Chapter Two – Days At The Museums

DSC06672Chapter Two – Days At The Museums 

Day Three – The Twelve Hour Day – Is That A Shoe Or A Condo, Lunch In A Native Setting, Capitol Idea, Houston we Have A Problem, A Very Public Library, The Supremes, A Museum in KAOS and CONTROL, Escargot Here I Go and My Favorite Torturer

It was a little before nine in the morning when our intrepid foursome took off on foot, not knowing we would not see our hotel again for 12 hours, although looking at the spreadsheet, we knew we had a full agenda of activities.

Kim and Mary had made reservations at the National Archives for us on this cool morning, where rain showers were predicted.  We grabbed some coffee at Au Bon Pain, and got to the National Archives a little earlier than our scheduled time.

DSC06651The day started with a 13-minute film about the National Archives, and we were off to The Lawrence O’Brien Gallery that had a special exhibition entitled “Big!”

There were diagrams of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a map of the battlefield at Gettysburg and Nixon’s tape recorder. Going through the exhibit, there was a big bathtub sitting in front of us. It was the extra large tub used by William H. Taft (photo courtesy of NY Times).

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Speaking of extra large, nearby was a pair of shoes that could have housed the Little Old Lady, her brood and all her neighbor. Proving that size matters, we got to see Shaq’s Size 22 shoes. It makes sense that his show would be in the Lawrence O’Brien Gallery since among his varied accomplishments O’Brien once served as Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Then it was on to the Public Vaults containing letters, video and audio recordings.

But, of course, the reason the National Archives is so well visited lies under glass in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

DSC06629We waited for about 15 minutes just outside the Rotunda; then got in the (slow moving) circular line to catch a glimpse of the Bill Of Rights, the Constitution of the United States and he Declaration Of Independence.

DSC06630It was about noon when we exited the National Archives, and thanks to suggestions on this travel forum, we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian for lunch.  Walking past some canoes, we made our way to the Mitsitam Café, which is a cafeteria-type setting offering cuisines from different Native American regions in the Western Hemisphere.

There are five areas to choose from, Meso America (where Kim, Tracy and I got food from), the Northwest Coast, Northern Woodlands, South America and The Great Plains.  It’s not cheap, by any means. Tracy and I had two soft tacos (with guacamole on the side) each, a piece of key lime pie, water and a soda that ran $34. The food was really good, though.

DSC06633I think Mary traveled to South America for her lunch of fried yucca, cilantro pestoon, roasted root veggies, bananas and soda that cost $12, but it looked good. The museum has a nice layout, and after lunch Tracy and Mary listened to a little background information while I looked at canoes.

DSC06632We had 2:30 reservations for our United States Capitol tour, but we were running ahead of schedule.   We ducked into the Botanical Gardens on the way over to the Capitol.

DSC06636Arriving at the Capitol about 40 minutes early, we were given the go-ahead to join an earlier tour.

DSC06637There was a short movie and then the tour, which was frankly a little disappointing because the tour guide lacked any insight into the history of the building. The scripted speech lasted only half an hour. The guide basically just tells you about paintings and statues and does his shtick of talking on one side of the room and letting us listen on the other side. I’ve seen that trick at The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

DSC06642Each state gets two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection. One of our great trivia questions since college was, “Who was Lincoln’s first vice-president?”  The answer is Maine’s own Hannibal Hamlin, and he was here.

DSC06643We paid our respect to the statue of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I, known today as Kamehameha the Great.  His remains were hidden in a secret place, and according to legend,“only the stars know his final resting place.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started guessing which two people represented California.  We knew one was Father Junípero Serra, but could not think of the other person. The other statue, we found out, was of Thomas Starr King.

“Who the hell is that?” we asked each other. “Maybe he was Sky King,” Kim said.

He was actually, according to Wikipedia an “American Unitarian minister influential in California politics during the American Civil War” and was nicknamed the “orator that saved a nation” because Lincoln credited him with “preventing California from becoming a separate nation.”

king However, if you travel to the Capitol now, a statue of Ronald Reagan has replaced King (photo above is from website).  For you King fans, do not despair, he has been relocated to the California State Capitol in Sacramento on the second floor rotunda.  Long live the King!

web-5We stopped by to see Colorado’s statue.  Jack Swigert was the Apollo 13 astronaut who made the famous call to ground control saying, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”  Upon retiring, Swigert went on to win election to the House of Representatives, but died eight days before taking his oath. There’s an identical statue in the Denver International Airport.

After viewing a nice exhibit after the tour (which told you more about the Capitol than the actual tour), we walked through a tunnel and exited at the Library of Congress (no library card needed).

We first said thanks for the memories to Bob Hope at a special exhibit honoring the comedian that included television and movie clips along with a lot of Hope memorabilia.

DSC06647The interior of The Library of Congress is gorgeous. Its vibrant mosaics and stenciled ceilings, along with a beautiful marble staircase, make for quite a setting. Oh yeah, there are lots of books, too.

When we arrived, the docent said, “Be sure not to miss the Gutenberg Bible on the second floor and a world map from 1510. Also, don’t miss the Lincoln Bible; the one that Barack Obama took his oath upon.”

We found the map and the Gutenberg Bible (one of only three originals in the world). But we could not find the Lincoln Bible. After an exhaustive (okay, not really exhaustive) search, we asked another docent.

She said, “Oh, the Lincoln Bible. It left here yesterday on tour.” I felt the same way I did when I just missed Elvis in concert one year.  Coincidentally, that bible (Lincoln’s not Elvis’) will be on tour (also in Sacramento) later this summer.

Now we were really ahead of schedule, and, as the Library of Congress was on another day, we were pumping. It was about 3:30, but our Spy Museum reservations were not until 5. “How about the Supreme Court?” Mary asked. This, too, had been scheduled for another day, but we said, “Let’s do it.”

DSC06648At the Supreme Court we watched a movie (circa 1996 or 1997) on the court.  It was fascinating listening to Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, Thomas, Rehnquist, Stevens and Scalia talk about the inner workings of the court.  They showed respect for each other, and they also showed a glimpse of their seldom seen sense of humor.

DSC06650Afterword, we sneaked a peek into chambers, walked through the building and saw the giant statue of the first powerful Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall.  Unfortunately we just missed the final docent-led tour.

It was a cool afternoon that still threatened rain, but we stayed dry all the way to one of Washington D.C.’s newer museums, The International Spy Museum (inside photo below from their website).

lrg_002From Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson on I Spy to Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakan on The Man From U.N.C.L.E to Maxwell Smart on Get Smart, I have always been a sucker on anything that pertains to international intrigue. So when Kim and Mary said they were going to get reservations, I had no reservations about going.

The entrance fee is 20 bucks and you are whisked to the first level where you watch a film, and then head into a room where you can get your own identity and be a spy. I think it would be a fun place to take your kids, but there is a lot for adults, too.

DSC06756Once in the exhibit, there are numerous hands-on features, movies and tons of gadgets that real spies have used down through the centuries. We saw a real shoe phone! Would you believe two cans and a rope (there actually was a shoe phone)?

Next up was a James Bond 007 car that had all the necessary equipment to thwart his pursuers. We learned about stars that turned spy like Julia Child, Josephine Baker and baseball player Moe Berg. Kim and I played spy attempting to flee through air ducts that they strategically placed in the museum to let you get the feel of trying to escape capture.

It is a place where you could spend a few hours, but after about 90 minutes we were pooped and about the only thing I wanted to spy now was a big, cold martini, which we were able to get at the Old Ebbitt Grill after walking for a while.  We weren’t going to stop, but like so many lawyers I know who didn’t pass the bar on their third attempt, neither did we.

For dinner, Mary called Bistrot du Coin at 1738 Connecticut Avenue, and made reservations for 7:30. Even though there is a good metro system, Mary thought we were pretty close, so we walked.

On the way…

DSC06652 …we bumped into President Obama (well, sort of).

As we turned the corner after a significant walk, Mary realized we were not even close. I believe it was then Kim reiterated, “Seldom right, but never in doubt.”  As Mary gave Kim “the look,” the skies opened up, and a deluge ensued.  We hailed a cab, and after a good soaking, the “Soggy Four” were deposited at the Bistrot du Coin.

The decibel level at Bistrot du Coin makes The Old Ebbitt Grill sound like a library. It was hopping. It was packed, but we were able to secure a table at the top of the stairs overlooking the action. It seemed like there were a lot of locals, a real neighborhood place.

DSC06653I never pass up on escargot, which paired well with my new drink du jour called a Versailles; Vodka and Chambord together again for the first time. Dinners included a Cassoulet with duck, lamb, beef and white beans, along with hanger steak with pommes frites. Kim and I had filets to the best of my recollection, which was growing dimmer from the red wine we were now consuming. The food here was good, as was the vibe.

DSC06654It was still pouring as we left the restaurant, and when we got in the lobby of the Rouge, I exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s 9 p.m.”   That meant two things, we had been gone for 12 hours, but more importantly, it was time for the next to the last installment of 24.

Tracy and I are addicts, as is Mary. Kim is not, so we invited Mary to our room so we could watch murder and mayhem, while Kim read. We only missed about six minutes, which in “24 time” means about eight shootings, a couple of explosions and someone else betraying Jack.

Afterward, we bid adieu to Mary, and Tracy fell immediately asleep. I must have been close behind, because when I awoke at midnight the television was still on.

The group had surpassed the spreadsheet’s wildest expectations, and tomorrow would hold even more great Washington D.C. memories. Our itinerary would include a museum that has become my favorite museum on the planet!

DSC06677Day Four – 4-D, Breaking News, Art Treasures, Hawk & Dove & Dive, Wine Time at The Rouge, Firefly and Here Comes The Judge

So much for rain!   We awoke to sunny skies and reached in our wallets to split a cab to our first destination.  Most importantly, before our museum experience, we had to grab some breakfast.  We decided on a place called Cosi, which I believe now has more than 100,000 locations in the greater DC area.

After breakfast, we walked over to the Newseum.  If you visit Washington D.C. and are interested in past and current events, the Newseum should be high on your list of places to see. I could write all day about it, but my trip reports are long enough, so I’ll give you the nuts and bolts.

Before entering, walk along the front of the building and view front pages of newspapers from around the world. It makes one lament the ongoing death of many of these publications.

After purchasing our $20 entrance tickets (which I think is a bargain for everything you see, hear and watch at this fantastic museum), we walked into a theater and watched a 20-minute film on great accomplishments in sports (we skipped the orientation movie, which we had been told to do by more than a few people). To emphasize the sports’ film’s quality, even Tracy, who is not a sports fan, loved it.

web-6However, it was the next film we were about to view that blew (literally at times) the group away. Heading upstairs, we walked into a waiting room where we donned 3-D, no wait, 4-D glasses. “I’ve never heard of 4-D,” I said.

We found out that 4-D is basically 3-D, only with special effects that one feels physically while viewing the film (sort of like a date in high school or college). A couple of historical films put you, quite literally, in the action. On the boats, the chairs move to make you feel like you’re on the water, and suddenly a mist or forceful wind hits you right in the face.

There was also a film on Nellie Bly and the exposé she wrote about insane asylums. The highlight is ****SPOILER ALERT*** when the rat rubs against your ankle. There were more than a few shrieks in the audience. I’m not copping to anything.

Before, in-between and after the films there are also bubbles that seem to be heading directly in to your face that contain world events through the years, and sometimes the bubbles burst near your face, and you can actually feel the bubbles as they pop. Don Ho would have enjoyed it.

DSC06656The way to work your way through the museum is take the elevator directly to the sixth floor and then work down from there.

DSC06655From the sixth floor outside balcony, the views up and down Pennsylvania Avenue were stunning on this clear day.

DSC06658As was the Smithsonian.

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I could have spent all day on the fifth floor.

DSC06662There are newspapers that date back to 1545 (which happened to be the last year the Padres had a winning record), and you can pull out drawers that contain even more newspaper front pages than the ones that are highlighted.

DSC06663The newspapers from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries were particularly interesting. Whether it was the banner headline “Jesse James Assassinated,” the sinking of the Titanic, the attack on Pearl Harbor, a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald in the morgue to headlines from today, it brought history to life.

DSC06661As you wander up and down the rows of newspapers, there are videos stationed periodically showing clips of JFK’s assassination, Watergate, comedy skits regarding the news, Vietnam coverage and so much more.

DSC06660You can also duck into mini theaters that show looping videos regarding history of freedom of the press in America.

  Before you leave this floor, there is a history of the world as detailed by television coverage of many of the most important events that have taken place in the past half a century. It was truly captivating!

DSC06659Descending to the fourth floor, we were witness to the terrible events of 9-11.

DSC06665One video, showing that day unfold from reporter’s perspectives who covered the event in New York, was incredible moving, and there were a lot of tears shed by people who viewed it.  There were remnants from the Twin Towers on display and…

DSC06664…also a piece of the Berlin Wall.

DSC06666 On the third level, there was a wall commemorating those journalists from around the world who gave their lives to bring you and me “the story.” The “Journalists Memorial” had some very familiar names on it from Ernie Pyle to David Bloom.  Also on this level are computer stations that one can key in to events from history, like the Hindenburg crash to more current events.

There is also an interactive map displaying which countries have a free press, those countries that have a limited free press to the countries whose governments dictate what coverage its citizens see, hear and read. Some are very surprising, or at least they were to us.

If you have ever wanted to be on television, you can also become a news anchor or reporter at one of the interactive news studios.  Finally, downstairs was an exhibit of Pulitzer prize-winning photographs, some well known and others that we saw for the first time. It was a very moving exhibit and proves the expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

We toured the Newseum for nearly four hours, and at the end, we all agreed we could have spent at least four more hours exploring its wealth of exhibits and films. From the knowledgeable staff to virtually every exhibit at this interesting and informative museum, the Newseum receives our highest reviews, and coming to Washington D.C. without visiting the Newseum would be a mistake in my estimation.

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On the way out, I gave a few parting words to J. Edgar Hoover.

By now, it was nearly 2 p.m., but instead of eating (now there is a shocking detail), we decided to mosey on over to the National Gallery of Art.

When this museum was completed, it was the largest marble structure in the entire world.

DSC06671This museum, with free admission, has paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to present day, and since the four of us are middle-aged, we decided to stick to the West Wing (actually the West Building), which houses the older art.

DSC06670After stopping at the information desk to get our bearings, we strolled over to the beautiful Rotunda that leads into the hallways. Off of these hallways are a multitude of rooms where great works of art abound.

We were very impressed by the beautiful building and its presentation of these art treasures.  We meandered through many of the rooms enjoying the works of artists such as Fra Angelico, Van Dyke, Renoir, and so many others.

DSC06672Nearing the end of our visit, one piece of art grabbed my immediate attention. Augustus Saint Gauden’s plaster tribute to Robert Gould Shaw and the first all-black regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War was something to behold.  If you don’t know the story (or even if you do), I highly recommend you rent or buy or stream the movie “Glory”.  Starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick (good performances by all), “Glory” is a very well-made motion picture that informs as well as entertains.

DSC06667It was now mid-afternoon and our midsections felt the pangs of hunger (and thirst). No trip with Kim and Mary is ever complete without a trip to at least one Irish pub.  On a recommendation, we hopped into a cab and were whisked (well, there was beaucoup traffic, so whisk might be a stretch) to the Capitol Hill area for drinks and munchies at The Hawk ‘n’ Dove (which I think is now out of business…photo from web), touted as Washington D.C.’s oldest Irish bar.

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We walked inside to a very dark interior and plunked ourselves down at a table with a bay window where we had a lovely view of the dive bar next door. I hadn’t seen that many tattoos since watching a Denver Nuggets’ game.

Dinner hour was still at least a few hours away, so Mary ordered some calamari appetizers for the table, and we all had a nice, refreshing afternoon libation.

It was nearing 5 p.m., and since we had not taken advantage of the Hotel Rouge “Wine Hour,” that started at 5 p.m., we got back in a cab and headed to our hotel.  Wine is served to Hotel Rouge patrons in the lobby and is poured by pleasant Hotel Rouge staff members.  It’s a good way to meet other guests and, oh yeah, drink free wine!

We were in the mood to stay relatively near the hotel tonight, and the desk guy recommended its sister hotel’s (Hotel Madera) restaurant, Firefly, for dinner.  It is located just off of DuPont Circle.

FireflyFirefly (photo above from web) is only about a 10-15 minute walk from the Rouge, and when we arrived at 7:45, it was jam-packed.  We were seated near the “firefly tree,” and from start to finish we received very personable service from their great wait staff. The food was damn good, too!

Tracy and Mary started with a roasted tomato bisque soup, while I had a lettuce wedge with blue cheese.

For the main course, I went for the house specialty; pot roast on a bed of Yukon Gold potatoes.  Sumptuous!

Kim went the chicken route again with a roasted chicken on a bed of greens.

Tracy dined on an 8-ounce bistro steak, potatoes au gratin and cauliflower.

Mary, not swimming far from her fishy ways, had the halibut, collards and fava bean pesto.  Fortunately Hannibal Lecter was nowhere in sight, but to be safe we stayed away from the Chianti.

During dinner, Firefly’s terrific general manager, Joe, came over to our table, and we chatted about, what else, wine. He had recommended a Trinitas Meritage ($44) that was very tasty.  After talking for quite a while, he gave me a short tour of the restaurant and introduced me to the chef.

That three-minute walk through the restaurant meant I had performed enough exercise to order dessert and an after-dinner drink. I didn’t care that I was eating more than the others, because Tracy and I bought Kim and Mary dinner in thanks for all the hard work they had put into the planning of this trip (they do the same for us in Europe when I plan the trip, so I thought I had better not be a cheapskate).

For dessert, I had a brown Apple Betty with blackberry ice cream and an Irish coffee. The Jenny Craig diet was now in full retreat, but we never gain weight on our travels because we walk 50 miles a day (or so it seems).

I guess Joe must have seen the bill for the evening, because before we left he poured me a complimentary, little glass of his favorite gin (oh yeah, we talked about gin, too).  The Bluecoat gin made it a little more difficult for me to navigate a straight line to the hotel.  I started seeing colorful elephants and donkeys (oh wait, they really were there).

DSC06580Not too far from the Rouge, we spied a woman exiting a building and being lead into a large, black limo. “I think its Barbara Bush,” Tracy said.  Being the noisy tourists that we are, the four us surreptitiously slipped in a little closer to get a better look.

“Even better,” Mary said. “It’s Sandra O’Conner.”  Sure enough, the ex- Supreme Court Justice ambled over to the limo and got inside.  Fortunately, it was a small glass of gin, or “here comes the judge” could have easily spouted from my lips.

For once we got back to the hotel at a relatively early hour, which was fine because tomorrow there would be an early wake-up call from Mary.  Our plan was to stray from the environs of Washington D.C. for the entire day and visit Arlington Cemetery, Mt. Vernon and Alexandria, Virginia.

Next: Day Five – Get Out Of My Way, Changing Of The Guard, From The Halls Of Montezuma, Missed It By That Much, I Cannot Tell A Lie, Where’s Vanna White, George Washington Slept Here, The Bus ‘Nazi’, Down By The Lazy River, Riding On The Metro Again and Damn It “Our Out Of Business Wine Bar” is Open!

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