Our vacation time in and around Washington, DC

The Washington Monument stands in no one’s shadow. (All photos courtesy of Lina Shah)

During Thanksgiving week, we spent our family time in the Washington DC area. We used Destination DC www.washington.org to plan our trip and look for things to do.

Basketball icon Michael Jordan at African American Museum.

It’s so amazing that in DC, you could never get bored as there are just so many National Museums and archeological sites, where things get updated very often. We went to see the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, A People’s Journey, A Nation’s History, which opened in 2016 in the National Mall on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC. Currently, this museum is open 10 am to 5:30 pm (admission is free) from Wednesday through Sunday every week. We reserved our timed-entry passes in advance. The three-tiered, metallic trapezoidal design of the building represents the past, present and future of African American life in the United States. Focusing on the Slave Trade, there are many exhibitions including one in the lower level called The Weeping Time which tells a complex story of the African Americans and how they fought for a radical new concept, freedom. Seeing Black Women in Power, Pretty in Pink and Building a Better Future are some great exhibitions with stories that can’t be missed.

The next day we started our morning with delicious coffee and cupcakes at the Red Bandana Bakery, an all gluten-free and healthy place in Bethesda, MD. They also have a great vegan variety of Sandwiches, salads, breads and pastries. We ordered a vegan birthday cake for pick-up. Then we headed on our way, on a day trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Memorial at Mount Vernon, Virginia, about 45 minutes south from Bethesda. The website mountvernon.org is wonderful for planning. This popular historic site of about 500 acres, is open all year round and managed by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association with a mission to preserve and restore the estate to educate the world about the life and legacy of George Washington to keep inspiring many.

Bowling Green at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

We explored the Washington Mansion and other original structures, the Bowling Green, the tombs of Washington, Martha Washington, enslaved people, a blacksmith shop, spinning house, beautiful gardens, slave quarters, library and interactive areas, like the Distillery and Gristmill. We learned how Washington installed a “ha-ha” or ditched walls, to foster the illusion of a continued lawn, while keeping livestock out. We also spent a great time at the Ford Orientation Center and Museum, where more than 25 theaters and galleries showcased the life of George Washington and the colonial era. We purchased a souvenir magnet featuring the official Virginia slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers”.

Touring with Tobias Lear, George Washington’s Secretary at Mount Vernon.

While returning, we visited the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Recently opened in 2020, just outside Washington D.C., it is the official museum for the history of the United States Army and is free for everyone. The education center, theater and various exhibits are made using cutting edge technology.

Museum of the Bible.

The next day we started with the Museum of the Bible, just two blocks from the National Mall at Washington DC, which documents the narrative, history and the impact of the Bible in human kind. Currently the Museum is open Wed to Sun from 10 to 5 pm. It is unique and amazing in displaying various artifacts and interactive exhibits on all 6 floors. The Museum also has a restaurant on the top floor, a shop and a café. Our kids were busy exploring stories from the time of Abraham through the New Testament period, biblical papyri, Torah scrolls, rare printed Bibles, Jewish artifacts and contemporary treasures of Christian and Jewish culture. We also enjoyed a thrilling ride with the dynamic sound and movement of Washington Revelations, flying to various iconic places in Washington DC like the Lincoln Memorial, the US Capitol, and over the Washington Monument, discovering biblical verses. We also enjoyed a 9-minute virtual reality tour of the lands of the Bible.

Life of a Neuron at Artechhouse.

In the late afternoon, we went to see a unique place of art and technology with rotating immersive installations called Artechouse, located near Maryland Avenue Linear Park. We walked through the Life of a neuron—the “thinking cells” of the human brain. This amazing exhibit of art and science is coming from an incredible group of scientists and artists and is running through Jan 2022.

The next morning, we started with vegetarian and vegan variety tacos, soup, brussels sprout quesadillas and loaded sweet potato nachos, at an unconventional taco shop Chaia next to Bethesda Row Cinema on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda downtown. After that, we went to the Washington Monument and took an elevator ride to the top of the 555-foot marble, Egyptian-style, obelisk tower over Washington, D.C., built in immortal honor of George Washington, the United States’ first president who is First in War, First in Peace and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen. The monument stands in no one’s shadow and embodies the awe, respect, and gratitude the nation felt for its most essential Founding Father. In 1884 when it was built, it was the tallest building in the world.

In the afternoon we enjoyed a wonderful socio-political fable, The Great Leap at the Round House theater, a theatre in Bethesda, MD. This 2-hour memorable play of the University of San Francisco’s Basketball team’s “friendship game” in Beijing, China and a Chinese Coach to explore a different approach to life and basketball, even if it’s not real – it can still be true.

That evening we had delicious food at True Food Kitchen in Bethesda, MD, which was very clean food and good for the earth, using only organic and sustainable products. We enjoyed various vegan and vegetarian varieties like OG, Adaptogenic Tulsi Tea, Truffle Honey & Pear Flatbread, Herb Hummus, Edamame Dumplings, Ancient Grains Bowl, Vegan Double Cheeseburger and Butternut Squash Pizza.

The next morning our first stop was at Smithsonian’s FUTURES- immersive and interactive art installations, inventions, concepts, speculative designs, “artifacts of the future” and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter, at Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall. We explored sections, “Past Futures”- historical innovations and ideas that have shaped our present, “Futures that Inspire”- imagine new material, food, species, “Futures that Unite”- new ways for people to connect and “Futures that work”- ideas related to labor. This exhibit opens every day and runs through July 2022.

That afternoon we visited President Kennedy’s memorial- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He recognized that culture and art are the true hallmarks of a flourishing society. We experienced the magic of a beautifully choreographed performance of the Washington’s Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”, set in historic Georgetown.

We also walked to the museum where language comes to life, Planet Word, housed inside the Franklin School. My son rightly said, just one word can change life. We experienced the world’s first voice activated museum, amazingly showcasing interactive galleries of languages and words.

Our trip to Washington DC was definitely very memorable, inspiring, entertaining and educational. I am sure you will love visiting the Nation’s Capital and its neighboring towns, just like us!

Lina Shah is a Freelance Writer, Editor, Teacher, Social Worker and Financial Professional. Inspired by her father, she is a multi-talented suburban Chicagoland wife and a mother of two, who also enjoys cooking, social gathering and event planning.



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