Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DC on the cheap

If your budget is being stretched, consider these free or cheap options in Washington DC!

- The Kennedy Center has free performances on the Millenium Stage at 6pm daily. Go along and see anything from the National Symphony Orchestra to poetry slams.

-Have a look at the National Museum of the American Indian, a fascinating tribute to the original culture of the American Continent, with storytelling and dance festivals on often.

-If you are 35 and under, get $10 tickets to some productions by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Allotments of low-price tickets is released Tuesday mornings during show season.

-Go to the Smithsonian, the world's largest museum and research complex. This is free, including t6he National Zoo.

-Be at one with nature and see the stars at Rock Creek Park and Planetarium

-Use the Metrorail to get around- Day Passes are just $8.30 and it goes all over.

-Kids love Friendship Park, with it's huge toy-filled sandbox.

-Pay tribute to the greats of the nation at Arlington Cemetery, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall and many other places of reflection.

-Eat cheap at Ben's Chili Bowl (chili half smoke for $5.20), Julia's Empanadas (Empanadas for less than $5) or Chinatown Express (noodles for under $5)

-Be inspired at Freedom Plaza, across from the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr wrote his famous speech.

-Pay just a small donation for a Docent-led tour at one of the many museums and cultural centres. Check websites for details.

These are just a few of the free and cheap thngs on offer in Washington- do some exploring to find the rest. Also free and good exercise is a good old-fashioned exploratory stroll, and DC will not disappoint, with museums, historical sites and great restaurants around every corner.

by Amanda Flickr Creative Commons

Freedom Plaza
by Rod Pongsajapan Flickr Creative Commons

Washington to Charlottesville

From DC to Charlottesville can be a 3hr drive, so if you are planning the trip in your RV, consider spending a night in Charlottesville before making your way back. The I95S and VA-20 will take you between the two cities, and there are some beautiful spots to stop at along the way.

On the way out of the city, have a stop at Mount Vernon, the Estate that was home to George and Martha Washington. It has been restored to become the most popular historic estate in the country.

Mount Vernon
by David Baron Flickr Creative Commons

The Prince William Forest Park, not far south of Washington, is an oasis of natural beauty. It has 37 miles of hiking trails and 21 miles of bicycle-accessible trails, so be prepared to stop for a while! You can park your RV here too if you'd like to spend a night outside the city.

Prince William Forest Park
by TrailVoice Flickr Creative Commons

Fredericksburg is a quaint place along the road, with a historic main street that boasts many shops and restaurants. Also popular in Fredericksburg is the National Museum of the Pacific War, telling the lesser-known history of the part of World War 2 that was played out on the Pacific Ocean- very fascinating if you're a WWII buff! It is also home to several top-rated golf courses, a great theatre company and more historic sites.

After Fredericksburg, get on to VA-3 and then VA-20 (aka Constitution Highway), US15 and VA-231S. Along here there are several charming towns like Orange and Gordonville. Adrenaline junkies take note: there is a skydiving centre in Orange!

Charlottesville, or C'ville as it is affectionately known, is situated at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Previously home to two U.S Presidents, it has a reputation as one of the most livable cities in the country, and has been listed as such in the past by several organisations. The University of Virginia is in C'ville and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site- it was founded by Thomas Jefferson (one of the resident presidents) in 1825.

Blue Ridge Mountains
by David Wilson Flickr Creative Commons

University Rotunda
by Patrick Morrisey Flickr Creative Commons

As a bit of a student city, it has a strong cultural and arts scene with book, photography, African-American culture and chamber music festivals- to name a few! Find out what's on before you go. There are many galleries for year-round art as well.

What to do during your visit depends on what interests you- if you enjoy the arts, there are the aforementioned festivals and galleries, as well as music venues. Take a look around the UVA campus and it's stunning architecture. If you love the outdoors, take the short and steep Humpback Rocks hike up to a beautiful viewpoint in the mountains. If history is your thing, the University is again the place to be, along with Thomas Jefferson's house and grave at Monticello, and numerous other historical sites -just ask at the visitor's bureau downtown. No matter what your interest is, Charlottesville is a gorgeous and friendly city to be in.

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Day trip to Baltimore

If you are basing your RV holiday in DC, there are several places around the District Capital that are great to visit for the day and are within easy driving distance. One of them is Baltimore, on the Patapsco River in Chesapeake Bay.

I95 to Baltimore
by MPD01605 Flickr Creative Commons

Once out of Washington's suburbs and on the I95, you will pass numerous places where nature lovers might want to stretch their legs and enjoy the countryside- the stream valley greenways Little Paint Branch Park, the Rocky Gorge Reservoir and Rockburn Branch Park, all with trails for hiking or biking. At the Reservoir there are opportunities for fishing if you can find yourself a boat, or trail riding at an equestrian centre, and there are softball fields where games are often played at Rockburn.

Rocky Gorge Reservoir
by Flickr Creative Commons

A keen golfer? You may want to get off at Calverton and visit the Cross Creek Golf Club, a challenging Par 70 course which shows off the forested landscape. Halfway between the two cities is Laurel, a city with a well-maintained Historic District- be sure to check out the Montpelier Mansion and Cemetery, which operates as a house museum and has lovely grounds to wander in. A great place for a picnic lunch!

The city of Baltimore is centered around the inner harbour, and here you will find shops, restaurants and historic neighbourhoods. The city was settled in the early 17th century and named for Lord Baltimore of the Irish House of Lords, and became a trade hub of the mid-atlantic states, giving it a rich history. See the National Great Blacks in Wax museum, a museum of African American History in the US, the internationally renowned Walters Art Museum, the Port Discovery Children's Museum for the kids, and the Fort McHenry National Monument, the site where the continentals withstood a British Bombardment and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the U.S National Anthem.

Baltimore Inner Harbour
by ktylerconk Flickr Creative Commons

One of the major attractions in Baltimore is the National Aquarium, which was named in Coastal Living Magazine as the #1 aquarium in the U.S. It houses numerous exhibitions, including Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, a tropical rain forest, a multi-storey Atlantic Coral Reef and a shark tank. It's mission is to inspire people to enjoy, respect and protect the aquatic world, and it is certainly worth a visit, especially if you have kids with you.

National Aquarium
by John Menard Flickr Creative Commons

Little Italy is a fun part of the city to explore, a neighbourhood that truly gives a visitor a taste of the old country, with Italian restaurants, churches, and friendly narrow streets. Benvenuto!

Little Italy Bocce Ball Tournament
by Iburiedpaul Flickr Creative Commons

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

DC Tribute Trip

Washington D.C is the capital of the nation of the United States- so it is understandable that it holds many monuments and memorials to significant people and events. Here are some to visit if you would like to pay tribute to, and learn about, some of the important figures of American history.

Over on the Arlington side of the river lies the Arlington National Cemetery, where you can contemplate the graves of famous Americans from John F. Kennedy to champion boxer Joe Louis. Several military memorials are found here too, including the Air Force memorial on Columbia Pike, and the Pentagon Memorial near the Pentagon building, remembering the lives lost in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

 Arlington Cemetery
by Claire Flickr Creative Commons

Across the river there are more memorials scattered around the Tidal Basin. The Lincoln Memorial is an iconic US landmark, between the inspirational-sounding Constitution and Independence Avenues. Commemorating the 16th president of the US, it has an impressive columned building, pool, statue and park... a beautiful spot to visit. Circling the basin, you will come across the Franlin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the memorial for the leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Washington Monument. The Washington monument is an imposing obelisk, a memorial to the 1st US President George Washington, and the tallest structure in Washington D.C.

 Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument
by Ed Yourdon Flickr Creative Commons

Between the Washington monument and the Capitol buildings, on the National Mall, is the lesser-known DC war memorial, which commemorates the citizens of DC who fought and died in World War I, and the Ulysses S. Grant memorial- Grant was a military commander during the civil war (int he Union) and later became the 18th president.

So if you are seeing the city by RV, take a trip around to the monuments of Washington D.C. They tell a story of the people that shaped the country, and serve as reminders of sacrifice and dedication.