Sam participated in the National History Day competition in his 8th grade social studies class last spring. It’s a contest where students research topics of their choice and create projects based on an annual theme. This year’s theme was “Conflict and Compromise,” and project options included documentaries, websites, papers, performances, or displays. Sam and his friend put together a documentary entitled Geneva Conventions: The Laws of War and it won the state competition! We decided to make a family vacation out of Sam’s trip to the national contest in Washington DC.
We found a bargain on mileage tickets from Anchorage to New York City, so we left a few days early to spend time in the Big Apple before the NHD contest. We only had two days in the city (and one was after an overnight flight) but we were determined to make the most of it.
None of us slept more than two hours on the flights between Anchorage and New York City, so we were exhausted when we landed. And hot!! Maggie nearly puked in the backseat of the Uber when we zipped through through the Midtown Tunnel. The constant honking and braking and swerving was nearly enough to make me sick too!
The Uber spit us out at our hotel around 9 AM, where we dropped our bags and wandered the streets like zombies for a few hours until the room was ready. We walked past the Empire State Building, the Flat Iron building (pictured below) and grabbed some food.
At noon we checked into our teeny, tiny room with the intention of freshening up and hitting the big city. I’m not sure what happened, but four hours later I woke up, surrounded by my snoring family.
We. Were. Tired.
We rallied and made the most of the evening, exploring the NYC Subway, Central Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Times Square, and the Empire State Building at night.
We really packed it in during our second day in the city: 9/11 Memorial, One World Trade Center, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, a boat tour around Manhattan with great views of the skyline and Statue of Liberty, and dinner in Little Italy.
The next morning we boarded a Greyhound bus for the 4 hour trek to DC:
We were all happy for a little breathing room in our DC Air BnB after our cramped Manhattan living quarters. We had a basement apartment, complete with an ironing board. Clark taught Sam how to iron his suit!
The NHD contest was at the University of Maryland, a stunning campus with plenty of green space and historic buildings. Alaska sent 51 contestants, and eight of them were from Sam’s school. (We never managed to get them all in one place at a time for a group photo, but we tried!) The students received buttons at the opening ceremonies, and a fierce trading war ensued. The Alaskan pins were in high demand! None of the Alaskan contestants made it to finals, but the experience was still priceless. They met thousands of students from across the US, in addition to overseas schools in Guam, Puerto Rico, Samoa, China, Korea, and Central America.
The Alaskan participants were invited to meet the Alaskan Congressional Delegation on the steps of the Capitol.
Senator Sullivan gave the students passes to the Senate chambers, so we changed our plans and took advantage of that opportunity. As we stood under the Rotunda our tour guide explained that George Washington was supposed to be buried there, but construction wasn’t yet complete when he passed away so he was instead buried at Mt. Rushmore. Yes, she actually said Mt. Rushmore. The history buffs in our group were very polite, but let’s just say it didn’t turn out to be the most informational tour! We still very much appreciated the opportunity to see behind the scenes, and the most memorable moment was probably when the kids saw a woman removed from the Senate chambers in handcuffs!
We paid tribute to fallen soldiers and citizens alike at Arlington National Cemetery and the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon. We saw both the changing of the guard and a special ceremony that included a 21 gun salute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We found Washington DC’s metro system much cleaner and easier to navigate that the New York City’s subways. The tunnels looked like something out of Hunger Games, especially when the trains zipped in and out. And it did get a weeee bit crowed on the day the victory parade for the Washington Capital’s Stanley Cup victory!
The architecture on the East Coast was impressive. Even the curbs were marble in some places! Somehow we ended up alone at the Supreme Court, so the kids raced up the steps.
You can’t do DC without museums, and we hit several during our days there. Highlights were the Wright Brother’s plane from Air & Space, the enormous flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner from American History, and mummies from Natural History. We also visited the Holocaust museum.
The war memorials in DC are all so thoughtfully designed and moving. We visited the WWII and Vietnam memorials.
We made it to the White House, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorials as well. Maggie memorized the Gettysburg Address in school last year, and seeing her stand underneath those words etched in stone was pretty impressive!
Phew. I’m exhausted just remembering all of it! We always knew we wanted to take the kids to Washington DC at some point, and this was the perfect excuse.
The big city life was both exciting and exhausting, and after nine days we were more than ready for the next phase of our journey: Nebraska. Family, friends, country roads, and home cooked meals… here we come!