Hello All!

We have a different but an amazing blog post today. Do you remember Donna Stevens? Probably not. Let me introduce shortly.

We have launched a global contest to find a name to me and the winner would get a free hotel stay reedemable for up to $1000. This contest was arranged on November, 2010.

The winner was dear Donna Stevens!

Donna used this prize for a very special gesture, she brought her mother to Washington DC to celebrate her 90th birthday.

Lucky me, she shared all the details behind her holiday with us, now Donna speaks;

DC Travelogue – August 2011

After almost a year of planning, my sisters and I are going to bring my mother to Washington DC to celebrate her 90th birthday. She has always wanted to visit our nation’s capital and see the Smithsonian Museum. And thanks to Larry and DHR, we are going to make this dream come true. 

Day 1

The big day is here at last! I have arrived in Washington D.C. from my home in Norway and am here at the Capitol Hill Suites Hotel. I have to tell you, Larry, this hotel is great! You really know how to pick them! We booked three junior suites, for myself, my mother, and my younger sister, Mary-Dale.  My older sister, Diane, and her husband, Bill, have also booked a suite at the same hotel. They will be arriving by car later in the evening.

I bought flowers to welcome my family to D.C. This is so exciting.   Mary-Dale and our mother have flown in from St Louis and taken a shuttle to the hotel.  (Larry sure knows how to arrange things like that.) We meet in the lobby of the hotel with hugs and kisses all around. It is wonderful to see my family again.

We check in and go up to our rooms, which are all next to each other on the second floor, looking out onto a quiet residential street in the South Capitol area near the National Mall.  My room has a queen-sized bed, a sofa, a flat-screen TV and a desk area. There is a kitchenette with a coffee maker, refrigerator and microwave.  The bathroom is lovely. My room is cool and quiet. It is hot outside, but not as hot as last week’s 102°. I find myself wishing my mother’s birthday was in April, during the cherry blossom festival.

Mary-Dale knocks on my door and tells me that Mom is going to take a rest. We decide to go downstairs and make plans for the afternoon.

The receptionist gives me a code to log onto the hotel’s free wi-fi net with my laptop. We also pick up some tourist brochures in the lobby.  On DHR.com you can find all kinds of activities for the destination of your choice. In Washington D.C, there are so many that it’s hard to choose. We have three days for our visit.  My mother wants to visit the Smithsonian’s Kellogg library. I have previously made arrangements for her to be there this afternoon.  My mother uses a scooter to get around and I use a 4-wheeled walker. Being mobility challenged is often a problem for tourists, but not in this city! D.C. is one of the most accessible places in the world.

My sister goes out to a nearby restaurant to buy us some take-out salads for lunch, which we all eat in my room before heading out.

The Washington DC Metro is totally accessible for disabled people. If you can’t use the escalator, there is an elevator that takes you down to the level where you can easily buy a fare card to use for the duration of your stay. You can deposit, say, $20 on the fare card and then insert the card in the slot at the gate each time you enter or leave the Metro. The price varies according to the time of day and the distance to be travelled, but it is very reasonable, especially in non-peak hours. Each station has a gate for disabled access (also good to use if you have a baby stroller or luggage). Then you take an elevator down to the platform.  The platforms are built so that there is easy access onto the Metro, without worrying about a gap. It is quite comfortable and relatively cool.  You can even go to the Metro’s website to check the status of elevators and escalators at the stations you plan to use (which is also provided on station message boards).  When elevators are not in operation, shuttles are provided. On the Washington DC Metro buses, which are all accessible, there are even reduced fares for people with disabilities. I think other cities such as London and NYC should take lessons from D.C.

We take the Metro to the Smithsonian stop. The Smithsonian has many museums, in D.C. and in other US cities. It was really useful to consult the Smithsonian website ahead of time, so we knew where to go and how to get there. We walk to the Natural History Museum. When we enter the museum, we have to go through a security check. It’s rather like at the airport, but you don’t have to worry about taking off your shoes or having liquids with you.  Security checks are in this city so it’s best to not carry a lot of gear with you. For example, if you’re planning on visiting the White House, you are not allowed to take any handbags, purses, backpacks, or camera bags, etc. There are other rules for visiting the US Capitol. If you want to see the Capitol, you have to go to the underground US Capitol Visitors Center.

Our visit to the Kellogg Library goes very well. Then we take time to see several of the museum’s collections. We visit the Gems and Minerals collection with the beautiful Hope Diamond. We wander through the Sant Ocean Hall, admiring above us the Phoenix, a 45-foot-long model of a real North Atlantic right whale. Then we walk through the Dinosaur Hall with its giant Allosaurus skeleton. The Fossil Cafe is totally filled with families and noisy kids enjoying the museum, so we decide to leave the museum to find a cafe.

Not far away we find the Ronald Reagan Center, a large office complex, which has a food court on the lower level. Once more we have to go through a security check. It’s almost dinner time so we each order a light meal and cold drinks.  After that we need to find our way back to the hotel to meet Diane and Bill.  We take the Metro from the Smithsonian to Capitol South and then walk back to our hotel.

Diane and Bill meet us in the lobby and there are more hugs and greetings. They are tired from their drive down from Connecticut. We are happily tired out from our excursions. So we decide to call it a day. Time to get some sleep and be ready for another exciting day in D.C.!

Day 2

I wake up after a good night’s sleep. I open the curtains and the sun shines into the room. It’s going to be another beautiful day. I just hope it doesn’t get too hot! I make a cup of coffee and get dressed. Mary-Dale knocks on the door- ready for breakfast? We all meet at the hotel’s breakfast room. The Capitol Suites Hotel provides a very nice breakfast- bagels, eggs, bread, spreads, muffins, fruit, yogurt, juice, coffee, tea, etc. served in a lovely, but busy dining room. There are newspapers to read and two flat screens to watch the morning news on TV. We sit together and plan our day.

Of course we want to see all of the important sights.  The easiest way to do that is to buy a 2-day ticket for the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing busDHR.com has all the information you need about that.   Even the sightseeing buses are equipped with ramps for easy access, but our mother’s scooter can’t be used on the hop-on hop-off bus, but that’s okay. We are going to take the bus all the way around the main route to see and hear about all the main sights. It will be a good introduction to the city.

Before we go, we have one more thing to arrange. This evening we are planning to have a big party to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. Mary-Dale and I speak with the hotel receptionist to find an appropriate venue for the event. The receptionist is very helpful, calling several area restaurants before finally finding one (with the type of food my mother likes) that had a large enough table available. So we make reservations at a restaurant called the Wharf in Alexandria VA. Bill will drive us there this evening and our cousin Lucy, who lives nearby in Maryland, will meet us there for the party.

The nearest bus stop for the hop-on-hop-off bus is at the Peace Monument by the Capital. On our way there, as we cross the Capital’s grounds, an electric cart approaches. It is like one of those carts you find in airports, with 8 seats. The driver stops and asks where we are headed. I tell her the Peace Monument. She offers to drive us the rest of the way. This is the on-demand shuttle service provided for free by the Capitol Visitor Center Office of Visitor Services. Another example of Washington DC’s accessibility!

At the Peace Monument, we only have to wait a few minutes for the double-decker bus. We get on and my mother and I take our seats on the lower deck.  Mary-Dale heads upstairs so she can take pictures of the monuments, etc. It is a hot day, but there is AC on the lower level of the bus, which helps a bit. The bus does not have a live guide- the commentary is taped. But it includes details about many of the important sights along the route. There are several routes. The blue line goes out to Arlington Cemetery. The yellow line includes the National Cathedral. We are taking the red line, which covers most of the important monuments and buildings around the National Mall.

Along the way, there are so many things to see, but I especially like the Jefferson Monument and the Lincoln Monument.  There are many tourists on the bus. People get on and get off all along the route. We stay on and enjoy watching the people and the sights that go by. It is a long route and by the time we get to Union Station, we are all hungry and thirsty, so Mary-Dale suggests that we get off and find someplace to eat.

Union Station is a marvelous piece of railway architecture, built in 1907. Here is where you can catch a train with Amtrak north to New York City or Boston, or south to Florida. It is the hub for the sightseeing tour companies. There is also an upscale shopping mall in the station, with many nice restaurants and cafes. We pick the Potbelly Sandwich Works- good food and live music by local musicians. Mom is pleased with the day’s outing, but we need to get back to the hotel to rest up for the big 90th celebration.

We take the Metro back to Capitol South stop and walk to the hotel. Time for a nap. Then time to get ready.

The evening is perfect. Beautiful weather- it’s got a bit cooler anyway. The Wharf restaurant is lovely, with a nautical theme, of course. The mâitre d’ has given us the best table in the house. I put birthday decorations and flowers on the table. My cousin Lucy joins us and we all sit down to a splendid party. There is so much to choose from the menu, both seafood and steaks. We all bring out the presents we have brought for the birthday girl. After dinner, the waiter brings a piece of cake with a candle in it and we all sing Happy Birthday. Across the street from the restaurant is an ice cream shop, so for dessert we all go over there to have ice cream. Truly a memorable celebration!

Back at the hotel, it’s time to get some sleep to be ready for Sunday’s excursions.

Day 3

I wake up this morning to find that it’s cloudy outside. Looks like it’s going to rain. The weather man on the morning TV news reports that there is a chance of showers in Washington DC. At least it’s not going to be hot today.

We all meet for breakfast in the breakfast room. I would really like to see the American Indian Museum, but no one else seems interested. I also want to see the Lincoln Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mary-Dale has arranged to see an old friend in the evening. My mother wants to visit Arlington Cemetery and the National Memorial for Women in Military Service.  She served as a WAVE in the US Navy during WWII. Diane and Bill offer to drive Mom to Arlington in their car, which they have parked in the hotel’s garage.  So I get the day to myself  : )

I take the Metro to Union Station and get on the hop-on-hop-off bus with my still valid 2-day ticket.  This time I pass the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was shot. I get off at the American Indian Museum. This is a beautiful building with all curvy lines. I don’t think there’s a right angle in the entire structure. Inside there are exhibits and collections from all over the United States, representing all of the native peoples from Hawaii to Alaska, from the West Coast to the East Coast. It represents an incredible diversity of cultures.

After wandering through the museum’s collections, I decide to have lunch in the museum’s Mitsitam Café. Mitsitam means “let’s eat!” in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples. This is a really unusual cafeteria. They serve Native American foods from all over the Western Hemisphere, including the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and the Great Plains. The menu is extremely attractive- everything from fish tacos, cedar-plank roasted salmon, baked oysters to fresh green chili soup. I settle on a buffalo burger, some Indian fried bread and an heirloom tomato and watermelon salad.

After I leave the museum I get on the next bus and ride to the Lincoln Monument, which is the same stop as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. First I want to see the Lincoln Monument. President Lincoln has always been my favorite president. I get off the bus and walk towards the monument, with its many steps leading up to the great statue. A National Park Ranger kindly points the way to the elevator on the left side of the building. Accessible Washington DC!

I take the elevator up and enter the statuary hall, with the massive state of President Lincoln towering above the many tourists. The walls are inscribed with the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Lincoln’s Inaugural Address. Mighty words surround all of us: Equality, Unity, and Freedom. It is interesting to watch all of these incredibly diverse people, some dressed in native costumes from other parts of the world, standing in front of this great man, posing to have their pictures taken.

I spend some time in the tiny gift shop, buying postcards and a couple of souvenirs.  Then I take the elevator back down and start to walk to the nearby Veterans Memorial. It is now beginning to rain a bit. There are dark clouds on the horizon. It looks like a thunderstorm is brewing. As I pass the Park Rangers’ booth near the Vietnam Veterans memorial, I stop to ask about how safe it is to visit the memorial in a thunderstorm. The memorial is outside in an open area surrounded by trees. It is a long, shiny black granite wall inscribed with the names of all the US military personnel who lost their lives during that war. By now it has started to rain. The ranger points to a distant building and tells me, if you can still see that building, the storm is not going to be that serious. But in the event of a serious thunderstorm, he adds, a ranger will come to the memorial and ask everyone there to please go to the Lincoln Monument for shelter. So I walk on to the memorial.

By the time I get to the spot where there are statues of two US soldiers standing by a clearing in the trees, the rain is falling heavily. There are only a few people on the site, most of them sheltering under some trees.

Near the statues of the soldiers, there are several books kept under plexiglass covers. To find the location of a name on the wall, you stick your hands under the plexiglass and page through the many pages of alphabetically-listed names. There are also pieces of paper and pencils available from the park rangers for people to make rubbings of specific names they find on the wall to keep as a memory of that person. As I approach, I notice two men paging through the list of names. The rain hasn’t stopped- in fact it’s now a real downpour. One of the men turns to me and says, “This is the way it should be- tears from heaven.” I agree with him. I served in the US Army during the Vietnam War.  Although I did not serve in Vietnam, I knew many who did, and some did not return alive.  I look up a few names and venture out in the heavy downpour to find them and touch the wall, to make a connection and commemorate their sacrifice.

At the base of the wall, here and there, there are flags or small pieces of paper with notes written on them. I read one of them, a rain-drenched note addressed to someone’s sorely-missed uncle. At the end of the day, a park ranger will collect the notes and objects people leave by the wall and place them in the memorial’s archive. So many died and for what? I’m not sure.

As I approach the wall, the thunderstorm breaks.  There is a crack of lightning like gunfire not far off, startling me so that I jump. I’m not really worried, I tell myself.

The two men locate the name they are seeking. One of the men tells me it was his lieutenant, the forward observer for his artillery unit.  I find one of the names I am seeking. Now the rain is lessening. The storm has passed. The man says, “Like I said, tears from heaven.”

I take a few more pictures and then walk slowly back to the bus stop. It’s hard to deal with this, but I’m glad I did it anyway.

I head back to the bus and take it back to Union Station. By now, it’s past 5 p.m. and most places are closing. I stop at Union Station and eat at McDonald’s, my chosen form of comfort food. Then I take the Metro to get back to the hotel.

At the hotel, I feel positively drained.  My older sister has not yet returned with my mother. Mary-Dale gets here about the same time as me. I can’t deal with large groups of people right now, so we decide to go to a small Thai restaurant in the neighborhood for a light supper.

Then early to bed. Tomorrow will be a better day. At least the thunderstorm has relieved the heat in Washington DC.

Day 4

It is the last day of our family stay in Washington DC. After another good night’s sleep, my family and I meet in the breakfast room to eat and to consult over the day’s plans. Diane and Bill are going to leave Washington DC after breakfast. My mother and Mary-Dale are due to fly back to St Louis later this afternoon. I have decided to stay one more day in Washington DC so I can visit the Washington DC Baha’i Center near Rock Creek Park. The hotel makes the arrangements to extend my stay and I pay for the extra night. I even get to stay in the same room. We decide to visit the American History Museum this morning. Mom and Mary-Dale store their luggage in my room and check out.

We say goodbye to Diane and Bill. Then we head for the Metro. The American History Museum is an amazing collection of old and new. History is not just a stuffy collection of old uniforms and silver platters. Among the exhibits are a beautiful collection of the First Ladies’ inaugural gowns,  Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, the first Teddy bear, Kermit the Frog, and the kitchen of the famous American cook Julia Child, to name just a few.

All too soon, it is time to return to the hotel and prepare to leave Washington DC. We call a taxi to take my mother and sister to the airport. Tomorrow afternoon, I will be taking Amtrak north to NYC before returning to Norway later this month. We say goodbye with hugs, tears and smiles. The taxi leaves and head for Union Station. It has been an excellent visit- a great 90th birthday celebration.  Thank you again, Larry and the folks at DHR, for your excellent help in making this trip such a big success!



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