Published On: Sat, Nov 5th, 2016

Trabants, Wonderplace, SparkLab, National Mall, Capitol Riverfront, Side Yards — One Long, Adverturous Day

Today was dedicated to the little ones. I wanted to get Najwa out the house, spend the day away from all the devices that Najwa gets glued to when we’re at home. I was going to need some help, so we picked up her friend Alani and headed out.

On the way to the National Mall, we made a quick stop to the International Spy Museum for the 10th Annual Parade of Trabants. Trabants are these tiny-looking cars that were common in East Germany during the Cold War, used to smuggled people to the other side of the wall.

It’s been more than 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell, but one Cold War icon is still chugging away—the Trabant. Despite their questionable performance and smoky two-stroke engines, these little cars are now affectionately regarded as a symbol of East Germany and the fall of Communism.

Trabants are a rarity here, but on November 5 some of the finest examples in the US will chug their way to the International Spy Museum to celebrate our Tenth Annual Parade of Trabants.

There were these small blocks that anyone could see if they could fit in. And it was one thing to contort your body to fit; the question was if you could stay like that for hours, not moving or making a sound, hoping not to get caught which would’t have guaranteed a not-so-pleasant ending.

For the girls, though, escaping from East Germany would have been a breeze.

International Spy Museum - Parade of Trabants - Najwa and Alani

International Spy Museum - Parade of Trabants - Najwa and Alani

International Spy Museum - Parade of Trabants - Najwa and Alani

The chance to win prizes are always a draw for kids.

International Spy Museum - Parade of Trabants - Najwa and Alani

International Spy Museum - Parade of Trabants - Najwa and Alani

International Spy Museum - Parade of Trabants - Najwa and Alani

Then, we were off to the main attraction.

The first time Najwa and I went to the National Museum of Natural History, I didn’t realize the Spark!Lab closed earlier than the museum; hence, we only spent about 15 minutes in it. I wasn’t going to make that same mistake today.

But first, we started out at Wonderplace where kids get to use their imagination.

Wonderplace at National Museum of American History

Wonderplace is sponsored by Wegmans so it’s all about fresh foods, mostly vegetables and stuff that’s challenging to get kids to take an interest in. It’s fascinating to see how easily they start pretending to prepare, cook and eat fresh foods. I mean, they really were at it as if they really were in a kitchen and really shopping for fresh foods. It helps that all the pretend food was healthy.

Welcome to Wegmans Wonderplace, where history is all around you! Wegmans Wonderplace welcomes curious kids ages 0–6 and their grownups to exercise their imaginations, wiggle their bodies, and explore with their hands. Wonderplace is built around the enduring wonders of childhood, the things kids are naturally curious about—blocks, animals, sounds–and branches out to make connections to the museum’s diverse collections and exhibitions. Our youngest visitors will cook their way through a kid-sized Julia Child’s kitchen, find the owls hiding in the Smithsonian Castle, and captain a tugboat based on a model from our collections. Through playful activities and creative displays of treasured artifacts, young children will get to know the faces, places, and stories of our country in engaging and age-appropriate ways. Wegmans Wonderplace will be a launching pad for a lifetime of learning!

National Museum of American History - Wonderplace

National Museum of American History - Wonderplace

Next to Wonderplace is Spark!Lab. Today’s theme was inventing something powered by wind or water. And with what looks like ordinary objects — cardboard, scissors, tape, whatever — their imaginations kicked in and they created, well, I’m not really sure what they made, but they were convinced their inventions would make the world a better place.

Nduku, Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

Nduku, Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

Najwa and Alani at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab


Also in Spark!Lab was a Solar Tree. It was a pole with a bunch of wires with different endings on them. You connect the different male and female ends and different lights lit up. All powered with solar power. I’m not sure they understood it, but they’re getting there.

Solar Tree at National Museum of American History - Spark!Lab

We spent quite some time at Spark!Lab, until they closed. Then we headed to the exhibit next to it, Places of Invention. The exhibit focuses on particular cities where inventions really blossomed. The girls first got introduced to a computer unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The Apple.

Alani creating an icon on an Apple

Alani creating her very own icon an an old Apple computer.

They were also introduced to the birth of Hip Hop in the Bronx. And they even got a chance to do a little scratching.

Places of Invention - Najwa and Alani

We walked around a few more exhibits, around the museum in general, even took a ride in one of the simulators, making this a much more fruitful trip to the museum than the last time.

Simulators at National Museum of American History

Simulator rides at the museum.

Afterwards, since the next event I had in mind was a few hours away, we just hung out on the National Mall.

When I was growing up, seeing the U.S. Capitol Building was looking at a world landmark, a sight that people travel across the world to witness. For Najwa and her friend Alani, it’s amazing how it’s just a building in the background of their normal lives. And how surrounded by tourists gawking at the national monuments, they just play as if they’re in their front yard playing a game of tag.

We hang out there for a while then headed to Archives Metro to go to our last event of the day.


Najwa and Alani - National Mall



Alani did a good job with the camera. One of the few times there’s proof that I was there.

Najwa and Alani - National Mall

Najwa and Alani - National Mall

We hopped on the Metro at Archives and headed to The Yards.

Najwa and Alani

Najwa and Alani

How long before a scene like this is the two of them talking about some cute boy?

Side Yards at Capitol Riverfront

For the nightcap, I saw this free event at the Capitol Riverfront called Side Yards. I read somewhere that it was a show of performers, which is was, that would be fun for all ages. When we got there, there were IDing and handing out bracelets for those old enough to drink. Funny, the girls weren’t happy that they couldn’t get a bracelet.

Side Yards at Capitol Riverfront

Stilt Walker - Side Yards at Capitol Riverfront

There were several performances, side show type of stuff. Fortunately, before I felt too guilty having Alani out late in that environment, there were a bunch of kids out there. None had bracelets.

Side Yards at Capitol Riverfront

The girls react to a performer swallowing a huge sword.

Performer Side Yards at Capitol Riverfront


It got crowded quick. Real quick. And the ground was pretty muddy, I guess from an earlier sprinkle. We walked around, but there weren’t really any other performers that intrigued the girls so we headed out to the rest of Capitol Riverfront.

Najwa and Alani at Capitol Riverfront


Najwa and Alani - Transportation Walk at Capitol Riverfront

Huge tire as part of Transportation Walk in front of the Department of Transportation.

It was a long day. I felt a bit guilty for having Alani out so late. We started our day before noon; it was almost 9:00 pm by time we made it back to the McDonald’s by the house to wait for Alani’s dad to pick her up. We were all pretty exhausted. We did some serious walking. When Alani’s dad got there, though, I had to ask him to repeat his question, confused about what he was asking. He asked if Najwa can come with them as they headed to the movies to watch Trolls.

Unbelievable. Of course, I said yes, but was amazed at the girls’ stamina! Najwa apparently did doze off near the end of the movie, and promptly fell asleep once she got in the house. But it was a device-free adventure of a day, so all was good.


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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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