Washington - Sights and Tastes

We came, we saw, we ate.


Cafe Recess

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 26, 2006

Cafe Recess, as the name implies, is located very close to the Capitol in Washington.

We decided to stop there because we were looking for some quick lunch on Saturday, between our stop at the Library of Congress and our reservation at the Washington Memorial. It was within easy walking distance of the Library of Congress, and we'd actually driven past it our our hunt for a parking spot. The kids liked the name (of course they were thinking of school recess, but whatever), so we decided what the heck.

The restaurant is set up like a buffet or salad bar. They have 4 rows of food that you can buy for $5.69/pound. They have salad, hot food, all sorts of stuff. Of course, the kids (who love buffets and salad bars) decided they didn't want to bother with that. Go figure.

At the back of the cafe is a deli-type counter, where you can get made to order sandwiches. The 8-year-old wanted a Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese). The 4-year-old wanted a ham and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise but with no cheese (we got the cheese on the side). She's four after all. I got a bag of salt and pepper chips, a soda, and some chocolate milk for the kids. I figured that I would just share their sandwiches. Ha!

We got a few bites of ham (and the cheese on the side) for the baby, but do you think they were going to share their sandwiches with me? No way. They were not small sandwiches by any means, but the kids loved them and gobbled them all up. I got a tiny bite of the meat off the Reuben and it was delicious. I can see why they didn't want to share.

The restaurant is not very large, and the buffets take up most of the room, so there is very limited seating (about 4 tables or so). There are no high chairs, (babies don't spend much time on Capitol Hill I guess). We were there on a Saturday, so things weren't too busy. The food was good, it was prepared quickly, there were no line-ups and we were able to sit at one of the tables. I would think noon on a weekday would probably have a different atmosphere. (I'm thinking that good, relatively inexpensive food is going to create line-ups during the week.)

The sandwiches cost between $3 and $5 for the most part (with no sides), the chips and drinks were at standard prices ($1.50-$2 for drinks, etc).

Overall, the food was good, good value for the money, and we got out on time for our tour of the Washington Memorial.

They are open from Monday to Friday from 6:30am to 8pm and Saturday from 8am to 8pm.
Cafe Recess
209 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, D.C., United States, 20003
(202) 544-3049

International Spy Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by grannola on October 9, 2006

The International Spy Museum sounded like it would be really neat. We read about it in tour books and even talked to people who'd been there. Although it had potential, we were a bit disappointed. The first problem is that strollers are not allowed, so we stashed the stroller and borrowed a baby carrier. The 1-year-old is quite heavy to carry around for 2 hours, even in a carrier, but he isn't big enough to spend 2 hours walking either. Well, we figured we'd give it a shot.

It cost us $42 for the whole group to get in, which seemed high considering the Smithsonians were all free. So, we went in, and first you go up to the top floor. There you are given a secret identity which you are supposed to memorize because you will be tested on it later. It sounded like a fun game, so we all memorized our bits. (Photography is not allowed in the museum, so you couldn't snap a picture of your identity, but you were allowed to write it down). Then we went into the briefing room where we watched a short video. Because they want everyone to see the video, they stop people until the video room is full.

This means that when you get to the other side of the next door, you do it at the exact same time as 50 other people. This is where the next problem comes in. In order for the mission to go through, you have to access a computer in this room and type in your information you memorized. Then you get your mission. We did not get to do this, because there were 50 people in front of us. On the top floor there were lots of displays of spy gadgets, including a 007 life size car. The kids favorite was crawling through an air duct to spy on other people. Mom went with them and thought it was really dumb because the duct was much larger than a real air duct - so large the 4-year-old actually ran through it.

From there, the museum is laid out in a bit of a time line. Ancient spies, war spies, female spies all have their own rooms. There is a war propaganda spy video playing in one room. There were lots of hands-on computer type things for the 8-year-old to do. The 4-year-old found a couple of headphones to listen to. From there, you head downward, seeing more gadgets and learning about codes. There was a cute looping video with classic movie and TV spies.

Finally you get to the debriefing room where you need to enter the results of your mission in to the computer. Again, we couldn't participate because we'd missed out at the beginning. On the way out, you go through the requisite gift shop, where they have lots of spy stuff all at gift shop prices. Some of it was cute, some just cheesy.
International Spy Museum
800 F St. NW
Washington, District of Columbia, 20004
(202) 393-7798

Jefferson's Legacy: The Library of Congress

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 21, 2006

We went to the Library of Congress on Saturday morning. There were quite a few people there, but it wasn't crowded by any means. You need to go through a metal detector and have your bag searched to enter the library. Once inside we immediately found children's materials to help them enjoy the art in the library. There were tour groups, but we opted to do a self-guided tour (with 3 kids, it seemed more fair to the other visitors).

It seems strange to go to a library and not see rows of books, but that is the case here. Of course, there are millions of books, but not in the public areas. You start up one floor from the main entrance. One of the impressive sights is the Gutenburg Bible. I'd seen one page of a Gutenburg before, but never a whole Bible. There was a big sign saying not to take photos of it, because they could deteriorate the book.

The floor, ceiling and walls of the library are all adorned in beautiful artwork, including mosaics, paintings, and sculpture. There are references to American authors, and poets, but also to ancient gods and goddesses. The children's book pointed out several bits of art that the children could try to find and identify, so it helped a lot. It is much easier to look at things if the kids are looking too, instead of asking "can we leave yet?".

There is one reading room that you are allowed to look into, but only with a tour group, so we hopped into a tour group so I could sneak a peak. No photography is allowed in there either. The reading room is actually several stories tall, with tables and computers for reading, but again, not stacks of books. The library has several reading rooms, and they are based at least partly on geography.

There were a couple of hallways that we could look down, but not walk through. The art was beautiful down the halls too and made me wish I was there to find some books. There is a wing that is a museum of sorts, but the kids didn't want to stay to see that, so we left fairly quickly.

A stop at the gift shop allowed us a sneak peak at the rest of the library, in the form of a children's non-fiction picture book. The book called "The Library of Congress" (go figure), had pictures of staff and other rooms, and explained the history of the library in simple language. The gift shop also has lots of educational toys and standard gift shop stuff. We bought some pens that were on clearance for $0.50 each.

The library is open for tours Monday-Saturday only. There is no admission fee.
Jefferson's Legacy: The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, D.C., United States, 20540
(202) 707-5000

Washington Monument

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by grannola on October 22, 2006

The Washington Monument is truly a landmark worth visiting. It is free to get in, but you do need to get free tickets to reserve a time. There is limited space and the line-ups would be horrendous otherwise.

To get your ticket you have to go to the ticket booth early in the day. They give out tickets from about 8am until they are all gone. No strollers are allowed inside the monument, because of very narrow passages, and also because the elevator picks you up a floor lower than it lets you off.

We got to the ticket booth around 10:00 on a cloudy, rainy Saturday. We could have had tickets for as early as 11:30, but we chose 1:30, figuring it would give us time to wander off and see something else first. We got back right at 1:30 and went to the lineup. The Monument is run by the US Park Services, so there are Park Rangers who let you in and bring you up in the elevator. They were very friendly and knowledgeable about the monument.

Once inside the building you have to let your bags get searched and go through a metal detector. (Rather standard in DC these days). Then you are taken to a line-up for the elevator. The elevator lets people on and whisks them up to the top of the monument (Well, as high up as it will fit) to the observation area. There are 2 windows on each of the four sides of the building, so you have to take turns looking out. There are also labelled photos at the window so you can figure out exactly what you are looking at. Very helpful for figuring out which Smithsonian is which and that sort of things.

One of the two windows on each side had a small step that the kids could stand on so they could see. The 8-year-old could see a bit without it, but not the 4-year-old. You can stay on the top level as long as you want and then you walk down one flight of stairs to catch the elevator. There is also a gift shop and some museum-type displays on this level.

The elevator takes you back down, pausing to look at some of the donated stones. We learned that all of the states donated a stone that was native to that state. There were also stones donated from cities such as Boston and New York. The park ranger on the elevator gave us information both on the way up and the way down, so it was great. This was someplace that the 8-year-old really wanted to see and he was so excited that he got to go up to the top. He loved the view. Even on a rainy, cloudy day, the view was impressive, although the pictures are a bit foggy looking.
Washington Monument
Near the Center of the National Mall
Washington, D.C., 20024
(202) 426-6841

Abraham Lincoln Memorial

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 26, 2006

The Lincoln Memorial is one of those things that you see on TV, but you really can't get a good sense of the monument from still pictures. That may seem strange because it is 'a statue' but being in the Memorial is really more awe-inspiring than I would have imagined.

You climb up the steps to the Memorial, and you look out at the Washington Memorial and the reflecting pool. It is an amazing view. Then you enter the Lincoln Memorial. The statue of Lincoln is of course huge and impressive that way, but just as impressive is how everyone in the Memorial is respecting the silence. There are a few hushed whispers and footfalls, but people are there to do more than be tourists and it shows.

There are two of Lincolns most famous speeches, the Gettysburg address engraved on the walls in the 'side' rooms of the memorial. You will find people there reading them, getting the history from them. Absorbing the Lincolness of it all. This whole experience is marred slightly by the gift shop. There is a gift shop inside the Memorial, which seems a bit odd. However, it is mainly a book store, so that helps a bit I guess.

Mom took the elevator up with the stroller so we wouldn't have to carry it up all those stairs, which turned out to be very useful, as she discovered all the information on the ground floor. We did not realize that there was a museum of sorts downstairs, and probably would not have seen it, if not for the elevator.

The museum included more quotations from Lincoln, history, etc. There is also a supersized Lincoln Memorial penny hanging on the wall. Another useful thing we discovered, is that there are restrooms on the ground floor. It's very useful to know these things when travelling with small children.

This was one of the places that the 8-year-old really wanted to go, and he was not disappointed. He didn't know much about any of the presidents of the US before our trip (we are from Canada after all) but he learned something about Lincoln here. The monument is open to visitors 24 hours a day and there are park rangers there during the day to answer questions. (It's a National Park.)

When we were there, there were some roads under construction and strange things going on, so we ended up driving across a bridge to Arlington National Cemetery by mistake. We looped around and parked on Constitution Avenue and walked a short distance to the monument. On the way back to the car, we discovered we were walking past the Vietnam War Memorial. (Which becomes more impressive the nearer you get.)

Overall, the Memorial is well worth a visit. And it is definitely worth getting off the tourmobile for a while.
Lincoln Memorial
West Potomac Park
Washington, DC, 20037
(202) 426-6895

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