Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Commentary & Captions from a Capitol Excursion - Weekend

Goodbye DC - Hello, well almost DC

The last two days of our trip were short excursions. On Saturday, we went to the Steven F. Uzvar-Hazy Center, a.k.a, the Smithsonian Air and Space Center that's not on the DC Mall but out near the Dulles airport. Aircraft of all kinds, from all aviation decades, and all 20th & 21st century wars are on display. Here are a few:

The Concord - fastest commercial plane

The "Enola Gay" dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Our next stop that day was to Manassas National Battlefield Park or Bull Run Park (if you are from the north).

The pictures by themselves don't do justice to the sights you will see and the lessons you can learn. A long, sad, four-year, day in our history when we had to fight one another.

Saturday was a great night's rest for Scott and Amy (who were in the room by the window) and a noisy night for Kim (in the room by the hall near the elevator). We loved this hotel, complete with swans in the lobby!

Before we had to board our plane on Sunday afternoon, we went to Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington and overlooking the Potomac River.

"Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man."
"Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man." - George Washington to Alexander Hamilton
Commentary & Captions from a Capitol Excursion - Day 1
Commentary & Captions from a Capitol Excursion - Day 2
Commentary & Captions from a Capitol Excursion - Day 3 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Commentary & Captions from a Capital Excursion - Day 3

The Obligatory DC Math Lesson

Washington D.C. is divided into four quadrants with the United States Capitol Building (highlighted in yellow below) being the mid-point. Well, sort of the mid-point. If you look on the map, you will notice the Potomac River to the west. When Virginia received part of the District back, this severed the near perfect square of 10 miles on every side. Maryland borders DC at the other boundaries.

We spent most of Friday walking the northwest quadrant. I emphasize the walkng because if you every visit, be prepared! This time we got off the closest subway and walked the uphill 1/2 mile to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park (the small red square on the map). 

The Beast Has No Burdens!

St. Louis boast the best free zoo in the United States and is in the top 3 of almost every list - free or fee (examples: here, here, and here in a top 10 list that's in no order). With that in mind, we were not interested in traipsing through the entire zoo; our primary interest was to see the panda bears. It is worth it! They were enjoying a lazy day as the pictures indicates but not only are they fun to see, it is even more enjoyable watching all the children that were in our midst (and remember, there were always children in our midst) as they got excited over the giant pandas.

Get Me to the Church on Time

As we exited the zoo, we pondered the best way to get to the National Cathedral. In our effort to maximize time, and after missing the Big Bus, a quick map search showed that we could easily walk rather than wait another 30 minutes for the next bus. Right and wrong. It was quicker. It was not an easy walk! It was quite literally uphill the entire mile. Google maps doesn't include this information.

The Washington National Cathedral appears in site about 1/4 of a mile before you get to it. Although we tried, a picture simply doesn't capture the length of the main sanctuary. I would guess that it was about 3/4 of a city block long. Along the sides and in the basement are other "smaller" chapels, though some of them were bigger than most church sanctuaries in America. The Cathedral is Episcopalian and at this site, we were proudly told of their new option of Buddha worship. It was added the week we were there and is quite sad. This massive and beautiful display of architecture that is supposed to be to the glory of God and yet it is used in such a way that contradicts the claim of Jesus in John 14.6:
I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.

Your Overseas 911

From the Cathedral we headed back downtown via the Big Bus route that went down Embassy Row (part of Massachusetts Avenue) to view over 45 of the 177 embassies located in DC. Several other embassies were just barely in site of the street. The Vice-president's home is at one end of Embassy Row, Number One Observatory Circle, but it is not visible from the road. Embassy Row is one of those parts of DC that many bypass but is well worth the quick see. What exactly is an embassy? I loved this anwer concerning our embassies: 
In many ways, the U.S. Embassy is your 911 when overseas. 
When you are in your country's embassy, it is as though you are in your country! 

Having been to Romania several times, Scott was excited to see their embassy.
Something was going on at the Vatican embassy but we have no idea what.
This statute is of Winston Churchill. The Prime Minister is standing with one foot on Britain’s embassy grounds. He is said to have on foot in Great Britain and one in the United States!

Bond, James Bond

The International Spy Museum was next on the list. Home of real and big screen spies, their stories, their methods and their instruments, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War when General George Washington employed spy tactics towards gaining our country's independence. At the beginning of the exhibit, you have the option of playing a spy game as you explore. Scott and Kim played along, I opted out. They both enjoyed the Spy Museum but it would be low-priority on my recommended places to visit.

Oh look! Another fountain pen made it into the pictures.

Take Me Out to My 14th Ballpark!

Our last stop of the day made traveling on a busy weekend worth it. After another trip to Walgreen's (this is a necessity on all trips), we boarded the subway and 3 stops later were at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals, who just happened to be hosting the St. Louis Cardinals! It's a bit difficult to know which is which - care to guess?

We arrived in time to watch the Cardinals take batting practice. During BP, the pitchers congregate in the outfield to shag balls. They do more congregating than shagging! It was a blast watching them cut up with each other and occasionally with the fans. Carlos Matinez tossed a ball to a kid in the stands. Much to Carlos' surprise, the kid tossed it back to him, so he threw it back to the kid. They played catch for a bit and then Matinez went back to cutting up with his teammates. 

Six different presidents sport their presidential order number on their jersey - #1 George Washington, #3 Thomas Jefferson, #16 Lincoln, #26 Theodore Roosevelt, #27 Willaim Taft and #30 Calvin Coolidge. Stats on how these six were chosen can be found here. They run a race in between at bats of one of the innings. No pictures of the race, but it is quite a site! 

The final game night picture is of a Dalmatian. No, not a mascot. The night that we were at the game, it was "Pups in the Park" night. With a special ticket, you could bring your dog to the game and many people did! Some of the dogs were so big that I think maybe they brought their people to a game!

Good guys won! 6-2. The box score is in the books and so was our Friday.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Commentary & Captions from a Capital Excursion - Day 2

Day 2 - Logistics Gone Wild

From my point of view, there are only two ways to adequately tour Washington, DC - by bicycle or with a personal limo driver. We are neither in shape nor rich so moved on to plan C, and D, and E... you get the idea. After much Internet search for the best way to maximize the experience, our plans included an airplane, a van shuttle, the subway, and a Big Bus tour in an effort to minimize walking. All of these means were used except for the "minimize" part of walking and the addition of Uber (which, by the way, lives up to its name). Throw in an aborted attempt to take a boat ride and we've just about covered all available transportation!

Thanks to the hotel shuttle, our day began slightly off schedule. The shuttle took us to the subway which took us to a Metro stop and a walk past the Department of Agriculture. It is only fitting that the Department of Agriculture has a weekly Farmer's Market - wouldn't you agree?

DC looks much the same as it did when I was a teenager, but much has changed. Because of 9/11, security has increased everywhere you go. One of my favorite tours, the FBI building, has been eliminated. Most places limit what is allowed in the building. In 2010, we had a backpack with lunch and snacks in it only to discover that absolutely no food is permitted in the Capitol building. Traveling is just one relatively minor area of freedom lost that infamous day but I learned that it should be a top consideration when planning a DC trip. As a matter of fact, it practically eliminates a moment by moment itinerary. For instance, at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), you can only get your tickets for a "day of" tour. Therefore, we had to wait to map out the rest of the day based upon these tickets. Fortunately, they had some available for right away and it is worth any inconvenience to see the quickest and easiest way to make money (although, I don't recommend that you try this at home). Pictures are only allowed in the lobby and in the gift shop, so this is it:

Kim looking like, I mean at a million dollars in $10 bills
and Scott measuring in at 1.7M in stacked $100 bills.

I took a picture of the outside of the building where the tour begins but was asked not to post it for security reasons. I'm certain my compliance is making a profound impact on national security. I was permitted to take a picture of the building itself which is just one example of the massive structures that occupy entire city blocks in DC:

While watching money being made, I began to wonder how much money it cost to make money. Oh, the wonders of the Internet! You can ask it anything and get an answer:

A deflated dollar begins here!
How Much Does It Cost to Print Money is also an informative site.
While in Philadelphia last year, we took a Big Bus tour and benefited greatly from it both in time saved walking and in information gleaned. With that in mind, we decided to use the same company for DC. Our first walk to the bus stop, and most convenient of the entire trip, was across from the BEP. The comparisons ended there. In Philadelphia, we had a real live tour guide. In DC we had earphones for a recording which meant that depending on traffic (and you can always depend on traffic), the recorded description might not be exactly where the bus is.

A few days before the trip, Scott asked if I had allowed any time in the itinerary for Kim to shop. WHAT!!! Has he met me? We weren't traveling to shop! But then, my suspicions were aroused. Why was Scott so concerned about shopping? So, I confronted him with my first guess and was correct:

Yes, It's a Fountain Pen

For those who may not know, Scott is into fountain pens. It is the new love of his life. To hear him and other fountain pen aficionados tell it, the Ten Commandments were written with a fountain pen. The mystery of "Kim's" need to shop was over.

After an eternal stop (Amy and Kim) or a brief stop (Scott) at Fahrney's Pen store, we boarded the Big Bus for Georgetown. It has since occurred to me that we neglected to take any pictures in Georgetown but, after quite a walk, we did have a really good lunch at Good Stuff Eatery followed by another walk, this time to the Potomac River front. This is from the DC Neighborhood's website:

I'm not sure that I would call it perfect but this I couldn't describe it better otherwise. Of the "Top 10 Things to Do in Georgetown", we managed four (to some degree) - eat, somewhat explore the waterfront, we saw the canal, we saw some kayakers (it really looks fun - for those who are young and in shape), but we didn't get to take a cruise. Perhaps I am a bit bitter about that! We did wait for the boat for over 30 minutes. We did get in line behind just one other family for another 10 minutes. But the anticipation ended in disappointment. When the boat docked, a lady walked up and informed the captain that she had a group of 31 (yes, field trip teens) who had prepaid. After they boarded, there were no seats left together and so we had to WALK (have I mentioned we walked a lot), board the Big Bus, and head back to downtown.

Our destination was Union Station but in the process, I realized that if we did some transportation juggling, we could manage about an hour at the National Gallery of Art. So, we hopped off the bus (Gus) made a new plan (Stan) and Scott and Kim listened to me. The new plan took us right by the ER where they took Ronald Reagan after the 1981 assassination attempt. It is now named for him. I insisted on a picture.

Off the bus and onto the subway for the quickest route to the art museum:

The DC subway system is fantastic but we only have this blurry picture that I took. I thought we had more but it turns out that Scott and Kim were snap chatting to Zeke (who loves all kinds of transportation) and not taking pictures. The above picture does not do justice to just how tall the escalator was. I get big thrills from small wonders such as this - consider it "old lady" Six Flags.

Back to the 70's for a moment... on my first visit to the National Gallery of Art, my mom commented to my dad, "There are a lot of famous paintings, here." My dad never declines an invitation to point out the obvious and still references this 35 years later! But I understand the observation. You hear about, read about and see pictures throughout your life of so much of the art that is on display at the NGA. And, as Dad so sarcastically pointed out, "They're all famous!". However, some are definitely better known than others and it is amazing to stand in front of these masterpieces. I found that I was most attracted to the art of the Dutch Golden Age. One of my favorites is by Rembrandt:

This painting, The Apostle Paul, captures how I would imagine a reflective Paul as he wrote 2 Corinthians 4.7-18. I also enjoyed the American art, particularly the portraits by Gilbert Stuart.

Caddy-corner from the art museum, was the Big Bus stop by the National Archives - another favorite of mine, even though they had closed by the time we neared it. Our next destination was Union Station where Amtrak and the major bus lines station along with a food court, sit down restaurants and shops. It is also the hub for most of the tour buses and a major gathering point for passengers and tourist. More than anywhere, it was obvious here that DC was ground zero for year-end school trips. We sat down to eat on the patio (inside Union Station) of Uno Pizza and a group of about 60 high-school seniors gathered behind us waiting to be seated. Needless to say, it wasn't a quiet dinner! We then did a little shopping. Kim spilled something on her shirt and decided now was the time to get the obligatory vacation t-shirt while I looked in vain to replace my worn out Ronald Reagan mug. This led me to a shop with a presidential podium:
Considering 2020
Union Station.
No shopping would be complete without a trip to an upscale Walgreen's which includes a sushi bar.

Although a night tour that was included with our Big Bus tickets was our real reason for going to Union Station, it is now a recommended "DC Must". After dinner and a small bit of shopping, we lined up for the night bus. This turned out to be a nightmare! Even though this is a daily occurrence for the buses, Big Bus and DC Trolley were vying for line-up position in the arced loading zone of Union Station. DC Trolley won and Big Bus buses were trapped yards away from the loading zone. Therefore, Big Bus patrons (that would be us) stood and waited while the start time was delayed over 30 minutes.

Outside of Union Station
Finally, we boarded Big Bus and began the night tour that promised to show us another side of the beauty of DC. As the sun was setting, we were beginning to relax and enjoy atop the bus. This tour actually included a real live guide and some of the history of the sites when suddenly, our guide went off-script and ran down the stairs yelling, "Stop the bus! Stop the bus!" I inhaled which caused me to spin around and look at the back of the bus - smoke was climbing as though from a chimney. We were quickly ushered off the bus in front of the WW2 memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial as seen from the WW2 Memorial.

Kim wondering what would become of our tour.

Yours truly waiting as late as possible to deboard the bus - last one off wins!
After enjoying the entrance to the WW2 Memorial and the distance view of the Lincoln Memorial for 30 minutes, we made the decision to leave the area. Our guide had announced that the tour would not resume and they were working on a way to get us (about 75 people) back to Union Station. This led to our first Uber experience. We were uber-satisfied. If my Day 2 post seems rather long, it's only because Day 2 was long! I was uber-excited to land back in our hotel room.

Commentary and Captions... Day 1

Commentary and Captions... Day 3

Commentary and Captions...Weekend