Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas in DC

Christmas at the Capitol
US Capitol Christmas Tree
Christmas is almost here! As I am writing this, Christmas is about two weeks away. One thing I love about big cities is that there are always lots of Christmas festivities. So far I have had two great Christmas weekends here in DC and plan on having another in NYC next week. 

Two weekends ago I was lucky enough to have my mom (you can see her blog here) in town and we had a great weekend together. 

Saturday we went to Middleburg, Virginia for their "Hunt" and Christmas parade. Middleburg is a nice little town about an hour outside of DC. We met my friend Samantha there and together we decided that Middleburg is very much a real life Stars Hollow (from Gilmore Girls). It is a small town of great people, shops, food, and traditions. 

The Middleburg Hunt
The Hunt is one of their great traditions.  It takes place in the morning and pays tribute to the rich fox hunting history in the area.  First the lead horses and the hounds come through followed by others on their horses in their full fox hunting regalia. 

We also got a special Christmas treat, we got to tour the White House and see all of the Christmas decorations!! 

This was really unexpected. Typically you have to schedule a tour of the White House through your senator or congressman's office at least a month in advance and even then there is no guarantee that you will get it because of the White House's rigorous schedule. But lucky for us, my office received an email about last minute tour openings the week before my mom came! We applied and were accepted!

 My mom was especially excited about this because she watches the White House Christmas Special on HGTV every year and this year she got to see it all for herself! The White House Gingerbread House is always one of our favorite parts of the show. 

White House Gingerbread House
This is the best photo of us but our confirmation email said that we could not bring cameras or bags on the tour. Being the rule followers we are, we didn't bring a camera other than the ones on our phones. As it turns out it was some type of special tour day and you could bring cameras. Luckily we were able to get some photos on our phones. They may not be the best quality but at least we have them!

This past weekend was my second Christmas weekend. Timing has definitely been on my side lately (knock on wood) and one of my best friends since middle school was in Maryland with her work and came to visit me for the weekend. We had a great time catching up and got to do some DC Christmas activities along with my friend Samantha. 

Ice Skating on the National Mall

It was quite a marathon of a day but it was totally worth it. After visiting a museum and doing some exploring we went ice skating at the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall. I don't know how many times in life I will get to go ice skating in front of the National Archives which holds some of the greatest documents of our country so I had to take advantage while the weather was warm. 

 We also went to see Zoolights at the National Zoo! Although I think we were the only ones there over the age of 20 without kids we still had a great time! 

Christmas Lights at the National Zoo

Christmas Lights at the National Zoo

 Finally we wrapped up the evening with a trip to the White House to see the National Christmas tree! 

White House Christmas Tree

Although both weekends were packed full and a little tiring, they were both a great way to wind down my time here in DC. 
But no worries, I leave Saturday but still have several DC blog posts that I have not been able to post yet that I will post after I return to SC. 

Oh and one more thing...


I gave my mom a very special gift this year that you can give too! My mom is a former teacher (still one at heart) and education is very close to her heart so this year, in her honor, I gave the gift of education to girls in Pakistan and you can too by clicking here! Every dollar counts and every dollar helps! To learn more, visit my friend Caroline's blog here. She is working in Pakistan and doing some pretty incredible things there. Now, go do something awesome!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Monuments at Night

Sorry I haven't been able to post as frequently as before, things have been a little hectic. However I did want to tell you about one of my favorite things I've done here in DC and it is definitely a must for everyone who comes here, the monuments at night tour. 
Washington Monument at Dusk
Washington Monument at Sunset
I did my tour with Bike and Roll which does bike and segway tours as well as bike rentals in DC and other big cities around the country. I did my tour with them mainly because I like to bike but there are also other companies that do monument tours and other DC sites if that is what you prefer. Or you may not even want to pay for a tour if you just want to see and take pictures of the monuments and if that is the case you can just walk (or bike) around on your own. 

Personally, I am a trivia and history junky so I (usually) like guided tours to learn interesting facts, some of which I will share with you on my blog and, although there are lots of people at the monuments and security,  I thought it would be safer to go with a group of people. However, you may think this is a waste of money for something you can find on wikipedia and I would still encourage you to at least see all the monuments at night sans the tour group.

World War II Memorial
Lincoln Memorial and the WWII Memorial at Sunset

If you are worried about the bike ride being too long, especially if you do not bike frequently, I would not worry about it too much. They have arranged the tour in a very "rider friendly" way. You bike to each of the sites, stop and listen to the tour guide give facts and other info about the monument, take pictures for a few minutes, and then finally ride to the next site. It is also a very easy riding pace. 

A few tips for your tour: 
1. When booking ask for a discount. Most tour companies give a $5-$10 discount if you say you saw their brochure or their ad in the DC visitor's guide, both of which are available at hotels. Even if you aren't staying at a local hotel you can go in and browse their brochures. Also, if it is a bike tour you can get a discount for bringing your own bike. Unfortunately they would not let me use both the bike discount and the visitor's guide discount. 

Me and my bike at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial 

2. Make sure your camera battery is charged. I thought that mine was charged from the weekend before but my camera, even if turned off, loses charge when it isn't being used. I did get some shots on it but not as many as I would have liked. Thankfully, iPhone cameras aren't half bad. Not great, but not bad either. 

Reflecting Pool at Night
One of the last photos I took before my camera completely died
3. Check your tour time and how long the tour is and if necessary make sure you eat dinner before hand. My tour was about three hours and because I am typically a late dinner eater and therefore did not eat dinner beforehand my stomach was growling so loudly by the time we got to Thomas Jefferson that even he felt bad for me. 

Below is a map of the sites we visited (the map is from google images and then I edited it with the Skitch app for iPad/iPhone which is really awesome!). 


We started at Bike and Roll at the Old Post Office Pavilion right by the Federal Triangle Metro station.  From there we biked on the National Mall to the following:

1. The Washington Monument

2. The White House

3. The World War II Memorial

WWII Memorial

 4. Vietnam Memorial (the wall and the names on the wall are kind of hard to photo at night/didn't show up at all)

 5. Lincoln Memorial 

6. Korean War Memorial 

7. Martin Luther King, JR Memorial

MLK Memorial

8. Franklin Roosevelt Memorial 

9. Thomas Jefferson Memorial 

After this we rode back to Bike and Roll via the Mall and saw the Capitol Building. 

US Capitol at Night

Here are some more of my favorite photos from the night. I plan on writing more later about each of the monuments but that's all for now! 

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

Washington Monument
WWII Memorial and Washington Monument 

Korean War Memorial