Yesterday was our first day of our summer as nomads, and man, did it wear us out. All three of us hit the pillow like our heads were made of cement, and nobody budged until my alarm woke us at 8:15 this morning. Of course, that's not including the two times I got up to smash a pillow down next to Joey's head to make him stop snoring.
We left my sister's place on Kenyon Street to drive across the Potomac and into Virginia, for a visit to nearby Arlington National Cemetery
. These fabled grounds are the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of Americans, including fallen soldiers from every one of our nation's conflicts abroad and at home.
I'd never seen these stone-covered hills before today (outside of a movie), and I have to register my bewilderment at the sheer breadth and beauty of the grounds. I'd heard the gravestones go on forever... I didn't quite realize what that looked like.
The weather today was, like yesterday, absolutely perfect, with only enough clouds in the sky to offer a pleasant color contrast. We trekked through this vast cemetery along with scores of other people, winding through the hills and gazing across the endless seas of white slabs rising up from the earth. We found our way up to the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy's gravesite, and even managed to show up just in time for the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This rather bizarre process took an unusual amount of time, but the significance was strong. Apparently, this tomb has been on 24-hour watch by armed guards on every day since 1937, regardless of weather conditions. That's dedication.
Before we tried to conquer any more large endeavors, we followed my sister's advice and found our way to la Taqueria Nacionale
on N. Capitol Street, a zesty Mexican restaurant tucked away in an exterior corner of an otherwise official-looking building. The place had no indoor seating, and the floor space was packed with patrons, as my sister warned it would be. The portions of the food weren't anything to write home about, but the taste certainly was. My beef tacos were made with big chunks of steak and fresh diced onions - easily the most trustworthy tacos I've ever encountered.
We felt it necessary to give Sarah's poor skin a break from that awful, awful sun, as we ducked into the National Air and Space Museum
. Admission was free, which makes the Smithsonian museums even more desirable for budget-bound travelers such as ourselves. This, coupled with the time of year, landed us in the middle of an ocean of schoolchildren, no doubt on their end-of-the-year field trip. We snapped some pictures and avoided getting trampled before moving on.
Our next stop took the day to a whole new level. The Newseum
, housed inside a mammoth, 250,000 square foot facility on Pennsylvania Avenue, is a museum dedicated to the media, its coverage of the most important events in our nation's history, and its role in shaping our culture and society. As a blogger and an unrelenting news junkie, I had a particularly strong interest in visiting this place, and I was not disappointed for even a moment.
The Newseum opened in its current location just a year ago, and it shows. Every exhibit was jumping off the walls, exploding with color and technological savvy. The treatment was not only of the media and its many faces and forms, but also of the stories themselves that have made the media what they are today. Interactive displays were contrasted starkly by items with which you'd never want to interact in real life, like a Berlin Wall guardtower, as well as artifacts ranging from archived newspapers to the Unabomber's personal shack, taken from the depths of rural Montana. We could have stayed all week at this place.
Courtesy of the International Spy Museum
Alas, we could not. Our tight itinerary allows for only so much extra time, and we wasted none in scurrying over to the International Spy Museum
on F Street. This is the country's only espionage museum, an offbeat attraction but one that would appeal to just about anyone who has heard of ninjas, James Bond or the Cold War.
Courtesy of the International Spy Museum
Guests are cleverly welcomed with their own spy scenario, which was a perfect mindset in which to explore a museum. Relics from our decades-long conflict with the Soviet Union dominate the exhibit space, the products of an ever-escalating demonstration of force and stealth between our country and theirs.
But this wasn't all Cold War stuff. Exhibits focused on ninjitsu (the art of the shadow), the role of espionage in World War I and II, and prominent women spies kept our brains bouncing eagerly from one display to the next. And especially after the somewhat irritating flow of people inside the Air and Space Museum, I was thrilled to be inside a museum that leads its visitors from start to finish with an easily navigable, logically constructed pathway, with a start and a finish. This way, people keep moving in a common direction, and there's less of a chance that a room goes accidentally unseen.
As if we hadn't done enough for the day, it was time to eat, and we thought we'd hit another D.C. landmark at Ben's Chili Bowl
on U Street. This restaurant has been open more than 50 years, a down-home, no-nonsense eatery with a menu that needs no additions whatsoever. The three of us converged on this spot, took some photos, and bought a big dinner for about ten dollars each.
We were told to expect a long line, as much as a half hour of waiting for our food. Today, that was not the case. The line was at a minimum, and plenty of seating was open, so we sat down and devoured our meal. Each of us had a chili half-smoke, which is like a hot dog but with a touch of spice and a little more volume, doused with cheese and Ben's famous chili, which comes off as more of a (savory) slurry than anything else. We also shared chili cheese fries, and could barely find the fries beneath the drowning of delicious chili and sauce. It was glorious, as you can surely surmise from the photo.
Needless to say, after such a strenuous day, we nixed the bar in favor of a twelve-pack from the local grocery store. Tomorrow, we're up bright and early for a tour of Congress before we journey on to Baltimore. Look forward to it.