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Planning for a capital vacation

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer  1/21/13

Four years ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity (through the kindness of an old friend) to sit on the inaugural platform as Barack Obama was sworn in for his first term as President of the United States. Attending the inauguration of any president is both a terrific civics lesson and a great party. Watching the Mall fill up from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument, one mile in length, is a once in a lifetime sight. This year, I’m going to observe the festivities from the comfort of my living room but Washington, D.C., is still one of my favorites cities to visit, any time of year.

The benefit of visiting Washington, D.C., during the winter is that it is usually warmer than Michigan. Airfares are lower, as are hotel rates (except during inaugural week). Check into flights to Baltimore Washington International Airport, about 30 miles from the city. You can take a free shuttle to two different trains, either the regional line, MARC, or Amtrak. Both take you directly to Union Station, a bustling train and Metro station, filled with interesting shops and several restaurants. The U.S. Capitol is right across the street.

To tour our legislative seat of power, make arrangements with your local Congressperson or U.S. Senator. Make ticket requests at least four to six months ahead of your trip or likely nothing will be available. You can arrange White House tours (very limited), a seat in the visitor’s gallery of the House or the Senate (if they are in session), the Supreme Court and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing all on the website of your federal elected official. If you are in town on a Tuesday morning, you can attend “Good Morning Michigan,” hosted by Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Every major hotel chain has several hotels in the District at all prices. Pick your hotel on price and proximity to the subway system, known as the Metro. You can get cheaper rooms in nearby Virginia or Maryland but the travel time and flexibility of staying in town is worth the extra cost. I’ve stayed at every major hotel and don’t have a favorite. I do like some of the smaller hotels and inns. The Tabard Inn, with 40 rooms, has a great dining room and bar. The Swann House has 12 rooms in a lovely old mansion near Dupont Circle.

You don’t need a car as public transportation is excellent and taxicabs are plentiful. If you do drive, overnight parking at your hotel will add to your expense and parking in the city is tough.

Start your sightseeing at the Smithsonian Institution’s website ( The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum complex with 19 buildings and the National Zoo, all with free admission. There is a museum for every interest, with exhibits for all ages. Every museum also has a cafeteria. One of my favorites is the Mitsitam Café at the Native American Museum. The cafe features native foods from the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and the Great Plains. Try a buffalo burger or a chicken taco.

Two favorite restaurants include the Old Ebbitt Grill, a dining institution established in 1856 across from the Treasury Department, famous for their chili and crab cakes. For innovative and delicious Italian and Mediterranean dishes, try the much newer Siroc restaurant on 15th street with pastas, salads and entrées. If you can’t choose between the incredible pasta dishes, ask for half and half.

You can’t leave the city without touring a few of the national monuments, whether it is the Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials or the newest one, the Martin Luther King Jr. monument. A driving tour at night is my favorite way to take in several illuminated monuments and the grandeur of the tidal basin.

I’m sure you’ll agree that one visit won’t be enough to our monumental nation’s capital.

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