While visiting family in New Jersey at the end of April, the muggle and I decided to book a few days in Washington D.C. to see the sights of the U.S. federal capital. I was in D.C. once before, when I was 17, and of course, I wasn’t geocaching then, so I was excited to see the city from a cacher’s – and blogger’s – point of view.
We drove the three and a half hours from New Jersey on a Monday morning, arriving in D.C. at lunchtime. After checking in to our hotel, we walked the four blocks to see the most famous house in America.
View of the White House
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to secure a tour of the White House during our visit. I contacted the Irish Embassy in Washington D.C. and they confirmed that tours had once again been approved for Irish nationals, however, we would need to be accompanied by either the Irish Ambassador or the Deputy Chief of Mission and their availability couldn’t be confirmed until within 30 days of our visit. It turned out that neither were available during our stay in D.C. so we had to make-do with jostling other tourists for prime photographic position at the Ellipse.
The virtual cache Mile Zero (GC2E52) takes you right to the popular tourist spot and highlights something interesting that stands there (apart from the famous house!)
With plenty of daylight remaining after our selfie session outside the White House, we decided to head for the Metro and a walk around Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
There is something so sombre about the uniform white graves standing in seemingly endless rows. The cemetery is vast, covering 624 acres and exploring it in its entirety seems an impossible task. Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of over 400,000 former members of the armed forces, politicians and government officials, and their families.
We had two sites we definitely wanted to include while on our visit to the cemetery: the grave of John F. Kennedy, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I also wanted to find one of the two virtual geocaches in the cemetery, to earn my Virginia state souvenir.
From the start of April to the end of September, the changing of the guard ceremony takes place every half an hour during open hours at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. The tomb of the unidentified soldier from World War I sits atop a hill overlooking D.C. and is guarded 24 hours a day. The inscription reads:
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God
The experience is a must when visiting the cemetery. Despite the large crowds, the silence was incredible: you could hear a pin drop.
Admission to Arlington National Cemetery is free, but you can book a tour which gives you access to the shuttle bus. Given the huge size of the place, the bus could be a good idea if you plan to spend the best part of the day there. The tour costs $13.50 per adult, $6.75 per child and $10 for seniors. Members of the military, veterans and groups can enjoy discounted rates.
Smithsonian National Zoo
On day 2 of our trip, we decided to spend the morning at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Our intention may have been to spend the morning there, but we actually ended up staying there for the entire day! We decided only the week before our visit to incorporate a trip to the zoo and two things swayed us to making sure it was part of the plan: entry was free AND there were three giant pandas in residence!
The weather was beautiful the day we visited, although almost unbearably hot (32°C/90°F). In fact, it surpassed the previously hottest May day on record (which was in 1930). The zoo stretches across 163 acres and is home to about 300 different species – a fifth of which are endangered or threatened.
The variety of animals is incredible and we saw species neither of us had seen before, including an armadillo, naked mole-rats and a pair of porcupines. The highlight, of course, was the giant pandas. Female adult Mei Xiang and male adult Tian Tian were both sleeping on the two occasions we visited the panda house. Their almost three-year-old cub, Bei Bei, on the other hand was busy chomping on bamboo both times we visited.
I’m not sure if I had ever seen a giant panda in real life before. I have a vague recollection of seeing one at London Zoo when I was quite young, but I’m not sure. Watching Bei Bei chewing on his bamboo shoots was undoubtedly the high point of our visit. I could have watched him for hours.
By the end of our second day in D.C., we had already walked 37,866 steps – over 17 miles. We still had one day left though, and it would end up being our busiest day there. The second blog post on our trip to Washington D.C. will be coming up soon.
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