A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 14: Day 1 in the City

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we are chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C.  The first post in the series is here.  You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page.  Last week Melissa talked about turning a family vacation into a 2-week homeschool field trip. This week, and the next few, will cover our adventures through the city each day we were there.

We finally made it to D.C.. After nearly a week in the car, we were all glad to have reached our destination. As you know from previous posts, we had a spreadsheet full of our planned days D.C., and the first day was no exception. While we were not planning on seeing many of the sites, we did need to prepare ourselves for the week we would spend there.

DC day 1 plan

Our first destination of the day was to find our rental home so we could get oriented. It was too early for us to check-in, but we wanted to make sure we could find our new “home.” Once we found where we would be living, it was time to find some lunch. We found a restaurant in a trendy part of D.C. where we could watch the people and traffic. It was a good lesson in just how much faster paced Washington D.C. is than our normal life.

The kids were also introduced to the use of car horns. It seems that if the lead car at a stoplight does not drive as if qualifying for a NASCAR event, everyone in the line behind them is required to lay on their horn until they are completely through the intersection. These are not friendly horn “beeps.” These are full on, press as hard as you can, horn blasts.

The kids also learned that crosswalks are only suggestions. No matter how much traffic there is. And that it also seems to be completely normal to carry on a conversation by shouting across 4 lanes of vehicles to a friend across the street. Or leaning in a car window while it waits at a stoplight. Or abandon your car alongside the curb as if there are fire ants in your clothes, and then have the audacity to call it parking.

After our cultural experience of a meal was over, it was time purchase our Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMTA) rail passes. We had done some research in advance so we knew we wanted the week-long, nearly all inclusive pass. The Smart-Trip card. Purchasing this card would allow us to take most of our rides at no additional cost. We had a couple rides that we knew were going to be longer than those designated “free.” For those we planned to add a few dollars cash value to each card. This way we could buy the passes at the beginning of the week and not have to worry about them anymore.

smart trip card

During our research about the WMTA passes we had learned that if they were purchased at a CVS store, the “cost” of the card was actually added to the card as cash value. Another benefit is that we would be able to talk to a human to ensure we were making the correct decision. Otherwise we would have had to use a vending machine in one of the train stations. So with that, we walked down the street after lunch and went about purchasing the passes that would keep us from having to drive for the rest of the week.

Once we had transit passes in hand, it was time to go grocery shopping. We had planned a menu very carefully, and the grocery list was done likewise. Now we had a week’s worth of food to buy and somehow fit in the already full car. Once the shopping was completed it was time for the work to start. After some careful studying and creative space management we were off to our rental house.

It was finally check-in time. Finally, we could unload out stuff and stretch out a bit. We spent some time unpacking our things and moving into the space. Then we sat and relaxed for a while. The kids watched a television show while the adults worked on the plan for the evening.

I had found a great smartphone app for the WMTA services before we left on vacation called Citymapper.. It has all the bus and rail departure and arrival times. It lets you input departure and arrival locations, and it will tell you the fastest combination of trains/buses to take and provide an estimated trip time. The best part was that it would even allow you to enter a street address as a destination.

The app does not appear to include Washington, D.C., on the list of supported cities anymore, which is unfortunate. The WMTA has added a mobile site to their website that performs similar functions, but I have not used it so I cannot vouch for its ease of use. Regardless, I would highly recommend that anyone traveling to D.C. spend some time looking into travel apps. Find one that you like the interface and get familiar with it. We used ours countless times to figure out where we were and how to get to our next destination. And it is much easier than a bulky paper map.

So what was the first test of our navigation skills and planning? The first big, exciting destination in the capital city? The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. What sort of awesomeness drew us there? The American Ballet Theatre was performing a three-part ballet medley.

kennedy center

We had very good success navigating our way to the Kennedy Center. The building is beautiful, and the ballet was extremely well done. We even had the opportunity to visit with some extremely chatty, friendly, vacationing, retired teachers from Turkey during the intermissions. They had seats next to ours, and fell in love with our children. We talked about many more things than I would have thought possible during both 20-minute performance breaks. Our first day in the city was a new cultural experience from beginning to end.

After a long and exhausting day, capped with a wonderful evening, it was time to head back to the house for a good night’s sleep. The return trip from the Kennedy center was as successful and uneventful as the trip there. After the short walk back to the house from the train station it was time for a hurried bedtime routine, and then off to bed. I don’t think any of us were awake for more than five minutes after our heads hit the pillows.

Have you been on trips where you memories are more vivid than the pictures you took? Share some of your stories with us!