brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world

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Day 6 – Lake Accotink Park and the Washington night tour.

Our last full day in DC started with a relaxed morning before we picked up our hire car and drove out to Lake Accotink in Virginia to meet our friend Lisa and her lovely family; after days in the city, it was great to get out into the open countryside. The boys played mini golf and Nick took them out on the lake in a pedal boat. It was decided that Alex needed to stay next to Nick but since his legs were too short to pedal, the older boys would have to do the work at the front, ensuring that they were worn out by they time they returned.

As evening approached Nick and I foolishly mistook the boys’ languor as an opportunity to see the sites of DC by night. Regular readers will know that I am not particularly keen on driving overseas and in all likelihood Nick will do most, if not all of the driving this year which leaves me the position of co-pilot/navigator/on-road photographer. Thankfully, the car we have hired has a satnav since the one we brought with us doesn’t seem to cope in areas with more than one tall building and doesn’t help with lane suggestions when the roads are wide, which has proved very useful. So, satnav programmed, we headed back into DC.

It turns out that rush hour in DC isn’t really the ideal time to go for a nice drive. Poor Nick was still getting used to which side the instruments were on and, though the windscreen wipers were automatic, it took until the following Friday to figure out how to speed them up. So there we were, ignoring the exasperated instructions of the satnav trying to get us directly back to the apartment, driving in circles, looking out for the many famous landmarks that were “around here somewhere,” cursing the one way streets and apologising to the other cars for the odd driving miscalculation. Armed with a long lens camera in my hand, it was clear to the irate motorists around us that we were from out of town. I must have taken dozens of photos before Nick pointed out to me that they might come out a bit better if I’d just wind the window down. Really though, it was very difficult to concentrate on the business of taking well composed pictures when every turn felt like a white knuckle ride and every manoeuvre had me apologising in that most self deprecating way that us Brits can’t help. By the time he suggested I use the zoom on the lens I was losing my sense of humour and praying for the whole thing to end but, no, we were going to drive past the White House at night even if it killed us and, more than once, I thought it might come to that.


There are not many roundabouts in Washington but we found one next to the Lincoln Memorial and circled it many times until the traffic lights allowed me to get the photograph Nick wanted.

This was the night of the latest super moon/lunar eclipse/blood moon/whatever you want to call it, which meant that this photo opportunity wasn’t likely to arise again for a ridiculously long time, like forever or even longer, and consequently there were lines of professional photographers with their tripods set up for the perfect shot of the moon over the Washington Monument. No pressure then.


We pulled up alongside a number of other opportunists in a no stopping zone, wound down the window, and at that moment Alex awoke earlier than he was ready to and immediately started sobbing loudly. As I tried to calm him, Nick pointed the camera in the right general direction and hoped for the best before speeding off again to the barking commands of the satnav. That’s right, by this time, he was doing the driving and taking the photographs.

Finally, we went for the money shot; the White House lit up at night in all its glory. Sadly there was no stopping on the road this time so it was down to me to do the business and I’m thrilled to report that I got it!  Taking our lives into our hands, this is it:

Wait for it…



I know; we should have stumped up for that bus tour!

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Day 5 – The bus tour that didn’t happen and the baseball match that did.

After 4 days of almost constant walking we decided that our feet needed a break and the kids could do with a lie in. I fancied a bus tour of the city on one of those open top style buses you see in London on a dry day but on further investigation we decided the £100+ cost of the tickets for the day and poor reviews on tripadvisor meant it probably wasn’t worth the bother. Instead, the boys relaxed with their electronics and Nick and I got some chores done. I sent Nick off in search of a laundromat and many hours later he returned, a little aggrieved that Google had let him down with locations of the first two, but with clean clothes nevertheless.  My experience at the grocery store was soo much better.

At the checkout I was asked for ID.

I know, I was confused at first too. Baffled,  I looked at the checkout guy for an explanation and realised that, because I was attempting to buy a bottle of wine, he wanted evidence that I am over 21. Trying not to laugh, but secretly over the moon, I handed him my driving licence and asked if he really thought there was any possibility that I looked under 25. Now he was confused. I watched him do the maths as he studied my UK driving licence and then, feeling pity, I whispered: “I’m almost 40!” We both laughed and I left the store feeling like the proverbial million dollars. When I mentioned it later to Nick (who, I might add, has never been asked for ID here) I think he muttered something about a new scheme to give the visually impaired more work experience but I couldn’t hear him properly because I think I’m going deaf…

As well as the sauvignon blanc, (almost as expensive, but worth every penny) what I did manage to buy, was this:IMG_2508
I’m all for trying the local cuisine but without a proper cup of tea… well, my dad will understand.

As he would say; it was like a small win on the lottery.

Chores all done, we caught the metro over to the Nationals’ new stadium to watch them beat the Phillies in the second of a three day series. I’d like to say it was an exciting, action-packed thriller of a game. I’d like to. The truth is though, that for the first 5 innings almost nothing happened at all. Batters came in, the pitcher threw the ball, the batters were caught or run out and the cycle repeats. By comparison, test match cricket seems pacey.

During the fourth inning, and breaking the  tedium nail biting tension, the President’s Race took place. Giant foam caricatures of six former presidents race around the field to the delight of the crowd. P1070837 P1070880

The winner on this occasion, with the help of his four-legged friend, was Teddy Roosevelt – hooray!

In the sixth innings the Nationals scored and the place erupted! Whitney Houston’s I wanna dance blasted out around the stadium and we all felt like world peace was just around the corner.

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Day 4 – The White House and surrounding monuments, aka “my feet hurt!”

By Day 4, his Holiness had had the good grace to move along to New York so that walking around the National Mall and White House surrounds was at last achievable. The barricades and portaloos were still in evidence but the checkpoints had been removed and we could move freely between the monuments without constant baggage checks.  I was determined to see the White House so we jumped on the metro and made our way, first to the White House Visitor Centre and then to the real thing. At the Visitor Centre you can see all sorts of impressive artefacts, gifts to previous presidents and an interactive scale model of the house itself. These days, celebrities and sports personalities aside, it is almost impossible for visitors from outside the United States to get a tour of the White House; despite the website’s assertion that tickets can be obtained through one’s embassy.

Nevertheless a walk by was on the agenda so after lunch we made our way, first to the North front, and then the South. What we hadn’t taken into account was that whilst President Obama was done with Pope Francis for the week, his attention was now focussed on President Xi Jinping and, with their respective wives over at the zoo naming the new panda, they were deep in discussions at the White House; P1070480P1070652which meant that outside the protests were as loud as they were large. At this point we were able to give the kids an unintended lesson in the meaning of the First Amendment.

Never had I imagined it would be so easy to explain the words “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” but there it was…


So, the obligatory photograph outside the White House with Alex covering his ears from the noise of the various groups of protesters and John still clutching a pamphlet from the New York Tibetans: A history lesson like no other.

From the White House we walked south west towards the Lincoln Memorial, stopping outside the National Academy of Sciences to admire the statue of Albert Einstein.  Visitors are encouraged to have their pictures taken here and to share them on social media ready for the NAS annual meeting next April where they will be shared in Einstein’s honour.

The boys were already familiar with the Lincoln Memorial, thanks to the Hollywood film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, so it was something of a disappointment to them when Lincoln did not stand up and stroll across the Reflecting Pool.  Undeterred, Teddy and Alex made their own entertainment.

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At the far end of the Reflecting Pool is the National World War II Memorial and then the Washington Monument. Looking north from the Washington Monument you can see the White House and looking south, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. By now it was threatening to rain and time to get indoors so we continued east to the Air and Space Museum for it’s final hour before closing and then caught the metro back to our apartment.

I have no idea how far we walked that day, nor how Alex managed, given the blisters on my feet, but we all slept well that night and the kids were promised a relaxed day to follow.


National WWII Memorial


Washington Monument

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Day 3 – The National Zoo

If you Google “Washington with kids” one attraction that will invariably come at the top of the recommended list is the National Zoological Park – part of the Smithsonian Institution; this is another world class attraction that is free of charge. Whilst there are over 400 different species here, the Giant Pandas are the biggest draw and just a few weeks ago on August 22nd the zoo made international headlines when Mei Xiang gave birth to twins.  Sadly one of the cubs died a few days later but the other is both healthy and thriving.


The new cub, a male, was named Bei Bei the day after our visit by Michelle Obama and First Lady of the People’s Republic of China, Peng Liyuan.  He joins his sister Bao Bao, born at the zoo two years ago, to form a new family of four – eventually they will all return to China. Bei Bei is yet to make his outdoor debut and currently can only be viewed on the 24 hour panda cam as the panda house is closed to give Mei Xiang and Bei Bei some privacy but Tian Tian and Bao Bao can be seen outside when they choose to come out.

Aside from the pandas, we also enjoyed the Small Mammal House, where at one point a rather ugly looking, cricket-like insect landed on Alex’s arm, giving him a bit of a shock. A member of staff in the building said she thought it might have been an escaped entree for one of the small mammals, but I’m sorry to say that Alex didn’t take any chances and crushed it underfoot before there was any further discussion!  He was much more enthusiastic about the Amazonia exhibit where at least the Tarantula and his lunch were safely behind glass.

John and Teddy enjoyed the Reptile Discovery Centre with its snakes, alligators and Komodo Dragon and John is keen to get a reptile, preferably a snake, as a pet one day to which the answer will be a rearrangement of the words: “dead over body my”…

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Day 2 – Washington, DC

Even by DC standards this was a big week for the capital’s residents with the state visits of both the Pope and China’s President Xi Jinping, not to mention the arrival of the Jones family.  Having checked in to our first Airbnb residence, about which I’ll say more in a later post, we settled the boys in for a quiet night in anticipation of another early start.

On Wednesday morning we wandered Downtown, via the Kennedy Recreation Ground where Teddy managed to split his trousers (one third of his trouser wardrobe!) necessitating a return to the apartment and quick change. Back on track we found ourselves in the National Building Museum on the recommendation of one of the locals. P1070449 Externally the building is not wildly impressive but once inside, the Great Hall, with its 8 Corinthian Columns each around 75 feet high, takes your breath away. The columns, though painted to look like marble, were actually each built with 70,000 bricks and are believed to be among the tallest interior columns in the world.

Of the six main galleries inside the museum, two are aimed at children: Play Work Build which encourages imaginative play with blocks of all kinds – large foam blocks, small plastic blocks, even virtual blocks and the Building Zone, where kids of all ages can explore different materials in a very hands on way.


Taking our home education responsibilities seriously, we figured that the morning’s activities ticked off a bit of maths, science, engineering, even some physical education and after a really enjoyable couple of hours watching where the boys’ imaginations took them, we headed off to the Natural History Museum for a bit more…erm… learning!

We could have spent a week in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and still not seen it all but for this first visit we focussed on the Ocean Hall, Geology, Gems and Minerals (including the Hope Diamond) and the Dinosaurs, walking until our feet were as tired as our minds and then heading back via the grocery store.

For me the highlight wasn’t the 45 carat Hope Diamond, nor even the Interstella diamond dust, older than the solar system itself, nope, for me it was this:P1070512

All three boys looking at the camera together at the same time! Don’t get me wrong, the interstellar star dust is pretty amazing but, once more, all three boys, at the same time AND smiling – it may never happen again!

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