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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our Washington D.C Trip: What We Did, Highlights & Observations

I only learned just a few months ago, when we considered taking a trip there, that Josh had never been to Washington D.C. I was kind of shocked, actually, because I thought a school trip was a pre-requisite for graduating 8th grade, but he'd never taken a school trip, and never found his way there.

I, on the other hand, went for my 8th grade school trip, and again sometime in my teenage years with my mom and sister. So obviously, it had been a while and my memories from those trips had become fuzzy.

This adventure was pretty last minute, but we had enough time to research where we wanted to stay and what our priorities were for our visit, and it was a truly lovely few days in an incredible city.

Despite our trip being last-minute, even more so was our decision to stay a night in New York City to break up the drive. We were originally going to leave super early on a Thursday morning, but our work schedules happened to work out that we ended up having all of Wednesday off, too. So, we booked a hotel that day as we were driving down to Manhattan, through an app called Hotel Tonight, and spent the afternoon and evening in NYC. I only took two pictures the whole time - both food-related -  because we were all over the place that day, trying to cram in as much fun as possible.

#hadtodoit 
The best bagels in NYC, hands down. Brooklyn Bagel.


The next morning, we set off for D.C. Our drive in was horrible. It was monsoon-like downpours, which slowed us down a lot, and just made the drive rather unenjoyable and stressful. But once we got into the city, it cleared up for a few hours, and we were able to get a little exploration in before the rain started again.

For our first day, since we knew we may be tired from the drive, we tried to keep it low-key. We walked down to the National Mall, and saw the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial and Jefferson Memorial. Just as we were leaving the Lincoln Memorial, it started to downpour again, and we were crazy enough to try to walk down to the Jefferson Memorial. In the rain. And we got lost. And took the longest route possible there. We were kind of cranky once we finally arrived but, as with all the monuments, it struck us as awe-inspiring as soon as we saw it.

Josh walking to see the Washington Monument for the first time. 
This photo required no editing. Crazy to think that this bright blue sky turned to ominous clouds about 30 minutes later.





World War II Memorial.

The storm clouds started to settle in, but we were too excited to see the monuments to stop.

Josh walking up to the Lincoln Memorial.

Josh is tall, but no match for Abe.

Lincoln selfie. #hadtodoit



And the rain begins. 

View from the top of the Lincoln Memorial.

Korean War Memorial.

Such an easy thing to forget during our day to day lives.

This was probably the one thing that struck me the most during our trip. This quote from Jefferson had Josh and I talking all day about its importance. And also, why we can't understand so many things going on in our world right now. We even started to joke about a reality show where Jefferson comes back from the dead and is forced into today's world. We imagined he'd probably be like, "You guys are still running things this way?! Did you not listen to anything I said?" and shake his head. 
Quote from the Jefferson photo above:

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."




Soaked and exhausted from walking all over Manhattan the day before, and walking about five miles around all the monuments from our hotel, we left thinking we'd grab a cab from the Jefferson Memorial, but ended up walking back to the hotel anyway because the sun finally decided to come out. The walk was actually an easy way to dry off. Our feet, however, had been in better shape.

The next day was Josh's favorite. His biggest priorities were visiting Capitol Hill and trying to see Congress or the Senate in session. Sadly, two of those three things didn't pan out, but we still got inside the Capitol Building.

Josh booked tour tickets a few weeks ago, and worked with one of our New York Senators to get passes to the viewing galleries for Congress and the Senate. We walked over to Capitol Hill super early to pick up the passes, but the Senator's office wasn't open yet (kind of stupid that we thought they'd be in any earlier than 9 a.m.). So we had to run right over to the Capitol building to make our tour on time. When we got to the visitor's center for the Capitol Building, the line was huge. Thinking we could bypass that because we had reserved tour passes, one of the tour coordinators told us that it was the line for security, so we had to wait behind everyone else. It took about 45 minutes to get through, which was crazy and something we weren't prepared for. Thankfully, we still made our tour on time because we're freaks for promptness.

The Capitol building.

I still can't get over how intricate and amazing this building is for being constructed so long ago.

This is the line we had to wait in just to get through security.

The tour was actually kind of fun. This, coming from the girl who doesn't really like tours, especially ones with informational videos before the tour begins. But this one was interesting, short, sweet and to the point. We got to wear headsets during the tour so we could always hear our guide, and the sheer amazingness of the craftsmanship of the building was enough to make anyone starry-eyed for a moment.

The very top interior of the Capitol building.

Many of the rooms inside had incredible statues of significant historical figures. 

After we left, we walked over to the National Archives building so we could see the original Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution. No photography was allowed, for obvious reasons, so only mental pictures remain. I'm pretty sure I saw these on our school trip way back when, but I have no recollection of it. I'm glad Josh got to see them all.

Then we scooted over to Ted's Bulletin for lunch, and we got so lucky because there were tons of people waiting for a table, but because we were the only party of two, we got right in. I opted for the grilled cheese and tomato soup, which was amazing. The soup literally tasted like fresh-squeezed heirloom tomatoes. We shared a side of homemade tater tots, which were out of this world. And for our walk back to the Capitol Building, we got some of their homemade pop tarts, called Ted's Tarts, to go.


Tomato soup and grilled cheese at Ted's Bulletin.

Tater tots at Ted's Bulletin.

Ted Bulletin's homemade "Ted's Tarts." The perfect treat for our walk back to the Capitol Building.

Once we got back to Capitol Hill we went back to our Senator's office to pick up our passes for the Senate and Congress viewing galleries. It was actually really cool to see where our Senators worked, and the building was gorgeous inside. Sadly, by that point in the afternoon, we were too late and missed both sessions. We got to go up and view the congress gallery (after a few more trips through security lines), which was still pretty cool. But Josh was a little disappointed we didn't get to see a live session. The Senate gallery was closed completely (apparently they quit at 1 p.m. that day because "it was Friday.").

Our local Senator's building wing.

Staircase inside the Senator's building.



We left the Capitol building and walked over to the Supreme Court building just to walk around for a few minutes. It was a pretty quick in-and-out situation, but it was still cool to see. I used the bathroom there. It was fancy.


Josh outside the Supreme Court building.

Staircase leading up to the Supreme Courtroom.

We never even thought to book a tour for this, but at least we were able to sneak in a quick peek from the hallway.

After that, we walked over to the National Mall and decided to swing into the American History Museum. We wanted to visit the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum, too, but after walking the American History building, it was almost 4:30. Having been up since 6 a.m., we were exhausted, and had probably walked at least another 5-6 miles. The weather was also pretty cold that day with a high of 40, so back to the hotel we went for a quick nap and recuperation before dinner.

Our last day was my day. I loved everything up to this point, but I really wanted to visit Georgetown and the National Zoo. So on Saturday morning we took a cab, since our feet were killing us at this point, over to the zoo, and got there right at 9 a.m. when the exhibits opened. We were able to see almost all the animals, but the highlight was the panda exhibit. We stayed and watched them for a bit because, you know, they're pretty cool.




Really bad quality photo, but I loved this tiger's expression. 

I'm thankful we got there early because as we were leaving around 12:30, it started to get really crowded. Like, insane amounts of people everywhere you looked. We timed that one well.

We hopped into another cab over to Georgetown, and it's kind of funny because this was the part I was super excited about, but probably my least favorite experience of the trip. We had fun walking around, and loved the beautiful buildings and eateries, but it was super crowded. It was a Saturday afternoon during the Cherry Blossom festival, so I figured it would be, but there were so many people on M Street (the main street where most of the shops are), that I couldn't even see what the shops were to go in them. It was too much for this country girl who needs her space, and I started to not be able to hear myself think, and I couldn't even hear when Josh was talking to me. We were able to meander over to some side streets to enjoy some of the lovely scenery - I adored the older streets and buildings. That part was definitely really fun.

Charming little buildings in Georgetown.

This row of buildings gave me so many heart eyes.

A walkway in Georgetown near Baked & Wired that made me smile.

We didn't have a lunch plan for Georgetown, and stumbled into this pizza place called Pizza Paradiso, and it was so, so good. We loved it. And the restaurant was very relaxed and cozy, which was a nice escape from the crowds.

Margherita pizza at Pizza Paradiso. 

After lunch, we tried to hit up the one place I knew I wanted to go: Baked & Wired for cookies and cupcakes. Because, you know, I'm obsessed with food. I read about this place online while doing research for our trip, and I'd been thinking about these cupcakes for weeks. When we walked over, there was a line out the door, but it was worth the 20-minute wait. We had one of the cupcakes in bed on our last night in the hotel, and it was the perfect end for our trip.


I so loved the help-yourself cookie jar display as you walked in.

I wanted them all. We ended up with a Razmanian Devil, Strawberry and Uniporn Rainho (yes, that's the actual name).

My Uniporn Rainho cupcake kind of made my day.

I always visit Georgetown Cupcake in Boston, and had wanted to pick up their Cherry Blossom cupcake here, at the original location, since it was a seasonal flavor only available in March/April. But, the line was even longer for that one, and it didn't seem to move very fast, so we skipped it. Plus, I was getting cranky from the crowds.

Beyond that, I went into a bookstore, a makeup store chain called Blue Mercury and an Anthropologie. By then I was feeling really claustrophobic and we headed to the waterfront park to sit and relax for a moment before deciding it was time to leave. The streets were so crowded we weren't even enjoying ourselves. We walked back to the hotel for a quick little rest before heading back out and walking to dinner. We ate kind of early this day, so after dinner, at like 6, we were like, "We have no plans! What should we do?!" So we decided to walk alllllllll the way back to the National Mall from the Adams Morgan neighborhood, after stopping for ice cream of course, to see the monuments lit up at night. So we did. And it was worth every step our crippled feet took to get there.

Non-edited photo of the WWII Memorial backlit by a setting sun, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

Pano of the WWII Memorial. It was really, really beautiful, and thoughtfully designed.

Unedited photo of the Washington Monument, which was lit up with yummy golden light as the sun went down.


Really bad, zoomed-in photo just to show the Capitol Building drowned in sunlight, too.

Another really bad, zoomed-in photo of the Lincoln Memorial lit up at night from a distance.

Completely unedited photo of the Washington Monument at night.


Horrible, zoomed-in photo to show the Capitol Building lit up at night. House of Cards, anyone?

That evening may have been my favorite part of the whole trip, to be honest. It wasn't something we planned, but this day was the best weather out of the three we were there. It was mid-60s and clear skies, so walking around the Mall at dusk, seeing the setting sun light up the monuments with a golden blanket was kind of amazing. We started at the Washington Monument, worked our way back to Abe, and watched the sky go from dusk to dark from the top of Abe's memorial. It was perfect weather and the perfect view. We walked back up to the Washington Monument to see Capitol Hill lit up at night, too, and then walked back to our hotel. Where we ate a cupcake in bed and passed out.

It really was such a wonderful trip. It was thought-provoking and made you feel connected to the epicenter of government. It's so easy to feel detached from it all, and even though our government is so intricate and corrupt in many ways, it still felt good to walk around a city that has so much history, and where our democracy was founded. I loved that Josh got to visit the Capitol Building. I feel like he would be an amazing Senator. I even asked him on this trip if he ever wanted to work in government, and he said he did, but could never do it because it's just so corrupt, complicated and financially-driven, and he would feel defeated every day.

And I got to thinking about our New York Senators. The office we worked with to get Capitol passes was Kirsten Gillibrand's. So while there, I looked more into her. I wish I could say I closely follow all aspects of politics, but I can't keep up with it all and keep my sanity at the same time. I wish I did follow it more than I currently do, though. Anyway, while there, I read a quote from her that said, "If we're not helping people, we should go the f**k home." There are so many things wrong with Capitol Hill, but she's not one of them. And I felt proud. There are good people in there fighting the good fight. For us. For citizens. And it gave me a sense of hope.

I can't wait to visit again.

Also, though, I need to sleep for like three days and elevate my feet.

Where we stayed
We stayed at the Westin City Center, and we loved the location. It was a little overwhelming, as it is with cities you've never visited, to pick a general location to stay in while planning your trip. But for our budget, I don't think we could have picked a better place (FYI, we booked through Hotwire). If anything, I wish we could have been a little closer to the National Mall, but we were just about a mile from there, so it really wasn't bad. We always love to walk, so we enjoyed the mile-long walk there and back most of the time - it would have been more ideal had the weather been nicer. Toward the end, we were like, "yeah, it would have been nice to be like, half a mile closer" because we were averaging at least 6-7 miles per day on foot. The hotel itself was comfortable, friendly, clean and quiet. And being only a short walk to restaurants and shops in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, we kind of had the best of both worlds. It was really quite perfect. We were craving Thai food one night and only had to walk .2 miles to a great Thai place. And there was also a CVS and a great little cafe called West Wing Cafe (where we had breakfast on-the-go every morning), right around the corner.

Two days in a row we grabbed egg sandwiches from the West Wing Cafe, and they were surprisingly really good, plentiful and cheap.

Highlights
The monuments. I don't know how anyone could not be in awe of the monuments. They're just spectacular. If you think about the craftsmanship that went into them back in a time where they didn't have machines, it just baffles me. Lincoln was our favorite (probably because we both love him as a president in general). But also because he offers an amazing view of the Washington Monument, so it's just one of my absolute favorite places in the entire city. If the weather had been nicer the day we walked over, the Jefferson Memorial would have been perfect as well. You can't beat the view of the Tidal Basin from there, but it was raining pretty hard when we went. Next time I would love to spend more time with Jefferson.

Capitol Building. I honestly thought I'd be kind of bored, but the tour was really interesting, and the building houses a ton of amazing statues and pieces of art. Really great little tour.
Josh's insight: He loved the Capitol Building visit, but wasn't in love with the official tour. He thought that a lot of the information was pretty basic, but he also reads historical biographies all the time, so could probably give the tours on his own. So, whatevs. 

Museums. I wish we had done more. The American History Museum has some truly amazing things to see, and the fact that it's free is awesome. I kind of loved the First Lady wing, and like any woman, was totally in awe of Michelle Obama's inaugural gown. But everything we saw there was incredible.

Honorable Mention: The National Zoo. I mean, there are zoos all over, so it's not like you leave D.C. and you can't visit another zoo. This one, though, was really nice. I loved the panda exhibit, and they had so many animals to see. Because this is part of the Smithsonian museums, it was also free. So, for nothing, you get a great afternoon of fun.

One thing we thought to do after the fact
Josh's tip: He loved going into our Senator's building, and he wished we could just spend an afternoon walking around Capitol Hill, wandering into buildings, seeing what they do there, and hoping to run into elected officials. He says there are so many hidden gems to explore, and we probably saw only a small fraction.
Honestly, I kind of agree. I'm not a political enthusiast, we'll say, but going to see our Senator's office was really cool. I would have loved to explore other random buildings, too, and just pop into official buildings (if we could) and be like, "Hi, what's goin' on over here today?" Many of the ones we walked into allowed you to enter as long as you went through security, and then they just let you walk around freely.

Things we liked, but didn't wow us
Honestly, you have to go see our country's original documents at the National Archives, but once you're there, it's not as exciting as you think it may be. There are usually crowds of people hovering over, and you have to kind of squeeze your way through to see the documents. It's such a cool thing to lay your eyes on, but the experience is over in the blink of an eye. It's fun, just a little anti-climactic.

Georgetown. It's such a great neighborhood to visit, don't get me wrong. I wish we could go back on a weekday when it's not as crowded. But the crowds of people everywhere definitely put a damper on our personal experience. If it hadn't been so saturated with people, we probably would have loved it. I would definitely go again and plan on a weekday visit, maybe not during peak tourist season, to really take it in and enjoy it.

The White House. It wasn't a priority for us to see the White House, but our hotel was pretty close to it, so we swung by one day on our way back. It's kind of like if you've seen pictures of it, it's not that different in real life. It's just not as impressive from the outside as some of the other intricate buildings and monuments around the city. It was nice to walk by and see, but it wasn't a highlight for us. I'm sure if you went inside it would be a whole other story, but we didn't take a tour of the interior.

Keep in mind, these are all just our opinions. Take them for what they're worth.

Food
We loved Pizza Paradiso in Georgetown, as previously mentioned. So fresh & so yummy.

Baked & Wired in Georgetown was also worth the wait. The cookies were soft and chewy, and the cupcakes were worth all the hype I'd read about online prior to visiting. Plus, the cupcakes were huge, so extra points for value.

Ted's Bulletin. I feel like this was probably pretty touristy, but we both loved it here. The food was great, and the Ted's Tarts just kind of made the whole thing even more exciting. And the interior had a very old-fashioned D.C. elected officials-who-dine kind of feel. It was a cool experience.

Smoke & Barrel. Since Josh is vegan/vegetarian, when we travel to cities I always try to find a restaurant that has a lot of veggie options for him. He's usually limited to just one or two things on a menu, and whenever we travel to bigger cities, there's always a better selection of vegetarian-friendly options. I found this place while looking for just that, and oh.my.god. it was so good. I let him pick everything, and we shared the vegan wings, fried pickles and vegan spare ribs, and even I loved them all. They serve real meat, too, and it seemed to be a well-loved local neighborhood hangout. The bar/drink menu was also impressive.

The fried pickles and vegan wings at Smoke & Barrel.

Teak Wood Thai. We went here on Friday after walking around in the cold all day, and I was craving Pad Thai. This was only a short walk from our hotel, and surprisingly very good! We both loved our dishes. My shrimp Pad Thai was packed with huge, fresh shrimp, and the portions were amazing for the price.

Cherry Blossoms/Time Of Year
We were of course hoping to see the Cherry Blossoms in all their glory, but we definitely missed them. There were a few streets around downtown D.C. that still had some Cherry Blossom-lined streets in full bloom, but none were in bloom around the monuments or Tidal Basin. With the exception of one. It's so hard to time your trip to see all the Cherry Blossoms at peak. Since we booked this trip so last-minute, we tried to plan it out so we would make it for peak season, but of course the Northeast was hit with that huge blizzard in March, which delayed peak season (which actually would have worked out well for us since we were there in early April). But, it ended up killing most of them. Can't plan for things like that! With the Cherry Blossoms usually in peak at the end of March, it's also hard to decide if you want to delay your trip by a week or two to hope for warmer weather and catching the very end of peak Cherry Blossom season. Coming from NY where we don't really get warm weather until end of April, it was a balancing act to get both. We kind of failed at both, but it was still a great trip.

One thing that was a bit frustrating were all the school tours. Kids.were.every.where. Like, everywhere you looked, there were massive amounts of teenagers. I knew this beforehand, but wasn't quite prepared for how many there would be. Most of them excited to be out of town, without their parents, acting weird, etc. Our last night there, the Lincoln Memorial was overrun with school groups, oddly enough, even though it was just before dark. Girls were taking strange "sexy" group poses in front of Honest Abe, and Josh and I were like, "Let's go." It wasn't so bad that it drastically affected our trip or anything. I was able to tune them out most of the time because there's so much to do and see, but it was definitely worth mentioning. I mean, I went when I was a teenager, so I should have known.

Weather
We were there April 6-9 and the weather was all over the place. Prior to leaving, the weather reports had been saying the three days we were there it would be mid-60s and sunny every day. The day before we left for NYC, that changed, and they were calling for a cold front and rain our first two days. Sadly, that didn't change. Our second day there, it was cold and windy. I had to bundle up in a blanket scarf because I only packed a light coat. Thankfully, walking everywhere kept me a little warmer than usual. The third day, however, was perfect. Sunny and high of 65. I was prepared and over-packed for this trip in case the weather was crazy, so thankfully I was ready every day with long sleeves, light sweaters and scarves for the colder days, and t-shirts for the warmer days.

Random observations
Be prepared to go through security everywhere you visit. Even museums. We went through security a few times once inside the Capitol building (because we did both the tour and gallery viewings). We also had to go through security at the museums, the Senator's buildings and the Supreme Court building. Josh regretted wearing a belt that day.

People love honking their car horns! It was out of control. Not even in NYC do they honk their horns so much. Most of the time, we didn't even know why people were doing it - it was like it was happening because everyone felt like it. Sometimes cars were yielding to walking pedestrians, and cars behind them were honking at the yielding cars to move. It was nuts. Kind of funny, but mostly struck us as odd.

The walking street lights were set at really long increments. We're so used to Chicago and New York City street lights with a countdown of like 12 seconds to get across to the next street. Here, we kept seeing 60 seconds, 70 seconds, and even 90. It was kind of amazing to not get anxiety, rushing to try to cross the street in time.

Josh wanted to point out how baffled he was by the traffic circles having stop lights. I was confused by this, too. Our hotel was right off Thomas Circle, and when we first pulled into the circle, we had to slam our breaks on at the red light because we've never seen a traffic light inside a traffic circle. We both thought it was rather curious, indeed.

It was clean. I didn't have expectations one way or another, but the city, we found, was impeccably clean.

8 comments:

  1. Like Josh, I have never been to DC. My husband works in the defense industry so he has gone there a good bit and is reluctant to think of it as a vacation. BTW, most defense work has moved to beautiful Huntsville Alabama and those who were reluctant to move to Alabama have found we are a fun bunch here. Also you can have a mansion here for what you pay for a house there. So most everyone has decided Alabama is OK. I am still working on my husband because DC is on my bucket list and we can get a direct flight there from here. I would like to stay at least five days as I want to see the Smithsonian. My husband is a big fan of Georgetown as well. Thanks for all the tips and hints.

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    1. Hi Arlene! Oh, I hope you get to visit one day. Such an inspiring place. I can see how your husband wouldn't see it as a vacation, though :) Five days would be the perfect amount - you'll have time to see almost everything and then have an afternoon or two of relaxation or unplanned things. Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comment. I know I haven't been great at responding in the past, but I know I always read them and they bring a smile to my face! :)

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  2. I always look forward to seeing a blog post from you, Sam. We need a new video of your progress in remodeling. I can't wait to see the upstairs come to life as you and Josh have planned and worked so hard on it.

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    1. Aww, thank you! I'm hoping to get another renovations video up soon. Our bathroom is finally taking shape, which is exciting.

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  3. So glad you had a chance to visit D.C.!! I had visitors over & didn't have a chance to give you my recommendations (via YouTube). So glad you enjoyed your time here, I oftentimes forget where I live until the weather starts to get warmer & the influx of tourists take over the city. You came at a good time, it can get muggy and very humid in late-Spring. I literally go to Georgetown every weekend, I'm surprised I didn't bump into you ☺️ (I worked their for ~12 years).

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    1. Oh my goodness, how lucky you are to live in such a wonderful city! But oh my goodness, yes, the tourists - I can imagine that must get tiresome? But you have so many amazing things to distract you, so maybe not :)

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  4. I am so with you on despising crowds, but I am surprised you found Georgetown any worse than Manhattan or Cape Cod/Nantucket? It makes me rethink going to NYC, a place I have never wanted to visit based solely of my near phobia of crowds!

    I enjoyed Nantucket and Cape Cod, but the crowds nearly did me in.

    Thanks so much for sharing your visit; DC is an amazing place to visit and it's always such fun to go with someone who's never been, but has an interest in history and politics. That picture of you and Josh is freaking adorable!

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    1. Oh, a person who understands my crowd phobia! I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was completely unprepared for it. I never thought it would be so insanely crowded. I surprisingly don't feel that way often in NYC - I avoid certain areas like Times Square, and mentally prepare myself for things like the tree at Rockefeller Center. But I don't otherwise feel too claustrophobic there. Same goes for CC/Nantucket. I'm either so blissfully happy to be at the ocean and can ignore people or have trained myself to avoid heavy crowds - sometimes Chatham/PTown start to get to me though after a few hours.

      I'm glad you enjoyed this!

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