I've never been a counselor at summer camp before. (I watched Wet Hot American Summer, but I don't think that counts.) This past weekend, I think I got the closest I've ever been to that kind of role. I co-chaperoned a four-day trip to Washington, DC for three student clubs at the community college where I work.
I have a background in event planning and coordination, and got to co-chaperone with my work friend Lauren (who is amazing, and did the lion's share of the work). The trip was so much fun AND so much work. (That's the summer camp counselor dichotomy, I think.) Just managing all the activities, transportation, metro cards, hotel reservations, the students' needs...plus I was posting live on social media on behalf of the college the whole time.
I wouldn't call it stressful necessarily, but we were constantly busy. I slept amazingly every night because of sheer exhaustion. All these pictures are from my iPhone because I quickly realized carrying around my DSLR was causing serious back pain (we walked. so. much.) The chaperones ended up not having much free time, so I didn't get to do as much independent, off-the-beaten-path exploring as I think I would have liked.
But listen. These students are kick-ass. I got to know them and really bond one-on-one a lot more than I thought I would, which I think was my favorite part of the trip. They're all so curious and kind and intelligent and hilarious, each in their own ways. It was a privilege spending time with them. That was the easy part :)
DC is an incredible city. (That made the trip really easy too. Oh, the dichotomies! ;) The metros are clean and dependable; the people are friendly and diverse; and amazing monuments and historical sites are just everywhere. This was actually my very first time to Washington. I can't wait to go back for a "real" vacation, and I know Kristie misses it (she used to live in Dupont Circle a million years ago).
I'll share a few of my favorite things we did (and ate), just in case you're curious...
- Go to the top of the Washington Monument! It's free; all you have to do is get there super early (between 6:30 and 7) to pick up tickets. They start distributing them at 8:30 a.m., but the line forms fast. (Alternatively, you can call ahead of time to reserve tickets, but they cost $1.50 with that method.) You can request your desired tour time for that day, and each person can collect up to six tickets. Luckily we had two early-bird volunteers who waited in line and picked up a dozen tickets :) It's a 70-second elevator to the top, and the views are amazing.
- Visit every single exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Or any Smithsonian museum, really. I'm happy we picked Natural History, though. The exhibits were incredible! It took us about three hours to do the whole thing. I really loved the Ocean Hall, and the Hall of Mammals.
- Walk the National Mall. We walked from the museum all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial. I recommend stopping for ice cream on the way (food and ice cream trucks abound), and then relaxing under a tree next to the Reflection Pool after you greet President Lincoln.
- Tour the State Capitol. Massachusetts' congressman Richard Neal was on hand to give a presentation and short tour to our group. We got to sit in the House of Representatives chamber (where Obama gives State of the Union addresses) and pretend we were in "Scandal." But seriously though, it felt like we were in rarefied air! And I peed in the nicest bathroom I've ever seen.
- Explore different neighborhoods. Our group really liked the shopping in Georgetown, and I was personally a huge fan of Dupont Circle's vibe.
- Buy souvenirs. I got a little tourist-y and picked up a few treasures. (I have to admit, I am a big fan of museum gift shops.) Faves include a history book about women and the Civil War, and a coloring book of First Ladies! (The latter I only saw at the Lincoln Memorial gift shop, in case you're curious – luckily it's available online too.)
- Visit the monuments at night. The temperature is cooler, there are fewer crowds, and the monuments are all lit in really thoughtful, interesting ways.
- ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen. We had dinner at their Dupont Circle location. It's basically a Chipotle-style Asian bowl restaurant. A hit with our group because of various food restrictions (all their items are gluten-free and dairy-free).
- Old Glory BBQ. This was a crowd-pleaser, too, and I was impressed with the Georgetown eatery's ability to handle a party of nine. All of their sauces are gluten- and dairy-free. Lauren and I teamed up to demolish a full rack. There are pictures, but...they aren't pretty. Anyway, the food was delicious, and the Americana vibe was fun. We all felt very patriotic ;)
Those were really the two standouts. Restaurants are tough when traveling with a big group (and a few food restrictions). I can't wait to go back and explore more places to eat.
DC, you and I are not done...not by a long shot. :) I can't wait for next time!