And They’re Off!

There’s nothing like kicking off a European trip by visiting America’s historical sites. That’s how we started this latest adventure. Our flights to Oslo were out of Philadelphia and it was cheaper to drive there than fly so we decided to make it a leisurely ride taking roads we’ve never driven.

MonticelloOne destination we have been meaning to visit is Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our interest was piqued after watching the excellent HBO mini-series called John Adams based on the book by David McCullough. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had the vision and the brilliance to build the foundation for the American government in the form of the Declaration of Independence. These Statesmen died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826.

Jefferson’s Roman neoclassic home is chock full of his innovations and evidence of his thirst for knowledge. After reconciling with the fact that he owned slaves and overcoming his alleged relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, you can see that this is one smart guy. This Founding Father spent his time studying the weather, inventing and was a voracious reader.

This step back in time will cost you $22 for a tour of the house and grounds ($17 from November – February). A bus takes you up the hill from the visitor’s center and parking area. We missed the twice daily Behind-The-Scenes Tour ($37). It combines the house and grounds tour with access to the 2nd floor to see some of the rest of the family’s bedrooms and the Dome Room. Oh well. The first floor was chock-full of interesting items that satisfied our curiosity. We happily strolled around the grounds and instead of taking the shuttle bus back, we walked downhill past the graveyard and through the woods to the visitor’s center and parking area. It was a pleasant, 15 minute, non-strenuous hike downhill.

The sights of Washington D.C. were beckoning so instead of spending the night in Philadelphia we decided to head to the nation’s capital. Since we didn’t need to check in for our flight until almost 6:00pm we had time to dabble in D.C. A former co-worker now has a big-shot job at Voice of America and graciously agreed to show us around. But that meant finding a reasonably priced hotel room.

I have to say that I love my iPhone. It has become an attachment to my arm. While it’s not the best phone I have ever had, it is by far the most useful. As we set off for our two and a half hour drive to the Washington area, I started looking for a place to rest our tired heads. It was the first time that I tried using the Priceline app and it took me a while to figure it out. It shows you recent winning bids. I didn’t immediately notice the little arrow on the right that you use to make the bid. Like I said, I was tired.

After going back and forth between the Hotels.com and Priceline apps I finally figured out how to place a Priceline bid. No success for any 3 or 4 star hotels in D.C. for $100 – $125. We were 40 miles out and still no room so I changed the location to Arlington and dropped the bid to $75. Jackpot! Our bid was accepted at the Arlington Hyatt, just across the river from the city. $75 was a good price for that 7th floor room. The walls were thin and the bed lumpy but when you are dead tired, it was fine.

Voice of America Washington DCThe next morning we got an insider’s tour of Voice of America. For people like Mike and me who have spent most of our adult years bouncing between media related jobs, this was very cool. It’s a grab bag of multicultural radio and TV networks with a myriad of programming. You don’t need to know someone who works at VOA to get a tour. There are two tours a day, Monday through Friday and they are free.

Our friend suggested that we go to the nearby National Museum of the American Indian for lunch at their Mitsitam Café. Here’s how the museum’s website describes it:

“Mitsitam” means “Let’s eat!” in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples. The museum’s Mitsitam Native Foods Café enhances the museum experience by providing visitors the opportunity to enjoy the indigenous cuisines of the Americas and to explore the history of Native foods. The Café features Native foods found throughout the Western Hemisphere, including the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and the Great Plains. Each of the five food stations depict regional lifeways related to cooking techniques, ingredients, and flavors found in both traditional and contemporary dishes. Selections include authentic Native foods such as traditional fry bread and corn totopos as well as contemporary items with a Native American twist—think buffalo burgers!

I had two soft tacos; one with chicken verde and the other was pulled pork with hot sauce, with sides of beans with chilies and braised red cabbage. Besides the tasteless red cabbage, everything else was yummy. Mike went for the chipotle chicken on Indian fry bread. He said his lunch was okay but doesn’t plan to order that again anytime soon. This lunch, including drinks didn’t come cheap. Our friend had warned us that it was a bit pricey and it lived up to expectations. Total tab for this cafeteria style lunch was $41.

To walk off lunch, we killed a bit more time by walking down the Mall to the Smithsonian Information Center, know as the castle. It holds information on all 17 of the D.C museums including a movie by Ben Stiller explaining it all. There was a huge exhibit of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s pin collection. Hundreds of them in every shape and size you can imagine. Who knew?

It was time to hit the road and head to Philadelphia for our flight. After an uneventful drive, we parked our car at Expresspark, an inexpensive off-site parking lot. I found it on Trip Advisor and chose it because it had thousands of positive reviews. They shuttle you to the airport and you call for pick up when you return – all for a little more than $6 a day. We changed clothes in the car. Because of our crazy itinerary and different weather conditions for each destination, we had the luxury of leaving a backpack of clean clothes and different shoes in the car for the second half of Jill & Mike’s Excellent Adventure.

Since we would be traveling on cheap airlines that charge for baggage we were determined to travel light and not check anything. That meant that our backpacks could not weigh any more than 10kg – about 22 pounds. We started the trip with bags weighing about 15 pounds (mine) and 10 pounds (Mike’s). That left room for any treasures we unearth on the other side of the planet.

We killed time with dinner at an airport restaurant called Cibo. My chicken marsala was good. Mike arugula salad came with a bucket of feta cheese. He asked for it on the side never expecting to get this giant portion. Weird. After dinner we took a walk through the mall that is PHL. Not tempted to add anything to our backpacks! Antsy to get going, we head to the gate to wait. Yippee! We’re going to Scandinavia!

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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