Roads: I-95
Miles: 324
Time: 5 hours

It never ceases to amaze me how much better the second day after an indiscriminate night on the town actually feels. I still wasn’t 100 percent but I also wasn’t contemplating jumping into the Potomac with a 55 gallon drum of concrete tied to my leg. On top of that, the West Wing tour started an hour and fifteen minutes later than the East Wing tour had on Saturday, a bonus of immeasurable advantage. Nish and I headed downtown around 10:30 and hit the White House. The West Wing tour is considerably more prestigious than the East Wing tour in that the general public doesn’t get to go. Only staffers of the Administration can bring their family and friends on the tour so it felt considerably more important compared to the general crush of Saturday’s tour.

I felt very privileged to be seeing up close the same rooms I’d seen in movies, television shows and press conferences for so long. The Rose Garden, even in winter, is beautiful and you can imagine generations of Presidents’ kids playing on the lawn. Seeing the Oval Office up close was amazing though our tour got very crowded because they were shutting down all tours for a press event at noon. Even with the press equipment in the room, you got the sense of what had gone on in the room over the years. I even got to see the door of the Situation Room though nothing more since it’s not actually on the tour. I’m thankful I have a friend working in the Administration who gave me the opportunity to see this piece of history.

After lunch, we headed back down town to the United States Botanic Garden. Again, visiting lots of gardens in the winter time doesn’t make for the most compelling visits as far as the outdoor portions are concerned. However, this botanic garden also has a huge indoor conservatory with a fascinating collection of environments symbolized in plant life. Jungles, deserts and tropical rain forests all exist within the conservatory. They also had a room full of beautiful orchids growing. There is a jungle canopy walk where you can walk around on the eye level of birds if the birds live on the second story where vines intertwine with trees. They had a model train collection for Christmas which was also highly popular. The Conservatory and botanic gardens are something that most people don’t think about seeing when they come to DC (I know I hadn’t in several previous trips) but it’s a beautiful and intriguing place.

Sunday night was devoted to eating at home and just chatting and catching up, something that hadn’t happened much with the crush of activities over the past few days. I enjoyed hearing from my old friends.

Monday morning, I left when they left for work and pointed the car south towards North Carolina. The drive out of the City was uneventful and smooth. It’s always better to be going against traffic in DC if you can do it. I had hoped to visit the Edgar Allen Poe museum in Richmond, VA but alas, there is some unwritten universal law that says all interesting museums must be closed on Monday. I have run into that twice now and it’s frustrating. Instead, I just kept the car pointed south until I got to Fayetteville with the exception of a stop at the North Carolina Visitors’ Center and a gas station. Day 9 was pretty low key in general. I had dinner with my cousin and her family at Luigi’s in Fayetteville, a very good Italian restaurant. After that, I read in the hotel. Tomorrow is a visit to an excellent military history museum on Fort Bragg and then points farther south, Charleston, SC.

So far, I’ve traveled 1883 miles from home. I’ve seen parts of 3 states that I’d never visited, quite a few attractions and historical landmarks that have been wonderful and 4 cities I’ve never stayed in. The trip has been fascinating and wonderful. I’m not sure exactly how much longer it’s going to last but I’m really glad I chose to do it. Like many of the things in my life, it sprang more from serendipity than from meticulous planning. So far, that has worked out. I’m looking forward to the last three cities that I have definitely listed on my itinerary, Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville. After that, I suspect I will turn back west towards home and make a valiant effort to return to normal life, having gained experiences that will last a lifetime.