DC-Area Museums and Government Locales #dcchristmas

Continuing with our #dcchristmas trip …

The Smithsonian Institution maintains 19 museums and galleries, plus the National Zoo, in the DC area.

Thus, we knew before we even arrived that we’d barely make a dent in that number. The newly-opened Museum of African-American History and Culture was operating on a ticketing system while we were there, so that one was out. Likewise, given that we were walking almost everywhere, we based many of our visits on location relative to the next thing we were planning. Given locations and all there is competing for attention, we were only able to visit 2 Smithsonian museums (only 2 out of 19!) – the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History.

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National Portrait Gallery – This was one of our first stops upon arriving, namely because the Girl had her heart set on seeing the portrait of Alexander Hamilton. But she wasn’t the only one who liked what she saw. We perused the entirety of the America’s Presidents exhibit, and I was astonished to see the one non-President (and non-male) portrait belonging to Dolly Madison. Wonder Boy like mimicking Washington’s famous Lansdowne portrait (which apparently warranted a hefty price tag). Before we left, I found the portrait of Margaret Fuller, of particular import to me as she was the subject of one of my favorite undergraduate research projects.

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National Museum of Natural History – This museum and the one on American History sit side by side. We had intended to visit both, but both had long lines to enter through security. Turns out, we waited in line less than an hour (and less time than we waited at most restaurants). While in line, I kept Wonder Boy’s interest by telling him we’d see stuff like in the Night at the Museum, though the dinosaur exhibit was much smaller than I expected (the Fossil Hall was closed). Nonetheless, we all felt it was worth the wait. We watched an IMAX film on National Parks and did our best to see all the exhibits. Bryan particularly enjoyed the the Insect Zoo, where he found both of the tarantulas he has as pets (if spiders can be pets!).

Before our trip we’d heard good and bad reviews for the International Spy Museum

But it was near where we ate lunch in Chinatown on our first day there, so we decided to give it a try. Unlike the Smithsonian and Government-owned museums, this one charges an admission fee. Upon entering the exhibit, you are told to select a spy identity, the details of which you will need to remember during your visit. We all dutifully selected an identity and then didn’t use it at all until the very end at a computer terminal near the exit of the exhibit. And though the computer did ask for many details, it also asked random questions meant to make you respond like your identity and avoid “suspicion.” Needless to say, none of us passed muster. While I don’t know that I’d say it was truly worth the fees we paid (there were six of us, mind you), we all generally enjoyed what we saw.

Of course, it couldn’t compare to where we went next.

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The National Gallery of Art seemed to have the largest variety of art on hand. Because we knew little legs (and big ones too) would get tired quickly, we made a point of seeing the highlights (e.g., Chalice dating back to 2nd-1st century B.C., The Reading Girl, and a collection of Van Gogh paintings).

Perhaps the least enjoyable visit all week …

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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a massive building near the National Mall. When we first entered, we walked through a special exhibit called “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.” This portion was pretty emotional, telling horrid story of the Holocaust from the perspective of a child. From there, we received identification cards and took an elevator to the top floor to the start of the Permanent Exhibition. The Permanent Exhibition then proceeded through narrow halls flanked with glassed displays, down even narrower stairways and around crooked corners. All week we kept hearing everywhere we went that it wasn’t the “busy season,” but it seemed that way here. The crowd was almost unbearable and it was nearly impossible to see anything except what happened to be on your side as the crowd herded you through. At one point, Bryan and I pondered whether the “herding” was intentional, as a means for driving point the inhumanity of the time. Unfortunately, the result was that none of us could really appreciate any of the exhibit.

A sidewalk view …

Notice the moving trucks?

… of the White House was all we could manage. Despite Bryan’s best efforts, we were told the White House was closed to tours during our visit. Nonetheless, we all agreed that we couldn’t leave DC without a walk-by.

Another disappointment that turned out okay …

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… was our tour of the United States Capitol. Weeks before our trip, Bryan worked with our Representative’s office to get us a scheduled tour of the Capitol. Our confirmation was for the Monday after Christmas. However, when we arrived at the appointed time, a kind security guard informed us that all Capitol grounds were closed for Christmas Day observed. We were clearly disappointed so he told us to be sure to come back and get in line early on another day, that since it wasn’t the busy time of year a reservation wouldn’t be necessary. Thankfully, he was correct. Later in the week, we waited in the cold and rain to get in for a tour. It was definitely worth it. The grand architecture, of the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall and entire building, is breathtaking; and we had a tour guide who clearly loves her job. Once the tour was complete, we got passes to enter the galleries of the House of Representatives and the Senate, though cellphones and cameras had to be left with security for those viewings.

From the Capitol, we walked the underground tunnel to another awe-inspiring building.

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The Library of Congress is a place of beauty, though I was disappointed in the lack of books. Turns out, we visited the more tourist-y area and didn’t make it to where all the books are. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was inspiring and I’m a sucker for words on walls. I overcame my sorrow by spending money in the LOC Gift Shop, buying “gifts” for myself.

And though we may not have seen the halls and halls of books that I longed for, we did see The Gutenberg Bible.

The Gutenberg Bible

Its pages carefully preserved and partially displayed under special lighting and glass, the existence and survival of what’s considered the oldest mechanically-published book is monumental to nerds like me.

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Up next will be the less-nerdy adventures of DC-Area Dining. Stay tuned!

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