Submitted by Empish J. Thomas, CVI’s Public Education Manager
Every year my summer vacation is usually a trip back home to see family or a staycation reading and relaxing in my air-conditioned house. But this year I decided to make a change. I have been to Washington, DC several times for work or disability-related events. While there I never had time to see the historic sites or tour the Capitol and surrounding Mall. I kept telling myself I will come back and do a vacation to DC so I can see everything. So when the opportunity to travel with a tour group came up I took advantage.
I decided to take my vacation this way because friends and family are not always available. Also, I have discovered since losing my vision that traveling alone can be a bit overwhelming. Another reason I chose the travel tour group was because everything was already pre-arranged. The travel packages were clearly outlined and displayed on the website with a daily agenda and use of a sighted guide. The company is called Mind’s Eye Travel and they specialize in group travel for the blind and visually impaired. All I had to do was pay the fee and show up. You can’t get any easier than that!
The first night we met at the hotel restaurant in Old Alexandria for a dinner meet and greet. My 7-member group plus guide dog consisted of sighted, blind and visually impaired travelers from across the country. Our personal backgrounds were just as diverse from age, career status, race and vision level.
In the morning, following a delicious breakfast buffet, we all met for a private bus tour of DC. As the guide drove by each location he gave the main highlights. We road by the Vietnam Memorial, The FBI Building, the Washington Monument, The Pentagon, and of course the Capitol. We stopped at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. There we were able to see the statues of him, both the one exposing his wheelchair and the one that did not. We also walked by numerous water fountains as Roosevelt was fond of water and springs. During his lifetime, he traveled often to Warm Springs, for what was believed to have therapeutic properties for his polio. But what I found most interesting about this section was the braille display of some of his speeches. I was able to place my fingers directly on the stone and feel Braille letters.
After our guided bus tour we came back to Alexandria for a food walking tour. The weather was mild and breezy which made it nice for a long stroll through town. As we walked along the cobble and brick sidewalks and streets, our guide gave details of buildings and houses in Old Alexandria. She explained that many of the houses are historical sites and the outsides are preserved in their original state. Between viewing these houses we stopped at several restaurants to sample a variety of cuisines. Along the walking tour we visited Christ’s Church, the place that the late President George Washington worshipped. Inside the church you can actually see the pew where he sat for services.
The next day we were up and at it again. This time we took a water tour to Mount Vernon. We boarded a small ferry boat and then took a short bus ride up. There we walked through Washington’s mansion. We toured his dining room, bedroom, study and tomb. We also walked down to the slave memorial which exhibited his written emancipation freeing his slaves. We next toured the slave quarters. I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw them. I was envisioning the typical slave quarters of a small, old dilapidated wooden structure with a dirt floor. But they were roomy and made of brick.
On the last day of vacation we visited the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. Our personal tour guide gave interesting facts about the creation of the American flag, and tidbits about the Civil War. Unfortunately, that was all that I saw because I was too tired. Who knew you could become exhausted on your vacation? LOL! After two full days of walking I was feeling the effects and sat down to rest.
But later that evening we boarded the King’s Trolley for a ride up to the wharf by the Potomac River for dinner. We stopped first for a little musical entertainment by Jamey Turner, who plays a glass harmonica. With his fingertips he created beautiful musical sounds through a series of glass bolls filled with various amounts of water. He invited people from the crowd to join him, and of course, I had to try! He instructed me to wet my fingertips in the water and run them quickly around the rim of the glass bowl. As I did that a tinkling melodious tone came out. Afterward we ate dinner where I sampled, for the first time, clam tater tots and fired lava cake. Very delicious!
In the morning after a well-needed restful sleep, I said goodbye to my roommate, ate breakfast and headed to the airport. As I flew back to Atlanta, I reflected on my vacation. It was an incredible experience for me because I learned so much historical information about Washington, DC. I also reflected on traveling with a tour group and found it a wonderful experience.
So are you ready to go on your summer vacation? Will you be traveling away from home or having a staycation? Are you traveling with friends and family? Have you ever consider traveling with a tour group? Share your summer vacation plans in the comment section below.