20 minutes: How long it takes to drive from my house to the border of Washington, DC, without traffic.
350: Number of days in the year I read the newspapers and dream of moving to Canada.
7: Number of days I spent on my staycation.
That’s right. My family and I opted to STAY at home for part of our vacation. Here. In the DC area. (Right about now you think I’m crazy. I don’t blame you.)
However, I viewed our staycation as a challenge: Fall in love with the DC area again.
And I don’t often back down from a challenge.
There were a few obstacles, though. For one, the heat. In the summer, the Washington, DC area usually feels like it has been dropped into the deepest pit of Dante’s Inferno. (Feel free to insert your own political joke here.) And our vacation was no exception.
In addition to the oppressive heat, I also had no desire to rehash the same old local tourism. I’ve done the Smithsonian Air & Space, Natural History and American History museums. I’ve seen the 4th of July fireworks extravaganza. You name the memorial, I’ve been there.
To fall in love again, I needed something different. I needed more than memorials and museums…So my family and I went searching for the unusual side of DC.
Marches and Waffles
Living near the DC area, marches are my new reality. We have giant markers at the ready and there are pink hats in our closets.
Since we decided to stay in town for vacation, we had to attend the latest march. Therefore, we chose to spend the first day of our vacation at the March to Keep Families Together. (Just writing that sounds so ridiculous. We need a march to tell people to just be good and moral? What is this world coming to… That’s for another day.)
Although it was uplifting to see so many caring, determined people, it was also hot. Like a desert plunged in a vat of boiling water hot. Like center of the earth hot. Like surface of the sun hot. (You get it, right? Really, really hot.)
So, after walking for blocks and running through a giant makeshift cooling station created by the hose of a DC Fire truck (#DCfirefightersrock!), we decided it was time to get waffles. It was the next logical step, obviously.
My daughter, Ella, has a waffle obsession and the march route happened to take us close-ish to a waffle restaurant she’s been pining over for months. It’s called Wicked Waffle. As an early celebration of her impending 13th birthday, we took a break from marching and decided to try it.
There we ate sandwiches made of waffles instead of bread and stuffed with all kinds of sweet and savory fillings. It was worth the marching detour.
Afterwards, we had lofty ambitions of visiting a folk festival. However, having spent the majority of the day sweating, we all silently agreed to trudge back to the car and the safety of air conditioning instead. (The whole time feeling super grateful we had that option.)
It may not be how most people spend their first day of vacation, but waffles with a side of #resistance makes for a fulfilling day.
Comic Book Villains
By day 3 of vacation, the heat had not broken. Thanks to several air quality warnings, going outside at all wasn’t really an option anyway. However, we worried we’d already exhausted our creative indoor activity ideas.
What else could we do?
Requirements: Something indoors with air conditioning that wasn’t boring…Think! Think!
The answer came via a text message from a friend. “Want to go to an Escape Room?”
I’d heard about these strange places where you opt to get locked into a room and have to solve puzzles to escape, but had never been. The concept both terrified and intrigued me. Also, if I’m being honest, failing to escape seemed like it would be a huge blow to my ego. And while I like to pretend I don’t have one, I do.
Still, it was indoors, different, and a challenge…I was in. Ella was too!
We decided on something called “The Joker” at Escape Room DC. It seemed the least scary. Not that I’m scared of being locked in a room…Not really…OK I am.
The Joker was the first Escape Room for our entire group, which included Ella, me and two of our friends. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I had certain expectations. I expected to kick the room’s butt and escape in record time thus proving my fierce girl power intelligence!
That didn’t quite happen.
After spending half an hour in the dark with flashlights trying to unchain ourselves from a chair via three different types of locks and puzzles, we all began to worry we many never escape the Escape Room.
And, sadly, we did not. Although we solved several more puzzles, I think I can say we didn’t come close to escaping, even with getting a few extra bonus minutes.
After being bested by the Joker (and a game), I expected to be angry. I wasn’t. I’ve never failed at something so badly and had so much fun! It was a great experience. I’d go again in a second!
Going Postal…In a Good Way
When a young girl dreams of her 13th birthday party she often dreams of going to the Postal Museum. Well, maybe not.
Ella probably didn’t. But we went anyway. (Remember, hot outside, bad air quality, no rehashing museums = limitations.)
Turns out, the Postal Museum was not as boring as it sounds. In fact, it was rather fun. Even if no one in my family will admit it!
We learned about rare stamps and Ella got to make her own. She created possibly the weirdest, most random stamp ever made. (That’s my girl.)
The exhibits had tons of interactive features and surprising details. There was an entire exhibit on the postal police who solve crimes. (Who knew?) We tossed packages into bins to “sort them” and “chased” an old postal train.
(Sure looks like Ella’s having fun, doesn’t it? Was her lukewarm reception to the museum sincere or is she just embracing her newfound teenagerness? I may never know.)
And, of course, we saw Owney, the stuffed postal dog. OK, that was kind of gross. But, like the entire museum, it was also odd, interesting and fun.
If you’re looking for an unusual museum experience or if you’ve done the rest of the Smithsonian museums to death, it’s actually pretty fun and it’s part of the Smithsonian set of museums so it’s free!
Styrofoam Caves and Waterless Pools
While the Postal Museum was deemed “okay,” the Fun House at the National Building Museum received far more accolades from my family. Probably because it deserved them!
(Travelers side note: If you’re visiting DC this is not part of the free Smithsonian museums. You have to pay, but it’s so worth it!)
Entering the crisp, white world felt as if we’d walked onto the pages of a fantasy novel.
A house with a hole punched entrance and ripped edges appeared fragile, like the world, but hid untold wonders inside. Table tennis! A toilet paper room! Styrofoam caves! Perspective bending structures!
And the pool. No, not a regular pool. It had no water. Instead, people jumped and floated in pearl-like balls, sinking down as if in slow moving quicksand. This was a fun house made for everyone.
And afterwards we went to two bookstores, Kramer Books and another branch of Politics & Prose at the Wharf, just to make an already great day better. I think we adequately made up for the 13th birthday Postal Museum fail.
Harry Potter and the National Symphony Orchestra
To finish out the week, we went to Wolf Trap, a DC area music venue with a lovely outdoor lawn. The weather had finally turned from scorching hot to just baking hot. And as the sun set and the breeze rose, we laid back on a blanket and listened to the National Symphony Orchestra play the score the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban while the movie played on the screen.
Much to Ella’s chagrin, I am not a huge Harry Potter fan. I have mad respect for J. K. Rowling and the entire series. It just never clicked with me. However, listening to the score live filled every scene with an extra dose of emotion. I found myself pulled into the movie and enjoying it more than I ever had before. It was a wonderful way to cap off the week. If you ever get a chance to do something like this, I highly recommend it.
So, did we succeed in our staycation efforts to keep it weird and different, while attempting to fall back in love with the DC area?
If the measure of a successful vacation were solely based on the number of books purchased (10+) and book stores visited (4 in all), I’d say yes. And, I think we genuinely had fun!