Heading out from Washington DC’s Union Station in route to Chicago, Illinois. This train configuration is different and we are in cars with seating on the top floor and restrooms downstairs and no wifi on board. BOO! We use this “down-time” to plan ahead and research our future adventures. We brought some salads and noodles on board for dinner. Hot water is free. We like to pack Starbucks Vias and flavored creamer, which we have in the morning with fruit and a bagel.
The sunset is beautiful, but we only had about thirty minutes of daylight after we left DC. It was nice to see all the people’s homes and city streets we passed along the way decorated in colorful lights. You’ll have to use your imagination though because the pictures didn’t turn out due to glare from our windows. We had a layover in Cleveland, Ohio from about 1 am to 2 am due to a medical emergency. Kirk got off to stretch his legs and found out someone in another car passed away and they removed the body here. My heart goes out to the family.
We had hoped to surprise Andrew and Hannah Ryver at their church. Andrew was part of our Worship Team at First Christian Church in Santa Maria. He took a position at Parkview Church. Well, after a two hour delay, there was no way we could make it. (And, it turns out it was a lot further away than I thought). We just had time to set up out tablet in the Chicago train station and live-stream our church. There was pretty good wifi here in the food court. We had a Chicago Dog and a Diet Coke during the sermon. 😁
After church service was over, we took a taxi to our hotel. The adventures continue!
We arrive in Washington DC and check in to our hotel. We unpack, explore the neighborhood and grab some dinner. Sunday, we go downstairs for breakfast and take the day off to do some research and planning for future adventures. We need to take a day here and there to “refuel.”
Monday, we head out on the metro to check out the REI, our favorite adventure accessory store. When we got off the metro at NoMa-Gallaudet U station, we were surprised by Mr. Jackson, the man who helped us at Union Station on Saturday when we arrived. He recognized us and we thanked him for his help again. Another coincidence?
From here, we head to the Ford Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated. They are doing a production of A Christmas Carol there, so we purchase tickets for Wednesday’s matinee performance. Around the corner, we find a Christmas Market to stroll through. From here we head to the National Archives and see history documented: The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, in addition to many other documents that changed history. Something I did not know, these documents are printed on parchment, which is NOT paper, but animal skin! And, the ink they used was a mixture of blood and iron gall, so when this was applied to the parchment, the ink penetrates permanently like a tattoo. After this, we head out to see a beautiful sunset on the Washington Monument and the colors reflecting on the Capitol as the lights are coming on. We grab a bite to eat and head back to out hotel.
Tuesday, we decide to check out the Botanical Gardens because they are decorated for Christmas and include scale miniatures of many DC buildings and monuments made completely out of plant materials. They also have a special exhibit with trains running through Roadside Attractions across America. These too were made of plant materials. They had Randy’s Doughnuts and the Hollywood sign in California, the Corn Palace in South Dakota, The World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome in Iowa, the World’s Largest Pecan in Texas, etc. Kirk and I agreed we should add these Roadside Attractions to our cross country exploration agenda.
From the Botanical Gardens, we made our way to the metro and on to the National Zoo. We arrive just in time to see a demonstration of feeding a Sloth Bear on the Asian Trail. He is so cute and funny. He sucks meal worms through a tube and gets excited. We were hoping to see the pandas, but they are not out because it is too chilly for them today. We see some Red Pandas, cats, and head over to see the elephants. There are six females here and we can see three of them. The youngest is 17 and she is quite entertaining. When we started to move on from watching her, she would do something else. She would fit in with the girls in my family, “Look at me!” The apes were fun to watch. One Orangutan and I hit it off. She came up to the glass and I think she was trying to communicate with me. The Orangutans have what they refer to as an “O Line” which are ropes attached to the tops of towers allowing them to move about overhead outside their enclosure. The Small Mammal Exhibit had lots of fun critters I would love to take home, especially the Lemurs (“I like to move it, move it”) lol. As the sun starts to set, the lights are coming on as the Zoo is decorated throughout for “Zoo Lights”. We make a dash to see the great lions before they close the exhibit. I have never heard one roar and interact (show off) like that before! As we walk through, the lights are fully lit and beautiful. You can stop by the fire and toast marshmallows, and they have food courts with treats for purchase and live music, etc. I’m craving a Chai Tea Latte, so we head to the Starbucks across the street. It was another fun day in DC!
Wednesday, we head out to Ford’s Theatre to tour the museum before seeing our play, A Christmas Carol. The museum presents Lincoln’s struggles as well as his achievements, maybe keeping true to “Honest Abe” reputation. I can’t help but wish that character was stronger in leadership of late. We enter the theatre to take our seats for the play, not far from the Presidential Box where Lincoln was shot. You can see how Booth would have broken his leg jumping from the stage. The production of A Christmas Carol is done brilliantly! The costumes, sets, acting, singing, they even had fly wires. After the play, we went across the street to the Peterson House, where they took Lincoln after he was shot to tend to him and gather up troops to search for the conspirators. From there, we toured the Aftermath Museum, where they compiled the evidence against all the conspirators who helped Booth. All of these are run by the National Parks Service (NPS) and those people are passionate and know their stuff. We learned so many interesting facts they don’t cover in school, etc. We finished up they day by heading to the Lincoln Memorial making this a “Lincoln Day.” We have seen it several times before, but I don’t think it was any less amazing than the first time. His Inaugural Speech and the Gettysburg Address are engraved larger than life there. I think everyone should re-read them now and again. I love the glow at night and the view sitting on the steps and looking out over everything. We realize we are sitting right where Martin Luther King gave his Dream speech and looking around, we think of all the historical events that have taken place in this spot. I’m feeling quite humbled at the end of the day.
Thursday, we have a tour of the Capitol. Thanks to my friend, Etta, she was able to use connections to get us a staff led tour through Congressman Randy Weber’s (TX) office. Staffer, Erica, showed us around, pointing out the surviving construction from the War of 1812, the medallion marking the center of Washington DC, the tobacco leaves and corn tied in to Americanize the European looking architecture. Each state chooses a statue to display in the capitol representative of their state. We saw the original Supreme Court, Senate and Representative meeting areas. We saw down where Speaker Ryan’s office is and we saw Congressman McCarthy (CA) passing by from there. We parted ways when she got us through security in to the House Gallery. They had just finished up and only a few people were still lingering there. Afterwards, we went back to watch the movie you typically start your tour with and then walked around to look at some of the statues and artwork before leaving.
SMILE SURVEY: As we have been walking through DC, Kirk expressed that, “nobody here is smiling”. I pointed out they are on their way to work, and we can change that by smiling first. Kirk began to take a count. If you can’t make eye contact, you can’t make them smile. After we had walked for two blocks, we only observed three people smiling. Then this woman exclaims, “I want to know how I can get some of that, or buy some of that! You are so joyful and smiling!” Kirk explained his survey and I explained the source of my joy comes from the Lord. She let out an “Amen!” and we hugged and took a picture! Remember to smile, it is one of the few gifts you give that you WANT to be returned!
From the capitol, we took the metro to get to the White House. They were preparing for the lighting ceremony for National Christmas Tree later this evening, so the perimeter was blocked off all the way back to Washington Monument. A host of performers are scheduled for the lighting ceremony, including The Beach Boys, and one of our favs, Mannheim Steamroller. We stopped to look at the stage and decorated tree in the distance and talked for a while with a young man dawning “Stage Crew” credentials who gave us a rundown of the evenings festivities. The event is not open to public and we had not made the cut. We stopped further up and talked with a Motorcycle Policeman as we were admiring his Harley with sidecar attached. Interesting to learn they attach them in the winter for stability during impending hazardous road conditions. Washington Monument is closed for construction of an upgraded elevator, but the views from here are beautiful.
From the Washington Monument, we head to the nearest metro to take us to Arlington National Cemetery where we are going to meet up with our travel friends, Chris and Deah Hester, for the changing of the guards at the “Tomb of the Unknown”. We met Chris and Deah during our Transpacific cruise from LA to Australia in 2014. Chris had retired from the military that spring and hiked the Appalachian Trail while Deah finished the school year teaching, put their stuff in storage, rented out their house, and booked the cruise to begin their year of traveling. They were our inspiration. Deah also inspired us to create a blog and she has given us tips on “how to”. After the COG ceremony was over, they drove us by the school where Deah is working and to Chinese restaurant where we could sit down and pick their brains. They will head to Omen and Qatar during Deah’s winter break, then they plan to sell their house and travel for another year or two. They have been to over 130 countries. Their thoughts on travel are similar to ours; stick in a budget, utilize public transportation, look for free entertainment to supplement a couple of paid things a week, engage with the locals, etc. Check out their blog at www.palmtreemusings.com. After dinner and a page of notes, they dropped us off at a metro and we headed back to our hotel.
Friday, we decided to do laundry before packing up for Chicago tomorrow. I was SO EXCITED to find out the hotel’s guest laundry was only a quarter to wash and a quarter to dry! It’s these little luxuries or perks that you get that just brighten my day!
We headed out at noon, with clean clothes, heading to the Museum of the Bible, which opened mid-November this year. OMG!!! This was so much more than I ever imagined! We spent six hours on just three of the floors and didn’t put a dent in what there was to offer! It was filled with high-tech, interactive areas, giving you the opportunity to test your hand at translating, calligraphy, art, archeology, etc. You got to take chards of the Dead Sea Scrolls and try to rebuild it, they gave you the text with words defined in different languages so you could pick the translation, and you could sit at a writing desk, much like the type a friar would use, and copy exactly what was on one page on to another… We walked through a typical village you might find along the Sea of Galilee, we drove through the History of the Bible with Dave Stotts, and more. I thought about all of our missionary friends and our outreach teams as we are standing in a room containing complete Bibles in 671 languages and 1,525 New Testament only, yet there are many more languages to go before “every nation hears”… I wish we had planned more time here, even though we were here almost six hours.
We hate to leave the Museum of the Bible, but we have tickets to see Dunkirk at the IMAX theatre in the Museum of Flight. We have to hustle, but we make it in time. OK, I think I understand the point of the story they were trying to tell, but it was not put together very well. The movie replays and flashbacks characters, but never really ties them together. At the end, we were confused and disappointed. We agreed that we could have made a better movie if they had asked us. LOL.
Saturday is time to move on from Washington DC to Chicago. We do another load of laundry and head down to breakfast. Another great perk of this hotel (Hyatt Place Washington DC/Georgetown West End) is we have had a free, amazing breakfast every day and free wifi! Kirk heads out after breakfast to Trader Joe’s to pick up some salads and snacks for the train ride while I pack…again. And, we’re off on to the next leg of our adventure.
It is time to leave NYC and move on to Washington DC, where we will be for the next week. We are taking the train from Penn Station departing at 12:50 pm and we arrive at Union Station at 4:10 pm. From the train station, we head down to the metro. Thank you to Mr. A. Jackson, who assisted us with the purchase of a 7 day, short range metro pass ($81 for both), which would allow unlimited usage over the week. He also helped get us on the right train and off at the station closest to our hotel. Bless you, Sir!
From the Dupont Circle metro, we are a few blocks away from the Hyatt at 2121 M St NW, which was a nice find including free internet and a nice breakfast daily. Kirk and I have been here in DC three times previously, so we really don’t have any plans. We have a few friends in the area we are hoping to hook up with at some point and we want to see some of the Christmas decorations, like the National Tree. There is also a new Bible Museum here which just opened earlier this month which we would like to check out.
We decided we wanted to take the train across America from Florida to California, rather than fly. This concept opened up the opportunity for some additional adventure. I must disclose that flying to California would have been significantly less expensive than taking the train and staying in hotels along the way, but what a way to see the country, meet people, and cross off some of our bucket list items.
The Tampa Amtrak Station, from our hotel, was just under a mile but we took a taxi for a fixed rate of $4/pp. The Amtrak Station is a beautiful brick building that openned in May of 1912, just a few days after my Dad was born. Tampa to Orlando on Amtrak is via a full bus, but a comfortable ride. I was anxious to get to the station in Orlando, thinking it must be some awesome Disney-esq type structure – with all the theme parks in the area and all. Boy, was I disappointed! Even the bathrooms (new ones under construction) were porta potties.
Our train was delayed by an hour. We were assigned seats at boarding on a pretty full train and were in the first car behind the engine. The seats reclined and a leg rest popped up like a recliner. We pulled out around 2:40 pm and ETA is 12:30 pm tomorrow. We had our lunch, dinner and snacks with us that we had bought at the Publix in Tampa, so we hunkered in for the ride.
We got to talking to some of the folks around us (it is a long 22 hour ride…lol) and met a gentleman in a Veterans hat heading to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. He had just celebrated his 80th birthday…and not only had he served in Vietnam, he is now serving as a Deacon in his church. When we parted ways, we exchanged names and his last name was Graham – my maiden name. We also met a young man from Panama City studying as an Art Major in hopes to utilize his degree in advertising. He had been to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Inflation Celebration before and gave us a couple of tips.
The sunset and sunrise were beautiful and the views out our windows were painted in colorful fall foliage. God makes beautiful things! I got up to go get some coffee in the dining car…I didn’t realize I was going to have to walk back to Orlando to get it! LOL It is a looonnnng train! I prayed that I would make it back to my seat without spilling hot coffee on anyone along the way, and praise Jesus, we came to a stop and then pulled out slowly while I walked back.
We never did make up the lost time and pulled into Penn Station around 12:30 pm. Our hotel, the Wyndham New Yorker, was a block away. We were able to check in early and begin our New York adventure – heading to Time Square.