The day dawned rainy with predictions of thunderstorms for the afternoon. With that in mind, I hung back at the hotel for most of the morning and did some travel planning. I packed a separate bag in case I decided to go to the Hilltop Hostel, but they were completely booked.
I drove into the district and toured the major monuments by car (no parking). The Holocaust Museum was at the top of my list for the day, but there was absolutely NO parking to be had anywhere in a 3 block radius. Second on the list was the reopened Museum of American History-no parking on that street, but I lucked out at the Smithsonian Castle.
Just as I parked the skies opened up again-oh well at least I was close to the entrance. I briefly toured the castle (locating a flask given to General Phillip Sheridan - a distant relative) and walked through the puddles and light drizzle to the opposite side of the mall.
I headed down the street to my desired destination of the Museum of American History. Shortly after I arrived, I joined the highlights tour and stayed with them all the way up to the military history area (they were not touring this area). I decided this was something I really wanted to see (found General Sheridan's sword and scabbard from the Civil War) and there was not much of a line (comparatively that is). I checked out (at least briefly) most of the exhibits and moved on to the Museum of Natural History.
The place was PACKED. I quickly wandered through the mammals and ocean areas and headed to move my car, as my time had almost expired.
After circling the block only once, I found a decent parking space for touring the Museum of the American Indian. This was something I had been rushed through last time I was here and wanted to check out more. I had missed the Mitsitam Cafe last time and wanted to check it out this time. It was nearing closing time and the food was showing its heat lamp age. I am sure most of it was quite tasty for the lunch crowd, but the only thing that looked appealing to me was the roasted corn at the Meso America stand. The young lady grabbed a fresh piece of roasted corn, slathered it with some kind of spicy mayonaisse looking sauce, sprinkled it with queso fresca, and put two small pieces of lime on the plate (for less than $4). I noticed two employees eating the same thing as I bit into my spicy delicacy. The flavor was wonderfully smoky (the corn was grilled) with spice from the sauce and cooling element of the cheese. When I sprinkled the ear with lime juice the flavor changed completely and became even better with the acidic addition. All too soon the corn was gone, so I toured the museum and stopped in the second floor gift shop. During my stay I watched part of a video about the outdoor exhibit that was built on site.
Back to the car, where I decided to go ahead and try to find the famous Ben's Chili Bowl. Finding it was not the problem, parking definitely was a challenge-but I was hungry! Hint: there is parking behind the restaurant on Ben Ali Street (heading west on U Street you turn right just past the restaurant. The place was packed and became even more so as I stood in line to order my dinner. I ordered the notorious "half smoke" with the standard fixings (mustard, minced onions, and the glorious chili) and a chili cheese fries. I was kind of shocked to be paying almost $6 for fries, but let me tell you I later found them to be worth every penny! While none of the ingredients by themselves are amazing, the combinations were completely wonderful. I do not know what addictive additive they add to that chili, but I am still dreaming of it. This is a definite must doo if you are in the district. My only other suggestion is to take a friend and have them grab a seat while you stand in line-if there are at least 6 in your party you can get table service. The orders coming out to stay looked even better than my take order. I think they lose something when they get qrapped up in foil-so try to get that seat.
The Bay Bridge across from Annapolis to Grasonville was horrible! Over an hour to move about 15 miles! And they charged me for this pleasure.
I was very happy to find that the Holiday Inn Express was honoring their coupon rate (www.roomsavers.com). The room is quite pleasant and I received a waterview room as a bonus. The bed is divine, the large flat screen a welcomed sight to watch the finale of the Next Food Network Star, and I love their toiletries and linens.
ROUTE: VA 7 South> I-66 East> US 50 East
Lodging: Holiday Inn Express in Grasonville, MD
Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian Cafe- Mitsitam
Ben's Chili Bowl
$$$: $3 Toll Bridge $16 Meals $8 Souvenir $66 Hotel = $93