Sunday, July 06, 2008

Washington, D.C. days 5-6

On the morning of the 4th, we got up early and went to the Spy Museum. Mike had tried go by himself the day before, since I have been there once already, but the entrance times are staggered and it was too busy that day. So he got reservations for the morning. He also got tickets to a separate attraction called "Operation Spy", which I had never done before. It's an hour-long interactive thing where you team up with other people in your group and are given an actual spy case to solve. They give you a score at the end. Our team got a 3 out of 5. It's a pretty good experience. They've hired decent actors and paid a lot of attention to detail, so that the cheeseball factor is actually pretty low.

The Spy Museum is not a Federal museum, so they do charge admission. Around $20 if I remember correctly. I think our tickets with Op Spy were $25 each. I thought it was worth it. There's lots of good stuff in the Spy Museum...all kinds of tiny cameras and lockpick sets and James Bond kind of things.

We ate lunch at McCormick & Schmick across the street. Fresh, fresh seafood. Very good. I think I've eaten at this chain in Pasadena or Long Beach, but it did not compare at all.

Then we took the Metro to Old Town Alexandria. Where I live, we have lots of "Old Towns", which are just shopping malls. Someone had to explain to me that Old Town Alexandria is an actual old town. You get off the Metro at King Street and walk down toward the water. King Street has been commercialized, so you might not get the full "old town" effect until you walk down one of the other streets immediately adjacent to King Street. Here I am at City Hall.

The picture below is of Gadsby's Tavern, which has operated continously since the 1700s and included customers like George Washington. I didn't take any pictures inside, but it's really fantastic in its rustic colonial decor.

Here is the menu:

I like the dinner "pye". Incidentally, I learned at the Portrait Museum that Webster invented the concept of having a single spelling for words. Before Webster, everything was written phonetically and not considered to be misspelled when different variations of the the same word were used.

There's a visitor center at King and Fairfax. They were very nice and answered all of our questions. We were seeking "the little house" that my co-workers had told me to go see. I had not been able to find an address on the Internet, presumably because someone actually lives there. The visitor center told us where to find it.

So here is Mike with his arms stretched out in front of the little house.

The little house used to be an alley. And someone who owned the house next door, I guess, got tired of people parking their horses in his alley. So he built a front and back wall that effectively turned the alley into a little house. It is only 7 feet wide. They call it the Spite House since the owner built it out of spite.

These 2 houses are crooked, it's not just my picture-taking ability.

Most houses in the D.C. area are like this. All stuck together. Even the new houses are built in this style, with no space in between and really no lawns to speak of.

Some other tourists told us they were looking for a bar called Bilbo Baggins. One of the residents came out of his house and told us all where to find it. It sounded interesting, and I was way thirsty, so we went there. It's cute, not very hobbit-like, but good to get a drink and move on. We walked to the waterfront and looked at all the boats, then walked all the way back to the Metro, stopping at antique stores along the way.

As it came time for the fireworks, we made our way to the waterfront in D.C. One of my co-workers had invited us to view the fireworks show from his boat in the marina, and we thought this sounded like fun and would be a great way to avoid the huge D.C. crowds.

My camera has a fireworks setting, but it doesn't work very well, so I just took movies of the fireworks. It was neat to see such a broad view of the skyline, including the Washington Monument. From our vantage point, the fireworks were not over the monument like you see on TV, but somewhat to the left. No one was playing any patriotic music, but luckily, I had loaded a fireworks playlist onto my ipod, so I listened to that while the fireworks were going off. The show was kind of short, only 17 minutes, according to the newspaper. I don't know if that's normal or if that was due to some fireworks shortage that I'd heard about. Anyway, I think I'll take my home movies and try to set them to the playlist that I brought with me. I'll post it here if I'm successful.

The next day, we got up early again and went back to the marina. This time to catch a boat to Mount Vernon. What a great trip! After about an hour and a half on the Potomac River, you dock at Mount Vernon and they let you explore for about 3 hours before getting back to the boat for the return trip. Here is the boat at the dock.

From the dock, you can visit one of George's many farms, or go see his tomb. We started at the farm. There are lots of costumed docents available to answer any of your questions. Here is Mike on the old farm.

One of the things we enjoyed most is seeing the animals. They keep the same kinds of animals on the farm that George did. We saw steers and mules and sheep. Here is one that got out of his pen. He wouldn't let us get close enough to pet him, but we could pat the ones in their pens.

And here I am with a mule that is taller than me!

Mount Vernon has some amazing undisturbed lawns. I'm sure real estate developers just drool when they see lawns like this:

That's George's house back there. There was a ginormous line to get in to see the inside of the house. We decided not to do it. Instead, we went to the museum which is by the gift shops and restaurants. That turned out to be a really smart move. The stuff in the museum is actually the stuff that I would have expected to see inside the house: furniture, letters, jewelry, dishes. And no waiting at the museum, and it was air conditioned! (The house is not.) One of the docents told us later that it was better for us to see the museum rather than the house, if we had to choose. And she said you can take a virtual tour of the house online anyway.

She took this photo of us. We were on the other side of George's house (compared to the view above). The Potomac River is behind us. This is the view he would have seen from his porch.

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