Saturday, June 20, 2015

Wilson Family Virginia and Washington, D.C. travels – May/June 2015

This unusually LONG blog post summarizes our recent family vacation.  If you are not interested in reading, feel free to ignore!

For several years, Tracey and I have talked about wanting to take our children to Washington, D.C.  Combining Tracey’s love for history and Rhett’s for law and politics, D.C. is one fantastic place!  We also both like Virginia and have talked for years about wanting to see more of that beautiful and historic state.  So, we grabbed Bojangles biscuits and headed on a 1368 mile journey.

Saturday-Sunday (Richmond, VA)

We headed out on Saturday morning listening to Randy Travis’ Happy Trails, The Muppets’ Together Again, and Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again.  Rhett prepared a mix on his IPod of some of his favorite music from the 1980s’s, so Tracey and Rhett crooned up the road to Chicago, Journey, Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis and the News, and other ‘80’s stars. 
About mid-day we pulled into Henderson, North Carolina.  Rhett stopped and took a picture of Vance Memorial Hospital, the hospital where he was born in 1972.  We found Bellwood Drive and took pictures at the house where the Wilsons lived from 1971-1980. 

We drove into downtown Richmond about 5pm.  One of the ads of the local restaurants caught our eye on one of the Richmond booklets we had ordered, so we headed to Mama J’s soul-food restaurant on 1st Street.  We hung out for an hour waiting for our table.  Wandering down the street, we joined a block party sponsored by an African-American church in downtown Richmond.  They welcomed us in, and we enjoyed delving into some downtown Richmond culture.  Tracey and Rhett agreed that Mama J’s was the best food we ate all week hands-down.  If you are ever in Richmond, we highly recommend it!  It was the best catfish we have ever eaten.

That night we stayed at the Virginia Crossings Wyndham, a secluded hotel whose architecture and decorations convey a Colonial, historic theme.  We were sorry to not have more than one night to enjoy the spot.  The kids enjoyed a late-night swim at the pool. 

We gave most of Sunday to enjoying Richmond.  Rhett thinks that Richmond may now be his favorite Southern city!  It has almost the perfect combination of a riverfront, metropolitan, exciting city with lots of history.  Both Revolutionary and Civil War history converge in this amazing city on the James River. 
We attended St. John’s Episcopal Church to view a reenactment of the Second Virginia Convention of 1775, where Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech.  It was there that the voice (Henry), the pen (Thomas Paine) and the general (George Washington) of the American Revolution converged in this historic meeting.

Sunday afternoon we toured parts of Richmond.  Walking across the Robert E. Lee Bridge to Belle Island, we watched dozens of kayakers on the James River this lazy afternoon.   We quickly saw the Tredegar Iron Works, located right next to the American Civil War Center, which produced 50% of the cannons for the South used during the Civil War.  Richmond has a wonderful walking trail along the river as well as a canal system, first designed by George Washington.  Tracey and Rhett both left Richmond wanting to return for many days.  If you ever are looking for a fun city to visit with lots of history, we highly recommend Richmond!
Leaving the city, we drove down Monument Avenue.  Our jaws dropped to see the massive statues of J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall  
Jackson.  Finally, we hurried up the interstate in a lot of traffic to Alexandria, Virginia, our next stop.  Sunday evening was Hendrix’s choice of eatery – Subway.

Monday-Wednesday (Washington, D.C.)

We woke the kids up at 7:30 on Monday morning (yes on vacation) to get up and at ‘em.  We had tickets for Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, at 9:15 and could not be late.  We spent about three hours touring his home and estate.  Washington D.C. is George’s city, and a visit to his estate explains why.  This amazing man and father of our country excelled in so many areas.  What impressed me most was how much character meant to this leader.  He believed that a great country must be built upon men of great character. 

We toured the house, enjoyed the magnificent view of the Potomac, saw the outside grounds, visited his tomb, and walked through the museum, watching various videos of his life and times.  Tracey says she enjoyed our visit to Mount Vernon more than anything else we did on vacation.
After enjoying a fantastic lunch at Famous Dave’s BBQ in Alexandria, we headed to D.C.  But first, we had to learn how to navigate the Metro.  By Tuesday, we felt like old pro’s on the D.C. Metro.  We each purchased our Safe Trip cards and thought we were cool taking the urban transportation into the big city.  We laughed all week at how many people blankly stare in front of them with their heads buried in their smart phones or Ipods.  Not the Wilsons!  We were looking out the windows for sites and making sure we weren’t gonna miss our stops like real tourists.
Our first D.C. stop on Monday was The Kennedy Center – the national center for performing arts.  Being a musical family, it was cool to be in that place where so many incredible folks have performed through the years.  On the roof of the center, you get a great aerial view of the city.  You can even peer over the Potomac River and spot a few of the crosses in the distance from Arlington Cemetery and see Robert E. Lee’s stately mansion overlooking the capital city.  And we checked out the cool bust of President Kennedy.

From there we headed to the Lincoln Memorial as an incredible storm floated over the water.  Lightning flashes moved closer and closer.  Thankfully, we made it into the Lincoln right as the heavens poured forth much water.  We stood at the Lincoln and watched over the Reflecting Pool as the Washington Monument completely disappear edfrom sight due to the clouds.  As with most of the grand buildings in the city, the Memorial is outstanding due to its enormity and craftsmanship.   And we wished we had 100 umbrellas to sell to the crowd hanging out waiting for the rain to stop.


Monday night was Dawson’s choice of supper – PaPa John’s.
On Tuesday we walked, walked, and walked until the children were thinking, “We should have gone to the beach!”  We hit the National Museum of American History that morning.  Our favorites were seeing a few icons like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the original Stars and Stripes, a lot of cool paraphernalia from former Presidents, and former First Lady dresses like Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush (who really cares what Hillary and Michelle wore?).  We saw an awesome display of American wars.  One of the negatives of D.C. is the high cost of food.  We ate lunch at the museum’s cafeteria for our most expensive meal of the week!  Yikes.
Tuesday afternoon included the Washington Monument, the White House, the monument for the 50 signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the incredibly impressive World War II Memorial, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Jefferson Memorial.  Hendrix, Anna-Frances, and I all agreed that the Jefferson was our favorite memorial.  By then we could have been crying out, “Give me some Ben Gay!”


You can see more of our D. C. photos by clicking here.

Supper Tuesday was the choice of Anna-Frances at Wendy’s with Krispy Kreme doughnuts and an early night at the hotel chilling out.

Wednesday morning we had a 9:30am appointment at Representative Jeff Duncan’s office at the Cannon House Office Building on Independence Avenue.  We were in for the treat of the week.  Two staff members took us on an almost three hour tour of The Capital.  We got to walk through the underground tunnels, see the awesome statues in the Crypt, and of course visit the wonderful Rotunda. 

 Here Anna-Frances is standing in the center spot of  The Capital building.


 We liked the statue of Ronald Reagan there.  Oh Dutch, how  we miss you! graciously met us in the middle of our tour and took us into the Members’ Chapel where there is a gorgeous stained-glass window showing George Washington kneeling in prayer.  We held hands and had prayer in the chapel, and then our Congressman took us through the security and out on the Speaker’s Balcony to show us a fantastic view of the city.  The Capital is an amazing place to visit and evokes awe and wonder for this great country and her political processes.
Leaving The Capital, we found a sandwich shop called Potbelly near 7th and Pennsylvania.  We thought it was very cool to be doing a Washington, D.C., sandwich shop and eating at a table next to the street with our brown bags.  Finally, we did a quick run through the National Air and Space Museum (you need about five hours, but we gave it about 1 ½).  Our highlights there were Charles Lindburgh’s The Spirit of St. Louis and Amelia Earhart’s plane.
Visiting D. C. gave us a renewed love and awe for our great country, its strong spiritual heritage, and a respect for the processes of law and politics as intended by or forefathers.  At Mount Vernon we saw quotation after quotation that emphasized how much General Washington knew that the only way to have a healthy country was to have leaders of character.  The monuments at D.C. cry out of the spiritual, biblical Christian heritage of the United States of America.  It was in the fabric of the thinking of most of our Founding Fathers.

Leaving D. C. – somewhat reluctantly – we resigned that we HAVE to plan to come back – and we challenged our children to consider trying to become U.S. Congressmen one day.   Then, we made the drive into Maryland, passing through Annapolis, and going into the rural farmland of Delaware.  We could mark our  journey by the types of gas stations.  You move from QT's in the Carolinas to Sheetz in Virginia and to Royal Farms in Delaware.  Finally, about time for dark we made it into the northern part of Virginia to our destination – Chincoteague Island.

Thursday (Chincoteague Island, VA)

This year we planned to have a couple of days of real rest and relaxation (after all the busy sight-seeing) at the end of our trip.  Hendrix and Dawson said that Chincoteague was their favorite part of the trip. 
For years, Tracey has talked about wanting to go to this island and the nearby Assateague Island, which are featured in the book and movie series Misty of Chincoteague.  Assateague Island is known for the nearly 100 wild horses that roam.  On Thursday, though it was a misty (ha, ha) day, we actually spotted three wild horses at Assateague.  The island has a beach and looks like a wonderful place for families to play – though it was too cool that day for us to take a swim.

The two islands are wonderful places to relax.  Chincoteague has somewhat of an Edisto Island (SC) feel to it though a tad more commercial.  If you are ever looking for a great place there to stay, we highly recommend the Comfort Suites right on the inlet.  After swimming and hanging out at the hotel most of Thursday, we prepared for the long thirteen-hour trip home on Friday (yes, we stop a lot).
I don’t know that I’ve met any healthy family that did not enjoy vacationing together.  So, though we wanted vacation to keep going, time and money called us home.

Friday (driving home)

One treat on the trip home was traveling on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel.  The ride was at least 14 miles long over the ocean!  An awesome sight. 

On long road trips, Rhett tries to plan some quality listening material to use not only to pass the time but hopefully to disciple our children in the process.  Those hours can have some precious quality moments of learning, talking, and growing.
Besides a lot of fun music, we had three listening choices to pass our time and provide fodder for good discussion.  We highly recommend all of them.
Adventures in Odyssey Volume 58: The Ties that Bind -  an excellent 14-episode series that explores the modern challenges to traditional marriage, including same-sex marriage, in a kid-friendly tone.  The CD series comes with a helpful discussion guide.  We spent almost two hours going through questions and talking about some deep issues about marriage, family, and tolerance.

A Man Called Norman by Focus on the Family – this classic FOF broadcast from 1984 has Mike Adkins telling the story of befriending his autistic neighbor.  God used “weird Norman” to teach Adkins how to “love his neighbor as himself.”
We highly recommend this one.  Later in the day, while shopping at a Clarks shoe outlet, Dawson asked Anna to help him locate shoes in his size.  She helped him find six pairs.  When he asked her to find some more and she refused, he asked, “Did you not learn anything from A Man Called Norman?”  We got a good laugh from that one.
Managing Technology’s Impact on Your Family by Focus on the FamilyJim Daly interviews Kathy Koch, author of the book Screens and Teens.  They discuss the positive and negative impacts of technology on teenagers and provide thoughtful advice for limiting electronics and “screen time.”  This provided us some great discussion as a family.
We had to admit that when we spun through Gaffney about 8pm on Friday, it was nice to see a South Carolina sunset.

We love spending time with our family, we love traveling to new places, and we love cool historical places.  That made for a good few days and memories for the Wilsons.

I will leave you with this shot.  Dawson was excited about learning how to do the following trick at the hotel pool in Chincoteague . . .

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge

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