A common mistake for visitors to DC is to think there is only one Smithsonian museum. And while it is true there is only one Smithsonian, there are infact many, many museums.
Choosing which one(s) to visit can be a challenge.
As a prelude to our visit to the Kennedy Space Center, we settled on the Air and Space Museum.
I have been struggling to remember much of DC from when I lived here as a kid some, ahem, 30 or so years ago. I put it down to a lot of development.
But the Air and Space Museum I remember. I guess I really should as we went there nearly every second Sunday for about 3 years as it was my brother’s favourite place to visit.
When we walked in (well, after we got past security), it was like stepping back in time.
Sputnik, Gemini, Mercury, Apollo XI, freeze dried astronaut’s ice cream.
The memories came flooding back.
They still even show the same IMAX movie.
A few things had changed. I don’t remember one of the biggest McDonald’s I have ever seen. And there’s a great interactive exhibit teaching you all about flight, which was great fun.
After a full day of flying fun, there was just enough time for a quick look at the Hirshorn Sculpture Garden before heading down the Mall to the National Christmas Tree display out front of the White House.
My memories of visiting the trees at Christmas are of lots of trees, lots of people and lots of cold.
None of that has changed.
The trees weren’t quite as mesmerising as I remember but we still had a good time, taking in the atmosphere, checking out the decorations on all of the state trees and watching the model trains.
There are a few secrets to successful travelling with a toddler.
Mostly, they revolve around sufficient sleep and lots of stops to fuel up.
But finding the right sort of fuel on the road is not so easy when you are travelling with an independent minded little one (some would say fussy) whose tastes change from day to day (and sometimes, it seems, from hour to hour).
Fortunately for us, Panda loves cupcakes.
Doubly fortunately for us, so do Americans. So, although they may not be the healthiest of fuel, we have embarked on the USA tour of cupcakes.
So far we’ve had red velvet at Magnolia Bakery, salted caramel at Cupcake Land, Brookylyn, Holiday lava fudge at Georgetown Cupcakes, and good old chocolate and vanilla at the Sculpture Garden Cafe.
All have been yummy. And all have satisfied our little travelling Panda.
After the distractions of yesterday, we hit the streets of DC early.
First stop, the White House, where preparations in the streets outside are well underway for the Inauguration.
Never ones to miss a merchandising opportunity (except when it comes to babycinos), you can buy from the official White House gift store commemorative Inauguration coffee mugs for both 20 or 21 January 2013, or pose for a cheesy (but cute) photo.
While I imagine this entrepreneurship increases sales, I shudder to think of the confusion and family disputes it will cause in years to come. Not knowing at the time what date it will actually happen (subsequently confirmed for 21 January) we happily passed on the opportunity to spend $25 on a bet we had an equal change of losing (although we briefly debated the novelty value of having a mug with the wrong date).
Next up, a walk down Constitution Ave, to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Indpendence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The FBI Building, and a glimpse of the Capitol.
Kelly had done a great job of talking up her local Wholefoods store.
She has been singing its praises since her early days in DC.
It was the only thing she marked on the map for us when she was giving us an orientation and list of ‘must see’ attractions to visit.
And she was right.
It is awesome.
Fresh food from all over – mini potatoes of all shapes and sizes, pounds of super slim, super sweet asparagus, bunches of unblemished bananas, and piles of just ripe pears.
Spicy guacamole made fresh in the store while you wait.
Salmon wrapped in brown paper, just like on the Barefoot Contessa.
Mini tubs of Aussie style vanilla yoghurt, for a little boy missing some of his home comforts
A coffee stand at the front of the store, for a caffeine hit as you hit the aisles, or as we were to discover, as you wait for Officer Reid from the Second District to arrive following your ‘mugging’/pickpocketing/pigeon trapping.
I’m not sure who was more incredulous at the stupidity of me leaving my wallet in the top of Panda’s pram: Adam (no, he has given up being amazed at the stupid things I do), me (not so much incredulous as incredibly embarassed), or Officer Reid (“And, you were born when”? was clearly code for “and yet you continue to be so stupid/naive/gullible”).
But it all turned out OK. No one was hurt (except my pride). I had spent most of my cash. I had left 1/2 my credit cards and the passports back at the house. And, Kelly and I were scheduled to visit Kate Spade in the next few days.
Oh, and Mastercard was able to courier an ’emergency card’ overnight.
Being a toddler isn’t always easy, particularly when you are travelling in New York in the winter.
When it rains and it is cold, you don’t want to be pushed around outside in a stroller, even if the adults with you seem to think it is all part of the adventure.
The subway is noisy and smelly and pretty much unmanouverable, so your stroller keeps getting tipped this way and that (and it’s not your the luxury pram you are used to but some cheap, rubbish imitation).
Despite the best efforts of your mum and dad and “aunty” Kelly there is no such thing as a babycino in New York (althogh some of the less busy baristas seem to think it is a cool idea, I doubt it will catch on – Americans don’t do anything small, so while we get plenty of steamed milks – for free – all of them are in 12 oz cups, the smallest you can buy)
You have to travel with more luggage than 3 adults can humanly manhandle onto the Jetstar equivalent of a train.
But, there are some things about NYC that are awesome
Like, seeing yourself on a massive billboard in Times Square (can you spot us?)
And Red Cap men at Amtrak that help you manhandle all your luggage onto the late night train to DC.
Roaming around New York is like starring in your own movie or tv show.
Today’s adventures ranged from Law and Order (Prospect Park, where we felt we could come across a dead body loosely covered in fallen leaves at any turn), to Working Girl (the Staten Island Ferry), Wall Street (where even in these tight economic times, you could smell the money), and ended with Moonstruck, as we walked the famous Brooklyn Bridge.
I am sure it was the cute Panda that got us promoted to the front of the queue at grimaldi’s, the famous Brooklyn pizza place,. And after a long day sightseeing being promoted in the dinner queue was much, much more exciting than being promoted at a nightclub queure, like I used to hope for years ago.
The song says “let it snow” but for our first full day in Manhattan it was more like “let it rain”.
But our spirits were not to be dampened. We had things to do.
Radio City Music Hall for the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.
Unlike our last attempt at a “spectacular” (the horse extravaganza at Chamonix), this show truly was spectacular and entertaining (although, to be fair, the horses were entertaining. Just not in a good way). Radio city itself was impressive: opulent, glamorous and over the top. The Rockettes costumes were gorgeous. The dancing was great. And the sets were fabulous incorporating old world charm and the latest in modern technology.
And then, it was off to 42nd street for the real reason for the holiday. To see Kelly!
Lunch at Bryant Park whizzed by in a whirl of excitement as we gossiped, nattered and just enjoyed each other’s company as Panda and Adam took to the ice.
Next up was a walk up 5th Avenue past amazing window displays, beautiful Christmas decorations, fabulous architecture and iconic shops – Tiffany’s, FAO Schwartz, Sack’s. Battling holiday crowds added to the excitement.
Staying in Brooklyn seemed like a hipster thing to do.
Using VRBO to find an apartment seemed like the modern thing to do.
Using google to research the neighbourhood a bit more would have been the sensible thing to do.
We could have watched Everyone hates Chris rather than Sex in the City.
Had we done either of those things we would have learnt Bedford – Stuyvesant is not part of hipster Brooklyn, more like ‘the projects’ Brooklyn or ghetto Brooklyn.
Miranda definitely didn’t move to Bed-Sty when she relocated from Manhattan. But even so she couldn’t get a cab to take her home. And neither could we.
Fortunately, the locals seemed more startled to see us wandering their neighbourhood and speed shopping at the local mart than we were worried about them.
And despite protestations of ‘too dangerous’ from the cabbies, our intro to NYC has been great: a 3.4 mi walk to the good part of Brooklyn, terrible, but cheap coffee ($3.00 for two, including the tip) at a friendly, authentic, strangely beautiful diner (complete with pressed tin roof), awesome bagels with lox, cream cheese, onions and capers, and a Christmas tree stall on every corner.
Canberra to New York via Sydney and LA is not the world’s greatest flight.
It is long. It is boring. It is worse when the first leg is delayed by over an hour.
And when you are with a toddler, it is hard work. According to Adam, it is even harder being soaked in coffee after said toddler kicked the tray table and coffee went flying all over 66daddy.
But we survived.
And now we are in New York.
How good is that?
Trip preparations are well under in our household.
In just over 4 weeks Adam, Panda, and I are packing up and heading stateside for a 4 week holiday. I am in a constant state of swinging wildly between being excited and daunted.
I’ve given up reading websites with advice on how to travel with toddlers. They just scare me. I think it’s better just to focus on the fact that the flight over is only one day out of my life (well, nearly 30 hours total travel time, but who’s counting?), and the trip itself will be fantastic.
It wasn’t looking so good earlier this week as we watched Superstorm Sandy head for exactly where we will be holidaying – New York, Washington, and the Carolinas. But now that the storm has passed, we are hoping that things will be back to normal, as much as possible, and we will just be able to get on and have a great time.
I can’t wait to see the Christmas decorations in New York, to go skating with Adam at the Rockefeller Centre or in Central Park (we hope NY is put back together by the time we get there) and to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City.
I’m looking forward to Christmas in Charleston and New Year’s at Cape Canaveral (we had to go south in search of something approaching warmer weather given we will be missing summer here in Canberra, or at least some of it).
Most of all, I can’t wait to get to Washington for two weeks to catch up with my closest friend, re-visit places I remember from my childhood, and see what’s changed in the last 30 odd years or so.
And, even though it’s not looking so good, the whole trip will be topped off if the NHL lockout ends and we get to take Panda to see Alexander Ovechkin play with the Caps.