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Washington DC

Botanical Gardens at the Smithsonians

We hadn’t intended to visit the botanical gardens in DC. I mean, you can pretty much put up a garden anywhere, but when the museums didn’t have enough to hold our attention…

Turns out the garden was one of our favorite places. Granted, it was pouring rain outside so we probably stayed longer than we otherwise might have, but it was orchid season! There were other flowers there too, of course, but the gallery below is pretty much dedicated to the orchid room. The last flower in the picture is actually from a tree that was along the Potomac basin. I don’t know what kind of tree it was, but the flowers were just gorgeous. Only about half of the flowers in the botanical garden were marked so if anyone wants to write in with a name, I’ll add a caption. My favorite was the purple flower with white lace lines through it–there was no marker, but what a lovely, lovely orchid!

Click on the pictures to see larger images.

Posted: May 3, 2008
Filed in Flowers, Washington DC

DC…Bust?

Recently completed the grand tour of Washington DC. Took the parents and took in museums, monuments, restaurants and anything else we could find. The problem? The museums were a bust as far as good ones. Yeah, I know. I almost had to read that twice myself. The great Smithsonians were like a picked over Blue-Light Special clearance section.

What the hell happened to them? I was there twenty some years ago and loved them. There was so much to see, I could barely stand still long enough to take in the exhibit in front of me. This time around, it looked like some marketing specialist for modern art was in charge during the renovation. Two of the museums in the mall area were still under renovation and completely closed. That in and of itself was a bummer. Why weren’t some of the exhibits from those museums moved to other buildings? There appeared to be PLENTY of empty space in the buildings we visited.

Just one example: In the Native American building, the first two floors were dedicated to empty hallway space, a restaurant and two very small museum shops–the only exhibit was a canoe that appeared to be a “replica” rather than a real one on the first floor. The hallways were wide and empty enough to race bicycles.

There were a lot of contemporary bowls and contemporary native clothing–essentially native garments done by today’s artists. They were gorgeous mind you, but I really didn’t go to a museum to see a modern artist’s rendition of an outfit that was originally designed back in the 1800’s. Several were sewn in 2000 and after, sitting next to the odd one here or there that were made in the 1800 and early 1900s. All of them were beautiful, but you had to check the dates to even know whether you were looking at something done by modern hands, or something done back on the plains using hand-prepared hides, bones, and seeds. There was little documentation to explain what ceremony the outfits might have been used for.

There was very little pottery and if there were old ones recovered from archaeological sites, I didn’t see them, mainly because once I figured out we weren’t talking history, I moved past them. There may have been older pottery bowls mixed in, but there was only a single, short wall of pottery period.

Drawers along one wall contained arrowheads and some steel tomahawk type weapons. Not much by way of documentation to be able to tell who used the weapons, although there were dates.

There were no teepees or utensils such as bone needles, scrapers for the hides, stones for grinding corn. In fact, there was very little information about the different tribes–none of the various artworks such as blankets (Navajo), baskets, pottery or dolls (Kachina or otherwise). I think I saw a few pieces of Indian jewelry, but not much (Not a single piece of Zuni jewelry, for example.) From what I recall, each tribe had their own styles when it came to pottery and painting of pots. Too bad the Smithsonians hid all that in the back somewhere. I certainly would have liked to see some of it.

The Indians didn’t all live the same. They had various ways of life–hunting, planting, pueblos, war-mongering, etc. None of that was mentioned anywhere. The different arts and ceremonies from the different tribes was completely missing. What a letdown.

We also visited the Smithsonian Castle, a museum that supposedly had exhibits/examples from each of the other museums. It was very nice and the samples were great–All two rooms on one floor that was was shared with an eating area and a small restaurant/snack place. We thought we’d be able to see some things from the museums that were closed. And we did. Probably two or three exhibits. What a letdown.

I don’t understand what changed or why. The Smithsonians are supposed to be premier museums in the world, certainly in the United States. There may be more lighting and “interactive” displays, but the content was sadly, sadly lacking. I’d rather have clutter to explore and wonder about than artfully arranged glass cases with one sample of one theme.

I’ll blabber some more about the trip and post some photos in future posts. We did enjoy the Natural History Museum–it contained at least 3 floors of exhibits. My husband visited the Space museum and found some good things there, although there were probably a few too many “replicas” rather than the real thing. Its main purpose appeared to be dedicated to entertaining small children.

We also enjoyed the monuments. There truly is something wonderful about reading the inscriptions at the Lincoln memorial in the hushed environment. People were very respectful and polite.

Licoln Inscription

licoln monument

Posted: May 1, 2008
Filed in Washington DC

National Geographic – Frogs!

We saw an ad on the DC metro for a “live frog” exhibit at National Geographic, so when the museums weren’t working out too well, we decided to find it. It rained the day we went, but the frog exhibit was worth the walk in the rain. It wasn’t a large exhibit, but we enjoyed the variations in the frogs and of course, found the poison dart frogs fascinating. They are the most beautiful of frogs (well, they are the most colorful anyway) and also the most deadly.

Indigenous Emberá people of Colombia have used the poison from the frogs for centuries to tip their blowgun darts when hunting, hence the genus’ common name. There was a nice display of a blowgun and the the quiver used to store the darts. From what I read, the toxicity of the frog is most likely dependent on what the frog eats; frogs in captivity are not toxic and for those in the wild, the toxicity varies in each population.

Posted: May 5, 2008
Filed in Washington DC

Washington DC – Best Museum

As I mentioned in a few other posts, the museums weren’t everything we expected.   The best, by far, was the Natural History museum. An excellent displays of rocks, gems and metals (gold, copper, silver, paladium)  with everything well marked and easy to read.  The Hope Diamond was also displayed (would have been nice if the story of the curse that supposedly follows it was posted.  Or even a larger post of where it was mined and who owned it.) 

There was also a very good display of preserved animals–a chance to see what ibex, bats, and various other animals look like.  The display was well done and enjoyable with many exhibits.  There was also a separate exhibit with birds.

The mummy exhibit was almost interesting, but I’m afraid compared to the British museum it came across as rather scant.  There is an exhibit of a human mummy and a very interesting one of a bull that was mummified.  The stone sarcophagus didn’t look real.  The wooden coffin looked very real and was interesting.

There was also a dinasaur exhibit on the first floor geared towards children, but worth a very quick tour.

One of the more frustrating issues we dealt with was the lack of information–both inside and outside the buildings.  When you are in the courtyard of the “mall” of museums, the buildings are not marked well.  You have to walk up to the actual door to see the name of the buiding.   Finding out what is on display inside pretty much involves looking for yourself.  The volunteers at the information desk do hand out a booklet that is supposed to help you decide which museums to visit, but the information is so scant and general, it is not worth the paper it was printed on.  Most of the “guide” was ad space.  The most useful information was a map of the buildings that I printed before I left.  I think the same map was probably inside the guidebook, but the one I took was very helpful when we first stepped off the Smithsonian metro station and had to choose an unmarked building to get started.

For some odd reason the back of the museums where the streets ran were better marked.  There were even ads outside the buildings with some pictures and information about what was on display inside.   I’m not sure why this type of information isn’t available from inside the courtyards and why there isn’t more information available.  I know that the Smithsonians have a lot of material.  I wish they’d include more of it in their exhibits and some sort of online listing of what can be found at the various museums.  I know the displays change frequently, but keeping an updated list would be extremely helpful to visitors. 

 

Posted: May 7, 2008
Filed in Washington DC

Washington DC – Where to Stay, What to Eat

We stayed at a great little place in DC and it was in fact, the only place I found that was remotely affordable. 

I found 25 Quincy Place through the rental service www.Rentalo.com.  This place won’t be for everyone; it’s about 1/2 mile from the nearest metro station, which means quite a bit of walking if you aren’t used to it.  The nearest grocery story is a metro stop away–but another 1/2 mile walk from that metro to the store, so to get groceries, you have to be prepared for about 2 miles of walking total.  It’s doable if you’re in shape and don’t mind carrying the groceries.  Of course it would be even easier if you’re willing to pay for a cab to get yourself situated.   You can rent a car, of course, but I believe that only certain sized cars can be accommodated and there may be an extra charge for it; check the rental page for details/updates.  Not only that, parking a car in a lot of DC locations appeared to be next to impossible.

We loved this rental for several reasons; one of which was price. For four of us to stay in a hotel would have been $200 to 300 a night and we would have had to cancel the trip altogether.  We stayed at the Quincy place for around $150 a night for all four of us (not including tax and check the rules for minimum stay requirements.)   There are two bedrooms in the place so we had our privacy.  The master has its own bath; the other room has one three steps down the hall, and there’s a powder room on the first floor.  The neighborhood appears to be in the middle of renovation, but it was not noisy either during the day or at night.   The people renting the place were wonderful–they answered my questions and went above and beyond in a couple of cases. 

You’ll do a lot of walking in DC if you decide to use the metro to get around.  Again, it’s very doable if you don’t mind walking and are in shape for it.  Carry a water bottle–and an umbrella!

Eats

I spent a significant amount of time reading through the Washington Post recommended eating sections online.  Don’t bother; it was completely outdated and wrong for most of the restaurants we tried, especially where prices were concerned.  In our search for good restaurants, about all we did was add a lot of extra walking.   We should have eaten at Union Station more. Union Station was accessible, had lots of food choices and had some of the most reasonably priced food we saw.  I don’t usually recommend food courts, but honestly the price/quality was better than at least two of the sit-down restaurants that came highly recommended.  We got breakfast goodies from two of the bakeries at Union St, and there’s a place there that serves a full breakfast (dad recommends the french-toast). In addition, I highly recommend Great Wraps for sandwich type goods and Burrito Brothers for their wonderful selection of very large and reasonably priced burritos!

Other than Union Staion, I recommend a stop somewhere in Chinatown.  We ate at Full Kee (509 H St. NW, Washington, DC) and the food was great.  The prices were around $10 to 12 dollars per entree, but we generally ordered three for the four of us and had the perfect amount of food.  Full Kee served hot tea with the meal, a tradition that I love.  Since no one else in my family drinks hot tea, I got the whole pot!

There were lots of other places in the Chinatown area; many of them looked very good and prices in this area seemed to have a wide-range to cover all budgets.

That about sums up the DC trip.  All in all we had a decent time, but I don’t think I’ll need to go back anytime soon. I felt we saw everything we needed to and it’s always good to be back home!

 

Posted: May 11, 2008
Filed in Washington DC