Mai Tai Tom’s Magical History Tour
Chapter Nine: Our History Lesson Concludes
Day Eight: It’s A Magazine & A Museum, A Visit To Jerusalem in 3D, This Is Big, My Meeting With The Pope, Serving You Since 1856, Last Tickets Of The Day, Enlightening Museum, Absorb & Learn, Tommy Be Good and There Will Be A Test When You Get Home
On our final day, we travelled to Jerusalem. Fortunately we did not have to hurry to the airport to catch a flight, all we had to do was Uber over to the National Geographic Museum, a museum our friend Jeff had told us about before we left.
Mary had secured a 10 a.m. National Geographic subscription (excuse me, reservation) online a few weeks before we left so we could go to The Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience, where (according to the literature), “Cutting-edge technology immerses you in a 3-D expedition to one of Christianity’s holiest sites — the tomb of Christ — revealing secrets like the original cave walls that haven’t been seen in centuries.” (Below photo courtesy of National Geographic Museum)
We donned our 3D glasses and were transported to Jerusalem where we (virtually) walked around inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From ground level and soaring above the experience did not disappoint as we learned about the restoration efforts at the church that took one year (from the day after Easter to the day before Easter the following year). To make the restoration more difficult, during that time period, the church could not be closed. Pretty amazing feat, especially as the church is shared by six different Christian religions. This exhibition closes the first week of January, 2019 ($15 … $12 for seniors). The most fun part … nearly falling over a dozen times when the 3D became all too real. Highly recommended if you’re in DC before the end of 2018.
There is a hall with some interactive exhibits that looked interesting, but we moved on to the actual museum located across a colorful courtyard garden …
… to the lobby of the museum where Mary almost became extinct and Tracy wanted to take a dive.
There is also a “Greatest Hits” of National Geographic magazines covers in the lobby (I’m a sucker for meerkats) …
… and some of the amazing photographs that have been in the magazine.
Inside, exhibits vary from Robert Peary at the South Pole to Jacques Cousteau under the sea to Jane Goodall hanging out with chimps. Nothing photogenic, but certainly interesting … lots of videos to watch, too.
Then it was on to one of only eight basilicas in the United States (remember, we saw one in Philly, too), the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Imposing and beautiful at the same time, we had our Uber driver drop us off so we could take in the expansive structure on this rather overcast day. It’s the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America, and the 10th largest in the world.
The neo-Byzantine style exterior was constructed to replicate the great churches of Europe.
The interior is just one big, “Wow!”
There are more than 80 chapels representing an abundance of cultures located throughout in the upper church and downstairs in the crypt.
Most spectacular is the Trinity Dome, an incredible mosaic piece. It’s called the basilica’s “Crown Jewel.” Of course, that meant things were looking up for Kim. The church’s mosaic domes, including the Trinity Dome, are patterned after St. Mark’s in Venice.
And then along comes Mary chapels from around the world.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of China started us off on our Mary tour, with our own Mary checking them out along the way.
Then it was Our Lady of La Salette and Devotion of Mary, Help of Christians.
Continuing our chapel tour we came upon Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Our Lady of Pompeii.
Next was Our Lady of Czestochowa and Our Lady of Siluva. We even said hello to St. Catherine of Siena. We had seen her head at Basilica of San Domenico in Siena in 2005 and her body at the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome on the same trip. The woman gets round.
Loved the domes of these chapels and, of course, in the main church.
Downstairs we descended into the crypt.
We were in Memorial Hall.
Here we found even more chapels and a small museum holding papal artifacts. There’s something about Mary, because here was the Mary Queen of Missions chapel.
I don’t know what this chapel was all about, except that I liked it.
I lit a candle for my sister who we sadly learned had passed away as our trip came to a close.
We took a glance inside the Crypt Church where a service was taking place.
As I checked out the chairs used by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis (obviously they were sitting popes when they visited) …
… I was summoned over by the latter for a little chat. Nice guy, but he was a bit stiff. By the way, this is where Francis canonized Father Junípero Serra. He was a pope on a mission. Even Mother Teresa of Calcutta got in on the act.
In 2006, a small chapel on the crypt level honoring Our Lady of La Vang from Vietnam was dedicated.
Lastly we took a look at Pope Paul VI’s Coronation Tiara, and a sarcophagus of the Rector of Catholic University when the church was constructed.
Climbing the stairs back to the main floor, we took one last glance at the basilica and headed outside to catch a ride to hopefully have lunch at our favorite DC haunt.
On our initial visit in 2009, the Fearsome Foursome ate our opening night dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill. We returned twice that trip; once for a late evening nightcap and once again for breakfast after our White House tour. Without reservations, we hoped we could find a seat for lunch on this trip.
Located just a hop, skip and an impeachment from the White House, the Old Ebbitt Grill dubs itself “The Oldest Saloon in Washington.” The location has changed a few times, and there are many stories associated with it including one that Teddy Roosevelt “reputedly bagged animal heads on the Main Bar.”
Arriving around 1:30 the place was jam packed. Every room and every bar stool was taken, we claimed a couple of seats near the bar where there was a narrow ledge just wide enough to set your drink on but the waiter said we could dine there too. Since we were starving we thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a shot.”
After ordering, we caught a break when a party of four departed from the bar. Just like Teddy, we bagged those seats immediately. Lunch was fantastic (my jalapeño burger made me happy I had remembered my acid reflux medicine on this morning). They also had the best calamari I’ve had in quite some time.
It was time to scoot (past the Washington Monument) …
…because we had 3 p.m. timed entrance tickets to the hottest attraction in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. Entrance is free, but you have to get the timed entry passes far in advance, and even then you might get shut out. I went online the first second they became available three months prior to our trip and got the last time slot of the day (there are lottery tickets available the morning of, but you have to get lucky to secure one).
The tour starts in the basement of the building. We took an elevator down three floors and encountered a monster line waiting to get in. The crowds reminded me of our 2009 visit to Washington’s Holocaust Museum.
Digression: The era of timed tickets is changing. According to a recent story in the Washington Post … “Two years after its star-studded opening, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will not require timed passes for visitors on weekdays in September. The month-long reprieve serves as a test for the future, officials said. Weekend visitors will still need to have the free timed passes.”
Inside, you will walk more than a mile through hundreds of exhibits.
Even if you spent an entire day here, you wouldn’t be able to see everything.
The museum chronicles events in order as you walk up from the bottom floor, starting from African and pre-colonial history …
…through slavery …
… the Civil War …
… Reconstruction …
… Jim Crow (A prominent exhibition is a restored segregation-era railway car from about 1918) …
… and the Civil Rights era.
As one report stated, “There is no directionality to these floors, no wrong way to do them. Doing them right will take hours, maybe even days.”
This walk ends showing photos of some of the prominent black leaders that have emerged throughout the years.
The experience is a sometimes sobering, often infuriating and an eventually hopeful look at the history of African Americans throughout the years.
There are lots of spots along the way where you can look at videos. Many are quite interesting.
One of the coolest highlights for me was the Spirit of Tuskegee’ Aircraft that was used “to train African American airmen from 1944 to 1946 at Moton Field, the Alabama facility that served as the only primary flight-training site for African Americans in the Army Air Forces during WWII.”
Next, we headed over to the Culture Galleries, which offer a glimpse of African Americans in music, television, the movies, theater and more.
As you enter, the first exhibit you see features Chuck Berry’s Cadillac Eldorado. His guitar is also on display. After Tracy took the photo of “Tommy B Goode,” I started walking through the exhibits with no particular place to go, while Tracy applied her Maybellene cosmetics.
Since I was a TV addict growing up, I almost had “the big one” checking out Redd Foxx in Sanford and Son.
The devil made me flip out over this one.
Digression: Kim was the first person I met at our college dorm in (gulp) 1970. We met in the TV room, and the show we (and a few others) watched was I Spy. We had come full circle.
One of my all-time favorite shows is Star Trek, so I was fascinated with the photo of Mr. Spock and Lieutenant (later, Commander) Uhura. I would have stayed in this area further, but Tracy gave me a Vulcan death grip and we meandered on.
Music was featured prominently, from Louis Armstrong’s trumpet …
… to the silk jacket and black skirt Marian Anderson wore at her famous 1939 performance at the Lincoln Memorial.
I could hear the deep voice of the ultra-cool Don Cornelius as we walked past this Soul Train neon sign.
As a former country western DJ, I knew this guy epitomized Black Pride … Charley to be exact.
Good Golly, Miss Molly …
.. there are some great outfits of some great musical outfits.
Other exhibits caught my eye, and we spent a good deal of time in this section. We were really Cooke-ing now.
Here are a couple of ladies who have had very good net results.
Should you come to Washington DC, I would put this museum high on your list of places to visit. It’s everything from enlightening to entertaining.
You never know who you might meet. This kid tried to talk Mary into a little face-painting.
Cool architecture, too.
Our time in DC was nearly complete. We decided to be hipsters and dine at a restaurant in Foggy Bottom called Dish + Drinks at River Inn.
The food was good, and I particularly liked my starter, a delectable butternut squash soup. Every dish was a success.
We had early morning flights the next day; Kim and Mary out of Baltimore, and our flight was out of Reagan.
Our 8th grade field trip was complete.
From historic Philly …
… to the battlegrounds of Gettysburg …
… to the homes of Jefferson …
… Monroe …
… and Madison …
… and finally on to our nation’s capital …
… we saw a lot, but it wasn’t enough. I hope we get back to discover more one day.
No rest for these travelers, however. Now the Fearsome Foursome is eagerly awaiting our next adventure to northern Italy for three weeks this autumn. This will be our first driving adventure in Italy since the infamous 2005 petrol fiasco. As always, our motto remains …
Enjoy The Journey! Attitude Is Everything!