A Travellerspoint blog

Washington, DC

all seasons in one day 76 °F

Two factual corrections to: Up the Potomac (1) The airport I mentioned on the banks of the Potomac River is Ronald Reagan Washington National, not Dulles. Should have known that! (2) When Washington was President the seat of government was Philadelphia, not Washington DC. He had no reason, as I had mused, to travel by boat between WDC and Mt. Vernon; he died in 1799 before the Capitol was moved in 1800. Did know that; got it wrong anyway!


After a pleasant Friday, we woke up Saturday morning to a cold boat, not having needed to turn on the heat on Friday. One flick of a circuit breaker cured that problem. Carol let me pick what we wanted to do on Saturday so I picked the zoo, a place we had once visited when our son was still in the 3d grade. The day was clear and sunny, but quite cool, uncomfortable in the wind, very nice out of the wind.

Zoos have changed a lot over the years since we first visited them in the 50's. Those were the days of observation, looking at the beasties; today everything seems to be about conservation, an easy enough position to defend with the current rate of species extinction. The exhibit managers, formerly called zoo keepers, have become so clever in designing the display habitats, creating such natural spaces for the animals that half the time it was impossible to find the animal, a colossal game of Where's Waldo?, the elephants being an obvious exception; it's hard to make an elephant disappear unless you're in Las Vegas watching Siegfried & Roy. But it really didn't matter, the animals became ancillary to the to the day. The grounds of the zoo were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead; the nexus with our home is that he also did the grounds for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It was simply enough to walk around on a sunny day with trees and flowers blooming; the seemingly empty displays with reluctant, reclusive animals in hiding just added to the natural effect. It was a wonderful, interesting and delightful day and place to walk and to enjoy, which we did.


There are those who will say that our current president is the rock star in WDC. Not so! The real rock star in this city is Tian Tian. He draws a crowd in a way that most politicians could only envy and everybody likes him. It's an interesting analysis: two pandas, being served and cared for by dozens of humans at an expense of many millions of dollars each year, and all because Nixon went to China. Even the most committed Nixon haters have to acknowledge this legacy. The pandas don't do very much; they just seem to sit around while munching bamboo, but they do look cute and cuddly while doing that. The zoo was interesting beyond that. We mostly hang out with older folks when cruising, most boaters being of an age. At home our county has an older demographic, many young people moving away to find work. It must have been Bring Your Kids to the Zoo Saturday; at the zoo it seemed as if every woman between the ages of 20 and 35, of which there were many, was pushing a stroller, carrying an infant or trying to herd her children. It was different and refreshing to see that much youth on display. Carol, at 67, being well outside that age range only had to herd me, not so hard to do now that I've lost a step or two. No bougainvillea, so Carol with dogwoods.

My favorite zoo picture of this year and any year: Flamingos Rock!!!



There were a couple of must visit places, first and foremost the World War II Memorial. Both of our fathers fought in and survived the Pacific theater; I had two uncles who fought in Europe. A visit seemed a good way to honor all of their contributions and memories. The exhibit itself was under repair, no water, no fountains, which was unfortunate. The memorial itself did not much inspire. The stars, however, added some gravitas; each star, there are 4,048 of them, represented 100 American lives lost in that conflict. There are lots of memorials, monuments and statues in this city. Some have a natural majesty, e.g. the Lincoln memorial; most don't, each in some way an Ozymandias. The only thing that I have ever seen that has gripped my heart is a national cemetery, row after row of white markers, each an individual story but those stories subsumed into the greater story of national sacrifice and collective achievement to make this country whole and to keep it free.

The other must see place for us was the Holocaust Museum. The day and time that we chose was also when a host of school field trips were also scheduled. Crowded and inconvenient, but few places are more educational and it was good to see so many students there. I had read about the Shtetl of Eishyshok exhibit. That exhibit and the shoes were very evocative to me. It's encouraging that the two busiest places we have been were the Lincoln Memorial and the Holocaust Museum; the priorities seem right.

What has been unsettling, to me anyway, is the level of security we have encountered. To get into the Holocaust Museum, there were x-ray machines to check backpacks and bags; metal detectors and guys with wands; and a dozen armed security personnel, all at the entrance, none in the interior of the museum. The National Archive was almost the same way, except the armed folks were more distributed. I realize that it has only been a week since Boston and that the Holocaust Museum has a definite nexus with Israel and the Middle East's problems, but it just seemed like a lot.

Carol, with some ineffable 6th food sense, chose a marina that is about 100 yards from the Washington sea food market, one of the oldest in continuous operation in the country. It's not a Tsukiji, but they not only sell the raw seafood, there are also several places that cook it. This past Sunday the traffic at the place was intense, many more cars than room for them. The place is much larger than this picture conveys.


The National Archive was a good visit. I had probably known, but forgotten, that the US Constitution is written on 4 pieces of parchment. Throw in the Declaration of Independence and the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and there are six separate pages. Add the Magna Carta and there are seven pages that literally changed the world, all written in English.


We also visited the National Gallery of Art. There the security appeared to be much lower. The 2d floor, where most of the paintings are, was just magnificent. There is a rotunda with huge black marble columns; the rotunda dome was reminiscent of the Pantheon; under the dome was a stylized fountain. The galleries seemed to go on forever, a warren of art in which it was easy to get lost, physically as well as in the senses. I had no idea that we had so many pieces of art by so many European greats as well as the American art of folks like Gilbert Sullivan, which I particularly enjoyed. This was a place I would visit again just to be in the building.

Turns out that I was right about the cherry blossoms, but missed the larger point. The peak of the blossom cycle this year was early April, which we missed, as we had thought that we would. But, there are several types of cherry trees here: the Yoshino, which is the most prevalent type, produces a single white blossom, like we saw in Norfolk. The Kwanzan blooms two weeks later, producing a pinkish flower with double blossoms. The Kwanzan trees were what we saw coming into the Washington Channel. There are many fewer of these trees than of the Yoshino but the flowers are quite remarkable.


More museums, more neat stuff. There is so much that is so interesting that after a while the mind gets overloaded and the senses rebel... just too much to take in. Went to the Museum of Natural History and, surprising to say, Cabela's and Bass Pro do game presentation about as well as does the museum. Washington DC has many large things to command attention, but there are many small delights. Today, just walking from one place to another we saw a sign for a "Sculpture Garden" sandwiched between two large museums. Having nothing better to do we entered, found a nice European style restaurant for lunch, and then sat by a marvelous, large fountain and watched little kids feeding the ducks. My favorite sculpture? Sometimes I cannot see the trees for all the bowls inside them. This tree will not create that problem.

Friday we will leave WDC with the intention, once again, of staying in Colonial Beach, VA. It should be two easy days to get there, arriving Saturday. The stop in Washington has been a nice interlude. We have not interacted with the boat in any way other than as a hotel room... no maintenance, no cleaning, no worrying about boat stuff. We will have to do fuel and water before we leave, but that's all.

Posted by sailziveli 19:35 Archived in USA

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