Friday, February 28, 2014

One Last Day in DC

It was our last day in DC and we didn't have much planned. Thomas had a couple of meetings this morning and since I am not feeling that great I decided to stay at the hotel and begin packing for our flight home in the morning. I got about 80% of the packing done (both mine and Thomas') and then I did some work on the computer. Thomas returned to the room about 10:30am and changed from his suit into some jeans and then we headed out at a little after 11:00am. We met Muffet in the lobby and headed out to find some lunch at The Corner Bakery. After a relaxing lunch we decided to head to the Capitol and take a tour. We had a scheduled tour at 3:00pm but decided we didn't want to wait - so we cancelled that one and just did a walk up tour at the Capitol Visitor Center.

The Capitol tour starts with a short film and then you form lines and meet your tour guide. Then you get a very quick tour of the Crypt, the Rotunda and the National Statuary Hall. I am not sure but I think the tour lasted less than 45 minutes. Again, like the White House, I was disappointed. I really don't fell like it was worth my time, really almost a waste. We also had passes from one of our Senators to tour the House and Senate Galleries. We could only view the House Gallery because the Senate area was closed. Again this was disappointing - you literally just enter the gallery and take a look at the chambers and then you leave. I feel it is really insulting to the American people who pay for these buildings with our tax dollars and we aren't able to really see them. Anyway, I can say I was there and saw them but won't waste my time doing that again. We left the Capitol and once outside we talked about what we wanted to do next. We decided to take the Metro to Dupont Circle and walk around for a while. It was a quick ride to Dupont and we spent about an hour walking around the area. We too a short walk down Embassy Row and then headed back to the hotel. We took the Metro back to Union Station (closest stop to our hotel) and then went back to the hotel and take a break.

Thomas and I were still not feeling well so we took a short nap. When we woke up we decided to go to dinner at The Dubliner just around the corner and have an early dinner and get to bed early so that hopefully we feel better for our flight at 6:00am tomorrow. We had a quick dinner and then returned to the hotel where I now complete this post. Now I am going to shower and get to bed for some rest. It has been a wonderful trip and I have scratched off quite a few things from my bucket list and I am happy about that. Now it is time to get back to our normal routine.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Walking the Mall and the Tidal Basin

This morning I left the hotel around 8:30am and headed out for the day. It was a nice beautiful day with no snow but it was still cold, around 32° when I headed out. I was hungry and I wanted some coffee so I stopped two block from the hotel at the West Wing Cafe for breakfast. While eating I looked at a map of the Mall and made plans for the day. I wasn't sure if I would get everything done or not but at least I had a plan. 
As I left the cafe I headed down D St. for one block and then turned onto First St. and headed for the Capitol. I didn't actually go to the Capitol but walked in front of it along First St. to the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. I took some pictures of the area and then made my way to the United States Botanic Garden. They were having an orchid exhibit called Orchid Symphony. I took my time looking around and enjoyed the incredible variety of orchids. I took tons of pictures and also looked into other parts of the Conservatory - the Jungle, the World Deserts and the Medicinal Plants. I also took some time to find a letterbox here. You can read about that at Letterboxing in DC.  I finally left the gardens and started walking along the Mall headed west. I took my time walking, enjoying the area and made my next stop at the Washington Monument Book Store. I stopped here to get more National Passport Cancellation Stamps. I really wanted to see the monument but it is closed now. This is my second visit to DC and I wasn't able to see the monument the last time either. Last time they were doing renovations and this time they are completing repairs from an earthquake a couple of years ago. So after getting my stamps I continued on my journey. I made my way to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The last time I was here I opted not to go to this museum - I wasn't sure I could handle it. But this time I made plans to visit and told myself it was something I needed to do. So here I was - ready or not.  I entered and went to the information desk, where I was kind of put off. One man at the desk asked me "What do you need?" and I thought to myself that I should say something totally weird. What did he think I was there for. So I said, "Well, I would like to tour the museum." and all he did was point to my left and said, "Go there.". I kind of felt like I was bothering him. So I just asked a woman that was standing at the far end of the information desk what I needed to do. She gave me much more helpful information and I was on my way. As I approached the elevators to make my way to the 4th floor for the Permanent Exhibition another woman told me to pick up an Identification Card that details the experiences of one person who was persecuted by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. So I entered the elevator with my card (which was for Julian Noga) and took the short ride up to the beginning of the exhibits. I exited into a somber, gray, black and white area with very soft lighting. This sets the tone for the entire exhibit. I spent a little over two hours walking through the exhibits. There is so much to see and read that I was overwhelmed and couldn't read every caption on every photo or item. Some things that stood out to me were - the railcar, the shoe exhibit, the tower of photos and the room where you can listen to survivor stories. I am so happy I visited this museum and I will definitely make plans to go back the next time I am in DC. I am sure I will pick up more information with each visit. If you are planning to be in DC I urge you to make time for this museum - it is truly life changing. At the end of your tour you can type the person's name from the ID card you have and see what happened to this person - they ask you to share your person's story in order to keep the history alive - so please read about Julian Noga. I left the museum and walked into a beautiful sunshiny day thankful for my life.

I made my way over to the Tidal Basin and found a bench to sit and have a snack and some water before continuing on my walk. After about 15 minutes I started walking clockwise around the Tidal Basin. My first stop was at the Jefferson Memorial (my second favorite President) and took some pictures, got my cancellation stamps and then sat on a bench and read the inscriptions around the memorial. I continued my walk and I made a little detour to see the Cuban Friendship Urn and the George Mason Memorial. Next I continued onto Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  While I was on my walk around the Tidal Basin I did some letterboxing and you can read about it at Letterboxing in DC. I also stopped at the bookstores for the different monuments to collect more cancellation stamps. From the MLK monument I made my way back to the Mall and stopped at the Korean War Memorial and then went to the Lincoln Memorial. When I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial it was a little crowded and there were lots of loud, rambuctious kids. So I walked around to the back of the memorial and sat on the ground and looked out across the Potomac. After about 20 minutes I went back up to the memorial and thankfully most of the people had left. I read all the inscriptions and then sat next to one of the columns and watched Lincoln sit and stare across the Mall. It was so peaceful. I really admire this man and he is the one person I would love to have dinner with and get to talk to. A half hour later I decided I needed to continue on with my walk. I went to the Vietnam Memorial and the Women's Vietnam Memorial and then the World War II Memorial. I gathered more cancellation stamps and did a little more letterboxing and you can read about that at Letterboxing in DC.

It was now 5:30pm and getting colder so I decided to make my way back to the hotel. I had a nice walk along the Mall and decided to stop back in at the West Wing Cafe and get a sandwich to take back to the hotel. Thomas was at a dinner meeting so I ate and watched a little TV. Then I took a shower before writing this blog. I am feeling a little worse than yesterday - I am more congested and a little chilled and I am starting to cough a little. Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time out in the cold. Oh well, I will take some medicine and get some rest tonight. We have one more day in DC.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A White House, Museums and a View

Today I was up early again as Muffet and I were scheduled for a White House tour. Thomas was unable to go with us because of his conference. It was another cold morning and it was snowing again - the temperature was hovering around 31° but there were things to do. We decided that we didn't want to walk the 16 blocks to the White House so we took a cab instead. Once we were at the entrance point for the tours we got in line and made our way to the tour. We had to show a voucher and then go through three security checkpoints before we actually entered the White House. All tours at the White House are self-guided. Well they say self-guided but there is only one way for you to go - so you end up just following a designated plan. You enter into the East Wing lobby and then continue along the East Colonnade. While in the East Colonnade you get to peek into the Library, the Vermeil Room and the China Room. At this point the hall is blocked (this leads into the West Wing area and I guess, we as Americans aren't good enough to see that part) and you have to continue up some stairs. At the top of the stairs you enter into the East Room and then you follow a well marked and roped off path through the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, the State Dining Room, the Cross Hall and the Entrance Hall before exiting out onto the North Portico. So you walk through about eight rooms, you are in the house less than 45 minutes and you learn very little. The house has 132 rooms, we saw eight - that is only 6% of the building. Now I realize that this is a working house and the home of the first family but I feel that the tour could have been much better. Here is a link to the actual tour - Welcome to the White House. I was very unimpressed and probably wouldn't do it again.
After the tour we walked to a coffee shop and had something warm to drink while it continued to snow.
Law Enforcement Memorial
Then we took a cab back to the hotel so that Muffet could get ready for the conference and I could gather my things for some sight seeing (you aren't allowed to take much into the White House). Then it was time to see DC. I decided to walk even though it was still snowing and a little cold but I thought I could handle it.  I walked from our hotel along E St. headed west and made my first stop at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. I walked around and took some pictures before continuing on my way.
Car at Spy Museum
When I arrived at 9th St. I went one block north and stopped to visit the International Spy Museum. I paid my admission and then joined a group of people and we were put into an elevator where we went up to a room where you assume an identity. Then you watch a short film before entering the exhibits. I probably spent a little over an hour in the museum - there is so much to see. Lots of interactive things and an exhibit on 50 Years of Bond Villains plus lots of information on real life spies. I had a great time and would love to go back just to catch things I missed. I left the Spy Museum and walked west along F St. and then turned south on 10th St. to go to Ford's Theater and the Peterson House. Lincoln is my favorite President and I have wanted to visit these two historic places for a long time.
Gun that killed Lincoln
I started at Ford's Theater where you walk through an exhibit and then when you are ready you can go into the balcony of the Theater and see where Lincoln was sitting when he was shot. After that I crossed the street to the Peterson House where you can see the room where the President died. You then exit the house and go up in an elevator to start a tour of an exhibit all about Lincoln. It was so interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed the tours. While at the Theater I collected the National Passport Cancellation Stamps to add to my collection.
South view of the White House
I now wanted to get my Cancellation Stamps from the White House. Since I wasn't able to bring my things this morning I decided to go back to the White House Visitors Center to get them. After stamping all the stamps into my book I talked with one of the Rangers about other things to do in the area. Then I was on my way. I first went to the Ellipse where I could get a good view of the south face of the White House and take some pictures. Once that was done I walked back to Pennsylvania Ave. and then made my way to 12th St. to the Old Post Office Pavilion. We had heard rumors that the Pavilion was closed but the Ranger I talked to earlier said it was still open. So I entered the building and then went to the Tower entrance. Here I talked to another Ranger and got the Cancellation Stamps. I then entered the elevator and went up to the 9th floor. This elevator is glass and you get to see the inside of the Pavilion. At the 9th floor you get off the elevator and walk down a hall to another elevator that you take to the 12th floor where you can get great views of the city. I walked around the tower for about 15 minutes and took some pictures and talked to another Ranger. Here I got the entire story of the plans for the Old Post Office. I found out that the building was almost demolished twice but was eventually saved and now the Trump Empire is going to lease the building for 60 years and turn it into a luxury hotel - of course only the extreme wealthy will be able to stay there. The building is going to close sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May for renovations. When all the work is done and the building reopens the Tower will be accessible to the public again. I hope that is true because the views from here are incredible. [You can read about this at Donald Trump to open his first hotel in D.C.] After looking at the views I walked down a couple of flights of stairs to see the Bells of Congress, then I made my way to the 9th floor to take the elevator back down to the lobby.

By this time it was a little after 4:00pm and I was getting tired of walking. I had signed up for a walking tour of the monuments on the Mall (DC by Foot) but I didn't feel like I had the energy to do that walk after the long day I just had. So I decided to get back on E St. and make my way back to the hotel and maybe find something to eat on my way. I ended up eating at the Hard Rock Cafe and I relaxed and read some emails while eating. By the time I got back to the hotel it was around 6:30pm and I was tired and feeling a little congested - I guess from walking in the snow, cold and wind. So I took a shower and then jumped in bed to write this blog. I really need to get some rest because tomorrow is another busy day. Oh, I did try to some letterboxing but didn't have any luck and you can read about it at Letterboxing in DC.
View down Pennsyvania Avenue to the Capitol from the Old Post Office Tower

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mount Vernon, Union Station and Stamps

This morning we were up early again as we had another scheduled tour. We met Muffet in the lobby and walked the short distance to Union Station where we met our bus for our tour. It was another cold day - around 33°, but there was no wind so it wasn't too bad. We had to be at the station by 7:30am to check in and then be at the bus by 7:50am. We actually arrived at Union Station around 7:20am, so we checked in and then went for coffee. After drinking our coffee we made our way to meet the bus. We climbed on board our bus and met our driver (Tony). At 8:05am Tony started the bus and we were off for our tour. Thomas, Muffet and I felt like VIP's - we were the only three people on the bus besides the driver. It felt a little weird that this huge bus was taking just the three of us on a tour. As we pulled out of Union Station it started to snow, lightly at first but as we continued on the flakes got bigger and it was coming down harder. The tour we were on was through Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon with Gray Line. In Alexandria we stopped at Christ Church for a quick look and then we continued on to George's home. The snow was still going but it wasn't too bad at this point. We arrived at Mount Vernon and the driver dropped us off at the entrance and we had until noon to see the place. We started at the Ford Orientation Center where the three of us enjoyed a short film presentation about the grounds and Washington's life in a huge theater all to ourselves. When the film was done we exited the building into a heavy snow (the ground was completely covered) and made our way to the Mansion. Here we had a tour of the house and learned some interesting facts. After about a 30 minute tour we were able to walk the grounds and make our way to Washington's tomb. We were starting to get really cold and wet so we decided to head back inside and warm up. Once inside and out of the snow we went to the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center and looked around at a few exhibits. We still had about an hour before the bus was leaving so we went to the Mount Vernon Inn for a bite to eat and some hot beverages. We got to sit near the fireplace and warm up while we ate, relaxed and visited. At noon we were back on the bus for the half hour drive back to DC. By the time we arrived back in DC the snow had stopped and the driver was nice enough to drop us off in front of the hotel.

In the lobby Thomas, Muffet and I talked before parting ways. This afternoon was the start of the conference for them and I was going to head out and see DC. I decided to head back to Union Station - I wanted to explore the building a little bit and take some pictures. I walked through the building and took lots of pictures, mostly of the architecture. There are lots of shops and restaurants and I found a couple I liked. I had a snack at a small little bakery and then found a great salad place (Chop't) where I got something to take back to the hotel for dinner tonight. I also tried to do some letterboxing and you can read about that at Letterboxing in DC. When I was done at Union Station I crossed the street to the National Postal Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian. I entered the building and went through security and then made my way to the information desk. I picked up a map and started walking around. At first I just took in the architecture of the building - quite interesting and then I started looking at the exhibits. I spent quite a bit of time at the Stamp Gallery enjoying the history and exhibition of stamps. After the gallery I went downstairs to view an exhibit of postal history. The exhibits were incredible and I really enjoyed them. I spent quite a bit of time between Union Station and the National Postal Museum and when I started the short walk back to the hotel it was already after 5:00pm. I decided to call it a day, the snow had stopped and pretty much melted away but it was still quite cold. Once back I at the hotel I relaxed and ate my salad and warmed up. It was another good day in the DC area. Tomorrow there is another tour and then a day for me to just wander. It is also supposed to snow again so I guess I will have to find indoor things to do.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Touring Capitol Hill

After a late night and little sleep we were up at 6:30am. We met a friend (one of Thomas' co-workers) in the lobby of our hotel at 7:30am and then headed out for our day. The first thing we did was stop at Starbucks and grab some coffee and a muffin. We sat and talked for a little while enjoying the warmth inside since it was about 36° this morning. After eating we walked to the Capitol. We walked along the side that faces the Mall and ended up talking with a security guard about some things they were putting up on the side of the steps. He said they were getting ready to put up some fencing to block off access so that they could do some restoration on the dome. We then made our way around to the front of the Capitol and went into the Visitors Center. We spent about 20 minutes here looking at some of the statues and got to see the full-size plaster model of the Statue of Freedom that is atop the US Capitol. One of the two New Mexico statues is in the Visitors Center - that is the statue of Po'pay - and we got to see that as well.
1630−1692 | Religious Leader, Statesman
Po’pay, a religious leader, led the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the most successful Native American rebellion ever mounted against European colonists. The revolt’s legacy preserved Pueblo autonomy for nearly two centuries.
Cliff Fragua Marble, 2005 Capitol Visitor Center, Lower Level
From there we took the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress. We had a scheduled tour at 9:45am but we were a little early so we saw an exhibit they have going on right now called Hope for America: Performers, Politics & Pop Culture. It was really interesting. After that it was time for our tour so we made our way back to the area where the tour was starting. First we watched a short video about the library and then we were lead throughout the building. It is an incredible building and really beautiful. The woman doing the tour was really interesting but at times she wasn't loud enough. But still we really enjoyed the tour and had a great time at the library. When the tour was done we decided to have a little lunch before continuing our day.  We asked at the information desk if there were any places they recommended. We found a place called Good Stuff Eatery by walking a little southwest on Pennsylvania Aveune. We had burgers and milk shakes and they were really good. After eating we continued on our exploration of the city. We decided to stop at the Supreme Court and look around. We only got to see a couple of exhibits and kind of glanced into the courtroom. So I wasn't really impressed because you aren't able to see a lot unless you go to a lecture or something. Anyway we didn't stay long and then we continued on our way. It pretty much stayed cold all day and the wind was blowing making it worse. We all decided we wanted to go and visit the National Gallery of Art. We went through the Byzantine exhibit, the Impressionist exhibit and the Monuments Men exhibit. We also saw The Dying Gaul that the have on display from Italy. We then went on a guided tour of the Italian Renaissance Collection. Our tour guide was incredible and I really enjoyed learning more about this period of art. We also got to see a Leonardo da Vinci painting (Ginevra de' Benci) - which is the only painting by him in the Americas. This painting has a front and back. I was really taken by this painting and really enjoyed the tour. By the time we finished the tour it was almost 5:00pm, so we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We were meeting a friend of Muffet's (Thomas' co-worker) at The Dubliner at 6:00pm. This is the same restaurant that Thomas and I ate at last night (where we ordered from the bar menu). Tonight we ate in the actual restaurant and I had Irish Beef Stew that was so delicious. We had an enjoyable visit and meal but around 8:00pm I was ready to call it a night. So Thomas and I left while the other two decided to stay a little longer and have another drink and talk. It was a great day and I am looking forward to tomorrow. Now it is time to get some rest.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Headed to D.C.

Thomas has to attend the AASHTO Washington Briefing in Washington, D.C. this coming week and I am tagging along. Our flight this morning wasn't until 11:05am but we were in airports and airplanes until nearly midnight. The first leg of our flight took us to Kansas City, MO. The airport is a little weird. The gate area is long and skinny with only a few places to eat and get snacks. We found a BBQ place called Pork & Pickle. We each had a sandwich and then found a Starbucks for a coffee. We then found the gate for the next leg of our flight and sat and waited for a little over two hours. Luckily there was WiFi and we both had our Kindles. So we were able to pass the time until our next flight. The next part of our flight was to Houston. The plane was packed and the flight ended up leaving about 20 minutes late due to the number of people with carry-ons and trying to get the bags into the overhead compartment. The airline ended up checking in about eight bags because there was no more room. We arrived in Houston and everyone got off the plane except for three of us. Thomas and I decided to change seats before they loaded the plane. This last part of the flight was packed as well. This time we left 10 minutes late but since we arrived in Houston 15 minutes late we were now 25 minutes late. The flight to DC was about three and a half hours. By this time we were tired and I just wanted to get to our hotel and sleep. During the flight they had free TV so I ended up watching the closing ceremony for the Olympics for about an hour. Then I read for an hour and the rest of the time I fidgeted. I think I may have slept for a short time but I don't really know because the flight seemed to last forever. Once we landed at Reagan National (which was about 20 minutes later than our original arrival time) we made our way to baggage claim and waited 15 minutes before our bags arrived. Luckily we didn't have to wait for the taxi - there was one right outside and in no time we were on our way to the hotel. The drive took less than 10 minutes since it was midnight and there was no traffic. Checking into the hotel (Washington Court Hotel) went really quick as well and we made our way to our room only to drop our bags and then head out to find something to eat. Just around the corner we found an Irish pub called The Dubliner. We ordered from the bar menu since the restaurant was closed and had a quick meal. After eating we returned to the hotel and had quick showers. We were in bed by 1:30am. Tomorrow is already here and we have an early day. Hopefully we will have the energy.