So many museums, so little time – Washington, DC

Comments 25 Standard
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


What to do in Perdido Key, FL?

Comments 20 Standard

Located on a thin strip of land in the extreme northwest corner of Florida, Perdido Key is known for  its rolling, white-sand dunes and stunning views of the calm gulf waters. Stretching 16 miles and surrounded by federal and state parks, it is connected on the east by bridge to the city of Pensacola and to the west by bridge to Orange Beach, Alabama.  So this town is within only 30 minutes either way of all the summertime commotion, yet it is secluded enough for relaxation in a laid-back beach atmosphere.

Using this spot as our home base for a week, we ventured out.  The weather was chilly and windy during the first few days, but that didn’t deter us from making our first and only stop in Florida for a while a busy one.  We plan to spend a lot more time exploring Florida next winter, but we now have a good feel for this part of the state.

Perdido Key

A glimpse of Perdido Key

Armed with a recommendation from Erin of Two to Travel’s Phaeton Journeys about the nearby Naval Air Station – home of the Blue Angels, we ventured out on a breezy Tuesday (with a windchill of 37 degrees) to watch them perform their air show practice.  We had seen them during an air show while still living in California, so this was our second show – but this one was free!  We enjoyed watching them soar overhead, performing their thrilling aerobatics.  On an unfortunate side note, we also learned this was their last week of rehearsals and shows, grounded as a result of federal budget cuts.  They won’t be seen in any air shows this year, so you will just have to enjoy my photos and imagine the deafening roar of the jets 🙂

Blue Angels

Blue Angels in upside down

Upside down!

The Blue Angels is the Navy’s famed precision flying team.  Their mission is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting, and credibly represent Navy and Marine Corps aviation to the United States and its Armed Forces to America and other countries as international ambassadors of good will.

Blue Angels

Blue Angels

It was very crowded at the Blue Angel’s rehearsal, which is held next door to the National Naval Aviation Museum.  It seemed like all of the spectators (well, the kids were still on spring break) also went to the National Naval Aviation Museum after the show.  This museum is the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most-visited museums in the state of Florida.  And why not – free admission, free tours, free parking and free education and learning about all the cool stuff the Navy does.

Propellers or Screws

This propeller is made entirely of bronze and weighs over 27,000 pounds.

The museum is where naval aviation’s rich history and more than 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aviation are on display.


One cool thing we did was join the virtual Flight Deck Operations, Mission: Launch & Recover Aircraft aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.  After an explanation by a naval expert of how the steam-powered deck catapult works, we experienced the virtual ride which was complete with blowing wind and engine noise of the aircraft taking off and landing on the carrier deck.  That was really enjoyable, yet I would not dream of working there!

alabama national guard band

Alabama National Guard Band played some beautiful music at the museum.

Where else can you learn about the definition of a “Navy Shower”?

Navy Shower

Navy shower

And a pretend to disembark from Marine One…

Naval Air Museum

Hail to the chief! This is Richard Nixon’s actual Marine One helicopter.

There was so much to read and gawk at, we could have spent a whole day reading through all the plaques.  But after several hours our tummies were grumbling and we had big lunch plans.  Following another tip from Ayn of RoadLife, we drove to Peg Leg Pete’s restaurant to check out why it is so popular.  Although there was a long line when we arrived on a Tuesday at 1:00pm, we were seated within fifteen minutes.  And we weren’t disappointed, the seafood was excellent and very fresh.  They even served Guiness on tap – Steve loved it!

With satisfied, full tummies we continued our exploration by going back to the Naval Air Station where we visited two historic sites, Fort Barrancas and the Pensacola Lighthouse. Fort Barrancas sits on a bluff overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay.  The fort functioned with Fort Pickens and Fort McRee across the bay to create a brutal crossfire against any enemy warships.  Touring the Scarp Gallery, we noted a series of arches which at the time were applied by the military as the latest design.  This was state-of-the-art engineering, as these arches are extremely strong and hold up better than flat structures.

A Florida Landmark, the Pensacola Lighthouse rises 160 feet into the air and has towered over Pensacola Bay since 1858.  It is still in use today.  The lighthouse played a central role in local Civil War events.  We climbed the 177 steps to the top and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the Naval Air Station, Ft Pickens and the white sandy beaches and aquamarine waters of Pensacola Bay.

Pensacola Lighthouse

Pensacola Lighthouse

Stairway in the lighthouse-177 steps in all

Views seen from the top of the  lighthouse.

Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens

Pensacola Lighthouse

Naval Air Station

Pensacola Bay

Pensacola Bay

Next up: More activities at Perdido Key!