line number and word number.

My legal briefing skills came in handy here, because I took one look at our mission of 101.19.4 and instantly realized what we were doing.

A quick text to The Screenmaster with our new word, and we wer off to our final location, the Army Encampment.

We had spent so much time here a few days back, this one took us no time at all to solve. We just had to count the number of certain shirts hanging to dry, and we were done.

With our three solved clues, we then were told by the Screenmaster that we needed to find his Crossbones Club mark by a gate in the brickyard path near a wheel on the map, but that the friend only appeared every thirty minutes. Greeeeaaaattttt ... more time to kill. We (read, the parents) are so ready for this RevQuest to be done, and having to wait another twenty minutes just about killed me. Finally, we meet our friend.

Only to discover that the Screenmaster has been compromised, and was really working for the British the whole time!

All of our hard work, and its now in the hands of America's enemy.

As our friend put it, we've certainly made a mess of things. Our only way for redemption is to find out the Screenmater's true identity, out him, and keep him from doing any more harm to America's friends.

Needless to say, you could hear just about every parent groan at this part, when we find out that there are three MORE clues to solve. We decide to decamp to a restaurant for lunch, and mull over the rest of the afternoon.

Fortunately, the next two riddles are easy to solve. One we are even able to guess on our own based on our knowledge of Ben Franklin, American history, and the turkey that never did become the national bird. The last clue for us to find was farily difficult, and a hike away. Such a hike that Carl parked himself on a bench while we foraged on to beyond the Capitol, to the Presbyterian Meetinghouse. This clue was tricky, but with about four families working together, we finally solved it.

Only to realize that we only had two minutes to make the next briefing with our friend to tell him the name of the spy, or else wait another ninety minutes. Team Danger was SO done with Williamsburg at this point, so we ran... and ran... like I haven't run since my flight to Switzerland was being held for me at DFW.  And we made it! The boys were given souvenir RevQuest coins for their efforts, and they were also excited to find out that... there was still more work to be done. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!! Even better, the more work to be done was to go to the complete opposite end of Williamsburg, to visit the hospital, and see where our spy,  a printer named Hunter, was held as an insane person back in 1781. Sooooo not happening.

We had a few things still to do in Williamsburg, though, before calling it a day - like visiting the blacksmith.

And as an added bonus, we ran into Benedict Arnold himself on the way out.

Goodbye, Williamsburg. We enjoyed our times in Colonial America. There was a lot we didn't get to do on this trip, but I'm fairly satisfied with what we did get accomplished. And its nice to know there is more awaiting us in the future. (not to mention another RevQuest, since they change it up every year. oh, goodie)

But we're pretty happy to be returning to our hotel pool, and then dinner with Despicable Me 2. :)

Up Next: Mount Vernon (which was definitely not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright)

Day 1: Blackbirds, Canals and Poison Ivy
Day 2: Antietam and Monocacy National Battlefields
Day 3: Gettysburg's 150th Anniversary
Day 4: Harpers Ferry National Park (and yes, that name is grammatically correct)
Day 4, Part 2: Shenandoah National Park
Day 5: Monticello
Day 6: A Colonial Williamsburg 4th of July
Day 6, Part 2: Fireworks, Let Me See Your Colors Burst
Day 7: Jamestown, a Big Boat Scavenger Hunt, and a Virginia Beach
Day 8: Victory at Yorktown
Day 9: On a Revolutionary Quest, in the Revolutionary City


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