Chippewa Herald * July 26, 2005

"Daughter of all vacations," part 2: Washington, DC on $22 a day

Editor's note -- This is a four-part series:
[DOAV.1] [DOAV.2] [DOAV.3] [DOAV.4]

See photos for this section ( 2a or 2b) or get links for all DOAV stuff

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

Day 3, June 5 - Today is the day we were to arrive in Washington, DC! After cranking down our camper, we left our Ohio campground and continued heading east. So far our "Daughter Of All Vacations" was going smoothly; we were becoming efficient at making and breaking camp. But how "cranky" will we get after three weeks of popping up a camper?

Staying on I-70, we clipped the top protrusion of West Virginia, just enough to get full credit for that state. Before we knew it, our run-of-the-mill interstate turned into the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the country's first highway.

After the turnpike, I-70 grew wider and wider as it descended into Maryland. By the time we hit the infamous "Beltway" around our nation's capital, the boys counted six or seven lanes in each direction.

Our headquarters for the next five days, Cherry Hill Park in College Park, Maryland, is positioned about 1:00 on the beltway "clock". It's a high-end RV park, complete with swimming pools, hot tub and sauna. It's more expensive than most campgrounds, but even at $55 per day, that's only $8 per person for a family of seven.

Cherry Hill is a kids' paradise -- in addition to swimming, there are nightly outdoor movies with 25-cent popcorn, miniature golf at $1 a round, and a game room with a snack bar. Yes, we came all the way out here to see historic sites, but we also like to plan enough time for the kids to "goof off." After all, it IS a vacation.

Day 4, June 6 -- My wife the frugal nutritionist insisted on plenty of protein for breakfast for long walking days, so we scarfed down 18 scrambled chicken eggs each morning. We bought three-day "Metro" subway passes for everyone at $7 per day. We'd spend three days on the Metro, then play the fourth day by ear.

The Washington subway system is glorious! It is very clean and seems quite safe. The transfer stations look downright majestic. We got a certain satisfaction from whisking downtown underneath all the traffic.

Emerging from the underground, we suddenly found ourselves between the Washington Monument and Capitol Hill. We stood there for a moment, soaking it all in. My eleven-year-old broke the silence with "Sweet." (Before you think of Jasper as a deep-thinking philosopher, I should mention that his first comment upon beholding the splendor of the national mall's reflecting pool was less poetic: "They need to clean it.")

The next three days were a blur of sightseeing activity. We spent most of our time in the Smithsonian museums. I had heard that you need to set aside an entire day for each building, but I think we need to amend that advice. To really see it all, you need to budget an entire day to see EACH FLOOR of each building!

Alas, we didn't have quite that much time so we did the best we could. Jasper and Ben couldn't get enough of the Air and Space Museum, so they returned there for a second day while the rest of us were in American History.

By the way, did you know that Chippewa Falls is mentioned in the National Air and Space Museum? In fact, there is an entire Cray-1 supercomputer on display! The plaque honors Seymour Cray -- "The Wizard of Chippewa Falls" -- and his contribution to the science of flight as the "Father of Supercomputers."

In addition to the Smithsonians, we also checked out the National Archives, where we saw the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc. I'm sure we were the very first tourists to ask the guard if there really is a secret map on the back of the Declaration, like in the movie "National Treasure."

The highlight of our time in DC was something that we hadn't even planned: we got a tour of the Capitol! During our Wednesday morning breakfast with Senator Herb Kohl -- an opportunity he makes available to any constituent who arranges for it ahead of time -- one of his interns offered to take us on a tour of the Capitol, including a ride on the mini-subway car. We jumped at the chance. The paintings and statues in the darkened interior of the Capitol were fascinating.

Senator Kohl was very gracious with his time, and even invited the kids to sit behind his desk. The funniest thing about our visit to his office was the other people we saw there. As Beth was signing the guest book, she looked up and saw Jerry and Mary Kuehl of Chippewa Falls! Stranger yet, just a few days earlier, Beth and Mary had stood in line and chatted together at the Chippewa Falls library. Both of them were extending the due dates of their books, but neither knew that the reason for the extension was a trip to Washington.

My daughter Alison also got a surprise. A lady in our tour group said, "Don't you play basketball for Christ Lutheran School?" It turned out she was the mother of a player from another Lutheran school in Eau Claire. At all of 4'11", Alison is not used to being recognized in major U.S. cities for her basketball prowess.

Our DC visit also included a morning at the National Zoo, where we saw the famous pregnant panda. On our last day at Cherry Hill, after our subway tickets expired, we decided to reverse the day's schedule.

Day 7, June 9 -- Rather than sightseeing all day and coming home to swim, we let the kids swim and play mini-golf this morning and afternoon, then we drove our van into town for the evening. Doing this allowed us to see sites beyond walking distance, like Arlington National Cemetery and the Jefferson Memorial, with a better chance of finding parking.

It also allowed our five-year-old, Simon, to catch up on sleep in the back seat. He has had a very busy four days! But he'll have memories for a lifetime.

And it's cheaper than you may think -- our total cost for each day per person was $7 for subway, $8 for campsite, 30 cents for breakfast, $4-5 for lunch at a food court, and a couple bucks for sandwich fixings for supper. We did Washington, DC on $22 a day! Next stop: New York City.

You can reach Tom at

[DOAV.1] [DOAV.2] [DOAV.3] [DOAV.4]

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