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(2013 - Spring/Summer Issue)


My 10-year-old son’s eyes widen and his mouth drops as he listens to retired pilot, Phillip Soucy, describe flying reconnaissance missions on the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a massive stealth aircraft that flies at record-breaking speeds.

Sky High

“It’s literally faster than a speeding bullet,” says Soucy, recounting how at 25,908 metres you can see the curvature of the earth.

The James Bond-worthy jet is one of 160+ aircraft at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, 45 minutes west of Washington, D.C. At 10 storeys high and three football fields long, the Aviation Hangar exhibition space of this Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum facility built in 2003 is so massive that even the Concord looks like a model instead of the real deal.

Every plane has a story, but the biggest star is the Space Shuttle Discovery. Standing close to this spaceship, we see the wear and tear of the tiles, badges of honour for the hard-working shuttle’s 39 space missions.

The kids climb the 50-metre watchtower over Dulles airport, fly a Wright brothers plane simulator, and we leave wondering why we hadn’t heard of this engaging and inspiring facility before.

Iconic Sites

Northern Virginia it turns out is full of pleasant surprises. Take Alexandria. This city’s combination of Toronto’s Yorkville chic (think shopping boutiques and excellent restaurants), historic charm (17th- and 18th-century buildings, cobblestone streets) and lively atmosphere is a highlight for all of us. Located across from D.C., it’s also an ideal home base to explore some of America’s most iconic sites, including the Arlington National Cemetery and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

My kids pick up quite a lot of American history along the way. Perhaps a bit too much.

“Who was Canada’s first president?” my daughter asks. “Prime minister,” I remind her.

It may be time to go home.

Travel Planner

The 10-hour drive from Toronto went smoothly thanks to quiet highways through New York and Pennsylvania, and portable electronics for our kids in the back seat. In Alexandria, Virginia, we stayed at the Hotel Monaco. The boutique hotel supplied pet goldfish (we named them Washington and Lincoln) and kid-sized leopard bath robes. The King Street location is near a number of excellent restaurants. Our favourite, O’Connell’s, served upbattered fish that melts in your mouth and one of the best bread puddings we’ve tasted. Best of all, the kid’s menu boasted the same quality as the adults, a rarity.

Virginia Tourism Corporation: Virginia.org/Regions/NorthernVirginia

Arlington National Cemetery: arlingtoncemetery.mil

George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate: mountvernon.org

Hotel Monaco: monaco-alexandria.com

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: airandspace.si.edu/udvarhazy

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