Monday, August 25, 2008

Vacation Part IV - Mount Vernon

What's really funny is that my vacation was a week long, yet it's taking me about 2 weeks so far to write about it.

On Wednesday, Mittwoch (pronounced mit'vock) as they say in German, I convinced my wife and kids that we hadn't done enough site-seeing at Presidents' houses. Though I must admit that the chloroform and hypnosis helped my cause. This time we went to Mount Vernon in Virginia, the home of our first President George Washington. My wife feared driving through D.C. on a weekday. If you are not from Washington, rush hour lasts from 5 a.m. until midnight. Sometimes it lasts longer if there is construction.

Our trek takes us down I-95 to the Capital Beltway (I-495), and across the newly rebuilt Woodrow Wilson bridge. Like the former Democratic President during World War I, the bridge refuses to give women equal rights until the last moment before the election. It is a pretty bridge and if it had not been for the fact that my wife made me drive, I'd have 45 pictures of it to show you. She went ballistic when I reached for the camera bag and asked her to hold onto the wheel.

Mount Vernon is located about 8 miles south of the beltway off of the George Washington Parkway, or the GW parkway if you are in the D.C. in-crowd. Fortunately, the parking lot was under reconstruction, but they still allowed us to park in it. This gave ample opportunity for rocks to kick up and nick the paint and for vast amounts of cement dust to lay all over my windshield.

The visitor's center is very nice - mostly glass and brick. I got a sweet picture of the kids and me hanging with #1 and his family.

We viewed a 20 minute movie in the amphitheatre, which is now required of all restored Presidential houses (hint-hint, Mr. Jefferson!). The movie depicted Washington's early life as an officer in the French & Indian War in western Pennsylvania. It was somewhat violent and involved some nearly naked Indians (or Native Americans if you're one of those PC-pansies), which my son decided to reenact as a totally naked Indian when we got home. He also seems to think that the Indians had machine guns, rather than the single firing flint-lock rifles, but we'll work on that.

After the movie, we learn that I left the pacifier in the car, so I lightly jogged in the heavy humid Virginia heat to the car and back. As I returned back a guide asked if she could help me. Without breaking a stride I excitedly told her that 'the British are coming!' and continue the job back to the family.

We make it around the grounds and find the line to tour the house. It's nearly as long as the line of illegal Mexican day-labourers at the Alexandria Home Depot. My wife grabs a spot in the queue and I drag the kids to walk around the gardens to look at the exciting flowers and vegetables. I'm reaching for straws now to keep them entertained. I tell my son that there might be snakes and spiders and there's a maze, which gets his attention.

Fortunately, the line moves fairly swiftly until we get to the house. Again, no photos are allowed in the house because Martha Washington hated flash photography. The house is not as interesting as Madison and Jefferson's house. It appears more like a large farm house. The color choices are gaudy. Different shades of green in the dining room, which we are told were really expensive in the 1700's. I told the guide that if an AMC Gremlin cost a million bucks it wouldn't make it more attractive.

The tour snakes through the house, through the upstairs and is generally interesting. The tour guides are stationed throughout the house and you just follow everyone else. If you are in a room too long you hear the record skip and start repeating. Some bee-ach foreigner insisted on getting in front of me to look in one of the rooms, because you know, no one in front of her wanted to look in that room, so it's okay to walk in front of them.

Lunch was pretty sweat. Who knew that George Washington had the foresight to build a deli and a Pizza Hut at Mount Vernon? Genius!

After lunch we head down to the Potomac River and hop on a tour boat. It takes us up to Fort Washington and back. The view of Mount Vernon from the river was nice. I can't understand why Washington would want a big house on the top of a hill overlooking a big river? Former Maryland Governor Paris Glendening would have condemned this as egregious urban sprawl.

On a side note, my 8 year old daughter was leaning on the railing at the aft watching the wake when a young boy came up to her and started talking to her. I got a few photos of it, but we won't tell her. Very cute!

After the boat docked, we checked out the Washington's grave and that of his slaves. Another note - Washington was the only President to free his slaves after he died. And that action nearly bankrupted the estate.

We then trotted (shuffled is probably a better word since it was uphill) back to the house and toured all of the gardens and work houses. Highlights included the giant moth, acorns, and really cool sticks leaves. This is from my son's perspective, of course.

When we had arrived I asked the lady that was handing out maps how long it would take to tour everything. She said to expect to stay there about 2 hours. This was at 10:30 in the morning. We left at 6pm. She was only off by 4 1/2 hours (I took out the hour for lunch).

Again, my wife refused to allow me to take pictures of high schools for Wikipedia, of which Mount Vernon High School was right there on the outskirts. The drive home was not that bad. Perhaps people knew who I was and stayed off the road. To that I say, "Thank you."

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