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Archive for April, 2009

Taking the Leap

 

The New York Times Frugal Traveler

The New York Times Frugal Traveler

A time of terrible economic downturn seems like an awful time to contemplate a big trip, European getaway, or even a vacation.  Now we have also been put on watch for signs of Swine Flu as well.  It may seem that the Heavens are trying to tell you to buy some charcoal briquettes and a plastic K-mart lounge chair and stay home this summer.  But, despite all indications to the contrary, this might just be the perfect time to travel.  There are airfare deals galore, crowds are expected to be down this summer and the euro is down to 1.3 euros to $1.

Take this article from one of my new favorites – The Frugal Traveler at the New York Times.  When he went on his frugal Grand Tour a year ago the exchange rate spiked as high as 1.6 euros to $1.  He estimates that it is now possible to complete his original tour for under $100 a day. It’s worth noting that this calculation includes the 2% fee many credit card companies charge on foreign transations.  Since Mr. Frugal also gives you tips on how to get out of paying those, the trip becomes even cheaper.   Combine this budget with the current low cost of airfare and maybe a European vacation does not seem so out of reach.

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The Land of the Free

The Capitol Dome as seen from the terrace at the Newseum, the one place in DC where I was paid a hefty admission.  Luckily, this slick, modern shrine to journalism floored me and was worth the Andrew Jackson.

The Capitol Dome as seen from the terrace at the Newseum, the one place in DC where I was paid a hefty admission. Luckily, this slick, modern shrine to journalism floored me and was worth the Andrew Jackson.

I was not in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day and I’m glad.   Walking through this beautiful city in early March a brutal wind seemed to hurry us from building to building, push us off of the mall and into one Smithsonian museum after another.  The temperature during our visit was moderate, mid-fifties, nowhere near the arctic chill that thousands endured to see a tiny speck of an Obama take the oath.

I may have missed the excitement of that historic day, but the city is still pulsing with excitement two months later and as you walk the mall you see the lingering evidence of the throngs: crumpled Obama stickers stuck to benches and the mall itsself, ripped up by the frosty feet of a gazillion Democrats.

Vacationing in D.C at this time of economic crisis may seem like taking a trip into the belly of the beast, but it is a remarkably budget friendly city.  In fact, we were there for five days and only paid for entrance to one site, the stunning Newseum. (It’s expensive but completely worth it.  You leave feeling romantic about the Constitution, which is convenient because it’s just a hop skip and a jump to the National Archives where you can come face to face with that document.) Cheap accommodations in town were found on Hotwire (under $100 for a king room at the Omni Shoreham, one block from a metro stop and a dozen ethnic eateries) and the city is full of cheap places to eat and fancier places with great happy hour deals.  It’s the perfect place for a quick, cheap, bang for your buck getaway.

Here’s the free roundup:

National Gallery of Art

National Museum of American History

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum (now featuring a collection of New Deal art from the WPA)

National Portrait Gallery

Lincoln Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial

The World War II Memorial

The Capitol

Ford’s Theatre

The National Archives (in addition to the Big Documents like the Bill of Rights, don’t miss their museum which includes such gems as a letter from a kid to Ronald Reagan asking for him to give him federal aid since his mom declared his room a “disaster area.”)

The tickets aren’t free at The Kennedy Center but there’s a lot more to the center than the (varied, interesting, international) theatre and music.  We were there to see a show, The Arab Richard III, but the complex is also chock-a-block with exhibits.  When we were there we wandered the main building and saw traditional Arab costumes, modern Arabic art on display, a photo exhibit of Egyptian matinee idols, and a giant kaleidoscope installation.  You did not need a ticket to take in any of this great art nor did you need one to buy a $5 glass of wine to take out onto the center’s lovely terrace overlooking the city.

By the way, the best eating options on the Mall are found in musem basements.  If you are a really tight budget you might brave the hot dog carts lining the streets or head to the bland food court at the Air and Space Museum.  But for just a little more money you can get an upscale cafeteria lunch and great ambiance in the Cascade Cafe in the National Gallery of Art.  The restaurant is located next to an impressive and soothing waterfall fountain and the menu includes BBQ, delicious flatbread pizzas, and a gelato bar.

A true home away from home.  Julia Childs' to be exact.  The National Museum of America History displays her kitchen along with other Julia artifacts.

A true home away from home. Julia Childs' to be exact. The National Museum of America History displays her kitchen along with other Julia artifacts.

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