Washington, DC, March 2012

I thought I had DC figured out.  We would camp to save money, take public transportation to avoid parking, and go crazy in all those free museums.  Well.  We did camp, and we did go to museums.  We also got a fat speeding ticket from driving after a day wrestling with the bus/subway system.  There are probably travel guides I should have consulted prior to leaving for this trip.  Unfortunately, I travel like I cook, which is to say I eschew others’ advice, follow my whims and opt for adventure- rather than seeking experienced wisdom- with varied results.

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Our campsite at Cherry Hill Park and its climbing tree


I looked into and rejected the state park system.  Cunningham Falls State Park, for instance, looks lovely but is 75 minutes from DC.  That’s quite a commute to the Washington monument. Other state park options, while worthwhile destinations I’m sure, looked equidistant from our nation’s capital.  I looked into two private campgrounds based on proximity to our destination- Cherry Hill Park “The Closest Campground to Washington DC!” and Duncan’s Family Campground – and chose the former since it was a shorter drive for us from home and there were some worrisome comments on tripadvisor about the latter. This article came out two months after our trip and mentions a few other options that might be worth a look.

Cherry Hill Park was acceptable.  Its main drawback is its unfortunate adjacency to a major freeway.  It reminds me of Elwood Blues from the Blues Brothers and his railroad apartment – “how often do the trains go by?” “So often you won’t notice it”. I love that movie.

Hey, you sleaze, my bed!  Jake and Elwood in Elwood’s apartment next to the train.

So we slept with tractor-trailers going by all night.  On the plus side, the March weather was warm and we had no rain.  Also, there were very few occupants at the tent area so the kids could run around freely.  I think whatever you do, recognize that camping and urban travel are not an ideal pair, the camping is more expensive and less woodsy, and transportation will always be an issue. I do maintain, however, that even with the traffic ticket we probably saved money compared to staying in a hotel.  Or at least I tell myself that we did.


Cherry Hill Park boasts a bus stop on the 83 line.  We rode this bus to the subway and transferred once to get to the Mall. This took a little longer (over an hour) and cost more (six tickets adds up!  I think round trip it was close to $40) than I had hoped and we decided to drive the next day.  The park is about 14 miles from the city and driving takes an estimated 30 minutes, but there are always extra challenges like traffic, parking, and confusing streets.  I have a deep love of public transportation, and the DC Metro is clean and has beautifully designed stations but with our numbers and the energetic twins it really was nice to drive after giving the Metro a good try.


The museums

Mr. Fantastic and I are suckers for any type of museum.  Even before having kids, we would tromp around any palatial building or decrepit shack to view anything on display.  We had both been to the DC Mall separately as kids and went several times together before and after having Fiercely.  So we drag the kids to museums regularly, but DC of course is a paradise of museums.  And it can be overwhelming.  One limiting factor is time.  Most museums are open 10-5, which becomes restrictive when you factor in transportation and breaks for meals or rest, both crucial since you are walking long distances with ticking time bombs of need kids.  On the upside, you just can’t go wrong with these places.  Each museum is large, fascinating, welcoming, free, and has clean bathrooms.  We started at the US Botanic Garden with its glorious Conservatory bursting with lush vegetation from every continent.  This was a joy to walk through and the kids felt like they were exploring a jungle.  We saw cacao trees!

Botanic Garden

We also went to The Museum of the American Indian, which had excellent child-friendly interactive exhibits.  We found 2 museums a day to be enough. The second day we went to the old standbys the National Museum of American History and the Air and Space Museum.  Cleverly loved photographing the exhibit on the dresses of the First Ladies and we all loved climbing into the space shuttle and seeing the other aircraft at Air and Space.  In between we hung out on the lawn admiring the cherry trees.

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a first lady dress; Fiercely, Cleverly, Truly and me in front of a cherry tree; Poppa worn out on the lawn. 

We discussed going to the Spy museum which sounds way cool, but they charge for admission and you have to drive there.  Another Mall museum we did make it to was the Natural History Museum.  As a former Biology teacher and forever Bio-nerd, this was my favorite but the kids were not as impressed and it made for frustrating attempts at reading information at the exhibits.  Frankly, the kids outnumber us 2:1 so we try to take their opinions into account within reason.  I got outvoted and we went out on the Mall for a while.

The ticket and my attempt to get out of it

We didn’t find out about this until weeks later.  We were not stopped, rather we received a photo of our car and a citation for speeding on a day in March that corresponded with this trip.  What a dirty trick – these folks must have something to do with the spy museum, maybe we should have gone there. Or maybe we should have taken the damn Metro again.  As it turned out, we had to pay $150 to some faceless, unfeeling entity despite my best efforts.  I sent a letter to the DC traffic gods.  I described our all-American trip with our four children and worked the heterosexual middle class white family angle.  I sounded positively wholesome.  I emphasized how we tried to stay in budget (We camped for god sakes! We brought peanut butter sandwiches for lunch!!) and how we wanted to share our nation’s treasures with the younger generation.  I could hear the star-spangled banner in the background as I crafted my prose.  I enclosed a picture of the kids.  I used an American flag stamp. I crossed my fingers and hoped for at least a reduction in the fine, which seemed large, especially because Poppa remembered an unfair speed trap where we had probably been photographed. This letter-writing method got me out of a traffic ticket in Maryland once and I figured it was worth a try.  But readers, I am sad to say that time went by and I felt hopeful, but my hope was unfounded.  Maybe they debated our case but maybe the beaurocracy in DC moves slowly at every level.  Over a year went by.  Then one day we got an official-looking letter in the mail from the Washington, DC area.  It said nothing about my excellent letter or my adorable kids or our heartwarming patriotism.  What it did say is that we owed them $150.  We paid it and said at least we didn’t pay for an expensive hotel room.  Oh well.  I like to think our money went to those really great museums.


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