Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 12: Spying in the Nation's Capitol

For our second day in DC, we started with Alex's #1 desired DC spot, the International Spy Museum.

We knew that we wanted to partake in their Spy in the City adventure - its similar to Williamsburg's RevQuest, except instead of using your cell phone and lots of pieces of paper, you rent these little handheld devices - the best example I could give would be the Kim Possible adventure we did at Epcot two years ago (which is apparently revamped as a Phineas and Ferb adventure. Big SIGH, since I was rather excited this was a girl-based spying adventure for kids, and now its two bratty boy characters).

Spy in the City takes you outside the museum, on a two mile or so hike around Washington D.C., while you are off to catch a double agent who is spying on America and giving our secrets away to Russia. If this sounds a bit 1970s-ish to you, well, its because you really are following in the path of a real spy, and apparently going to some of the places where he really met his agents to exchange information.

Given the heat and humidity from the day before, we thought it would be best to do Spy in the City as early as possible in the morning. So, before we even went into the museum, we got our devices and we were off.

Our devices were used to send communications back and forth to our contact. We also used them to scan and dust for fingerprints, and we would send those fingerprints back for analysis. They also tested to air for spy dust particles, or something like that.

Our journey took us past several landmarks. Some we had seen before, like the National Archives.

Some we were planning to see later in the trip, but hadn't yet. Like Ford's Theater, and the Old Post Office Tower.

And some we might not have seen, like this small Roosevelt memorial.

Or this fountain celebrating the navy. The fountain was very cool - it goes all around in a circle, and has tributes to all sorts of great naval battles and ships on the sides of the fountain.

Our clues would arrive on our communicator devices, and some were hard to solve. We ended up working together with another family of two boys about half way through the mission, and the kids seemed to enjoy making new friends.

The whole mission took us about 2.5 hours. I think a lot of people accomplish it faster, but we were letting the boys lead the way as much as possible. We had tickets for a tour of the US Capitol at 2pm, so I realized we would have to wait on touring the museum. After verifying we could come back later today with our tickets, we headed next door for lunch at the Shake Shack. Yum! Its a chain restaurant (NY based, if I am not mistaken), but I loved how they had spy-themed menu items for us.

The Capitol was far enough away that we hopped on the metro. And then we walked. A lot. I got us lost trying to find the Visitor's Center, and I hate getting lost. Especially when time is of the essence. Running was involved here to make up for lost time. And if there is one thing I hate more than getting lost, its running. Happily, we made it, and just in time.

The Capitol has strict rules - no backpacks, no liquids of any kind, no food. This includes water bottles, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer. Security is in line with airport security, but I don't blame them. Its a hassle, though, and it takes a lot of your time.

Once you are inside, you start off with a film in the Visitor's Center. Then they take you into the rotunda.

Which is stunnigly beautful, but boy, is it crowded in there. Its so crowded that they give you headphones to listen to your guide speak, because there are probably over a dozen different groups of 40 or so people at a time in every room we went to. Its a bad photo, but here Alex and I are modeling the lovely headphones.

And here you can get an idea of the crowds. Except like twenty times this many people in the rotunda.

There are many famous paintings inside the Capitol. We especially appreciated this one, which showed Gen. Washington accepting the surrender of the British at Yorktown. (Gen. Cornwallis, the British leader,claimed he was too sick to come in person, thus he isn't depicted in the painting - we had learned all about this a few days before, and the kids were thrilled to see it in person.)

Almost as thrilled as they were to see the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which is well-known to Team Danger because its on the back of the two-dollar bill. Which we of course had on hand. ;)

I wanted to get a cool picture of both, but the focusing just wasn't happening.

There weren't many statutes of women that I saw inside Congress, and when I did, they were often grouped together, like this one of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. All of which deserved their own statute, but nope, our government just gave them each a third. And only their top halves. This was the only statute I saw out of hundreds without a bottom half. What's up with that?

As for the rest of the tour - well, it wasn't the most child-friendly. Ryan in particular seemed quite bored with it. We didn't have passes for the galley, and I'm not quite sure why Cornyn's office didn't tell me I would need those along with the tour tickets. It was a hassle to try and get them while we were there, so we skipped that - which likely would have been the most interesting aspect of visiting Congress. Am I glad we did the tour? I suppose, yes, especially since the White House wasn't open for tours. Would I do it over again, given the kids' ages? Probably not. Getting to and in the Capitol is a hassle and time-consuming. It would be nice for family tours, but that's probably asking too much. The kids' biggest thrill was just being outside and seeing the famous domed landmark.

We also tried for a selfie family portrait. That came out well.

And here is the Capitol a bit further back, closer to the metro.

If you turn around 180 degrees from here, you will see the Supreme Court. Which was undergoing some unfortunate construction, but they put this nifty drape on top of that makes it almost look like its just its usual perfect self.

Just next door was the Library of Congress, but we didn't go in, despite its National Treasure connections. Carl and I could tell the boys just weren't quite in the mood for yet another keep quiet/don't touch kind of place. Which meant it was time to ... head back to the Spy Museum!

There was a special Bond baddies exhibit going on  -  very cool for Carl and I, but the boys haven't seen any Bond movies yet, so much of it was lost on them. The Spy Museum starts out with a bang - the elevator up to the top of the museum is super cool, and changes colors on you.

As the sign said, we all had to pick our own secret identity. I became Greta Schmidt, and yep, I am now eight years younger and living in England. Sounds about right. :)

Once your identities are set, you gather for a group debriefing and for new id photos to be taken. Horribly cheesy, but I could. not. resist. buying.

The Spy Museum was very cool. Team Danger LOVED this place. They did a great job of presenting interesting spy facts for adults yet at the same time, there was always something nearby that was perfect for little ones. Ryan loved practicing his aerial camera flights.

And you can't see it here well, but Alex was crawling around and knocking on the ventilation shaft below.

All aspects of spying were featured - is this where Edward Snowden practiced his craft?

And then there were the museum items on display that really interested Team Danger. Like this tool kit that gets stored someplace in your body that most searches wouldn't find. Gross!

And all these James Bond-style guns - they really exist! The flashlight was a particular favorite of Alexander.

Whereas I thought the umbrella gun was fairly brilliant. I keep thinking of that scary Mary Poppins-horror film trailer whenever I see it.

The ground floor of the museum is where the James Bond exhibit it located. You start by entering the Volcano Lair.

A Bond-mobile.

Ryan really dug practicing hanging from the top of some scaffolding like James Bond. You hit the tallest button you can...

And then the scaffold lifts you up from the ground.

We stood in line a long time for his chance to hang like James.

Go, Ryan!

Ryan also learned how to deactivate a bomb, so we're all set should we ever find ourselves with a ticking bomb about to go off.

And they really enjoyed this interactive exhibit, with one-way mirrors and all sorts of hands-on exhibits for littler hands.

Ryan is looking at Alex, who can't see him here.

After our long visit in the museum, and what seemed like an even longer visit to the best gift shop of the trip (spy gadgets galore!), we retired for spirits and dinner at the nearby Hard Rock Cafe. Kind of touristy, but always reliable. It gave us the perfect opportunity to inventory all of our new spy gear.

And to spy out the window. You never know where the bad guys are going to be, after all.

After dinner, we still had time to hit the Old Post Office Tower. Its run by the National Park Service (passport stamps!) and has great views that are called the best views of Washington D.C. now that the Washington Monument is closed down. We also did the Junior Ranger program, one of two we did in DC.

The view did not disappoint. We could see almost all of the big sights, like the Lincoln Memorial.

The World War II Memorial.


The Washington Monument.

And even bits of the White House which, much to Carl's delight, you can see the guns and men on top of it. If you see the flag pole, there's a secret service agent to the right, just where the trees start.

Once again - this wasn't quite the day I planned. We went way over with the Spy Museum, skipped the Library of Congress, and didn't make it to the Natural History Museum. But we had a great time, and in the end, that's all that matters.

Up Next: Museum Overload Day

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