Mr Balcombe went to Washington

April 8, 2009 at 8:58 am (Uncategorized)

And had a fabulous experience. Wow what a great trip.

Thank you all so much for your tips but thanks most of all to my beautiful wife, Athena, who planned this best birthday present ever!

Alright readers here is what you have all been waiting for, a vacation recap! Oh joy.

OK so we started out on Tuesday, March 31st by going to Disneyland. Why? because we have passes and an early flight out of John Wayne airport. Flying to DC is about 100 bucks cheaper out of Santa Ana than it is out of San Diego. I don’t know why it just is.


We got to DC around 6PM and took a cab to our Hotel, the beautiful Sofitel, Lafayette Square.

After checking in we went for a walk to check out the area. We weren’t expecting to do as much walking as we did. It was rainy but not too cold (50’s) so we took an umbrella and strolled past the white house to the Washington Monument then to the WWII Memorial down the reflecting pool to the Korean War memorial, up to the Lincoln memorial and then to the Vietnam veterans memorial. After that we stopped at the constitution gardens  before getting back into our hotel around 10 PM cold, wet and tired but soooo excited.

Best- Lincoln Memorial. Reading the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural address was awe-inspiring. What stood out most to me was his understanding of the providence and justice of God. Clearly Lincoln believed the civil war was due (at least in part) to the sins of slavery. I kept trying to imagine a political figure today speaking these words and the outcry there would be from so many people. How dare you blame Katrina or 9/11 on God’s providence and judgment for America’s sins?!?! And yet here etched in stone are Lincoln’s words making a striking similar accusation. Also there is a great Lincoln exhibit down below that is small but very informative.

Worst- crowds of highschool classes at Lincoln memorial with absolutley zero interest in anything other than the statue and yelling at each other in unreasonably high volumes. I was really disappointed in most of the school crowds everywhere I went because these herds generally demonstrated an irreverence that was completely unbecoming of the memorials and monuments. This was the same at the WWII. Primarily I think this is a matter f the herd mentality and not the individuals themselves. I do think that most of the kids, if they were in smaller groups or with their families would be much more respectful.

Best Secret- Constitution gardens. The crowded masses of Lincoln and WWII were non-existent at Korea and the Vietnam wall had fewer people as well. But there was absolutley nobody at the constitution gardens which was great. There on a little island in the middle of a figure 8 shaped pond is a tribute to the signers of the Declaration of independence. Each autograph is carved into stone along with their state and occupation. Very cool.

What I learned- For starters I realized just how ignorant I was of the cause of the Korean war. Seeing this made a trip to the American History museum much more interesting. The Vietnam Wall was staggering. Seeing the real cost of war by the number of lives lost was incredible. At WWII the emphasis that Americans rose up to battle as liberators not as conquerors was quite thought provoking.


The time change of waking up at 7AM (4AM pacific) hurts. I didn’t really get used to this. We went off to our tour of the capitol which had been arranged via Duncan Hunters office months in advance. This just in… LAME! the “tour” consisted of a movie followed by getting into a group of 50 and stopping at 3 different points (Rotunda, Statuary and Crypt) before being dispersed. However the brand new capitol visitors center was terrific and had a great exhibit in the “emancipation hall” on breaking up the history of congress into different eras. This was far more informative than the tour itself. Once you get into the Capitol visitors center you can go to all the places the tour takes you so my advice is to skip the tour and explore on your own. After the tour we took a tunnel over to the Library of Congress where we looked at a Gutenberg Bible, Jefferson’s Library, An exhibit on the forming of the “big 3” (Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights) and an exhibit on Lincoln. There were several other exhibits we never got around to as well. We stopped at Duncan Hunter’s office on the way out and picked up some gallery tickets so that we could see the congressional chambers (which we did on Friday). We walked from there to the Air and Space Museum then stopped at the old post office pavilion for some lunch and a great view of the mall. After resting for a couple of hours at the hotel we went to an NBA game where one of the worst teams in the league, the Wizards, beat the best team in the league, the Cavs. Lebron put up something like 31, 9 and 6 and made it look soooo easy but fate was on the Wizards side this night!

Best- The new Capitol visitor center with it’s incredible history of congress probably impacted me the most. The only reason we left the exhibit was to go to the tour and I really wish we would have spent that tour time on the exhibit.

Worst- Clearly the tour. Too many people, not enough information, hard to hear.

Best Secret- Probably the fact that you can get gallery passes from your congressman. This is a good move and I highly recomend it. Also most people don’t know that there is a pretty cool view from the Old Post office pavilion tower. Not a lot of standing in line, no cost, just a nice easy to get to elevated view. There is a height restriction in DC so the only peaks that stand out are this and the Washington Monument.

What I learned- SOOOO much about Congress its history and how it all works. Also a lot about Lincoln and Jefferson at the Library of Congress.


Bad weather = good luck! We had a tour scheduled for 8:45 at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. This is about as early as you can do anything because almost all the Smithsonians open at 10AM. The tour was interesting but it’s basically like watching paper get printed. For some reason in my mind it never really clicked that there were millions of dollars being made before my very eyes. By the time the tour ended it was really starting to rain so there weren’t too many people around. We decided to stop by the Washington monument to see if we could get some tickets. Ordinarily there is a long line to get tickets right at 9AM because they get taken up very quickly. Well when we got there at 930 there was absolutely no line and strangely they only had tickets for 1 time slot, 11 AM. We got our tickets and headed over to the Museum of American History to kill some time for an hour. Man I wish we would have had more time here. We pretty much only did one exhibit, “The price of freedom: Americans at war”. This exhibit gives a brief history of ever war America has been involved in. We went there because Aunt Beth had mentioned Cher Ami. A stuffed pigeon that was involved in WWI. Odd but ok. What really peaked our interest however was the progression from WWII to the Cold and Korean War and finally Vietnam. This was very informative and compelling but we had to head back over to the Washington Monument after just an hour here. The view from Washington Monument was breathtaking. Absolutely worth waiting in line for (but we didn’t have to).  We had lunch at the ESPNZone (Hooray for Buffalo Chicken Sandwich)And then changed hotels to the Mayflower, which Athena really liked because there was a view of the Gap. We then went back to the Capitol to go into the chambers. Even though it wasn’t in session (how could we possibly expect them to be working on a Friday?) it was great to actually see in person this place I have seen so often on TV. We then went back to the Library just in time for a 345 tour which was far better than the Capitol tour. it was better for several reasons. First of all they gave you a little headset so you could hear the tour guide. Second the tour guide was a funny old lady who just sort of rambled on and on about random stuff in the library. Less a tour and more story telling; I found this to be much better than the typical script to Capitol tour guides tell. And since we had already been to the LOC we just sat on a bench and listened as she walked the rest of the tour around to different sights we had already seen. HAHA!

Best-  Tough to decide. I really really liked the war exhibit so I will go with that.

Worst- Time Change. It’s not so bad when waking up but for some reason at 9AM I was extremely sleepy.

Best Secret- Inside the Washington Monument are hundreds of stones, each a separate monument to Washington, from all 50 states and several countries. They slow down the elevator to show you some but since they won’t let you take the stairs you really miss out on this. On your way down try and get as close to a door as possible so you can see these.

What I learned- Mostly it was stuff about the Korean and Vietnam war. The fact that we fought so violently  to stop the spread of communism and the socialist philosophies and their destructive tendencies has completely been forgotten. It’s frightening to me how we will remember those who died but forget what they died for.


This day had some seriously long walking. This was the main day of the Cherry Blossom Festival which meant CRAZY crowds. We started out by walking to the WWII memorial. just before we got there an old Asian woman tripped coming towards us and slammed face first into the ground. When the people she was with got he up blood was streaming down her face so we had to call an ambulance which was  just about about 150 yards away due to the parade. I don’t know why I am telling you this it just stood out in my memory. Going on from there we walked to the tidal basin and began a long walk around it. The trees were all in full bloom bringing out literally tens of thousands of gawkers like ourselves. Lots of stopping to take pictures of pink flowers. We finally made our way around to the FDR memorial which was interesting and pretty but not all that compelling to be honest. I guess this is probably because FDR wasn’t Lincoln, Jefferson or Washington. Maybe the fact that he was much more recent a president tarnishes his legacy in my mind. Or maybe it’s simply because I don’t necessarily believe his policies were that great for our nation.  A little after the FDR is a monument across the street to George Mason. If you keep going around the Tidal Basin you eventually at long last find the Jefferson Memorial! Super cool, super huge and super odd that at the base of the memorial we find 200 people in tights doing yoga! Seriously. As part of the Cherry Blossom Festival there is a stage set up with several different acts scheduled to perform. Well at the time we got there the act was a giant yoga session. This made for some interesting photos but was kind of disturbing. The monument has several of Jefferson’s writings including and most importantly excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. We made our way from them back towards the Parade route. We found a  good spot at the back of the Museum of American history to sit and watch the marching bands and roller skating super heroes pass by but I quickly became bored so I went into the history museum to go see the Star Spangled banner which I had missed from the day before. I had to stand in line for about 15 minutes but I preferred it to watching the parade. Athena preferred the parade. When the parade ended we made our way to the Japanese street festival which occupied a full square mile of roadways! yikes. After seeing that this Japanese Street festival featured several booths selling Gyros, Hot Dogs and Funnel cakes we decided that our exposure to Japan was enough and we should get back to America. So we went to the National Archives where you simply cannot be find anything more American than the big 3! The original Declaration, Constitution and Bill or Rights (Nicolas Cage had returned them). Wow. So cool to be see these. They were far more faded than I had expected but still to be able to see our founding documents was so special. After this we went back to the hotel and rested before heading off to the Baseball park to watch an exhibition between the Nationals and the Orioles.  For the amount of people crowding on to the metro I expected a lot more people to be at the game. Seems to me like they must have transportation issues. Great ball park, but not as beautiful as Petco. We ate at 5 guys per Lynn’s suggestion and were most satisfied.

Best- The Cherry Blossoms along the Tidal Basin. These really are worth braving the crowds to see.

Worst- The Parade. LAME but some of that was due to the high wind gusts and their inability to break out the giant balloons of Hello Kitty.

Best Secret- the George Mason monument. This is a beautiful Monument to the writer of the Virginia Declaration of Independence which sounds an awful lot like our 1776 one. In fact Jefferson basically used the exact same words! A lot of interesting little facts about Mason in a beautiful garden setting. If you are at Jefferson or FDR it’s certainly worth the brief walk to see this.

What I learned- George Mason refused to buy into to original declaration of Independence because it didn’t do enough to abolish slavery. A Virginian, colleague of Jefferson of great standing who was also an abolitionist. Cool beans. But because of his stance and unwillingness to compromise he takes a much smaller role in our history books. Even cooler! It’s amazing that here is a man whose ideals were all the good of both Jefferson AND Lincoln and we hardly know him.


We had decided ahead of time to go to Arlington National Cemetery. The books suggested we buy a tourmobile ticket in order to avoid the long walks between the biggest sights. We knew there was a tourmobile kiosk near the Washington monument so we made that our first destination of the day. What we didn’t know was that there would be 26,000 people running in a ten mile race that ended at the tourmobile kiosk. ooops. Tourmobile obviously can’t run shuttles through 26,000 people so the kiosk was shut down. Oh the frustration of plans not coming together. So we metro’d over to Arlington deciding to get our tickets there. Upon arrival we found what seemed like anouther 26,000 people wanting to buy tourmobile tickets. We would have no part in this. Despite our incredibly aching feet we decided to walk to the main Arlington sites. First stop, JFK and the eternal flame. Even though this is a cemetery with signs posted to be quite and respectful there were a number of senior citizens who were loudly calling for their friends. The crowd here was just too much. We snapped a photo, read his quotes and then quickly moved on to the tomb of the unknown soldier. Thankfully here the extremely disciplined guards demand respect so the mood is much more appropriate. The changing of the guards is  a sight not to be missed. Watching as each action is done to perfection all out of respect to fallen soldiers is tremendous. After this we viewed the memorials to the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle crews as well as to the Marines who attempted to free the Iranian hostages. Then in a stroke a great fortune we decided to take the very long walk to the 9/11 Pentagon victims memorial (more on this later). After leaving Arlington we went back into the city to the Building museum. It was nice to find a museum that felt like a museum (by this I mean there were hardly any people). The lack of people is due to the lack of interesting things. The building itself is probably the best part of this museum. There was a pretty cool movie about (I swear I am not making this up) rest stops on highways in Norway. We also were able to construct a 7 foot arch out of foam blocks but only after a couple of strangers stepped in to help us (weird story). The primary exhibit here was called “green communities” and was about building environmentally friendly cities. I quickly grew sick of this especially the part about the evils of detached single family homes. Give me a break! Coming out of there we rested at the National Law Enforcement Memorial. This is a great memorial to the men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Tragically that number has increased by 6 in just two separate incidences during the past few weeks. After this we spent an hour and a half in the National Gallery of Art. I was really impressed by how up close and personal you can get to these priceless works of art. I’ve been in many galleries where you are kept far back but here you could (if you wanted to get tackled by a security guard) just reach out and touch the paintings. I’m not exactly an art lover but I did appreciate a couple of different pieces. Roudin’s “thinker” and the sculpture to Robert Gould Shaw were cool. A couple of famous Monet’s were nice as well. Most of all though this is a gorgeous building and if you are into rotundas than you should stop by this one. We left the national Gallery and went back to the hotel. We were totally exhausted and basically ready to crash. While laying there flipping through my book I discovered that Union Station is the number 1 visited thing in DC. I couldn’t believe this so we had to go see it. Fortunately it was just a metro ride away so we didn’t have to walk much and even more fortunately they had a Pizzeria Uno!!!

Best- The Changing of the Guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier has to be viewed at some point in every American’s life. It is quite a tribute. And to think they do this every hour of every day no matter what the weather conditions are. Wow.

Worst-The Green Communities exhibit at the Building Museum. It was advertised all over the metro but just like a movie trailer the best scenes we had already seen! No good.

Best Secret- The Pentagon Victims Memorial in Arlington. Far and away the best secret of not only this day but the whole trip. Arlington is packed with tourists but they are all too fat and lazy to do any real walking. The only way you can get to this memorial is by walking quite a distance or if you are able to drive in the cemetery (which you may only do if you are visiting the grave of a loved one). The memorial marker is very simple, just a pentagon shaped marker about 4 feet high with all the names of the victims on it. In front of that are all of the gravestones for the military men and women who died (I think there were about 35  and almost all of them had fought in the Persian Gulf War). And one had the address Romans 8:35… “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” We felt truly grateful to be able to stand on these grounds and remember the tragedy of September 11th.

What I learned- I learned that you can do so many things in DC for free. You really don’t ever have to buy a ticket for anything especially the tour buses. Almost everyone suggested that we buy a tour bus ticket but we kept putting it off and putting it off and when we finally were about to do it we were unable. And we were very glad that we didn’t. If you are in decent shape than I suggest you skip the tour bussing and just walk it. Yeah your feet will hurt and your legs will ache and you will be exhausted at the end of each day, but you see and experience things you can’t possibly experience just driving by.


This was our last day. Our flight was at 4:45 and so we knew we would have to get back to our Hotel to pick up our luggage around 3 to make sure that we got there in time. It was a rainy day so we figured we should probably chose something that we could stay in all day. We narrowed it down to three different museums… The Holocaust Museum, The Natural History Museum or the Newseum. The first two are free but the third is a brand new Museum dedicated to journalism. It just opened last year and costs 20 dollars to get in. We decided that since we hadn’t spent money on a lot of things we would try out this Newseum (plus we didn’t want to leave on a gut-wrenching note). So we got into the Newseum around 10 AM. We figured that if we got bored we could always scoot out and do the Natural History Museum. Well we certainly didn’t get bored. This place was amazing! Athena had to basically drag me out at about 2 to make sure we weren’t late getting to the airport. I could seriously write an entire separate blog about how coll the Newseum is but I probably shouldn’t. Instead I will just insist that if you have been to DC already and are looking for something different to do the next time you are there you really should invest the 20 bucks (18 for AAA members!) to see this place.

Best- Tough call between the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 tribute. The Berlin wall exhibit was very educational as to what impact journalism had in bringing down communism. The 9/11 exhibit actually has the Antenna from the WTC there. Also a great exhibit of photographs from the only journalist who died covering 9/11. His cameras were found with him and they developed the photos and have them on display there.Oh and there is a great exhibit of Pulitzer prize winning photos. Wow!

Worst- The “4-D movie”. Don’t waste your time. This is designed pretty much just for kids and added nothing to the place.

Best Secret- On the top floor there is an exhibit housing hundreds of front page newspapers from the past 500 years! That’s not a really a secret but what might be is that the one featuring Hank Aaron breaking the Home Run record is autographed by Hammering Hank himself! (This matters to me because he is my favorite non-padre baseball player so it was a really cool surprise).

What I learned- The impact journalism has on our lives is tremendous. At first I didn’t expect much from this museum but each exhibit demonstrated all the more how powerful information is. Growing up in a society that has the freedom of speech and a free media is something I think we all take for granted to some degree. We often make fun of and blame the media for different social ills but in reality we should be very thankful for the free flow of information that is so readily accessible to us all.

Ok so that is a recap of our trip. if you want some specifics about different aspects of touring DC feel free to ask I love talking about this stuff.



  1. itsasecret2u said,

    which Athena really liked because there was a view of the Gap.


    I’m not exactly an art lover but I did appreciate a couple of different pieces.


    Glad you guys had such a good time. I’m coming to you for the list of must-dos if Dave and I ever get a chance to go. 🙂

  2. Daniel's wife said,

    I did enjoy the view of the GAP 🙂

    Also, my dad is the one who tipped us off on stopping by Duncan Hunter’s office. He gave us the address, and even phone number! Seeing the Congressional Chamber was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s funny because you’ve seen it a million times on tv, so it’s all too familiar, but it’s weird to experience it in real life.

    You can see pictures on my facebook page. I had to make 3 albums because I took so many pictures: 446 to be exact. But don’t worry, I didn’t upload all 446 photos.

  3. L Hudgins said,

    Glad you were satisfied with 5 Guys. But wait awhile to have your choresterol checked.

  4. Aunt Beth said,


    I loved this entry. It was enjoyable and educational reading. If I ever make it to DC (and I really hope to) I will be sure to bring your insider tips with me. Thank you for sharing.

    I loved Athena’s pics also and was very impressed that you gave me multiple shots of Cher Ami.


  5. danielbalc said,

    Other important tips for travelers on a budget…

    Never ever pay for room service food or anything like that. In DC as in many other large cities there are plenty of drug stores (in DC it was CVS) on every corner. We picked up a box of cereal bars that we would take with us for breakfast. Also I brought along a water bottle which I would fill up in the fitness center a couple of times a day (if you are picky about taste of tap water). Also many hotels provide complimentary fresh fruit either in the lobby or in the fitness center. These go great with cereal bars.

    Using the metro is cheap and easy, but sometimes your fare card will get down to .35 cents or something. Then you can add money to it but weren’t able to find out how to combine fare cards. It all worked out OK though we just did some calculating and added a dollar here or a dollar there. Also the fare card has printed on it how much value is left so you don’t need to find a machine to tell you. And when you are traveling between the hours of (I think) 9:30AM and 3:00PM virtually everywhere you want to go is just 1.35 for a one way trip.

    They had another thing called smart card but I didn’t think I was smart enough to figure it out.

    Oh and you can buy a full day’s pass for 7 bucks but I don’t think it’s possible to really use that. We spent a grand total of 40 bucks during the 5 nights we stayed there and we used the Metro ALOT. You can get a week pass for 40 bucks or one with limitations for 26.50 (But if you are doing a tour bus I don’t think either of these are worth it).

    I can’t think of any other cheapskate tips but If I do I’ll let you know.

  6. L Hudgins said,

    Did you use Priceline to book your hotel?

  7. Daniel's wife said,

    always priceline!

  8. danielbalc said,

    Hey super cool…

    The Newseum saw that I had blogged about them and provided a link to the den on their site…

    I always enjoy strangers coming into the den especially if I can provide them with helpful tips.

  9. Albino Hayford said,

    A Texas preacher went to Washington too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: