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Published: October 8th 2012
Washington, D. C.
Standing on the steps of the Library of Congress
D.C. AND VERMONT 2012
When son Bill, Shirley, Will, and Henry embarked on a two-year tour across America in a 42-foot fifth-wheel travel trailer about six months ago, we planned to meet up with them when they arrived in the New England states during fall foliage season. We added a three-day stopover in Washington, D.C. so we could finish the sightseeing for which we didn’t have time during our previous trip to our nation’s capital a few years ago.
Monday, Sept. 24, 2012
We arrived at Washington National Airport in the late afternoon and took the Metro to Union Station, from where we taxied to the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, located only two blocks from our nation’s capitol. After a light supper, we enjoyed the amenities of the hotel and watched Dancing with the Stars on television before turning in.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Although this was our third trip to Washington, D.C., neither of us had ever toured the White House. For awhile after 9/11, no tours were given, and then a few years later, tours were only given to groups of twenty or more, which we were never a part of. Then
President Obama opened up the White House to individual visitors with passes obtained through the offices of their senators and representatives. We had requested tour passes several months in advance and had sent in our formal request along with personal information for background security checks, but it wasn’t until a week or so before departure that we actually learned we had been approved for a tour on this date at 11:10 a.m.
Security on the White House grounds, of course, was strict. Along with our tour pass, we had been given a list of items that were prohibited—cameras, purses, bottled water, lotions, make-up, hair brushes or combs, pens, pencils, food, etc.—so we entered the succession of three security checkpoints with just our wallets, passports, and tour passes. The secret service personnel were pleasant and quite efficient, so the line moved rapidly, and soon we were inside the most famous residence in the country!
The tour was self-guided with secret service agents in each room to explain its history, art, furnishings, and use. We entered on the ground level through the East Garden Room, which serves as a connector between the residence and the East Wing. The adjacent China
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
The bureau prints $907 million each day!
Room contained displays of the White House china and crystal used by the previous First Families. Next was the Vermeil Room, a sitting room containing large collections of silver pieces, followed by the official White House Library, containing 2,700 works of American life. It is often used for television interviews of the President. The ground floor Corridor is surrounded on all sides by portraits of First Ladies and leads to the the largest room in the White House, the East Room, where large gatherings such as press conferences, receptions, and weddings (five First Daughters have been married here) are held. Opening to the East Room, the Cross Hall holds the special significance of being the lengthy walkway the President takes from the Blue Room to the East Room when he holds a news conference, for example, when he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. The most striking element of the adjacent Red Room is, of course, its vibrant red color scheme. Presidents often use it as their private parlor to receive friends and official callers. The Blue Room is the oval-shaped, formal, official reception room, and the Green Room (a beautiful muted shade of fern green) is used as
Bill wrangled passes into the Senate chamber in the Capitol, and a nice guard took a photo of us.
a tea room by many First Ladies. The elegantly decorated State Dining Room was next on the tour and is large enough to hold tables for 140 guests. The final room on the tour, the Grand Foyer, overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue and leads to the North Portico, where we exited. The tour was incredibly informative, stunningly beautiful, and I highly recommend it. After all, it is, as President Obama says, “the people’s house.”
After a tasty lunch at the West Wing Café near the Hyatt, we headed out to the Library of Congress for a 1:45 p.m. tour that I had reserved online well in advance of our trip. The Library of Congress is artistically beautiful inside and is the largest library in existence. Its collection of over 200 million items fills over 850 miles of bookshelves. Among its contents: the $5 Confederate
bill that Abraham Lincoln had in his pocket the night he died; the oldest Koran in existence (over 1,000 years old); the first map drawn in America (Connecticut was one of the largest colonies, stretching from what is now Illinois to the east coast); the first map drawn in Europe to label “America”; a Gutenberg Bible (first
Red Room of the White House
Fascinating tour of eleven rooms of the White House
book ever printed), and one of the last Bibles that was handwritten in Latin.
The tour of the Library of Congress lasted about an hour, after which we walked across the street to the Supreme Court Building. Since the court was not in session, we were allowed to go into the courtroom itself, take a seat across from the long bench where the nine justices sit, and listen to a 25-minute educational lecture.
We concluded our busy day with an hour in the National Gallery of Art. Bill enjoyed the tranquil ambience of the West Garden Court while reading his novel, as I perused the galleries in the West building, a treasure chest of European art from the 13th
to the 20th
centuries and American art from the 18th
to the early 20th
Dinner at the West Wing Café, adjacent to our hotel, completed an exhausting but memorable day.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Tours of the National Archives, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Capitol were on tap for today. We arrived at the National Archives well before our 9:45 guided tour, so while Bill read a book on its steps, I ventured across the
National Gallery of Art
street to view the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art until our tour commenced.
The journey through the National Archives began in the rotunda on the main floor, where we viewed and learned about America’s most treasured documents: The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the 1297 Magna Carta. A journey “into the stacks,” or the public vaults, revealed some of the most fascinating documents, photographs, and films of American history.
One of the items on display that I found most incredible was a letter from a 12-year-old Fidel Castro to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. He apologized for his lack of English skills but surmised that the President probably wasn’t very fluent in Spanish either. He then cheekily asked FDR to send him an American $10 bill. Castro said that he had a collection of American money but needed a $10 bill to complete it. He then finishes the letter by offering to reveal the whereabouts of Cuba's largest iron mines for FDR to use in building American ships! We also saw Lincoln’s telegrams to his generals, the Articles of Confederation, a Gettysburg battlefield map, the Declaration of War on Japan
Quechee Gorge, VT
The locals call it Vermont's Grand Canyon, 162 feet deep
after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even the canceled check from the purchase of Alaska.
An advantage to obtaining tour passes in advance is avoiding lines. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing did not offer tickets in advance, so there was a line and a wait of about an hour, but well worth it. We saw tens of millions of dollars during the 40-minute tour, during which we observed from a glass-enclosed balcony, the various steps of currency production, beginning with large, blank sheets of paper and ending with wallet-ready bills. It’s the place to be if you enjoy being surrounded by money!
We had tickets for a tour of the U.S. Capitol for 3:20 p.m., so we quickly taxied to the most widely recognized symbol of democratic government in the world. The Capitol is where Congress meets to write the laws of this nation and where presidents are inaugurated and deliver their State of the Union messages. Its ceilings are richly decorated with historic images, and its halls are lined with statues and paintings representing great events and people from our nation’s history.
After the comprehensive one-hour tour, we were told by the guide that
Will and Henry proudly display the 70+ badges they have earned so far.
those who had obtained Gallery passes from their representative could now proceed to the Senate and House chambers. We didn’t have passes, but this didn’t stop Bill, who approached one of the security guards and asked if we could go in anyway. He firmly denied Bill’s request but offered to try to find some extra passes. In less than a minute, the guard re-appeared with two passes for us to the House chamber! We had to surrender all purses, bags, cameras, and cell phones before entering the place where 435 representatives conduct legislative business.
It was now closing time, but we decided to push our luck and try to visit the Senate chamber as well. After hurrying down several corridors and a flight of stairs, we obtained a pass from the Senate secretary on the ground floor. Re-tracing our steps to the Senate chamber despite the fact that the Capitol was closing, a really nice guard ushered us to the gallery of the Senate chamber and to the room where Senate news conferences are held. He even took photos of us at the Senators’ lecturn!
It was a packed afternoon, but it was a marvelous ending to two
Covered bridge, VT
This is one of the many covered bridges damaged by Hurricane Irene
full days of experiencing where our government works!
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Today we bid good-bye to D.C. and continued to Vermont. We took the Metro to the airport, changed terminals and planes in Newark, and spent a lovely hour in the United Club visiting with Cliff Goulet, an actor and first cousin of Robert Goulet. He had been riding in the elevator with us, when Bill asked him if he was an actor because he looked familiar. He told us that he had been in over 200 episodes of Law and Order as well as Guiding Light
, a daytime serial.
As we were on our approach into Burlington, Vermont, the view out of the airplane window was, as far as I could see, a carpet of red and orange and golden-treed hills. Son Bill picked us up at Burlington Airport at about 4:30 p.m., and we drove 90 miles to Quechee, Vermont, where they were camped at a scenic KOA and where we had reservations at the Quechee Inn. It was already dark, so we would have to wait until morning to enjoy the scenic hills and colorful trees that surrounded the campground and our hotel.
Ben and Jerry's
Some of the most fun you can hve on a guided tour is at Ben and Jerry's factory.
Friday, September 28, 2012
We awakened in our comfortable room in the Quechee Inn, opened the drapes, and were treated to a stunning view of trees in the peak of their foliage: huge sugar maples with bright orange foliage and bright red maples. An ample hot breakfast, another unexpected treat, was served in the dining room, where we waited for Shirley and the boys to pick us up for some sightseeing in the area. Bill was staying at the RV this morning to do some work. Our first stop on this crisp morning was the nearby Quechee Gorge on the Ottauquechee River. This 165-foot, spectacular river gorge is called Vermont’s Grand Canyon by locals.
After a stop to photograph a covered bridge, we traveled for about five miles on a scenic, bumpy, often one-lane, Vermont country road until we reached delightful Sugarbush Farm. After petting the grand Belgian draft horses, we visited the cheese workroom, where we watched the workers slice huge slabs of cheese into blocks and wrap them. We then were able to sample as many of the fourteen types of cheeses made at the farm as we wished, followed by samples of the four
grades of pure Vermont maple syrup they made.
A short walk with an impressive view of surrounding hills and colorful maple forests took us to the sugarhouse, where we learned how maple trees are tapped in the spring, how maple sugar is made, and the differences in the grades.
Shirley prepared a delicious shrimp salad for lunch, after which we all hopped into the truck for a scenic drive to Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Woodstock, VT, where Will and Henry earned their 71st Junior Ranger badge! They have been visiting as many national parks as possible on their cross-country tour of America, and the boys look very impressive wearing all of their medals on their Ranger vests. The park superintendent was so impressed that he wanted photos taken with them to put in the park newsletter.
The historic site is Vermont’s first national park and focuses on conservation history and land stewardship in America. The name honors the three owners of the property: Frederick Billings, who established a managed forest after sheep farming had destroyed most of Vermont’s forests; George Marsh, one of the world’s first global environmental thinkers and author of Man and
Nature; and conservationists Laurence and Mary Rockefeller, who transferred the property to the federal government for sustainable forest management in 1992. We took a guided tour of their 19th
century home, which includes an impressive collection of landscape paintings that the Rockefellers collected and exquisitely carved wood flooring, ceilings, and paneling throughout.
Our short drive into the village of Woodstock, which has been named “the quintessential New England village,” took us across the Middle Covered Bridge with its town-lattice design and span of 125 feet over the Ottauquechee River.
Dinner followed at Bentley’s in Woodstock in its warm, eclectic atmosphere filled with Victorian sofas, oriental rugs, and antique lamps. After dinner, we strolled the streets and shopped at Gillingham & Sons, a classic Vermont general store established in 1886. Its inventory ranges from groceries to such arcane household items as wooden wheelbarrows, washboards, and soapstone griddles.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
A road trip north was the goal of the day, so we headed toward the famous skiing area around Stowe, VT. Just before arriving at Stowe, however, we stopped for a truly enjoyable experience. Nestled in the heart of the Green Mountains on a rolling hill
is one of the most fun places in Vermont: the Ben and Jerry Ice Cream Factory! The guided tour to learn about the ice cream manufacturing process from cow to cone began with a moo-vie, followed by a view of the production line from a glassed-in mezzanine. A generous sample of a new flavor concluded the entertaining tour.
The Rotary Club Oktoberfest highlighted our experience in Stowe. Two well-known German bands played while everyone ate bratwursts, sauerkraut, German potato salad, and drank beer!
Later, we strolled the quaint shops of Stowe and took a drive up a nearby mountain from where we marveled at the glorious fall colors, which seemed the brightest we had seen thus far. We also found a covered bridge to photograph!
We returned to the KOA in the late afternoon, and for dinner, son Bill made lasagna in a Dutch oven over a fire. Shirley added some delicious vegetables and her scrumptious brownies to make it a perfect meal. After dinner, we all played “Bill Burch bingo”, with Henry being the big winner.
When we returned to our room at the Quechee Inn and turned on the television, we were pleasantly surprised
to see coverage of the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Big 12 football game! We watched UT beat OSU 42-36! Hook ‘em, Horns!
Sunday, September 30, 2012
After 9 a.m. mass at St. Denis Catholic Church in Hanover, NH near Dartmouth College, we lunched at Murphy’s on the Green across from the Dartmouth campus. Dress code was “polished casual,” or, as I defined it, “preppy.”
The boys earned another Junior Ranger badge at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH, where we stepped into the world of one of America’s greatest artists, as we discovered the home, studios, and gardens of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, perhaps America’s foremost sculptor. We saw over 100 of his artworks in the galleries and on the grounds, from heroic public monuments to expressive portrait reliefs, and the gold coins that he designed.
After pausing for photos at a couple of covered bridges, we traveled back to the KOA, where we spent a lovely quiet evening watching Sunday football on TV and ordering in pizza.
Monday, October 1, 2012----Bill’s 75th
The weather was fresh and crisp and the sun was out, so Bill and I
sat outside the RV all morning, enjoying the colorful trees, watching other campers come and go, and reading our books while son Bill did some work on his computer.
After a delicious lunch of the leftover lasagna, we all returned to Woodstock in the afternoon and enjoyed its charming Americana, including the village green surrounded by restored Georgian, Federal style, and Greek Revival homes.
Our dinner celebration of Bill’s 75th
birthday took place in the old-world atmosphere of Richardson’s Tavern in the Woodstock Inn & Resort, located on the village green. Bill entertained all of us during dinner with stories about his life, decade by decade. The food was delicious, and, determined not to leave Vermont before dining on some New England clam chowder, I took the opportunity to enjoy a delicious “crock” of it!
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
After another delicious breakfast at the Quechee Inn, we all headed north, toward the airport, with the peak of fall foliage surrounding us, stopping in Montpelier to tour the state capitol building, a Greek revival structure originally built in 1858. Set against a colorful, wooded hillside, the building and its distinctive gold leaf dome are easily visible while approaching Montpelier, the smallest city to serve as capital of a U.S. state. It is one of the most picturesque statehouses in the country, and the interior architecture, furnishings, and decorative arts reflect a stately past.
We lunched quickly at a Chili’s Restaurant near the Burlington Airport before Bill and Shirley and the boys dropped us off at the airport. Inside, we discovered that our United flight to Houston via Newark had been canceled and we were being re-routed through Cleveland with a four-hour delay, arriving in Houston around 11 p.m. We were given $40 in food vouchers for our inconvenience. The Vermont-apple crisp with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream made the wait quite bearable for us! The Vermont-brewed beer was good, too.
Our sweet dog, Lady, met us excitedly as we arrived home around midnight.
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