Facing A Fear At National Harbor

I’m afraid of heights. No. Scratch that. I’m terrified of heights. I’m good in planes but anything attached to the ground is a bad idea. Tall buildings, step ladders, Ferris wheels and anything more than about two feet tall is a bad idea. Just to be clear, it’s ALL a bad idea.

I do occasionally force myself to face this fear. I make myself climb lighthouses when I travel and there’s a particularly terrifying staircase where I sometimes hike. It feels good to face a fear occasionally and this one is both terrifying and inconvenient.

As we were headed toward Mount Vernon, Nichola gestured toward a Ferris wheel in the distance and said that she really wanted to ride it someday. She has a bucket list of Ferris wheels. She sounded kind of wistful and, in a fit of temporary insanity. I suggested that there’s no time like the present.

So we toured Mount Vernon, hiked and ended our day at National Harbor where we had dinner, shopped a bookstore (you know I would find a bookstore) and wandered around.

The Capitol Wheel at National Harbor is 180 feet tall with 42 climate controlled gondolas. It soars over the Potomac River and has breathtaking views.

Well, breathtaking views if you can get past the terror. Hahahaha… ahem.

My friend loved it and I was thrilled for her to check this off her list. I was fine as long as we were moving but really despised sitting still. It’s great learning new things about yourself. I had no idea that the movement would be acceptable as opposed to the stillness.

I was thrilled when it ended but also glad I went. My only other Ferris wheel experience was at Niagara Falls – equally terrifying but also a spectacular view.

Anyway, if this is your thing, because you enjoy it or because you’re trying to overcome a fear, it’s just $15 for a ride with a fabulous view. Get info here. There’s a ton to do in this area including shopping, food and some cool public art to see. There’s a Gaylord Hotel and the place has the buzz and excitement of the circus coming to town. It’s perfect for people watching too!

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

The love of my country will be the ruling influence of my conduct… George Washington

I got to touch George Washington’s handrail while climbing the stairs at his Virginia home Mount Vernon. George Washington walked these stairs and maybe touched this handrail himself.

To be fair, everyone on the tour did the same and you could too. In fact, people have probably been touching Washington’s handrail since the house became a tourist destination over 150 years ago.

Even knowing that it’s an option available to the masses, it still felt like a special experience. After all, when you go on historic home tours you are typically asked to refrain from touching or photographing anything. In fact, they would likely prefer you didn’t breathe in some of those houses if that were a reasonable request.

Yet Mount Vernon is incredibly accessible. Tours are small and non-flash photography is encouraged. They invite guests to sit a spell on the back porch – listen to how Appalachian I am! They call it a piazza.

While Washington is the quintessential founding father of our nation, it is women who have protected and preserved his home for the public to enjoy all these years after his death.

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association acquired the home in 1858. They bought it from Washington’s great-grand nephew and have since set the gold star for preservation, restoration and public accessibility for important historic homes.

A century later, those ladies caught wind that an oil tank farm was rumored for the banks of the Potomac River. This development would destroy the incredible view from the mansion’s piazza. Mrs. Frances Payne Bolton, Vice Regent for Ohio of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, purchased nearly 500 acres of that land which led her to organize one of the nation’s earliest land trusts.

President Kennedy would later sign into law the creation of the Piscataway National Park thus preserving this spectacular shoreline.

Restoration work is still constant and there is a great sense of care about the work being done here.

All walks of life tour this site every year. You hear lots of accents and other languages here. When my friend and I emerged from the path that leads from the visitor center to the home we were staring at the view made so famous by postcards, movies, textbooks and even commemorative plates.

We stood there absorbing the moment, each of us likely revisiting memories of what the house means to us. I was grateful to still have this place with its stately design and driveway lined with enormous old trees. It feels historic and it feels important.

This home, the estate and the man mean different things to different people. Washington is immortalized in a familiar portrait on our money and in a host of other ways. He was a smart man, always thinking and evolving, and not afraid to change his mind when new information became available.

There are many stories I could tell you from my visit here and some that I may circle back to another day. However, one thing that stands out in my memories is standing inside a building used for slave quarters. I believe it held bunk beds for ten. The space was sparse and depressing, fitting for a place that once held humans in bondage.

I cannot fathom what it was like to live here. I cannot imagine what it was like to be a wealthy white person whose livelihood and success, whose everyday life depended on the institution of slavery.

Everything they had, everything they hoped to be was possible because of the hundreds of enslaved souls who worked here throughout Washington’s life.

I read that Washington accepted slavery when he was a young man but began to question it after the Revolutionary War. He chose to keep his thoughts to himself for fear of dividing our young country. In his will, Washington ordered that his slaves be freed following his wife Martha’s death. I can’t help but wonder how things might be different had he expressed his views during his lifetime.

The tour here is exceptional. I appreciate that they tackle some tough issues factually and without apology while defining Washington’s place in our history.

If you go, there’s a great museum that I’ll tell you about another day. You can visit the final resting place of the President and First Lady while touring the grounds. There’s a cafe and a food truck and a fantastic gift shop with an amazing book section.

You could literally spend an entire day here if you wish and I wouldn’t blame you because it’s so well done.

A Long Weekend In D.C.

When it comes to adventuring, it’s always nice to have a partner in crime who has a similar temperament and interests. It’s helpful when they can expertly navigate their way through your destination when your destination is a place like Washington D.C.

I spent a long weekend in D.C . with my friend Nichola who has more oomph than the Energizer Bunny combined with a deep knowledge of the best things to see in the city. We had a fantastic time touring the monuments, museums and neighborhoods.

One of my favorite stops was George Washington’s Mount Vernon. It has been open to the public since before the Civil War and has been beautifully preserved. This dining room is magnificent.

We toured most of the monuments.

Looked at airplanes.

Enjoyed art – some old and extraordinary.

Some that I didn’t understand so well but that is visually striking.

We had the trains mostly to ourselves. The city was mostly empty this weekend and we were never once in a crowded train.

I faced a fear.

Admired beautiful skies.

We even stopped to smell a lot of flowers.

And looked for art in every nook and cranny.

I have not downloaded my camera pictures. In fact, I’m not even completely unpacked and return to work today. Yet, I have a ton of stories to share and am trying to figure out where to start. Look for many pictures and stories in the weeks to come.

All of D.C. feels like a monument to our nation’s past and future. Simply walking around felt like a privilege and some places felt so profoundly meaningful that it was difficult to process the weight of what it represents. Staring into the slave quarters at Mount Vernon was one of those moments. Staring at a wall of stars that represents the 405,399 souls lost in World War II was another.

All I can say is stay tuned. I’ll try to keep the stories interesting and show you lots of images to give them life. It was an incredible weekend and I’m grateful to my friend for making it fun.

Mercury Cruising

Saturday morning on the square was a great time to people watch in Mount Vernon. Better yet, it was a ripe time for watching classic cars. There were a bunch of them and it reminded me of the movie American Graffiti.

Here’s a snapshot of one beauty entering the square near the Grand Hotel while shoppers perused the farmers market. My pal Mike tells me it’s a 1954 Mercury Coupe. If only we all looked so good at the age of 67!