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Favorite Washington DC Attraction: Old Town Trolley Tours

Geoff Wood

Image from EclecticBlogs on Flickr

As I wrote in my last post, we’re heading to Washington DC next month. This trek is an annual event for us and part of the tradition includes a tour around the city on the famed trolleys of Old Town Trolley Tours. The “trolley tour” (as we simply call it) is one of our favorite parts of visiting Washington and we recommend it to friends, family, and pretty much anyone who mentions an upcoming visit that direction.

We took our first trolley tour in 2004 when a friend of my wife’s recommended it. Her advice was that since there is so much to see in Washington the only way to see it all is to take a guided trolley tour. She suggested we do it first so that we get an overview of all the sites as well as the opportunity to scout out the places that we wanted to visit in person later on the trip. We took her advice and enjoyed it so much that we took a second tour on that first trip, this time viewing the monuments in particular by moonlight.

To clarify, Old Town Trolley Tours has a “hop-on, hop-off” model so you can ride the trolley between locations as well. However, we prefer to do the entire loop all at once. It takes a little while but we love listening to the live tour guides who narrate the tour with historical fact and personal anecdotes. Many of them are quite amusing, to boot.

There are several tours in Washington so make sure you choose Old Town Trolley. Our experiences with them have inspired us to take tours in other cities we visit, as well. Specifically, we’ve done the tours in London and Bath in the UK, Dublin, Ireland, and Rome, Italy. Each was with a different tour company and Old Town Trolley in Washington was the best, though the Big Bus Company of London is a close second thanks to the dry humor of the Brit tour guides.

If you’re headed to Washington and ready to take my advice, here are a couple things to note: 

  1. Buy your tickets online ahead of time. The tour is tremendously valuable but the tickets are not cheap. If you buy online you get a discount. Buy tickets here.
  2. If you’re visiting friends who live in Washington, have them sign up for the Hometown Pass. Residents within 50 miles of Washington can register for a free tour pass! So long as they’re riding with a paid-tour guest (you, the visitor) they get to ride for free (brilliant marketing). Register here.

Enjoy your trip!

Planning a Washington, DC trip

Geoff Wood

We’re thinking about making the annual trek to Washington, DC next month. Our five year anniversary falls right about the same time as my wife’s first Law School spring break. Since a trip to Ireland (where we were married) isn’t in the cards this year, we might as well head to Washington (where we were engaged).

It’s about time that we get to Washington; from 2004-2008 we went at least once a year and several times twice. We love the city and have so many friends and family in the area that we always have a great time. 2009 proved to be too busy of a year (we had a baby, I finished grad school, my wife started law school, we moved 500 miles west, etc) to make the trip and March seems like a good time to rectify that for 2010.

This trip will be our first chance to introduce Graham to one of our favorite cities and it’s fitting that this will probably become a “Tour de Baby”. Our hope is to get a chance to meet Esaia in person. Esaia is the son of my cousin David and his wife Katrina, who was born a few weeks after Graham. We also hope to meet Alexander, the son of our friends Nick and Kate who greeted the world at almost exactly the same time. Finally, we hope to get the chance to see Bri and Dave as well as Bronk and Jess, two sets of our DC-area friends who are currently expecting.

Dinner with Dave & Katrina on one of our 2008 DC trips. Neither of us knew it but both Hope and Katrina were pregnant in this pic.

In addition to the baby tour, we’ll hit up another Smithsonian Museum (we pick a different one every trip) and, as always, we’ll make sure and book as much time as possible with our stalwart DC hosts and good friends Matt and Jane. Also, the three of us will get our first chance to visit my grandfather's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. I made a solo trip in December 2008 for his burial but I'm looking forward to making the visit as a family.

Mr. Wood Goes to Washington, Part 3

Geoff Wood

Sunday morning started oddly when I awoke and looked across the room to the other bed to notice that Nick was missing. However, there was an odd stain on top of the still-made comforter and Nick was huddled in the corner of the room with the fake blanket that nice hotels tend to leave at the foot of the bed. I'll leave it up to you to decide what happened but Nick blames on the fact that he was awake for 20+ hours with all the travel and the late night, eh, "festivities" the day before.

I decided to get dressed and get the heck out of the room. Thanks to Matt & Jane, I had a handy schedule of the wedding events of the day and I knew that I had to be at the rehearsal at 11:00, that pictures were scheduled for 3:00 and that the wedding itself was at 5:30. The night before Matt had told Nick and I that we didn't need to wear our tuxes to the rehearsal but that we should bring them and change at the reception hall before pictures. Rather than have to keep track of two sets of clothes through out the day I made the executive decision to just wear the tux to rehearsal. I figured I would look a little funny on the Metro but I'd get past it.
Once Nick woke up, he shared my opinion on the schedule and donned his tux as well. 
Shortly before 11:00 the two of us and Hope took the red line from Bethesda up to Grosvenor-Strathmore to rehearse. When learned shortly after we arrived that we were the only two who had gone ahead with the tux. Further, we learned that the rehearsal was only a few minutes and that pictures had been pushed back to 4:00. In other words, we were five hours ahead of schedule, had plenty of time to kill, and looked like we should be serving drinks at the rehearsal rather than participating in it. I'm not sure how we got our signals crossed but everyone else figured out they didn't need tuxes and we quite out of place.
We then took the train back to Bethesda, took off the vests and bow ties, put on more comfortable shoes and headed back to Tommy Joe's to eat mini-burgers, drink way to much Diet Coke and watch the Vikings play just a bit better than the worst team in the NFL.(1)
In order to make the pictures we had to jet before the end of the game and hurry to reassemble our tuxes. 
I kept track of the game, that we somehow won despite ourselves, on the magical iPhone.
Back at the wedding we did the picture thing, Matt and Jane got hitched, and the reception was on.
The reception was held in the lobby of the Strathmore, just inside from the terrace where the ceremony took place. The reception was all sorts of fun, featuring free drinks, good cake, and great food. However, the highlight was the dancing. Now I'm not much of a dancer in any form and at most receptions I just forgo the practice all together...but not on this night!
I'm proud to say that not only did I dance, everyone danced. The floor was full almost the entire night and it was all sorts of fun. One reason may be that the music was courtesy of an iPod and not a DJ so there wasn't any of the normal wedding activities that are varying degrees of fun but tend to break things up (such as the dollar dance, chicken dance, electric slide, etc). 
People danced to the Counting Crows(2), which may have been a wedding first, to Rihanna and Flo Rida, and true-to-form, the crowd favorite was Mr. John Bon Jovi. Great people, great time, great wedding.
(1) Hope stayed back at the hotel to study. (2) See previous post on the importance of the Counting Crows


Mr. Wood Goes to Washington, Part 2

Geoff Wood

You know that you're getting older when you try to sleep-in and catch up on sleep but are still out of bed by 9 AM. Such was the case for me on Saturday morning. All is well though, since my good buddy, Nick, was flying out from back home that morning. Nick's wife had stayed home with their two sons and he had decided to split a room with us so I was looking forward to hanging out with him for the weekend. Hope and I waited around for him but finally caved to hunger and grabbed some fancy pitas from Cosi just as Nick called to say he was at the hotel.

We ate quickly and trekked the few blocks back to the Bethesda Hyatt. We found Nick, got him settled, then took off to get him some lunch (and us some drinks). We settled on the swank Redwood Restaurant and Bar in the Bethesda Row shopping area. After a confusing bout with the waiter over pickles, a ceramic tub of butter, and a lack of mayo, Nick and I decided to head back to the Irish pub from the night before to watch some football for the afternoon while Hope window-shopped.
Next up was the rehearsal dinner(1) so we quickly got changed and headed down to the lobby bar for some drinks with Matt's family. However, we weren't that quick and we had to take our beers to go through the courtesy of a few Starbucks cups that I noticed where left over on the bar from breakfast. Our ingenuity really impressed Matt's dad, Flip.
Dinner was a boat cruise that started at the waterfront and went down the Potomoc. We saw great views of the riverfront and many of the monuments as well as enjoyed great Chinese food and bottles of Yeungling(2) along with Matt and Jane and their families. One of my favorite parts of the night was sitting out on the upper deck with Nick and Matt listening to Mrs. Potter's Lullaby on the iPod. You see, we all went to high school together in Cedar Rapids but while Nick and I chose to spend our collegiate years at I-State, Matt decided to get all collegial at Creighton. However, Matt did spend one excellent summer with us in Ames and brought with him the Counting Crows. We had known of the Counting Crows obviously but that was the summer we all became fans (thanks to Matt). Ever since, whenever someone plays Mrs. Potter's Lullaby we raise a glass to Matt. Cheers.(3)
After the cruise it was time for more drinks at the lobby bar. We sat down with Matt's step-dad, Joe, who refused to let us pay for any drinks. The bar closed early, and Nick wanted to watch the end of the Red Sox game, so we tried to hit up the bar at the hotel restuarant (to no avail). Matt, his dad, his cousin, Nick and I then went across the street to Tommy Joe's. Flip bought a round of drinks (I tried but he wouldn't let me) and then he, Matt, and the cousin turned in. Nick and I stayed to the end of the game (Red Sox lost) which just about coincided with last call. 
(1)Though the rehearsal was actually the next day, so maybe it was just "dinner" (2)I'm a big fan, if anyone's making a run from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest, please pick me up a case. (3)Or, as Nick says, salute.


Mr. Wood Goes To Washington, part 1

Geoff Wood

My old buddy Matt finally married his long-time girlfriend Jane this past weekend.

Conveniently for us, the wedding was in Washington, DC. I've always enjoyed Our Nation's Capital and ever since we got engaged there in 2004 it's become an annual trip for the wife and I.

From Washington DC 2008

The wedding was on a Sunday(1) so knowing that we'd be taking a PTO day on Monday and we decided to stretch the trip out a bit and left first thing Friday morning. Our early departure time and direct flight allowed us to land, Metro to the hotel, meet Matt to grab my tux, try on the tux and Metro downtown by lunchtime. We try to hit up a new museum each time we're in the area and we bowed to the power of suggestion(2) and decided to check out the International Spy Museum. From there we walked over to the National Mall and hit up the National Museum of the American Indian, the newest of the Smithsonians. I'd noted the architecture on past trips and always wanted to check it out but had not had the chance. Now, my overall impressions are tainted a bit because we working on only a few hours of sleep, but I wasn't as impressed as I had been at Air & Space and American History. One reason may be that there just didn't seem to be that many exhibits in the place - a good section of the building was just a massive atrium. 
From there we took the Metro to Chinatown to meet up with my cousin Dave and his wife Katrina for dinner. They picked out the Matchbox "an american pizza bistro" known for a massive gas torch out on the patio. We were lucky to get a seat on the patio but unfortunately they had discontinued the torch to be more earth-friendly. Dinner was good, though, and we had a great time reconnecting with Dave & Katrina.
After dinner we called up Matt and Jane and found out they were having drinks at Irish pub in Bethesda just down the street from our hotel. We took the train and joined them for a Guinness or two before we called it a night.

(1)Washingtonians actually celebrate federal holidays so a lot of folks had Monday off from work. (2)Lots of International Spy Museum ads in the Metro