Mr Balcombe is going to Washington

February 7, 2009 at 11:45 am (Uncategorized)

My beautiful wife has been working furiously behind the scenes to create a wonderful birthday present for me. This time she may have outdone herself. She’s planned a trip for us to Washington DC.

I am so thrilled about this trip that I can little think of anything else.

We’ve already made several different arrangements for tours of certain government buildings as well as acquired tickets for a couple of different sporting events but the final itinerary is far from set.

So I bring it to you, the people, to help us determine how best to spend our days.

For all who have been to DC I ask you to give me a list of the top 10 things we absolutely MUST do. Also if you have any tips or anything like that we would love to hear it.

For those who have never been but have wanted to go I ask that you give me a list of things you think would be most fascinating.

I promise to give a detailed blog report on how the trip went after we get back.



  1. Athena Balcombe said,

    Loyal readers- Please post your ideas and opinions!

    Please don’t hesitate to include the going to the Opera or a Ballet at the Kennedy Center, viewing the cherry blossoms while drinking sake at the Tidal Basin, appreciating art at its finest in the National Museum of Art, and possibly even taking a colonial social dancing class, as those all sound like great things. (Oh wait, those are all things I want to do! I doubt Daniel would enjoy any of those. Except for colonial social dancing. Neither of us is interested in that)

  2. Pablo Honey said,

    Order these shirts and wear them to the Federal Reserve headquarters.

  3. Aunt Beth said,

    I’ve never actually been to D.C. One time I was on a trip with UP, Papaw, Bobby & Logan and we drove through DC at approximately 1 a.m. en route to another destination. Papaw talked UP into driving by the monuments but they were all undergoing restoration and there were construction barriers blocking the view.

    I mostly remember Papaw giving us directions digging deep through his memory of living in D.C – back when your mother was very little. He said “turn left at ___ street” and we began scanning for this street in earnest. I found a sign for that street and shouted “Here! Turn left here!” It was a bit premature as the sign was referring to an upcoming street. The street that I compelled UP to turn onto in my exuberance was a one-way street, and of course, we were going the wrong way. A bus was heading toward us (in our lane) but there was no other traffic due to the hour. Fortunately, there was also a McDonald’s driveway in very close proximity which gave us an exit and allowed us to avoid the bus.

    That is the total of my experience in D.C. If I ever get to go I’m going to go to the Smithsonian and see Cher Ami – don’t miss it! I think the Smithsonian, the monuments, and the cherry blossoms are enough for me as I have an interest in so many things and the Smithsonian is supposed to be huge.

  4. RubeRad said,

    I lived in Baltimore for 4 years, and went to D.C. many times. Here are some memories:

    * You MUST go to the Air & Space (Aerospace?) Museum. I’ve been so many times I started to get tired of it, but just in case your first trip is your only trip, you must go.

    * The “Smithsonian Institution Building” (funky victorian red-brick) is not an actual museum itself, but more like an “index” to all of the other museums that are part of the Smithsonian group. Don’t waste any time there, unless you happen to be going past and want to pop in for 5min.

    * I think you’d really like the Museum of American History. You might want to check ahead to coordinate your schedule with the times that they pull the cover off the Star Spangled Banner (if they still even do that)

    * I’m not sure, but I think you’d be less impressed with the art museum(s). (But now that I read Athena’s comment, it looks like you’re going!)

    * Try to check with the Supreme Court to find out when it is not in session and you can get a tour that includes the insides of the chamber. THAT is really cool. (Or I suppose if you could get in when the court IS in session, that would be cool too!)

    * I once got an insider’s tour of the capitol building because a friend of a friend was a congressional aide. If you know anybody like that, call them up in advance and see if they can hook you up.

    * The Holocaust Museum is very powerful. If you go, you will be majorly bummed out (and grossed out). But I think it is worth it.

    * In all my years, I never got a chance to take a tour of the Mint (Bureau of Engraving and Printing). Check that out if you think it sounds cool.

    * The Vietnam War Memorial is a quick and convenient sight to squeeze in on one of your days. Before you go, ask around for names that you (or others) might want to look up on the wall and take a picture of, or bring materials to make rubbings.

    * Don’t get stuck on the Congress–Lincoln axis. For instance, the Jefferson Memorial is not too far off. Ford theater (where Lincoln was shot) is not too far off, you might want a ritzy night in Georgetown, etc.

    * Study a map a little before you go; there are some very bad neighborhoods very near the Mall, and it would be good to have a general sense of which way NOT to go.

    * I’m not the kind of guy that is willing to stand in line (and pay $$?) to go up to the top of the Washington Monument, but maybe you are. I’d say get a birds-eye view in GoogleEarth instead.

    * I don’t know where you’re staying (or if you’ve made hotel/car reservations yet), but take advantage of D.C.’s wonderfully clean and efficient subway system.

    * The Mall is actually quite big, and you will get tired walking around all day and standing around in museums. If you could rent bikes or something, I bet you could get in a lot more tourism without collapsing from exhaustion.

    * BWI is probably the cheapest airport in the region to fly in/out of (because of SouthWest)

    * If you want to take a daytrip to Baltimore (about 1hr by train), I can give you some recommendations there too.

  5. danielbalc said,

    Thanks for the tips.

    In reverse order i shall comment…

    I do want to see Baltimore some day but not on this trip. too little time.

    We already have our tickets at they fly into Reagan. (BWI was about 100 bucks cheaper)

    Bike renting seems to be pretty popular but along with popularity is a cost.

    Metro planning is a big part of our schedule making

    you can get Washington monument tickets for free by standing in line at 7AM. We tried to get them online for just $2 each but they are sold out when we are there.

    Unfortunately the maps I have been looking at don’t designate the “bad” places. Please help me find them and avoid them.

    Jefferson is certainly on our list. Is Ford theater worth it? We are looking off the beaten path.

    Vietnam, Korea and WWII are all going to see us. Ironically Korea and WWII mean a lot more to me than Vietnam because they represent my Grandfathers times of service while I don’t really know any Vietnam vets.

    We have a tour scheduled for the “mint”

    I am reluctant to want to go to the Holocaust Museum. Would you consider it a “must”?

    We have a tour of the Capitol scheduled.

    Supreme court tour tickets were unavailable but we will try to go.

    Art museums? yuck

    I am really excited about the American history museum. I can’t wait to take my picture next to a stuffed pigeon. . What do you mean by this… “pull the cover off the Star Spangled Banner”?

    Thanks for the tip about the Smithsonian building.

    I can’t wait to see the original Wright Flyer.

    Great tips. Thank you so much for taking the time. Please feel free to add things as they come to mind.

  6. Amy Lee Juarez said,

    I can’t remember all the different historical sites that we saw, I went to DC on an 8th grade trip for a week. Best trip I have ever taken!! I love history so I enjoyed so much all the siteseeing!! I can’t remember where we went but we saw a play and had dinner during the play, that was a blast.. Maybe you could research dinner plays or something. Also the Vietnam Memorial literally brought tears to my eyes (not hard to do) 🙂 Hope you guys have a blast!!

  7. Bruce S. said,

    Don’t tell Athena that there is only one painting by Leonardo DaVinci in all 57 states, and it is in the National Museum of Art in DC.

    Surprisingly, I think you could skip the National Museum of Art. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is better. And the Getty ain’t bad either.

    Skip Ford’s theater. Skip the White house. But why no mention of the Pentagon? You’d better get there before the guy in the WH closes it down.

  8. danielbalc said,

    The Getty is pretty impressive.

    As far as skipping the White House goes it seems we have no choice. It’s virtually impossible to get a tour unless you are in a group of ten and have reserved a spot 6 months in advance.

    Same appears to be the case at the Pentagon….

    All guided tours of the Pentagon are free and are available to schools, educational organizations and other select groups by reservation only. Tours are conducted Monday through Friday during normal working hours. Tours are not conducted on weekends or Federal holidays. Groups interested in touring the Pentagon should contact the Pentagon Tour Office

    It appears that young couples are not interested in educating themselves by touring certain arenas of government and therefore are not offered such tours.

    We do have a friend in the FBI and are really hoping to somehow get a shot at that but I don’t think it’s likely. I also don’t think it was wise of me to include “FBI” and “get a shot at” in the same sentence.

  9. Deborah said,

    The Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. National Archives and Smithsonian. I actually liked the Ford Theater. Hey Reuben didn’t you go with us to DC when we came out for your graduation from Hopkins? We did the Washington Monument and I thought you went up with us. Lots to do in DC. Have fun guys!

  10. L. Hudgins said,

    I too liked the Ford Theater. There is much to see. Be prepared to walk. Utilize the metro as much as possible. Another spot is the Library of Congress. And you might want to check out the original Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives…before Obama rewrites it. Have fun.

  11. Lants said,

    arlington national cemetery… great place for pictures…. maybe athena can take some better ones than mom….

  12. itsasecret2u said,

    Art museums? yuck

    For shame, Mr. Balcombe!

  13. danielbalc said,

    You know what secret? It is quite possible that I have more art museum experience than you do so I am perfectly entitled to my opinion.

    lants. For sure. However mom has improved.

    Do you recall much of our trip to DC?

    The thing that stands out the most to me were the amazingly long escalators descending to the metro.

  14. Lants said,

    let me list the things i remember…

    mom taking horrible pictures….

    the iwo jima being 10358324 times bigger than i expected….

    buying white house tickets from a scalper….

    seeing big bugs and snakes in the natural history museum….

    going to the top of the washington monument….

    you getting sony bonos autograph….

    yeaaaah thats pretty much it 🙂

  15. danielbalc said,

    Sonny Bono! That’s right. Good times, good times.

    I don’t remember the bugs/snakes. I don’t remember the top of the Washington monument.

    I do remember the size of the iowa jima memorial and the white house scalper.

    And yeah, Mom’s pictures were awful.

    How old were you when we went to DC? I was either 16 or 17 so you must have been like 9 or 10? I guess bugs are the things you remember best from being 9.

  16. Lants said,

    you remember the size of the white house scalper?! thats amazing….

    i also remember seeing the million dollars at the mint

  17. L. Hudgins said,

    If you go to the Arlington Cemetary be sure to stay for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. Really impressive.

  18. Albino Hayford said,

    I have been twice. Once with Shawn Clark and Reuben Settergren in 1996 (I think) and once with my brother when Promise Keepers had their “Stand in the Gap” event on the Mall in 1997. Here are a few reflections:

    The walking around the Mall SUCKS. It is MUCH BIGGER than you could ever imagine. Pretend you are back in junior high PE class and told to just walk and walk and walk FOREVER. After going twice, we found out that each congressional district can arrange for vans that will drop you off and pick you up in different sites of interest along the Mall. We chose POORLY!!!

    The guided tour of the house and senate was awesome (insider). He even let us hold the gavel and stand where the speaker of the house stands. We were amazed at how small those chambers really are.

    The Supreme Court is a MUST SEE, especially in session. My brother and I watched arguments before the Supreme Court and it was very cool. Also, a really tiny room, with pews just like a Lutheran Church. (am I channeling my parochial school days again?)

    The Lincoln Memorial is a MUST SEE. It is quite moving. When I was with Reuben and Shawn, we ran into Mark and Debbie Blum and girls, who had just moved to Virginia Beach. That was a weird coincidence. The Vietnam Memorial is close, so you can knock that out and do a “two for one”.

    Smithsonian history museum is AWESOME.

    Holocaust memorial is a must see, in my view. It will churn up your insides, but I will never forget it what I saw there….never.

    We loved the subway system.

    I didn’t see the White House out of principle, because of Bill Clinton.

    Tip: Don’t wear a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap. Every guard and local worker in D.C. had choice words for me throughout the visit. Next time I’ll just cut to the chase and wear a cap that says “bite me”.

  19. itsasecret2u said,

    It is quite possible that I have more art museum experience than you do

    You have traveled far more than I, so I don’t doubt it. I find myself in the regrettable position of being an art lover who has been limited largely to appreciating art in books, though I have been to local museums and the Getty once. My father is an artist, so it’s always fascinated me.

    Anyway, I have never been to DC so I don’t have any special advice to offer. I’m sure you’ll have a blast and enjoy all the history.

  20. RubeRad said,

    Hey Reuben didn’t you go with us to DC when we came out for your graduation from Hopkins? We did the Washington Monument and I thought you went up with us.

    Yes, I was there. I don’t remember going up the spike though, so it must not have been that memorable. Although for some reason I know that they only have tiny little glass rectangles to peek out of (unlike, say Empire State Building or Twin Tower observation decks), so I guess I must have been up there.

  21. RubeRad said,

    Unfortunately the maps I have been looking at don’t designate the “bad” places. Please help me find them and avoid them.

    I don’t really know for sure, but you can google it. It looks like bad is mostly to the east and south, so if you’re going to either of the stadiums, make sure you review your directions.

    Is Ford theater worth it? We are looking off the beaten path.

    I recall the Ford theater being okay — if you’re not that big into Lincoln, it’s probably not worth it. Note that it is a few blocks away from the mall and stuff, and it’s not free.

    I am reluctant to want to go to the Holocaust Museum. Would you consider it a “must”?

    I have never seen Schindler’s List and I don’t plan to. Why submit myself to a beating like that? Conversely, I saw The Passion of the Christ because I felt I should, and I wish I hadn’t. So I say if you don’t feel up to it, you can probably spend your time better.

    What do you mean by this… “pull the cover off the Star Spangled Banner”?

    The actual Star Spangled Banner flag about which F.S.Key wrote the national anthem is HUGE, like 20×40 feet. And old and tattered. To protect it from light, they have (had) it mounted on a wall at the back of the large entry hall, behind a screen that keeps it covered. The screen itself is a full-size photo of the flag, but every hour or so (check their schedule) they roll the screen back and let the tourists gawk at the real flag for a few minutes.

    Actually, according to wikipedia, it looks like the restoration project is complete, and it has a new display that is not covered. I guess this is a moot point.

  22. Tim Sloan said,

    Although I’ve never tried it on D.C. visits, I’ve been told that some of the Gray Line Bus tours get you to many popular sites very efficiently. So if you’re pressed for time, you might want to consider it. And it’s not ironic at all for you to be more interested in the Korean War Memorial than the WWII or Viet Nam ones. Your Papaw would be honored to know it. By the way, has your mother ever told you that your Papaw was almost a Viet Nam veteran too, and how that changed?

  23. danielbalc said,

    And it’s not ironic at all for you to be more interested in the Korean War Memorial than the WWII or Viet Nam ones.

    Actually you somewhat misread my comment (I admit it was poorly written).

    I care to see the Korean AND WWII memorial over the Nam memorial.

    Papaw served during Korea, but my Dad’s Dad (Grandpa) served in WWII. So for both of my Grandfathers I feel drawn to these memorials.

    By the way, has your mother ever told you that your Papaw was almost a Viet Nam veteran too, and how that changed?

    Not that I can recall. I will ask her at dinner tonight.

    As for the bus tip, I have been pricing out the different bus options and trying to figure out our best course of action. I also am strongly considering the Bike rentals.

    Another sudden interest of mine is Mount Vernon. Has anyone experienced this place? Is it worth the time and cost associated with a visit? It seems like it would essentially be a full day’s trip and would cost about 100 bucks. Since no one has suggested it I am going to assume it’s not that great. But please if you have any experiences with mount Vernon do tell.

  24. Aunt Beth said,

    We (Papaw, UP, Bobby, Logan & I) went to Mt. Vernon around 2000. I really enjoyed it. The property and house itself is not strikingly different than other historical house tours we’ve taken (plantation in La, Cassius Clay in Ky, John Adams & John Q. Adams in Ma, et al), yet this tour stood alone in how the staff conducting the tour gave Washington the honor and respect due our first presiden, a great man – humble, sincere, and filled with integrity.

  25. L. Hudgins said,

    I’ve been to Mt. Vernon twice. I enjoyed it. It’s not an all day thing unless you want it to be.

  26. danielbalc said,

    OK ok,

    So I asked my madre about why Papaw didn’t serve in the war in Viet ______ Nam and it was indeed quite a story. She insisted that I had heard it previously but I certainly think I would have remembered things like a letter to Nixon and angry neighbors.

    Athena and I were both quite impressed.

    Meanwhile the folks said to not use our valuable time at Mt Vernon though it is cool.

    Aunt Beth you’ve been to peacefield in MA? And you don’t think Cassius Clay was as humble a man as Washington? odd.

  27. Tim Sloan said,

    Your statement about the meaning of WWII and Korea to you was clear enough. The misreading was mine. The last time I heard the Viet Nam story told was by your Papaw on a visit to Kentucky in 2003. He didn’t mention the angry neighbors. I’ll have to get your mother or mine to retell that part.

    As for visiting Mt. vernon, your cousins Kerri and William went there last week – the one day of the year when there is no charge for admission (in honor of President Washington’s birthday). Nice timing on their part. Kerri says that their guide at the Ford Theater gave a riveting narration of Lincoln’s assassination.

    Of course Cassius Clay was not as humble as Washington. Didn’t Clay declare himself to be the greatest?

  28. danielbalc said,

    Wouldn’t you have to be humble to be the greatest?

    Didn’t Moses declare himself to be more humble than any man on the face of the earth?

    as for William and Kerri. I had no idea they had just gone to DC. I better facebook them.

    And the neighbor part wasn’t a big aspect of the story it seemed to find it’s way in to show the extremity of the circumstance and how “out of order” my mother’s actions were.

  29. Aunt Beth said,

    Daniel, I was thinking of one of Kentucky’s most famous advocates of emancipation. We toured his house with Nana and Papaw also. It’s in Ky.


  30. Lucy P. said,

    hello there, we haven’t met but through Jim (aka Albino Hayford) I heard about your quest for DC insider info.
    I live in the area and have done so for a few years. I have yet to be 100% completely DC-fied but here are my 2 cents:
    Try to steer clear of SE or NE DC. These are still areas where the bad out number the good things.
    Yes, the METRO is pretty spiffy and useful but standing on the escalators incorrectly is a sure way to displease Washingtonians. STAND TO THE RIGHT!! WALK ON THE LEFT!! And please have your metro card in hand ready to exit. If you need to look around for signs do so out of the way of people who are on the move. Doors on the train are NOT like elevator doors. THEY WILL SHUT AND NOT REOPEN EVEN IF THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE WAY. Don’t freak if you miss your stop, use common sense, simply get off at the next stop and take the train going in the opposite direction and try again.
    If in the mood for some grub, Ben’s Chili Bowl is a yummy place to try out. Take the Green or Yellow line and get off at the U ST./Cardozo stop. Use the 13th & U St. exit and it’ll be front and center. It’s the sort of place you go to get good food at a fair price without the need of silverware.
    I’d be a lot more useful to you if you were looking for child-friendly things….. I shall attempt to rack my brains for any other advice I should dish out.
    Enjoy the city!
    L. P.

  31. danielbalc said,

    Thanks for coming by LP.

    You are not the first to mention Ben’s chili bowl but I am deeply concerned wondering how anyone can eat chili without silverware?

    I appreciate the tips for using the metro as well.

    Child friendly is not necessary but I do wonder if you have done the paddle boats in the tidal basin and if it’s worth it?

  32. Lucy P. said,

    LOL, I should have mentioned that their chili dogs are the most popular, I apologize.
    I have not done the paddle boat yet though it is on our 2009 to do list. We are waiting until the weather is a bit more comfortable. Freezing water splashing about isn’t a fun thought.
    I don’t see dates for your visit…. Obviously things amp up during the warmer months, I’d say April-Oct. By warmer I mean over 40 degrees.

    L. P.

  33. danielbalc said,

    We are going to be in DC from April 1-April 6. Cherry Blossom Festival

  34. Pat said,

    Hi, Daniel,

    I haven’t read all the other posts, so it’s possible that my ideas might overlap with some others. Still, I hope I can offer something useful as you plan your trip.

    I’ve lived in DC as a child, thru my twenties, was away for nearly 3 decades, and now have been back for 2 years. So I’ve seen the city differently thru the lenses of different chapters, plus seen it thru my kids’ eyes. So that’s my frame of reference.

    I would say Mt Vernon is a must. I worked as a tour guide there for a year, and learned something new every day. It is beautiful, a lovely example of a gentleman’s farm / plantation. And they have recently updated their exhibits and exhibit halls. I know the person before me said it doesn’t have to be all day, but I would set aside the day for it, so that you won’t be rushed. And take the ferry to get there! It leaves from a dock on the DC side of the river.

    If you like museums, set aside a couple of days just to go thru various parts of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is a series of museums, not just one. They’re all on the same strip (or most of them), so it’s easy to go from one to the next. Our favorites are Air and Space and Industry. Check out what the current exhibits are ahead of time; maybe one of the passing exhibits will hold a special appeal for you.

    The Newseum is less than a year old. It is 4 floors of history about every aspect of news reporting. But beware! It is expensive – $20/person. So if you go, go early in the day so that you can get the most out of it. It really is amazing.

    I’ll try to send some other ideas later.


  35. Jessica said,

    I like the American History Museum and the Library of Congress where you can see the Gutenberg Bible.
    My cousin is a congressional aide for Brian Bilbray I know he does tours of congress and sometimes the WH.

  36. Daniel's wife said,

    Oh man- Daniel! We are leaving in just a few days!!! I can’t wait!

  37. L. Hudgins said,

    Here’s the place Daniel. There’s a location near the National’s ballpark.

  38. Bruce S. said,

    DBalc, you can’t leave until you give us 10 reasons why the Padres will win the World Series in ’09.

  39. danielbalc said,


  40. danielbalc said,

    Our trip starts tomorrow. Thank you all so much for your tips. i will be sure to inform you of what we chose out of the many great options when we get back.


  41. Aunt Beth said,

    I got a photo of Cher Ami sent to my cell phone yesterday. Wow! Thank you Daniel. You know how to reach your Auntie’s heart.

  42. danielbalc said,

    After reviewing your suggestions and cross checking with what we actually did I think the only thing we missed out on was ben’s chili bowl, mt vernon, the supreme court and the holocaust memorial. Also Ford theater was closed.

    Everything else was fantastic

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