The Features, Tourism

Holidays at the White House

Photo courtesy of tbridge
The White House Driveway
courtesy of tbridge

The White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Office of Digital Strategy combined yesterday to host about 150 people for another White House Tweetup at the Old Executive Office Building, and upped the ante by providing with it a tour of the White House made up for Christmas. I was fortunate to be a late addition to the group, and Tiffany and I joined the audience for a program with a number of administration officials, from the pastry chef and the florist, up to the President’s CTO and the head of the Office of Digital Strategy.

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Dupont Circle, Real World DC, The Features, Tourism

Laogai Museum – A Dupont Detour

Photo courtesy of
‘Laogai Museum 4′
courtesy of ‘jcm_DC’

The Laogai Museum may be small, but it packs a punch. Tucked away in the old Real World DC house off Dupont Circle, its one-floor exhibit explores the dark underbelly of Chinese labor camps and human rights policies.

“Laogai” means “reform through labor” and refers to oppressive tactics the museum claims China has used to punish political prisoners since 1949. Harry Wu, a survivor of the Laogai camps, founded the museum in 2008 as part of the larger Laogai Research Foundation. The museum moved into its current location last April, where they now offer free admission and guided tours.

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Essential DC, Life in the Capital, The District, Tourism

It’s Tourist Season: Share the Love

Silhouettes
All photos by the author

A couple years ago the Social Chair and I were sitting at a bar when the couple next to us asked us a question. They said they’d overheard our conversation with the bartender and were looking for a restaurant recommendation, since they were visiting from out of town and wanted to try something other than their usual haunts. We got to talking about where they were from (“Outside Toronto”), and we mentioned that we were leaving in a week to go visit family and friends both in and outside Toronto. It was at this point in a conversation with a Canadian that I would usually get to play my trump card, since my sister lives in a town even most Ontario natives haven’t heard of. But when we told them the name of the town (West Montrose), they got a little wide-eyed. And then they asked, “which house?”

It turned out that these strangers, from “Outside Toronto,” had almost bought that very house, and after they didn’t buy it their friends did. Their friends, in fact, were the couple who sold the house to my sister and brother-in-law (and since my sister’s family is moving to The Hague, it’s for sale again). In this city you never know who you might meet.

Judging by what I’ve seen on Twitter, and a stale rant that has been making the rounds again (which I won’t dignify by linking here), tourist season has fallen hard on some of you (the fact that it arrives at the same time as allergy season also doesn’t help, I’m sure). But I ask your patience as I make this heartfelt plea: please be nice to tourists.

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Adventures, Entertainment, Fun & Games, History, Life in the Capital, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

Nestled in Northeast, you’ll find a time capsule from the past, where the remnants of Washington’s natural history of wetlands and rivers flourish. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is the hidden gem of the DC area National Park System and a excellent spot for DCers to escape to for a serene and educational respite.

In the late 1800s, Walter Shaw bought a piece of land along the marshland flats of the Anacostia River. Shaw, a Maine native, planted a few wild water lilies in a pond of this strip of land. The lilies took on like gangbusters and Shaw planted other lilies and varieties of flowers. When Shaw died in 1921, his daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, expanded the gardens and made the location where U.S. presidents, their families, and neighbors would take day trips to. Continue reading

News, The Daily Feed, Tourism, WTF?!

Senator Webb Hates Tourbuses, Too

Photo courtesy of
‘tour-bus-parking’
courtesy of ‘RaVerXeNo2010′

Anyone who’s driven Independence or Constitution in the summertime knows the tour-bus hatred. Or 15th Street. Or Virginia Ave. Or 17th Street. Or really anywhere near the tourist areas of DC. These bastards park their motorcoaches whereever they darned-well please, and it’s a real pain in the ass to get anywhere when they’re here. My favorite is 15th Street at 3:30pm, where you can sometimes have buses triple parked, blocking all southbound traffic. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) feels your pain, and wrote a letter to Mayor Fenty to request a fix. Here’s his list of questions: Continue reading

The Daily Feed, Tourism

Local Artist Bluebrain Writes Custom Score to Sant Ocean Hall

 Photo courtesy of
‘Sant Ocean Hall’
courtesy of ‘afagen’

While some folks are social explorers in museums, tending to talk about everything they’re seeing, I tend to be a more contemplative traveller through these places, stopping to take it all in in silence. Apparently, I’m not alone, and the folks at Bluebrain have just the thing for you to try out as you head to the National Museum of Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall.  The free track, available in MP3 format, is meant to be started as you enter the exhibit from the Elephant side, and listened to as you wander throughout the exhibit, learning about the development of ocean life.

The Daily Feed, Tourism

European Embassies’ Open House Tomorrow

Photo courtesy of
‘PICT2454′
courtesy of ‘kpelli73′

One of the cooler things about living in the Capital City are all of the amazing embassies. One of the neater moments of my professional career was getting invited to an event at the Irish Embassy. This weekend, all of the European Embassies are hosting an Open House that runs all day Saturday. There’s a PDF Map on the EU’s site to guide you through the various embassies, and it includes an event listing for the rest of the week’s festivities. Go check out some of the beautiful buildings and residences!

Adventures, Essential DC, History, Life in the Capital, The District, The Great Outdoors, Tourism

Tourism: Dumbarton Oaks

Photo courtesy of
‘Stairs’
courtesy of ‘Amberture’

If you’re looking to escape from the Cherry Blossom hoards and find your own little piece of Washington DC for a few hours, the Dumbarton Oaks house, gardens and museum have your name on it.

In 1920, U.S. Foreign Service diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss purchased a large portion of land and a 1801 Federal style house in the northern most section of Georgetown. The Blisses made significant architectural renovations and additions, such as the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (DORCL) structure, which includes the 1963 Phillip Johnson designed Pre-Columbian Pavillion.  And more recently DORCL has welcomed a new library in 2005 and an extensive renovation of the house and museum was completed in 2008.

The museum houses, amongst other things, the significant art collection amassed by the the Blisses during their State Department life overseas.  This includes two fascinating collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art and artifacts, as well as displays of tapestries, sculptures, paintings, and furniture dating from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, which can be seen in the Music Room.  Continue reading

Adventures, History, Tourism

Tourism: The Old Stone House

Photo courtesy of
‘Old Stone House NHS’
courtesy of ‘Ken Lund’

Nestled in along M Street, in the heart of Georgetown, you’ll stumble upon The Old Stone House, one of the oldest homes remaining in Washington, DC. Built in 1765, the house is maintained and operated by the National Park Service, and is part of the National Park System’s Rock Creek Park unit. Since it’s original construction, the house has traded hands many times and has been used as a shop for hats, tailors, locksmiths, clockmakers, house roofing, house painting, and even a used car dealership. Fortunately, the house was purchased by the Federal Government in 1953 for $90,000. At today’s market prices, the house and its garden are thought to be worth close to $6-7 million.

Constructed from local quarry stones and ballast stones from the English sailing vessels that journeyed up the Potomac, the house is a prime example of a typical 18th century dwelling that would have been inhabited by common Americans. Tours and lectures offered by Colonial period-dressed park rangers, highlight the lives of these early Americans and DCers. Continue reading

The Daily Feed, The District, The Mall, Tourism

Michelle Obama Donates Inaugural Gown

Photo courtesy of
‘Michelle Obama Donates Inaugural Gown’
courtesy of ‘tbridge’

In a ceremony in the NMAH’s Flag Hall this morning, First Lady Michelle Obama donated her Jason Wu-designed chiffon and Swarovski crystal gown to the Smithsonian as part of their new “A First Lady’s Debut” Exhibit that opens tomorrow. Featuring gowns from the last 50 years of Inaugurations, from Mamie Eisenhower through to Michelle Obama,

Designer Jason Wu, 28, was on hand to meet the First Lady for the first time, and today thanked her for “letting my story become a small part of the events,” surrounding the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Wu emigrated from Taiwan when he was just 9 years old, studied in New York and Paris before opening his own studio in Manhattan 4 years ago. He is the youngest designer to outfit the First Lady for the Inauguration.

The exhibit is open to the public starting tomorrow morning.

Michelle Obama and Jason Wu with her Inaugural Gown Michelle Obama Applauds Huntington High School Students 

Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough introduces Michelle Obama Jason Wu speaks about his Inaugural Design

The Daily Feed, Tourism, Travel

Travel & Adventure Show This Weekend

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_1076′
courtesy of ‘bradleyolin’

Right about now, though I’m liking the warmer weather, I’m craving something warmer. Part of me wants to drive up to BWI, get on a cheap flight to Phoenix, and go see some baseball, but then I remember what happened to Kevin Smith, so screw that noise. But, that brings me to the 6th Annual Travel and Adventure Show which runs all weekend at the Convention Center. Find a cool vacation, find a cool adventure, and there will be all kinds of travel discounts available on the show floor. Shopping for a honeymoon, or another big trip, this could be a fun way to think about escape for a day.

We’ve got two passes to give away, so leave your name in the comments, and we’ll pick a winner tomorrow at noon!

The Daily Feed, Tourism

Curling Expo At Hilton Garden Inn All Weekend

Photo courtesy of
‘Dave Levy Curls’
courtesy of ‘tbridge’

The drama of Curling is gripping the nation, as it is wont to do during the Winter Olympics. Some clever minds over at the Hilton Garden Inn in McPherson Square saw the opportunity to tap into the adopted cult sports quadrennial success around the games and throw some support towards USA Curling. With four modified-length sheets and an array of stones, the basement ballrooms of the 14th St facility are ripe for you throw around all the fantastic curling terminology you’d like.

Tom Bridge captured the moment via some outstanding photographs, and I’m proud to say that I took a 1-0 victory over DCist in the first ever, unofficial, DC Blog Bonspiel.

This is just the start of our curling coverage this weekend, as we’ll be heading out to Potomac Curling Club tomorrow for their open house. However, if you find yourself with your family downtown this weekend, the ice here at the Hilton Garden Inn is open for the public to take their hand at an end. It will be open starting at 6 p.m. this evening until 9 p.m., as well as tomorrow and Sunday.

Need to brush up on your Curling lingo? I posted a little bit of a primer over on my own blog last weekend.

Dave Levy, among other things, is We Love DC’s Senior Curling Correspondent (yes, We Love DC now has a Senior Curling Correspondent). He usually writes about media and journalism over at State of the Fourth Estate.

The Features, Tourism

Gone Hunting (for Photos)

IMG_69269Students at work in Adams Morgan by Corinne Whiting

When you think DC, you don’t typically think “safari.” (Heck, with Tai Shan leaving us yesterday, now even the National Zoo seems far less exotic to explore.) But thanks to local photographer-entrepreneur E. David Luria, locals and visitors alike get the chance to go on a different type of hunt: the pursuit for the perfect photo.

I’ve been lucky enough to tag along on two of David’s tours with Washington Photo Safari. One was on a very sticky day that attracted a lot of map-wielding tourists to must-see spots like the White House, Vietnam Memorial and Lincoln Reflecting Pool. The second, on a morning so cold that a few wayward students kept disappearing inside for long coffee breaks, drew visitors and locals to the lively Adams Morgan zone. I enjoyed both safaris for the spontaneous chats with curious city newcomers as well as longtime residents who gladly shared their shutterbug expertise. I also appreciated David’s kind encouragement, grandfatherly jokes and the way in which he made every member of our slightly ragtag, eclectic photography team feel included.

But my favorite part? The license these tours gave me to screech to a snail’s pace for a few hours, studying the details of my city as if seeing it all for the first time. I pointed my lens at monuments, memorials, doorknobs, tattered murals, cracking sidewalks, shiny car hoods and intricate African weavings, finding beauty in places normally eclipsed by my rushed daily routine.

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Adventures, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: Catoctin Mountain Park

Photo courtesy of
‘Catoctin Mountain Park-5′
courtesy of ‘TrailVoice’

Nestled an approximate 90 minute, northwesterly drive from DC,  Catoctin Mountain Park located just outside of Thurmont, MD, is a great spot for a day trip or the perfect location for a weekend getaway from the district’s hubbub.

I’ve long had Catoctin on my radar since moving the DC, in fact visiting the national park is one of my New Year’s resolutions. And while I wouldn’t consider now the perfect time to visit the park, I’m of the spring/summertime hiking ilk, the park is definitely still opened to hikers, drivers and visitors, although you should check the park’s website prior heading out for closure updates, and is well worth the effort. Continue reading

The Features, Tourism

Ice Ice Baby

IMG_1498ICE! penguins by Corinne Whiting

I’ll be the first to admit that planned communities and “town center” mini-metropolises aren’t really my thing. I find them rather soulless and frankly a little creepy, so I tend to steer clear. But on a recent snowy Saturday, I was lured over to Maryland’s National Harbor—that relatively new complex of colossal convention centers and hotels, shops, eateries and a man-made “beach,” site of the relocated Awakening sculpture that I loved to crawl atop as a kid (at its former Hains Point home).

The draw this past visit? A mini-city of ice created by forty Chinese artisans flown over to sculpt 5,000 blocks that cumulatively weigh two million pounds. I was intrigued. Despite fears of rambunctious tots dominating this surreal ice world, the experience was a pleasant one. Visitors purchase timed tickets to enter Gaylord National’s ICE!, housed in a tent on the resort’s property that contains a 15,000-square-foot “cold room.” To combat the nine degree inside temps, guests borrow XXL blue parkas before entering, turning the masses into a sea of super-size Smurfs (wee ones shriek in horror as they attempt to wiggle free; adults belly laugh, delighted by the silly scene). Groups then get their photo snapped by staff as if about to board a cruise ship, before slipping beyond the warmth into the winter wonderland. The vibe’s a bit cheesy, but charming all the same.

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The Features, Tourism

Tourism: Union Station

Photo courtesy of
‘Color Photo – Arriving at Union Station’
courtesy of ‘CathyLovesDC’

Despite the history, the sculptures, the uniqueness, it’s still kind of hard to wax poetic about Union Station. You see, when Union Station was built, residents lauded the civic project for finally bringing an impressive and worthy gateway for visitors into the nation’s capital. But today, people run in and out of Union Station faster than… well, faster than a speeding train.

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Entertainment, Essential DC, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: The Newseum

First Amendment Etched in Glass

Last Saturday, my wife and I decided to take some family members out to the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the first time I’d been able to visit the place since a pre-pre-pre-opening tour I’d had back in 2006 (when there were practically no displays in place, just the news van and the Checkpoint Charlie tower). And, for the record, the Newseum hooked us up with tickets; even so, I think the museum could be worth the full $20 admission price.

And yes, I said ‘could.’ I’ll qualify that later for you.

The building itself is a marvel of architecture. Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, the combination of open space, glass and concrete blends well within the museum. The mix provides division for each contained exhibit (permanent and visiting), yet bleeds back into the open air of the general concourse. I suppose I could say it’s like the news field and media blending with the openness of life and all that, but why bore you?

The Newseum certainly won’t. Continue reading

The Features, The Mall, Tourism

Decorating for the Holidays

Photo courtesy of
‘Ribbon Cutting’
courtesy of ‘tbridge’

The holidays are a time of excess, from decorations and food to parades and retail displays. We splurge on gifts, we make rich feasts for friends and family; we gather close to the people we love, seeking comfort in midwinter. The Smithsonian invited Santa & Mrs. Clause and Twinkle the Elf to the National Museum of American History to open a new small exhibit on the Holidays. Focused on Parades of all seasons, from Tournament of Roses through to Macy’s Thanksgiving, and the retail window displays of department stores (something of a relic to those of us under 40) all across the US, the new exhibit has photos and artifacts from holiday celebrations across the country.

The exhibit is fairly small, just a couple rooms, but what’s contained therein will snap you right out of your Fall Funk and propel you right into Holiday prep. On Wednesday, I was grumpy as hell, seeing the Wal-mart Christmas ads on television already, but last night, that disappointment was absent. Was it the joy in the kids’ eyes, watching Mrs. Claus read a story? Maybe it melted my grinchy heart. Holidays on Display runs for a whole year, on the Third floor, on the West side of the museum.

There’s a companion volume of the same name put out by the museum that has some fascinating history that’s DC-specific, including whole sections on the displays at Woodward & Lothrop, which were deeply memorable. Look for an interview with Mr. Bird in the coming weeks.

Dupont Circle, History, The Features, Tourism

Mystery Mansion in Dupont: The Heurich House

Photo courtesy of
‘Hidden Bronze Lion’
courtesy of ‘CathyLovesDC’

Tucked away in plain view, the Heurich House is the most intact late-Victorian home in the country. Right in the middle of the action in Dupont Circle – on a corner you have probably walked by at least a dozen times – you are absolutely transported back in time – easily envisioning the family who lived there enjoying a meal in the German beer tavern-styled breakfast room and needle pointing doll clothes and tapestries in the ladies’ retreat room. The furniture, furnishings, wall and ceiling canvas paintings, and even the gas and electric lighting are all original to the house.

The Heurich House museum was home to Christian Heurich, who was regarded as the patriarch of the American brewing industry. After moving to America from Germany in 1872 at the age of 30, he purchased an old, declining brewery and within 10 years, became the largest and most successful brewer in the nation’s capital.

Nicknamed the “Brewmaster’s Castle,” the Heurich House sounds more like a Brickskellar’s with a spiral tower, but the initial disappointment you’ll have to get over first is: they don’t serve any beer. A more fitting nickname for the mansion might be “Fireproof Fortress.” Continue reading

Special Events, The Daily Feed, Tourism

National Geographic Museum: Terra Cotta Warriors

Photo courtesy of
‘Terracotta-29′
courtesy of ‘akiwitz’

You’ve probably heard of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi’s terra cotta warriors, the thousands of life-sized statues buried with him in his tomb, intended to escort the Emperor to the afterlife. Discovered in 1974, they were one of the biggest archeological finds of the 20th century.

They’re making their last US appearance right here in DC, at the National Geographic Museum. Admission is $12, and the exhibition runs November 19th through March 31. The exhibit will showcase 15 terra cotta figures from Emperor  Shihuangdi’s tomb, including nine terra cotta warriors, two musicians, a strongman, a court official, a stable attendant and a horse. Also on display will be weapons, stone armor, coins, jade ornaments, roof tiles and decorative bricks, and a bronze crane and swan.

We’re getting a full preview of the exhibit on the 18th, so look for our review shortly thereafter. In the meantime, here’s two ‘sneak preview’ photos provided to us by National Geographic… Continue reading