The Top Five–Vacation Photos of 2022

I took so many photos on our vacation this summer, and so many of them turned out better than I hoped, so it was almost impossible to choose a selection for this “Top Five” list. Yes, there are six photos, and no, I’m not sorry…the fact that there is only one bonus photo is a miracle, and I refuse to apologize for it!

We’ll start at the beginning of our trip with this photo of the Washington Monument as seen from the German-American Friendship Garden. It’s probably not my best photo of the landmark, but I love the lighting, I love the fountains, and of course I love the monument standing tall in the background:

This photo captures that boardwalk feeling in Myrtle Beach, SC perfectly!

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is such an immersive experience…you actually feel like you’re in one of the movies when you’re there! Also, this may be the best picture I took on our trip.

I took many, many (MANY) photos of the castle at the Magic Kingdom, but there’s something special about seeing it lit up at night:

I know it’s kind of silly, but this picture I took at Disney Springs just looks so good! It has a real Rodeo Drive vibe:

On our final day at the parks, Bunny and I did a speed run through EPCOT looking to add 50th anniversary pressed pennies to our collection. We did pause to admire the view here, though, and it was a perfect moment, with the puffy clouds against the bright blue sky reflecting in the water and the colorful flowers in the foreground. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a monorail going by on the bridge!

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up my “Top Five” photos lists from 2022 with a look at everything else!

WWII Memorial

As you’re probably aware, there are many, many memorials scattered throughout Washington D.C. Memorials to individuals, to the different branches of the military, and to the wars fought by the US, and most of those are at the National Mall, not too far from the biggest memorial of all, the Washington Monument. They are all well-designed and moving, but the WWII Memorial was my favorite.

It’s in a great location between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, so there are great views in both directions.

There are bas-relief sculptures on either side to represent the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters:

The center of the Memorial is a pool with fountains.

There are meaningful quotes scattered throughout:

Freedom Wall has 4,048 gold stars, and each of those represents 100 American WWII personnel who died in the war or are still listed as missing. It is staggering to see the stars and know what they represent.

We noticed a lot of people sitting with their feet in the pool, and at first I thought that was a little strange and maybe even disrespectful, but then we came across a sign inviting people to sit (not stand or wade) with their feet in the water, as a reminder of the way American soldiers celebrated the end of WWII in the fountains of Europe.

Once I understood the meaning of the fountain, and why people were soaking their feet, I also took part, and it was a moving experience to do so, especially with the view of the Washington Monument in front of me. It felt like being part of something bigger, more important.

There are both Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Memorial, to represent the two Theaters in the war:

There are also 56 columns surrounding the Memorial, one for each state and territory at the time of WWII (if you’re doing the math, Alaska and Hawaii were territories at that point, as were the Philippines). The empty space in the middle of the column represents the losses suffered during the war, and each column is adorned with two wreaths…one of wheat to represent agriculture on the home front, and one of oak to represent the strength of the country.

Even though I didn’t lose any family members in WWII, it was an incredibly moving place to visit.

Do you have a favorite memorial in D.C. or elsewhere?

The Library of Congress

Originally, the Library of Congress wasn’t on my list of places to visit while we were in Washington D.C., but the moment we walked past it, I knew I would have to see the inside!

It really is like a cathedral for books. The architecture is impressive, and the artwork in the building is absolutely stunning. I thought the Central Library in St. Louis was a big deal (and it is), but this is just so much more!

The big attraction, though, is the overlook above the Reading Room. I’ve seen it in pictures and movies, but that is nothing like seeing it in person. And the glimpse through to even a small section of the shelves that house the books is overwhelming!

It’s such an amazing facility!

I’m really glad that we added this to our vacation “to-do” list at the last minute!

Tasty Tuesday–Ben’s Chili Bowl

We only ate one meal out in Washington D.C. (the first time I had eaten in a restaurant since before the beginning of the pandemic!), and Ryan found a really cool local place for us to try…Ben’s Chili Bowl:

Before I get to the food, let’s start outdoors. In 2004, D.C. had a public art project, “PandaMania” and one of the remaining statues is located at Ben’s. Seeing it brought back fond memories of our STL250 cake hunting experience!

Ben’s is over 60 years old, and inside, it looks exactly like you would expect a restaurant of its age to…an old-school diner, which I loved!

Virginia Ali and her husband Ben started the restaurant together in 1958, the same year they got married. The big picture over the diner counter is like seeing a family photo in someone’s house!

I tried the Original Chili Half-Smoke (I wasn’t brave enough to try the spicy variety!). Normally, I can kind of take or leave hot dogs…usually they’re just ok. But the half-smoke at Ben’s was really good. There was a definite snap when I bit into it, and the flavor was fantastic. Chili, mustard, and onions are also the perfect hot dog topping…almost good as a Chicago-style dog!

The art on the building is so cool (and yes, President Obama has eaten there)…it really establishes the character of the place, and visually summarizes what Ben’s website says: “Our Black community is front and center in this story and Ben’s is a perfect case study – a study in our quest of freedom and its ongoing re-definition. Ben’s Chili Bowl is proudly Black-owned, and a historic landmark in Washington, DC’s culture.”

I love finding cool local places to visit when we travel!

The U.S. Capitol

We only took one guided tour during our time in Washington D.C., and it was significant…the US Capitol building!

The compass set in the walkway outside is pretty cool:

We got to see the room that originally housed the Supreme Court:

Every place you walk through in the building is imposing and beautiful:

A highlight of a Capitol tour is visiting the Rotunda…it’s such an immense space, and you realize how many other tours are going on at the same times as yours!

The central painting…well, it basically shows George Washington ascending to godhood wearing a Snuggie!

No, really!

Every state gets to donate two statues to the Capitol collection. Many of them (including one of the contributions from Illinois, Frances Willard), are located in Statuary Hall. Not all of them are displayed there, though, because they ran into problems with the floor not being able to support the weight of the collected statues not just once, but twice. So there are also statues scattered throughout the building…I’m showing a mix of locations here. One of the most moving pieces in Statuary Hall is of Chief Standing Bear, especially when you hear the story of how Chief Standing Bear, who was detained at Fort Omaha when he tried to return his son’s remains to their ancestral lands for burial, tried to sue, only to be denied because he was not considered a person under the current law. He challenged that decision and made a beautiful speech, in which he said: “My hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. The same God made us both. I am a man.” The judge rightly determined that he was indeed a person, and Chief Standing Bear went on to bury his son among their people, and he was eventually buried there as well.

Statuary Hall is a pretty cool place. even if you’re not focused on the statues!

The original model of the Statue of Freedom (the bronze statue that sits atop the Capitol dome) is on display in Emancipation Hall at the Visitor Center:

You can’t ignore the mistakes of the past, and I was happy to see this acknowledgment:

I had toured the US Capitol when I visited D.C. as a child something like 35 years ago, and my memories were vague and different. It was very exciting to go back as an adult and see different things and really understand what I was looking at!


I thought this sculpture, designed by José de Rivera, located outside the National Museum of American History was really cool!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Four

Washington D.C.; 13,283 steps

Our second day in Washington D.C. was much less frenzied, which was probably a good thing, because after walking almost 17 miles the day before, our feet were tired! We did get a slightly earlier start heading to the now-familiar train station, and this time, I really noticed stuff as we passed by…I especially liked the mid-century design of the airport:

The reason for our early departure? We were scheduled for a tour of the Capitol, and we wanted to make sure we were there with plenty of time!

It was amazing to be in the building. I’ll share full details of the tour later, but for now, here’s a peek at the grandeur of the Rotunda:

We learned that every state gets to donate two statues to the Capitol statuary collection, and we found one from Illinois in Statuary Hall. It’s of Frances Willard, and was the first statue of a woman added to to the Capitol collection, which I think is pretty cool!

Proof we were all there:

After our tour, we headed across the street to the Library of Congress. The sheer magnitude of the building is dizzying!

We walked past a protest outside of the Supreme Court on our way to the National Portrait Gallery (and we were all thankful that no major decisions were made while we were still in town!).

Our main purpose at the Portrait Gallery was seeing the pictures of the presidents (the other gallery we were interested in visiting was closed for renovations, which became a common theme for our time in D.C.).

I don’t actually know what this is called, but it looked really cool!

There was a train station right across from the Portrait Gallery, which was good news for us, because we were kind of over walking at that point. We had originally planned to visit Arlington National Cemetery that afternoon to see the changing of the guard, but there was a lot of construction which made us too late to really see anything, so we settled for a glimpse of the Pentagon on the way back to our hotel, where we read about the Unknown, the meaning behind the changing of the guard, and the Arlington Ladies.

Up next: A visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon before the next leg of the trip!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Three

Washington D.C.; 37,465 steps

Our first full day in D.C., we did pretty much everything and almost nothing. We could have stayed there a week and not seen and done all of the things we wanted to do, but we did our best to hit all the highlights, starting with a ride on the Washington Metro. I love riding trains in different cities, and I really loved the design of their stations!

We found plenty of pigeons as soon as we arrived downtown:

Our first stop was at the nation’s capital’s castle…the Smithsonian Castle. It’s a beautiful building with a lovely garden, and the workers there were very helpful in showing us where all of the various museums are located (our one big sadness was that the Air and Space Museum was closed for renovations).

From there we headed to what may be the most recognizable monument in the country, where we had a Hamilton moment…”She tells my story.”

We continued our walk down the National Mall, stopping to see the WWII Memorial, which turned out to be my favorite memorial in the city (full details in the future…stay tuned!):

Of course we also saw the Lincoln Memorial (and lots of ducklings along the way, while we played “On Your Left!”):

We visited the not-quite-complete Korean War Veterans Memorial. Maybe it’s because we watch M*A*S*H so much, but this was another favorite of mine.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was probably the busiest (outside of the Lincoln Memorial), and there were many flowers and notes:

There is also a separate Vietnam Women’s Memorial:

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is even more impressive in person, and there was something especially humbling about visiting it around Juneteenth.

There is also a District memorial (the only such memorial in the city), the District of Columbia War Memorial, which recognizes those from the nation’s capital that served in WWI. Both General John J. Pershing and John Philip Sousa were present at its dedication in 1931.

The nation’s WWI Memorial (which is not fully complete) is not located on the Mall near the others, but we did stumble across it, and the statue of General Pershing, eventually:

We weren’t sure what the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was when we first saw it, but the French Second Empire architectural style is easy to identify:

I’m not going to lie…we were a little underwhelmed by the view of the White House…between the fencing and the distance the public is kept from it, it’s hard to feel like you really saw it:

Until you realize that there is a much better view from the other side! Our house is a very, very, very fine house! And we got to do the Cha Cha Slide in the street out front. I was hoping to do our favorite group dance on our trip, but I was not expecting to do it at the most famous address in America!

We also walked through Lafayette Square, where we admired the statues of Lafayette (of course), Kościuszko, von Steuben, and Rochambeau, making it a park dedicated to Europeans (two Frenchmen, a Polish general, and a Prussian), who assisted the new nation in the Revolutionary War.

We stopped to get a Philly cheesesteak of all things from a D.C. food truck…I’ve never been to Philadelphia myself, but Ryan tells me it was pretty authentic!

Then it was time to visit some Smithsonians. We started with the National Museum of American History. I was very disappointed that the gallery that houses the Ruby Slippers was being renovated, so we didn’t get to see those, but I did especially enjoy a display about the nation’s First Ladies:

Moose was interested in the section dedicated to American music:

And Chickadee was very excited to see Abraham Lincoln’s actual hat:

We also visited the National Museum of Natural History, where the main attraction was the Hope Diamond.

There were lots of other cool things to see, too (we even touched a piece of Mars!), even though the layout of the museum made it a little challenging to figure out where to go next.

We also visited the National Archive (no photography permitted), where it was a moving experience to see not only the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, but also the 1297 Magna Carta, which strangely few people seemed interested in.

Afterwards, we stopped at an ice cream truck outside the museums:

And then got on the train to grab dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Full details on our meal there in the future, but it was delicious!

After eating, we hopped back on the train to return to the National Mall. Near the station, we came across another memorial. The different branches of the military have their own memorials scattered throughout the D.C. area. We didn’t see them all (and photographed even less of them), but I really thought the design of the United States Navy Memorial was cool:

We located a statue of John Paul Jones, and I continued my tradition of not being able to remember the phrase he is famous for saying (“I have not yet begun to fight!”).

I liked seeing how the evening light made the Washington Monument look as we took another lap around the reflecting pool:

We even found someone willing to take a family photo!

We stopped by the German-American Friendship Garden, which I felt a particular connection to.

Our evening walk also took us past a statue of a “hometown hero” from my childhood, Kazimierz Pulaski. I was never really clear as to why he was so popular in Illinois and especially Chicago, although I suspect the large Polish population in the area has something to do with it, but it was still cool to see someone from the Revolution so obscure to so many but so familiar to me!

The Waldorf Astoria isn’t particularly significant…I just thought it looked pretty:

Up next: A tour of the US Capitol!