Isn’t it fun when you set out to see a landmark—Washington, DC’s Union Station—and discover a surprise? 

My European friends may not understand the novelty of trains since they are such a part of your culture. I was in my thirties when I rode the rail for the first (and became hooked). Boarding California’s Coaster from San Diego to Oceanside, I was clueless as to what to do. Luckily, the conductor took pity on my unvalidated ticket and instead of fining me, educated me. Lesson that it was and lovely coastal views the ride provided, the stops on either end did not involve a vintage train station.

The next transportation lessons were around Heidelberg, Germany. I was too chicken to ride alone since the announcements were in German. With my luck, I’d wind up in Munich when I intended to get to Cologne. That station sprawls, like the Cathedral, but not nearly as lovely. Landing at Frankfurt airport is to land in a small city—complete with attached train line. 

It wasn’t until Italy in 2007 that my sister, Jackie, and I discovered how gorgeous train terminals could be. That revelation involved getting lost in Genoa’s Garibaldi Station….

Back in DC, Alex and I took the ugly, but simple to use Metro from our hotel to Union Station. I anticipated seeing it, then gawking around the US Capitol end of the city for a bit before walking back.

Union Station is Gorgeous and so is the National Postal Museum

Completed in 1908, the facility was used extensively in the 1940s until Americans became fascinated by cars. (Why? I would much rather be in a train than behind the wheel. And I love driving my 2008 Rogue.) The station declined then made it to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, which started the revival. Today, it houses three levels of shops, discovered by descending ornate staircases featuring wrought iron railings. Don’t skip a visit to the Neuhaus Chocolate shop. Oh yum.

Once my husband got me to stop spinning in circles in sheer fascination, we stepped out the doors. Across a narrow side street sits the National Post Office Museum. Who knew? And why not?

One of the Best Parts of Travel is Going Where the Moments Take You

Odds on me traveling with a tour group are unlikely. To be strapped to a schedule wouldn’t work; I need to follow whatever strikes my fancy. Like in Wales when my sister and her daughter and I accidentally discovered Lamphey’s Bishop Palace. Jenny was doing a great job driving Mother and Auntie around, but stalled the car. We looked at the map and hey—what’s this? What a remarkable find!

Hence our delight in discovering that the USA actually has a National Postal Museum.

Ben Franklin, Father of the Post Office

I’m a big fan of Ben, who was our first Postmaster of today’s US Postal Service. He determined mileage between offices, implemented fee-based deliveries to specific locations (one cent!), and began nighttime conveyance.

Now, here is a museum, complete with Franklin statue, commemorating what he started.

But seriously, how could the history of the post office fill this massive building?

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Do you love visiting the Smithsonians? I’d like to spend a month in DC doing nothing but wandering in and out of each of them. Including another long trip around the post office museum.

Opened in 1993, the Postal museum hosts over 6 million objects! Included are exhibits about international mail, with an 1848 letter sent from Venice to Bologna—a favorite Italian city. 

Remember the scene in Men In Black at the post office? You know, where the alien  with multiple arms is sorting the mail inside the machine? That’s what I thought of walking through the postal railroad car—that and keeping my balance while sorting envelopes! Haven’t you wondered what happens after you drop your letter in a blue box? You can find out here and see the progress one piece of mail makes through the system. Watch that birthday card move from Pittsburgh to Red Lodge, Montana. Cool, right?

So, Why Go

Lifelong learning is an important aspect of staying young. Never think we know it all, never stop exploring, and go in search of the unexpected. Like, just how cool it is to tour a building dedicated to delivering the mail.

When you go:

It’s a Smithsonian—it’s free!

Check it out at this link.

If you can’t get there, go virtual. There are many exhibits available online.


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