Our first glimpse of something we recognized, the Capitol! (Anya's photo)

We have been anticipating Washington for months on this trip (if not for most of our lives). Like us for most Americans, Washington is the focal point of any discussion about national topics, history or controversy. We have discussed our desire to visit Washington DC with acquaintances on ourBigtrip, and in turn it has developed quite a reputation for horrific traffic, crime ridden streets and spectacular tourist sights. Our expectation became that we would not be able to park at a Walmart or casually drive through town looking for an empty Kmart lot or abandoned shopping mall with ample secluded and safe overnight RV parking.

To be sure, we have been more intentional about planning for this city than any other. One park came up over and over as a recommended destination resort for any visiting RV’er: Cherry Hill Park. During our research, we scored Cherry Hill strong for proximity, but weak regarding price ($100+/night for our family of 9) and comfort (noise/facilities). We did locate a couple of parks that were the same distance from the city as the ‘great’ RV park, but are centered in heavily forested parks, and the one we selected was just $16 a night! Granted, it is dry camping, but has sewer and water on site, and is patrolled every hour or so by park rangers or staff. Greenbelt National Park is an entrance fee-free park, and surprisingly to us, is unknown to most locals when we described where we were staying. Only potential problem so far is the threat of ticks and chiggers- but they haven’t been worse than a Colorado spring for us. The campground is about 10-15% occupied.

There is ample room for our bus in D loop, and a wide variety of campers, from 2 man tents to 45’ buses- consider staying here when you visit! The metro station is a 5 minute drive, although for our family we decided that we would try and drive into the city since the best price option would run us about $75/day (unlimited passes for 9). Driving into DC is just fine, You will have to make some quick decisions and lane changes, patiently sit through 3 cycles of a traffic light even though you’re first in line to go and pay close attention to parking signs. So far, we have used all street parking, and have been quite happy paying $2/hr even if we have to ‘feed the meter’ every 2 hours. There is free on street 3 hr parking on the National Mall, on Franklin between 3rd and 4th (I think)- it’s at the Capitol end of the mall. Another inside secret most locals aren’t in on. We have yet to use the East Potomac Park all day free parking lot, but hear it’s also an option that fills early.

Washington is pretty well covered online as far as sightseeing tips go, as well as local activities. We headed for the annual embassy open house event after looking over the plethora of non-tourist activities (we would get plenty of those during the week). We got a late start, but were able to visit several stops on the Passport DC tour: Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and a couple others. Local flavors, clothes, art and music abound. This was also a good chance to evaluate driving in the city, and I didn’t find it any more threatening than other cities we’ve been in- but it was just the weekend.

The curb view of the First Baptist Church. Remarkably built just 50 some years ago, on the site of it's original building. The detail in the stained glass was dramatic.

Sunday morning we set out for the same part of the city we’d been in on Saturday to visit the First Baptist Church of Washington for worship at 11am. Strangely enough, we were early (not in our character) and had time to leisurely walk the neighborhood before going in. Like a scene out of Sesame Street, the historic homes and businesses and churches were architecturally mesmerizing. Mostly brick construction, entire city blocks seemed to be built of the same brick wall, with visual changes at the edge of each home of style and paint color over the face of the bricks. The door transoms were frequently carved stone, the windows elaborately decorated frames. Every third home had a pointed (not just peaked, but a conical point) with a decorative top of a cross or flourish in stone or metal; walkways were lined with cast iron railing, steps were of the same material in a few cases.  In others, the heavy stone (not poured concrete) steps and curved side rails were just like Maria would have sat upon while discussing the alphabet with Oscar during an afternoon Sesame Street episode. I almost expected Big Birds nest behind each fence we passed. It’s funny what you remember from childhood.

During the announcements in the church service, the Reverend called us to stand as he described our year-long cross country 'camping' trip, and said he looked forward to the social in the church parlour following the service to find out more about our family. Once there, we did meet some nice folks, and their kind gestures of welcome reminded us again of the ease and importance of making someone from outside feel welcome. How often are we ‘inside’ of a group or situation and able to bring comfort to a new person just by saying ‘Hi’? Do we always take time and energy to make that effort? No. Will we try more often to reach out? Yes.

Among others, we met Bubba and his wife Necia. They, too, stepped forward with smiles on their faces to say hello. They each had an interesting background to share, and were interested in our trip story. We ended up closing down the party with this couple, who were in town on business. They had some valuable tidbits about military flight training options that Trevor was most interested in, another example of what great folks are out there- and the topic of the trip allowed us this chance meeting. If we had been just another face in a new church we may have never had the discussion. Thanks to ourBigtrip for an excuse to chat.

Since we were nearby, we decided to drive by the National Mall and as luck would have it, some free parking spaces had opened up near the Air and Space building of the Smithsonian. 3 hours later, we were back at the van and back on the streets. Our next stop was in Georgetown at Old Glory BBQ, to meet a friend from Colorado we haven’t seen in years.

... for a few minutes, Meila was looking past the rail toward the lunar lander- then turned around and faced the crowd next tot eh tour guide. I was nervous she was going to start mimicking his arm gestures and speech- like she does sometimes to us. She kept herself under control.

Call it irresponsible that we haven’t seen Todd or his family for so long, even though they’re only 2 hours away. Time gets away from us for visiting when we’re at home and under the spell of kids schedules and real life, so we were quite pleased that Todd let us know he would be in DC when we were (thanks Facebook).

Todd and I met while lifeguarding at Chatifield reservoir in the Denver area during High School. We still look just like we did then (I believe), and Todd still dangled the same blackmail stories he always has over me (although I don’t remember what they are)… Todd moved on to try and describe his current life mission for the kids- who I couldn’t clearly answer when they asked 'what Todd did?' He enthusiastically reported about working on a new project with his company: a replacement for the space shuttle. [insert rocket scientist joke here] Todd is always funny and fun to visit with, and we were glad to have had the chance to take in dinner with him- although we really like his family and will make the effort to see them all together after getting home this summer.

Todd is the good looking ex-lifeguard in the center.

It hadn’t yet been a long enough day, so we stopped off at the Lincoln Monument after dinner, which appeared to have plenty of parking and was particularly dramatic in its night time glory of illumination. Wow. Our first real monument- and the size! The power! The strength! Standing before Abe Lincoln, almost reclining in his chair before the world, with his convenient view of the Washington Monument and Capitol was humbling. The kids were impressed and had been asking to see this monument since we arrived in the city. They enjoyed marching around the perimeter of the monument base, passing between the powerful floodlights and the stone walls as their shadows raced past them to the next pool of light over and over again.

President Lincoln looks almost human sitting casually in his chair that is too small for his tall stature. Awesome to finally be standing in this place.

It was a monumental day. We may have to stay here a while.