The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Washington D.C.

When Penn Wood Airstream park closed for the season, I had to go somewhere. I wasn't crazy about traveling further from the Airstream plant because I still had faith that I would be making a trade, but winter was coming and I couldn't predict how long it would take to arrive at a final resolution with Airstream. I had wanted to see the Harley-Davidson factory in York, Pennsylvania. And since that was so close to DC, it seemed like a proper and fine idea to stop in our nation's capital too. When Jason and I were in NYC, a neighbor had mentioned the Greenbelt Park not far from DC, and since the price was right, we both decided to head there in caravan style.

York was a perfect overnight stop on the way to DC and in the morning we took the Harley Davidson factory tour. Wow. Compared to Harley-Davidson's automated robots, quality control (!) and employee input (!), Airstream has a looooong way to go. I highly recommend the H-D tour to see a sophisticated production process in action.

On the edge of DC, this urban park didn't offer hookups, so it was a test in boondocking for my little trailer. I lasted a whole week on my batteries. Of course, I used candles at night and powered my laptop at the nearby Starbucks. But still, only when the temperature started getting too cold at night did I have to think about leaving. The furnace is a serious energy hog and I don't have a generator.

Greenbelt Park

The great thing about Washington DC, and (really) the primary reason why I wanted to visit, was the huge selection of FREE things to do and see here. I was particularly interested in the Smithsonian museums and I supposed I had to take a look at the monuments and National Archives too. Tom and Martha joined us one day for a walking tour of the major monuments and a look at the White House. Hard to believe that the president and his family actually live there. The yard is beautiful and would be a great place to play frisbee and have a barbecue, but the neighborhood doesn't feel particularly homey. I bet the underground tunnels that must traverse the city, or at least connect the major government facilities are fun to explore, though.

white house

I was a little disappointed to discover that there's no good options for food if you get hungry while walking the National Mall or even while visiting the Smithsonian museums. There are a few refreshment stands operated by the National Park Service, but the food is terrible and way overpriced (old hot dogs and wilty salads). Seems like the smart thing to do here is bring your own food, which is what our smarty-pants friends Tom and Martha did. Even in the Air & Space museum, McDonald's was the primary option. Geez - you'd think our nation's capital could do a little better.

The Air & Space Museum, requires an entire day (or two). There is just way too much to learn and see there, so don't think that you can drop in for an hour or two (like we did, because of the parking meter) and get the full experience. No, you probably really need two days to take full advantage of this place, it's so chock full of history and the real things. Real things like Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega (the actual plane she flew as the first solo woman to cross the Atlantic), a touchable piece of moon rock, all sorts of actual pods and modules that astronauts once occupied, lots of stuff on the American/Soviet space race and my favorite: the Skylab Space Station that you can walk through.

The Museum of American History is not as jam-packed as the Air & Space and many of the exhibits are light-hearted and entertaining - like Dorothy's ruby slippers, Julia Child's Kitchen, a portion of the original Route 66 and Archie Bunker's chair from All in the Family. On a more serious note, it was fascinating to see the original flag that inspired our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, and know the story behind it.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing was a treat. Where else can you see $64 million of printed currency on one skid...with four skids lined up in a row!!! Each skid is approximately a four-foot cube in dimension. Crazy. As a graphic designer, I particularly love watching things be printed and it was especially cool to see the different processes that are involved in printing our currency. What was lacking in the tour, though, was more information on the actual engraving of the notes. There are people who's job it is to design and engrave the plates that print the money. I'd like to know more about that job.

So the National Archives is another place every self-respecting American should visit at least once in their life. This is where the ORIGINAL Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and Constitution are stored and displayed in a dark rotunda behind very elaborate preservation frames. These are the very original documents our country was founded on. National treasures. And I couldn't help but wonder how many presidents come here in the off-hours - when it's closed to the public - and meditate on the significance of these documents.

The Capital building and Washington Monument, of course, are hard to miss if you're in the downtown area. For a special treat, cross the river to Alexandria, Virginia. You can catch a nice view of the Pentagon on the way there, and old town Alexandria is really quite a nice place to stroll. It's small cobbled streets and historic buildings were reminiscent of Portland, Maine and I felt right at home here. Small streets, small shops, historic architecture and a neighborhood vibe made this my favorite place in the area.

Baltimore's Fell's Point is another nearby historic district that is worth the trip. And though it's a bit of a longer drive, St. Michael's, Maryland is also a worthwhile day trip if you're in the area.


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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