The Road to…Our Nation’s Capitol! Part 1

The Road to…Our Nation’s Capitol! Part 1

Day 1 – Friday, March 1, 2024
Waupaca, WI to South Bend, IN

Hello internet trolls and stalkers and family – after taking a break for a year and a half from road trips, we are back!  (Well, we are not counting the trip to the Dells and the Driftless Area from last summer – we will not ever speak of that motel in Dodgeville ever again, eep (plus if you don’t leave the state, is it really a road trip?))

For spring break this year, which we agree is ridiculously early, we were trying to think of a place to go to that would be warmer but didn’t have to be tropical, and would be new for us.  Matt again suggested Hawaii, which was vetoed.  Sarah suggested California, which was vetoed (but guess where we are going at the end of June!!), and so we tried to think of places that we want to visit before they disappear, and given it is an election year, hello Washington DC!

We are driving as airplane tickets were ridiculously expensive, and plus we like having all our stuff that we can jam in a car with us.  Plus we can hit a couple National Parks on the way back.  Thus, the idea was a reality.

Sarah worked in the morning and was done at noon, and kids were pulled from school at noon as well.  Bags were packed the night before and off we went.  Plan was to drive down to South Bend, Indiana (320 miles) tonight, then off to Washington DC on Saturday!  For what it’s worth, Sarah went on a school trip to DC, and separately also drove with her family out there, and her only memory of the drive is that you get to see pretty rolling mountains right at the end of the trip.  And a rock hit the bus’s windshield and we had to get it fixed and sit under an overpass on a highway for a while.  Oh, high school.

It feels so weird to be leaving for a trip and heading…. EAST?!?

Anyway, Willow was off to the dog boarding house, and then we were off on highway 10, then over to highway 41, down through Fond du Lac where we stopped at Culvers.  There was an airport right next to the Culvers where B happily watched plans in the process of landing right next to the drive thru.  Off through Milwaukee, then hitting the Illinois border.

This is the first family road trip on toll roads.  Anticipating this, we had purchased an EZ Pass weeks ago that we could use in all states that literally shipped 2 days before we left.  And did not arrive.  So we hit up a Jewel-Osco in Gurnee IL and got another one (sigh).  Along with pseudoephedrine for Sarah, who had no voice and sounded terrible.  She happily popped a single 24 hour tablet and off we went.

Kids got a kick out of the lawyer billboards as we drove around Chicago, and the crazy traffic.  Everyone was bummed that by the time we drove through Gary, IN that we couldn’t actually see the city.  We arrived in South Bend after an underwhelming journey after dark.  

The other winner?  Oases!  Haha, the plural of oasis.  The kids were so little the last time they were at one and loved every minute of going to one.  NO, you cannot get anything, we are going to the bathroom ONLY.  

Now, Matt had made the reservations and said nothing was available at most of the hotels in town, and the only place that would take a reservation for our slightly irregular family of 5 (of course there were plenty of hotel rooms available for 4) was called the Inn at St Mary’s.  Sarah really wishes that she would have known.  We arrived and there was a flag with a cross on it and it appeared to be some kind of religious hotel?  Whatever, it had a bar in the lobby and given it was a Catholic hotel, it was open way later and filled to the brim with people.  This hotel had lots of rooms designed for large families and we did hear babies crying in multiple rooms as we walked down the hallway.  Room was nice, no pool, and pictures of churches adorned the hotel room.  We all collapsed, ordered cheesy sticks from Dominoes, and Matt grabbed two IPAs from the rowdy bar.  Not too bad for only a 1/2 day!

Sarah pointed out the Hilton Garden Inn (with a pool!) that was so close it was touching our hotel, and Matt gently told her that they only have rooms for families of four, not families of five.

Miles driven: 320 miles

Number of WORDLE attempts:  Sarah with 2! and Noah with an unspecified amount that he refused to reveal

Day 2 – Saturday, March 2, 2024
South Bend, IN to Washington, D.C.

What a night.  Remember that Sudafed that Sarah took?  It did nothing for her congestion but wired her.  She was up ALL night, unable to do anything as everyone else was asleep.  She sprung out bed before the 6:45 am alarm, showering, packing, getting more towels for the family.  Wow, Sudafed, apparently a stimulant for Sarah!  She was WIRED all day until 5 pm when the effects wore off and she started falling asleep. 

Everyone else grudgingly got out of bed, and slowly got ready.  We all trickled down to the small breakfast area – everyone loaded up, and then we drifted down the hallway (filled with fleur de lis symbols at each door) to our room, gathered our stuff, and out we went!

We figured since we were in South Bend that we should check out Notre Dame.  There was a beautiful gold topped building like a basilica in the center of campus.  Try as we might, despite weaving down many campus roads, we could not get to it.  We found their football stadium and drove about.  It was seemingly abandoned with very few students around the campus (haha, a Saturday morning at 8 am).  The entire campus was kind of weird.  All the buildings were brick in an older style but  And then we found new construction proving it –  we think the great majority of this campus is newly built to look older.  We turned off the Catholic children’s music we had on the radio and busted back out to the tollway after that (and the EZ Pass worked!).

This was a loooong day and we stopped only at plazas.  Plazas you say?  This is the Indiana/Ohio/Pennsylvania equivalent of oases and they are AMAZING.  It’s like a mini indoor shopping mall – each one had different fast food restaurants, clean rows of bathrooms, 7-11, gas station.  There were people walking dogs inside and giant food courts.  We stopped at one that had Auntie Anne’s pretzels, popeyes, Burger King and Panera to eat.  Some had Caribous, Starbucks, Sbarro, etc.  Now this is how to travel!  haha  Except for the confiscatory pricing.

The only trade-off with these plazas is that despite having many restaurant choices, there are only like 4 entrees available at each one. Hope you like nuggets or Impossible burgers. Also, the prices are confiscatory. The good news is that product turnover is low, and they had Valentine’s hearts (Noah’s favorite candy) on clearance at the 7-11, meaning all the kids got a bag. Hey, it’s vacation. Go wild.

So Indiana and Ohio and western Pennsylvania were the equivalent of Nebraska and eastern South Dakota – uggh.  So boring.  Look, it’s Elkhart IN, the RV capitol of the world.  Ooh, let’s guess the population of Toledo.  Let’s read about Cedar Point and all their roller coasters!  No, Zoe, they are closed so we cannot go.  More suburbs of Cleveland.  Noah is quizzing Braden on his favorite, random capitols of lesser known countries.  No one knows the capitol of Somalialand, Noah, just you.  Hey, Youngstown Ohio!  Didn’t Bruce Springsteen write a song about Youngstown?  (Sarah puts it on and it is horribly depressing.  All children put on their headphones to listen to something else).  Sarah proceeds to listen to all her favorite Bruce songs.  Then Tom Petty.  Mercifully Matt’s mom calls during the beginning of the Bob Dylan set.  

Matt you say?  What is he up to?  Being a martyr, of course.  He drove the entire way.  He drives just fast enough to help our time, but not enough to get pulled over.  He is a saint!

Anyway, we hit eastern Pennsylvania and all of a sudden, things got beautiful.  It really was – rolling hills, rock outcroppings, New England-esque homes and church steeples.  It was quite pretty here!  We weaved our way down through the Allegheny Mountains, then the Appalachians to the border where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet.  The rolling hills are just gorgeous!

We didn’t know that Pennsylvania looked so beautiful! What an interesting state. We aren’t even kidding.

We then hit the freeway in Maryland which is 16 lanes wide and full of traffic and shit gets real.  For whatever reason, after a half hour, Apple Maps feels sorry for us and veers us down to travel on some random 2 lane road that is next to the Potomac.  Didn’t George Washington do something with that?  Or was the the Delaware River?  It was pitch black and there were mansions all around us.  We then popped out in downtown Washington DC!  Everyone oohed and awed at the Kennedy Center and the Washington and Lincoln Memorials and we whizzed around until we popped out at the Hilton at the National Mall.  Checked in and the valet ($55 a day, grumble) took our car (Matt apologized and said we had just driven here from Wisconsin) and up we went in the fancy lobby to our room.

We have a sweet corner suite with two rooms, one with two kings and a pullout for Zoe. Poke bowls from Poke Papa – our first time using DoorDash. They were delicious! Yes, we ordered raw fish from some shady DoorDash restaurant. It is days later and we haven’t been sick yet, so…

Miles driven: 614 miles
Number of WORDLE attempts:  Sarah with 5 and Noah with an unspecified amount that he refused to reveal (so this is how this is going to be)

Day 3 – Sunday, March 3, 2024
Washington, D.C.

Our first day here!  Now, we have learned over the years that we should always schedule something in the first day or two of a trip (we are pretty freewheeling the rest of the time on trips) otherwise we will be lazy and say how tired we are.  So we got advance tickets to the Air and Space Museum for this day – 10 am, baby!  

We all emerged from bed, looking bleary eyed.  We tried to make Nespresso coffee in the room, but it was all weird and foamy and just didn’t taste like coffee.  So after Starbucks was retrieved from the lobby, we were able to wake up enough to pound granola bars and Belvita and head out.  We brought along just Sarah’s purse, as all we had planned was the day there.  It was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, with other tourists filtering out of hotels and meandering along sidewalks on a beautiful 60 degree day.

Then we hit the museum.  The line queue had to be 100 people long, everyone holding on to printed out tickets.  There were numerous food trucks idling outside, all with Boba tea, chicken fingers, and shawarma.  Every single one.  The line of people kept growing too.  It was like going to a Packer game – 4 different lines, everyone’s tickets being scanned, and metal detectors.  Oh, how times have changed since the last time Sarah was here haha.  

After we got our map, we started moving through the rooms.  This was what Matt and Braden had been waiting for and were so excited.  We will let pictures tell the story:

Sunlight? People? Where ARE we?!? Spring break, woo woo.
Historical aircraft from commercial aviation. Each of the major airlines had at least one plane here (the crop duster off to the left was the plane that started Delta).
Two guesses what plane this is…
We love walking with Noah. He is 6 foot 6 or something like that now and although he is at greater risk of head injuries, we can always find him in a crowd. Air travel in the 1940s would not have been his thing.
First U.S. manned spaceflight capsule.
Zoe watching the boys all enjoying some piece of space stuff (Apollo 11 Module).
B really wants to get his pilot’s license and it was pretty amazing to watch him pilot in these games – clearly has gotten experience with his Flight Simulator at home!
One of the rocket engines for the Saturn V rocket (which had 5 of these) hanging over everyone in the space exhibit
Model of the lunar rover that they drove 22 miles on the moon.

Of note, we were starving by 11 am, and hustled down to the cafe in the basement.  We were so thirsty too.  We now noted all the other tourists had backpacks and multiple water bottles.  Lesson learned.  We paid probably $100 for a large muffin that ultimately Zoe decided she didn’t want, three bottles of pop, a salad, grilled cheese and 3 sandwiches among the 5 of us.  The food was good, not triple digits good.  

Either way, we stayed until about 1 or 2 pm, and we had seen everything!  And of course, hit up the amazing museum store.  Braden found a Hawaiian shirt with planes on it, joining his two loves.  Zoe found freeze dried ice cream.  

We were going to maybe walk back to the hotel, but after we exited, we looked around and saw all the other monuments so close by, so what the heck?  Let’s go exploring!  We wandered down the block and eventually had the goal of making it to the Washington monument.  We walked along the National Mall, where there were tons of tourists. 

This was literally the best picture of us. Notice no one looks really happy by this point.

Along the way, we saw the National Archives and were reminded of the best movie ever made, National Treasure.  So we wandered over there, no tickets needed, and made our way in to the see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta (well, a copy of the 1297 one).  They were very very clear – no pictures of the documents.  But then when you got close enough, the guard was all, just don’t take your pictures super close.  I think she hated her job and wanted to get fired.  So we took a ton of illegal blurry pictures.

Recognize this from the movie????
The room the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are in. Just like in the movie!
Note guard on the right who didn’t care and let us all take pictures. Heck, we even took a picture of the documents that contains yet another person taking a picture! haha
No guards around this bad boy. The Magna Carta will live in infamy as the single time Sarah got a final jeopardy question right (occurred like 20 years ago) – “what is the document from 1297 that denotes weights and measure?” and she yelled Magna Carta while Matt rolled his eyes. It was amazing.
Suggesting we go to the National Archives was an expression of love by Matt to Sarah. This place was made for her. Look, her own copy of a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence, just like Nic Cage had in the movie!
Zoe had some pretty clear thoughts on the entire situation that she did not keep to herself.

Then we hit up the store so Sarah could purchase her imitation declaration, just like in the movie!!  There was also a replica of the Resolute Desk in there which was cool – we would not have known what it was, except in the SECOND National Treasure movie, the ancient wooden plaques were hidden in the Resolute Desks (well, in ONE of the desks – have to watch the movie to find out where the other one had been, woo woo).

Then we continued our trudging down Library Mall.  Everyone was so hot.  Matt bought water from one of the many food trucks.  They haunted us at this point.  Stupid Boba trucks were everywhere.  Zoe was conflicted, saying I don’t want anything they have but I keep seeing them everywhere so I must get something.  She got nothing.  Stupid little scooters whizzing by on the gravel/dirt path that is the National Mall.  We came to the Washington Monument and it was beautiful!

We were so tired by now. And wishing we had worn better walking shoes.

Then we walked around the hill leading up to it and squinted into the distance and were like, how far away is the Lincoln Memorial??!  Matt said – not that far, come on guys.  He also made everyone walk through the World War 2 memorial.  Spirits were not high.  Then the Lincoln Memorial has all these steep stairs and we got to the top and it was crowded but cool in there at least.  We all admired the memorial, then went to sit on the steps while Matt gallantly skipped off to the store to get stamps.  We actually had no idea where he went, but we were so tired we just sat.

Matt claimed we could cut through the World War II Memorial, but you couldn’t. You had to walk through the entire thing. We are sure it would have been beautiful had the water feature been turned on.
Everyone looking sweaty…. almost there….
When we discovered that Braden’s head blocked Abe Lincoln at the Memorial, Matt suggested we go back and take more pictures. By a 4-1 vote, we did not go back. Sorry Matt.

At least we stumbled our way down and back all the way to the hotel – we walked over 7 miles.    The bright spot was seeing one of the Boba trucks getting towed.  We also saw an ambulance tending to someone who fell off one of those scooters. 

Tonight for supper we ordered from We the Pizza – note – their pizza by the slice is literally so huge, you can order a single slice and not need more.  Matt tried a Butternut Squash slice, but the rest of us were more generic – it was pretty good!  We enjoyed beer and pop and snuggled in to watch National Treasure together.  Perfect way to end the day.

4 individual slices on the left, one large pizza on the right…

Miles driven: ZERO!

Number of WORDLE attempts:  Sarah with 4 and Noah with 4

Day 4 – Monday, March 4, 2024
Washington, D.C.

Why is it so hard to get up in the morning here?  We go to bed at a decent time yet struggle to get up – it feels like every morning we are awakened by Noah saying “weren’t we supposed to get up at (fill in the blank with a time)?”.  Uggghhh.  Anyway, we had looked at the weather forecast and saw that today was to be 65 degrees, and the rest of week, 50s and rain.  So off to the National Zoo today for the single nice day!

For it is worth, Zoe’s goal in life used to be becoming a zookeeper in Africa.  Don’t ask any further questions.  It is unclear if that is still her goal, but she had never been to a zoo that she remembered (she was probably pretty little if we took her to one in WA that we loved when visiting) so let’s bring her to this one!  

We ate Belvitas and granola bars again (already sick of them) and got our Starbucks coffee, and retrieved the car from the valet.  Yah for driving in downtown Washington DC traffic on a Monday while Congress is in session.  Matt did amazing!  We drove by the Eisenhower Executive building and all of the federal buildings.  It took us like 30 minutes to go 6 miles or something ridiculous.  The Zoo is free (like almost everything here) but you have to get tickets ahead of time (like everything here) and pay for parking ahead of time as well.  They sort you into one of 5 lots, and we were lot D.  

It was kind of cold and dreary at first, but the day brightened.  The zoo was fairly empty when we got there.  It opens at 8, the indoor exhibits at 9, and our sorry butts probably got there around 10:30.  By the time we left mid afternoon, it was hopping there.  Fair amount of what looked like home daycare providers, stay at home parents and grandparents, small homeschooling groups, and likely Christian militia families wearing Trump hats and camo.  So probably a typical day at any random zoo?  We parked next to a large conversion van that had multiple references to the Rapture on it.

It’s like looking at our cats at home.
We really enjoyed the indoor reptile/amphibian rooms – very nice displays.
There were chimpanzees swinging high above the zoo on lines that were set up that every once in a while you would see.
A sand cat! Everyone oohed and ahhed. So cute!
It feels like that animal is used to posing…
Some of the indoor areas had birds flying around in their recreated habitats as well as other water life.
The ducks here seem more colorful than the ones at home!
This zoo also reminded us of the many tropical plants we have killed as houseplants over the years.
The sea lions looked so sleek as they glided through the water.
I have no caption ideas for this. Hmm…
So many fish…
When you touched both ends of this eel, you would complete a circuit and it would buzz. You could hold hands with several people and the end people could touch it and it would buzz all of you. Sarah found it freaky while Noah rolled his eyes.
The birds were so cool! More plants we have killed over the years.
It’s best in a place called Amazonia that there is a wire fence between you and whatever is in that water.
The baby ape was adorable!
Sarah’s favorite bird. It has such an unusual bill/beak.
Did you know flamingos only weight 5-8 pounds? Every animal we saw after was measured in flamingo units (FU’s, possibly the best unit of measurement ever).
River otter having a good old time. We feel like they could live near us and would not be good to run into in the water.

Anyway, it was a nice zoo!  Apparently they went all-in on the pandas, and the pandas were hauled back to China last year.  Good news, the elephants appear to be enjoying parts of that habitat we think?  Bad news, appears they were growing bamboo everywhere for the pandas and now it is spreading rapidly.  And no pandas available to eat it.

Everyone loved the cats, including tigers, lions, cheetahs, fishing cats, sand cats, etc.  The indoor exhibits especially the fish and reptiles were done very well.  

Matt looked longingly at the cool food carts that likely are open on the weekends or seasonally – one sold craft cocktails.  Instead, we got Sbarro to eat.  

Another animal (Foxy) gets added to the collection. Enjoy your moment in the spotlight, Foxy.

Zoe loved the zoo – we will have to check in with her to see if she plans to still be a zookeeper (in Africa specifically).  She did purchase a small fox to add to her collection as well.

On our way back, Matt drove us all through Georgetown – holy moly the townhouses there.  We then looked up all the multimillion dollar homes on Realtor later and made fun of them – and ooh and ahh-ed.  It was somewhat claustrophobic there with tight narrow streets.  We also did not love the idea of street parking on those streets and where are the grocery stores?  But so fun to look at! Also drove by the Pentagon on the long way back – which doesn’t really look like much from the side.

The Pentagon, which B wanted to see. They had an enormous parking lot.
Imagine sitting in this for 1-2 hours each way. Gross!

We made our way back home, exhausted again.  This time, we ordered BBQ delivery from the Federalist Pig.  Pretty tasty!

We are not great at food photography – but you have to trust us, this was pretty yummy!

We settled in and watched National Treasure 2 for the night.  We are quickly running out of Washington DC themed movies that are kid appropriate.  Sarah always watches Bones, but we aren’t sure how accurate any of their representations of the area are.  Plus all the dead bodies are probably not kid appropriate.

Miles driven: maybe 10?
Number of WORDLE attempts:  Sarah with 5 and Noah with 4?  Cannot remember now

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