Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 3rd: Disaster Strikes

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day #4 of our Disney adventure, and today's theme is "National Treasures." Fitting, since we watched the Disney movie, "National Treasure," just yesterday!

After a delightful and restful sleep in our luxurious room (no sarcasm - totally serious here!), we load up on our rock-star bus around 9:00 am and immediately head towards Arlington Cemetery.

Arlington is the best known of over one hundred national cemeteries in the United States. It's 624 acres shelter the remains of over 320,000 servicemen and women, veterans from every way and major conflict in U.S. history.

A short history: George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and step-son of George Washington inherited this land in 1802. Between 1802 and 1818, he built Arlington House as the centerpiece of his 1,100 acre plantation. It was our nation’s first memorial to George Washington and a home for Custis’ growing family.

In 1831 Custis’ only surviving child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Lt. Robert E. Lee of the United States Army in the front parlor of Arlington House. For over 30 years Arlington House became home to one of America’s most famous soldiers and his family.

The Civil War brought about dramatic changes for the people and the land. Lee resigned his commission from the US Army at Arlington House on April 20, 1861. By the end of May, 1861, the Lees had vacated the property and federal troops occupied the estate, using Arlington House as a headquarters. (Ultimately, the Lees were compensated for the loss of their property by the federal Supreme Court.) Eventually, the Union began burying soldiers on the property - and the cemetery came into being.

We are given red carnations by Disney so that we may place them on any grave we choose to honor - with the exception of the Kennedy graves - as the Park Service requests those be kept clear of flowers in order to allow photos.

Speaking of Kennedy, that's the first site we visit. President Kennedy and Jackie are buried side by side near the Eternal Flame, where the words from his inaugural address, "with history the final judge of our deeds," are inscribed.

Our next stop is the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Tomb was established in 1921. A guard maintains vigil around the clock - the guard paces 21 steps alongside the tomb, pauses 21 seconds, and then returns. The changing of the guard takes place every half-hour and is quite the ceremony to watch. Before the new guard gets to "guard", his weapon and uniform is inspected before the crowd.

The ceremony was very moving; the crowd was respectfully silent while watching.

We spend approximately 2 hours here, seeing various other notable graves, including Lee Marvin and Joe Louis, the boxer.

We also all have the opportunity to lay our red carnation at a soldier's site.

After leaving Arlington, we drive a short while over to the Iwo Jima monument - which was larger than I had ever imagined.

We then drive to Columbia Island Marina for a picnic lunch. We have a great view of the Pentagon.

We are taken to a blue tarp over some picnic tables – they have a buffet of hamburgers and hot dogs and stuff. We sit at a table - it’s very hot – they have 3 ceiling fans wired around the tent pole - and the one over us is going full blast.

All of a sudden – there is a tremendous crash and the fan over our heads come down – swinging a little to the right – most of lands on Dear Hubby and then hits Pilar – an 8-year old – right in the nose and lands on her wrist. Shock – confusion – everyone is stunned for a moment. Then we see Pilar holding her nose and shaking – there is blood coming out everywhere. I immediately get all the other kids out of the area and over to another area so they can’t see the blood; not to mention, there is now shattered glass everywhere.

We get ice and a towel on Pilar – assess the damage – she has a very bloody nose but it doesn’t appear to be broken – her wrist is a little sore – an ambulance is called and a policeman shows up to take a report. Pilar is a trooper – she doesn’t even cry even though there’s blood everywhere. I tell her it looks worse than it is – that noses bleed very easy and create a lot of blood – we try to get her cleaned up. The ambulance shows up and take her to Arlington Hospital for x-rays. Hubby has a cut on his finger and a bruise on his back – I think he saved Pilar from worse damage by taking the brunt of the fan's fall.

Everyone is shaken up a bit – but I go over an tell the kids that Pilar will be okay and they’re just taking her to the hospital for a check-up and to not be startled when the sirens and ambulance come. We talk with the kids to make sure they’re all right.

No one had much of an appetite after that, so we hopped back on the bus and we now have free time - and Disney will drop us off where we want to go. Our family decides to visit some of the Smithsonian Museums (there's 19 in all) - and the American History Museum is our first choice.

We wander through the exhibits - but I have to admit, each exhibit was on the small side - I'm actually rather disappointed as I expected much, much more. We stand in a long line to go through the First Ladies' Dresses exhibit - and the room is not much bigger than my living room at home....this is the freakin' Smithsonian!!! It should be massive!!! Oh well.

Being the good American Red Cross volunteer that I am, I always take photos of Red Crosses that I find. And I find one in the Museum.

Downstairs, there are Simulator Rides – there are 6 rides to choose from; we chose Bermuda Triangle Adventure 3D. The description said, “Embark on an undersea excursion into the majestic and mysterious depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Explore legends and lore surrounding the “Bermuda Triangle.” All I can say is, the ride wasn’t as good as the description. Tickets were $7 apiece and the ride lasted all of maybe 3 minutes – and we were like, “That’s it??!!” We had more fun taking pictures of ourselves with our tricked-out 3D glasses on.

We leave and go next door to the Natural History Museum where we go to the Dinosaur Exhibit – it is huge and it is crowded. Very crowded. It appears every other barbarian in Washington has decided to invade the Dinosaur Exhibit at the same time we do. We’re all tired by now – and hungry – and it looks like the dinosaurs are hungry -so we go to the cafĂ© on the first floor and have gourmet cafe food for dinner. Yuk. Pizza. Overpriced and no flavor. Not known for their culinary skills here apparently.

We leave and it’s 5:00 pm – Hubby wants to walk 20 blocks to the hotel – are you kidding me? We walk outside and there is a cab right there – God had sent it to us – and I see it as a sign. We hop in and I tell him our hotel and told him we were going to walk and he says “That would hve been a long walk!” I have to agree and shoot Hubby a dirty look.

We get back to the hotel and clean up and soon it is time for a Trolley Tour of Washington, DC - this was not part of our Disney package - but they were kind enough to set it up for us. We meet outside at 6:30 and the Trolley is there waiting for us. We have Frenchy for our driver – he’s a character.

We do visit quite a bit of the same Memorials as we had seen before - but it was neat to see them in the dark with the lighting. The Lincoln Memorial looks really neat at night -

...including the statue of Lincoln inside. The lighting was incredible.

The Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial really reflects the Washington Memorial at night.

The Jefferson Memorial at night (well, dusk) was cool, too.

We go from one end of DC to the other - seeing everything. The tour ends up going until 10:30 pm - yikes! We're tired and we head to bed.

So - we did see some treasures today - Arlington is certainly a treasure, as is the Iwo Jima monument. The Smithsonian is a treasure - but it would be nice if we hadn't picked one of the busiest days ever for visitors! It's hard to appreciate things when you're fighting a crowd.

Washington, DC is a treasure - it instills a sense of pride to see the beautiful and moving things in this city and to know you're an American and this all belongs to you. Sorry - getting a little patriotic here - but it really is an amazing city.


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