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We’re currently on the Atlantic coast of north Florida; the events covered in this post (Nov 16-22) occurred before the recent snow storms hit the Carolinas.

We left Gaffney, South Carolina soaking wet, but happy that Betsy had come out of the Freightliner shop in good shape.  We camped at Carowinds Campground, just south of Charlotte, NC as our home base during our long-awaited visit with dear friends Joe and Judy. Continue reading

So many museums, so little time – Washington, DC

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Metro Rail

Does this man look confused?  For once he isn’t, thanks to the simplicity of the DC Metro system.

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.

Metro Rail Transit

Metro Rail transit station

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.

US Holocaust Museum

US Holocaust Museum

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.

Hope Diamond

Hope diamond

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.

Natural History Museum

Lobby, Natural History Museum

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.

Apollo 11 Command Module

The actual Apollo 11 command module – good stuff!

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!

Air France Concorde

Concorde – the first commercial supersonic airliner.

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!

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space shuttle Discovery

I had to agree with Steve, this place is extraordinary.  Standing next to so many historic displays took my breath away!

Pratt & Whitney R-4360

This got Steve’s blood flowing – a massive Pratt & Whitney R-4360 turboprop assembly.

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.

Bone remains from the battle of Gettysburg

Bone remains from the battle of Gettysburg

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!

National Health and Medicine Museum

Bullets and shrapnel removed from wounds

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.

Guastavino Family

Guastavino family

National Building Museum

Lobby of National Building Museum – that ceiling is WAY up there!

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.

National Archives

We happened to get inside the National Archives, along with a bunch of kids.

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!

Extensive collections at the National American Indian Museum

Collections unearthed from way back – 1491

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.

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child, 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:

Reflection Pool

Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument (still under repair) in the background.

House of Congress

A happy person takes a break from her arduous touring.

Next up:  Our explorations outside of Washington, DC


A museum like no other – Shelburne Museum, VT

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Round Barn

Heading into Vermont, our minds and plans were fixated on yummies like ice cream and cheese (more on that later).  Little did we know that the museum our friend Don from Ohio recommended to us was the real gem.  We had been to so many museums in our travels that we thought, “how different can it be?”  Well, we found out after spending an entire day there – from opening to closing!  For $22 per adult, you can explore and enjoy the museum for two days – and it could take that long if you are really into the many varied items they have on hand.  We did it in one day, but we were exhausted from being on our feet for 7 hours straight.

Shelburne Museum

Shelburne Museum is a museum of art and Americana located on 45 acres in Shelburne, VT.  Over 150,000 works are exhibited in 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the museum grounds.  All collections are exhibited in a village-like setting of historic New England architecture, accented by a landscape dotted with colorful flowers.  It is an unconventional but very well done collection.

Inside the 48 acre museum grounds

45-acre museum grounds

Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) was a pioneering collector of American folk art and founded Shelburne Museum in 1947.  She had been collecting 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York in which to display her collection, even relocating 20 historic structures to Shelburne.  On the grounds we saw the relocated houses, barns, a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and oh yeah, the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga.

Shelburne Museum

View of the collections of houses, barns and buildings as seen from Colchester Reef  lighthouse.

The restored 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga is a National Historic Landmark and one of only two remaining walking beam side-wheel passenger steamers in existence.  Just the story of how this boat was moved here is amazing.  It took months to dig a two-mile channel, fill it with water and then pull the boat along with a pair of locomotives. It was such a lovely sunny day to walk around the museum grounds, and we were fortunate to catch one of the 2 tours of the Ticonderoga – we just happened aboard at the right moment!

restored 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga

The 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga, built in 1906 and restored in 1955.

The thousands of pieces displayed in each restored house, building or barn are astonishing.  We have never seen anything like it – the general store and apothecary (pharmacy) are by far the most complete and authentic we have seen.  Just the construction of the round barn and horseshoe-shaped barn are amazing, not to mention the huge collection of hundreds of carriages and sleighs stored within them.  Whatever passion, interest or obsession you may have, this museum seems to cover them all.  Below are pictures of just some of the collections.

Horseshoe Barn

Horseshoe Barn contains the carriages, wagons and sleighs of different eras.


One of the many carriages on display

The rich collections pictured below were housed in separate buildings or houses.

Covered Bridge

Double-lane covered bridge with footpath

Quilt Collection

Huge and colorful quilt collection

On display in the weaving building is a rare 1890s Jacquard Loom, which used punched cards to create intricate designs in the cloth.  These punched cards are actually the pre-cursors to punched cards used at the beginning of the computer revolution.

Folk Art

High-end folk art collection

80-foot-diameter Round Barn

80-foot-diameter Round Barn of 1901, restored and moved here in 1986

Round Barn

Dozens more carriages inside the Round Barn – Steve is becoming a big fan of carriages!

A horseshoe-shaped structure called the Circus Building was constructed in 1965 and was designed to showcase a 4,000 piece hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade.  The collection stretches nearly the full length of the building’s 518 feet.

Arnold Circus Parade

Arnold Circus Parade on steroids

Arnold Circus Parade

These miniatures ran the entire length of the building!

Finally, an intricate 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus is displayed at the end of the building.  Absolutely amazing display!

Kirk Bros. Circus

Miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus

Whew…there was so much to see and gawk at!  And if you feel cultured and into fine art, there was a building for that, too – but photography was not allowed and the high-end collection was closely guarded.  After seeing all of it in seven hours, you may ask if we have a favorite among the collections?  I would say no, it was so diverse, so interesting and so fascinating that we could not really pick a favorite.  And I have not  even mention everything we saw, so if you happen to be in Vermont, make Shelburne Museum at the top of your list.

By 5pm we were exhausted and ready to sit down by the campfire to enjoy our wine and Vermont cheeses.  Ahh…the cheese in Vermont – stay tuned.

Next Up:  Ice cream, cheese and teddy bears under construction!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

 Portland, ME

Canadian Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island)