Monday, 6 May 2013

Washington in Cherry Blossom Time

Perhaps everyone’s heard of Japan and cherry blossoms but Washington DC also has a Cherry Blossom season.  It’s the perfect time of year (March-April) to visit the USA’s capital - it's cool and fairly quiet - but be warned, pick the wrong week and you could end up battling with hoards of American school children.  So double check your times before you book. 

Capitol Hill fr the Trolley
When to visit - If you would prefer to visit Washington DC when it's not crowded.  I would suvggest you go during the winter - December, January.  First, snow - I love the snow. Second, the lines are shorter and you won't be competing with schoolkids or have to wait for hours to get into attractions.  And last, but most importantly its CHEAPER.  Most of the hotels are virtually empty so you'll get a cheap room.  Hint 1 : phone the hotel of your choice and ask for a discount rate.  Hint 2: Use Skype - it's free.  

I also suggest avoiding the summer as Washington DC is hot, humid and unpleasant in the hottest months.  

What to do - Museums of course.  The Smithsonian Institute is surely the most famous museum in the world.  As most people know there is more than one (about 16 in fact) and so to maximize your time, I suggest you look at their offerings and select the one that appeals to you most: my favourite is the American History one because it has popular culture items.  Explore the website which in itself has great blogs and items.    Hint 3: Smithsonian is FREE.  Be warned if it's a busy time,  lines form early.  

(The Smithsonian also has a zoo, which was walking distance from my hotel, but I'm spoiled about zoos, I think Taronga Park Sydney is the best in the world.  So I tend to avoid them and thus avoid being disappointed). 

For me, the  "Mint" is a must  visit.  Learn how money is printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (the mint produces coins and isn't avail for tours in Washington DC). Tickets are required March - August - but rest of time you can just rock up.  I love this kind of edutainment.  

If politics is your thing, perhaps you'd like to tour the Capitol?

My other favourite WAS the Spy Museum - there was a James Bond 007 exhibition when I was there.  Lots of interactive stuff for the kids and it's a novelty museum, I found it a bit corny and not always accurate.  But my biggest problem are the crowds - it is getting too popular and they aren't good at crowd control.  It is open every day from 9 until 7 but it has a complicated ticket system ie line up for tickets and then line up to get in.  Only a few people at a time are admitted.  So be warned.  It is NOT free - about $21 per ticket - so I suggest you read the tripadvisor reviews before you put it on your mustdo list. 

Kennedy Center - if performing arts is your bag each night at the Kennedy Center there is a FREE, yes FREE, activity.  So be sure to see what's on.  Of course the center hosts plays, music and all manner of performing arts.  Look at the website and be amazed at how much culture is crammed into one place.  Another mustdo, especially if you have children.  

White House - of course you might wish to visit the White House - a rather unpretentious building but still it's another Washington landmark.  Again be aware that you will have to book well in advance and prepare to be disappointed as tours can be cancelled at any time due to security reasons etc. 

Seeing the City - I like to get an overview of each city so I am oriented from the start.  We originally planned to do an open bus tour but they wouldn't take our booking (we are lazy and like a pick up from the hotel option) so we went with a trolley car and had a great time.   It took about 1.5 hours to do one loop - there are three - pictures of Capitol Hill were taken from inside hence the rather blurry picture - it's NOT my bad photography skills. Really it isn't.  Getting around Washington is very easy with the Metro--an underground/subway system that whizzes you from place to place.  

There are tons of monuments of course and we visited them all - it can get crowded so be up and about early so you can get a shot with just you at the Lincoln Memorial.  Or maybe do a night tour.  

Walking tours are always heaps of fun....

Merlots Art
Best thing to do Hint 4: Of all the things we did in Washington, the thing we enjoyed the best was Merlots Art.  Basically you go to an art studio, they supply a free glass of wine (BYO for more) and all painting supplies;  an instructor takes you through the steps of painting a 'masterpiece'.  There were six people in our session and we thoroughly enjoyed was an eclectic crowd:, teacher, web designer, grants writer, record producer, hubby and me.  Book in advance so you can be sure to get a spot - it fill quickly and they are not avail every night of the week.   We spent a delightful couple of hours sipping wine, painting, looking at each other's interpretations and generally laughing and mingling.  I cannot more highly recommend this as an evening activity.  Naturally we brought our canvases back to Oz (oh I forgot to say, they supply everything). 

Other ideas:  Can I suggest that people book a tour of the White House, read Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, and shop Georgetown for great bargains.  How about taking in high tea in one of the fabulous hotels?  Or There are also flea markets and lots of other activities...visit the tourist website for a zillion ideas.  This week is Cocktail Week, there is a yearly Jazz Festival.  Try to keep up with the latest on the local paper The Washington Post.

In DC you would need as month to see everything once so be sure you book things well in advance.  And finally Hint 5 : leave the backpack at home.  Come one folks -- make life easier for yourself and your family and leave backpacks and similar things in the hotel.  I just have a wallet and a phone. You don't need much more.

Next month: New York City.

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