Once again our jello-style planning has been tested. Lucky for us, with this lifestyle we can change the course as often as needed to fit our wants and needs. Prior to our arrival in DC, we had shortened our 10-day stay to a week due to the government shutdown. But when the government got their act together on our 3rd day here, we changed it back to 10 days. Even then we knew there’s no way to see everything here in just 10 days, so we prioritized our wish list and went from there. The Metro system is the way to get into DC, and on four days it was our mode of transportation as we hit the National Mall. We explored not only the iconic monuments and memorials, but most importantly the re-opened (and free) world class Smithsonian museums. I promise to post only the highlights of our gawking and learning escapades.
Our visit to the US Holocaust Museum was a compelling emotional experience. We thought we could just breeze through it, but we couldn’t. It was a sobering visit, and a good place to learn about that dark time in history. Photography is not allowed, but what struck me the most was the room containing thousands of pairs of the victim’s shoes, and the “tunnel” with pictures of so many of them, which made it very real. We were drained and exhausted after three hours of intense reading, listening and watching videos.
At the Natural History Museum, Steve made sure I got to see the dazzling 45.52-carat Hope Diamond, known for its flawless clarity and rare deep blue color.
The Natural History Museum is a family favorite, but we mostly just checked out the Gem and Mineral collection. It took hours just to examine the various mesmerizing gems and minerals of all shapes, sizes, colors and forms.
We have already been to several Air and Space museums – the McMinville Air Museum in Oregon, the National Naval Aviation Museum, in Florida and the Space Center in Texas – but of course the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is the granddaddy of them all! With Steve’s passion for all things that fly, this one was at the top of his list. Although he was stationed in DC during the early 80’s and had been to this museum several times back then, so many changes and upgrades have occurred that he hardly recognized the place.
Because it is the world’s largest collection of air and space vehicles, the collection has been expanded to two locations – the original museum on the National Mall and the other at the massive UDVAR-Hazy center next to the Washington-Dulles Airport. Of course, we had to see both of them!
Of course, what we saw here were not replicas, but the real historically significant aircraft and spacecraft. Standing literally under the Space Shuttle Discovery was awesome – knowing that it flew beyond the limits of our earth. And there was the Enola Gay, the actual aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. We also saw the Air France Concorde, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the Apollo 11 command module, the actual original Wright brother’s flying contraption, and so much more. Overwhelming!
I had to agree with Steve, this place is extraordinary. Standing next to so many historic displays took my breath away!
From airplanes and spacecraft, we came back down to earth at the National Health and Medicine Museum. This often overlooked and off-the-beaten-path museum has several collections of morbid anatomy on display. The collection has real human remains (bones, tissues and parts), and an interesting display that discusses facial reconstruction. There are also exhibits that display gruesome injuries from the battlefields of several wars and describe the medical techniques used for them at the time.
The emphasis here was on military medicine, documenting the effects of war wounds and disease on the human body and the remarkable changes in American medicine over the past 150 years. There was a display that marked Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birth anniversary, including items associated with his last hours. The physicians who cared for him and the bullet that killed him were on display. We found this museum to be unique and well worth a look – even if you aren’t into medicine. Thanks to our best bud Don for recommending another winner!
We noticed a National Building Museum on our map and decided to see what that was about. It included a display called “Americas Great Places, the Guastavino family”. We had not heard that name before, but their architectural legacy can be seen under the lofty vaults and domes of this beautiful building. There are several iconic structures attributed to the Guastavino’s, notably Grand Central Terminal, the Boston Public Library and the U.S. Supreme Court building, to name a few.
We also dropped by the National Archives, where, along with a big crowd of kids, we managed to peek at all the original Charters of Freedom in America. No photography allowed, but to just see the original 200+ year old Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights sort of capped our own history trail education.
We spent a few hours at the National Museum of the American Indian and observed that the museum is really a cultural celebration of Indians from the past and present. Eight galleries recount the history of individual communities from their perspective. And, they have a very good (although a bit pricey) cafeteria there. Thanks to Greg and Michelle for telling us about this one!
As an afterthought we stopped by the National Art Gallery, West building. Not being art lovers, we just breezed through and then out we went. But not before I snapped this Madonna and Child, a painted and gilded paper mache and stucco, circa 1550.
Believe me, that was a lot of museums to visit! After four solid days we had headaches from learning more than we wanted to. We also became veteran Metro riders and walked miles and miles. Our legs and brains hurt, yet we had barely scratched the surface in this city. It seems like going through all of these world-class museums could take a lifetime. There is something for everyone in the nation’s capital, and worthy of a visit – despite the bickering politicians.
Here are a few sights I captured during our visit:
Next up: Our explorations outside of Washington, DC