Alexandria, Tourism

Tourism: George Washington Masonic Memorial

Photo courtesy of
‘Egyptian Floor of the Masonic Temple’
courtesy of ‘CathyLovesDC’

While this enormous Masonic temple in Alexandria is visible from all over the city, I finally found my way there this past weekend to explore its inner secrets – and I was impressed. While I know in reality that the mysteries revolving around Freemasonry are highly dramatized, the unintelligible symbols, the A-list of Presidential members, and the immensity of the memorial make for an interesting combination, to say the least. Even if it does require a little imagination to keep the myths going.

The memorial is currently running tours up to four times a day, including weekends, covering all “9″ floors of the building. From the entry hall, up to the museum, then to the Egyptian floor, followed by the Knights of Templar and, finally, the observation deck. Where are the other 4 floors? That only adds to the mystery. In several weeks, the temple is opening the elevators for public use on unguided tours, but for now you must go on a guided tour. Oh yeah, and it’s FREE. Continue reading

The Features, Tourism

The City’s Biggest Chairs

Photo courtesy of
’72145-05Crop’
courtesy of ‘furcafe’

Did you know that what was once the world’s tallest (yes, the WORLD’S TALLEST) chair sits in Anacostia? And, is it just a strange coincidence that another large (green) chair gets all of the attention in Georgetown? (Do other American cities have multitudes of tall, oversized chairs?) What about Abraham Lincoln’s chair, located smack in the middle of the two. How do they all compare?

If not the world’s tallest, the statue of Lincoln in his chair at the Lincoln Memorial would surely win the World’s Heaviest Chair competition. Daniel Chester French sculpted the 16th President’s seated, 19 foot tall statue into this chair out of 28 marble blocks weighing 120 tons. And to give you an idea of just how large this statue is, if Lincoln were to stand, he would be a towering 28 feet tall. Continue reading

Tourism

Tourism: Changing of the Guard, Tomb of the Unknowns

Photo courtesy of
‘Changing of the Guard, Heel Clicking’
courtesy of ‘CathyLovesDC’

“There goes another tourist,” you’re thinking to yourself when you watch someone (anyone) descend onto the metro platform at Arlington Cemetery’s metro stop. It’s a blatant giveaway to your status in this town. Only a backpack-and-water-bottle sporting family of four gets off here! But it was a risk I had to take last night.

I returned to Arlington Cemetery last night to remember the first time I visited the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier almost 7 years ago, but it felt completely different. This time, I was making the trip alone, and without my new college girl friends (giddy schoolgirls) running alongside as I made the 20 minute uphill hike from the metro up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The light through the trees at 6:00 in the evening cascaded over the acres of tombstones, and it was truly gorgeous. The hike uphill seemed like more of a quiet pilgrimage, and signs remind you to remain composed on the hallowed grounds. Continue reading

The Features, Tourism, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Festival Fever!

Bagpipers tuning up

Bagpipers at the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival by Corinne Whiting

Considering the headlines that dominate news pages these days, who could blame us for craving a bit of escapism? Luckily, an avalanche of September festivals offers ample excuses to wear kooky costumes or to (attempt to) speak in charming accents, to relive the past or to leap into the future. Sometimes we just need a few blocked-off streets or patches of green to catapult us out of familiar surroundings and demand we get lost in the sights, sounds and tastes of another time and place.

Some festivals draw repeat attendees who share such a passion for re-enacting and re-creating it seems more a way of life than a weekend hobby. (Some of these participants seem, sadly, to have been born into the wrong century.) Other fests prove more laid-back—a mix of cultural authenticity and comical distortion. But common denominators? The beer’s usually a-flowin’, the people watching superb.

The season kicks off September 5 and 6 with the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival in The Plains, Virginia. I first attended this lively event a few years back (having just returned from 16 months in Scotland), with expectations, in hindsight, a bit too lofty. (Yes, silly me, I thought I would actually meet some Scots and hear some of those dreamy, melodic accents.) Instead I did find some authentic culture (cuisine like tasty yet feared haggis and steaming meat pies) sprinkled with a bit of stereotype (or perhaps slightly-fudged cultural truths, like the presence of England‘s Newcastle beer) and a few unexpected oddities (a parade in which kilted Americans showcased their plaid-clad “Dogs of Scotland”). But the atmosphere carried charm all the same. I watched proud Virginians sport their family tartan, sheepherders demonstrate their craft, Highland dancers do their joyous jigs and bagpipers echo the captivating drone of their instruments up into a piercing blue sky and out into the rolling Virginia hills. It’s Scottish culture with a twist, but a highly enjoyable day in the countryside all the same.

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Music, Special Events, The Features, Tourism

Six Flags and Summertime Sounds

raven

Raven-Symoné

A staple of summer here is Six Flags America. And one of the park’s big summertime draws is its Starburst Summer Concert Series – free with park admission or a 2009 Play Pass.

Julia over at Six Flags gave me a great heads-up on this year’s lineup and I thought I’d share with everyone else. (And yeah, I like the park even if the company’s fiscal issues are less-than-desirable.) And it’s a great lineup this year, with acts appealing to pretty much everyone – and all are family-friendly.

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Entertainment, Essential DC, Life in the Capital, The Great Outdoors, Tourism

Tourism: Hillwood Museum and Gardens

Photo courtesy of
‘Hillwood Museum’
courtesy of ‘needlessspaces’

Hidden up in Van Ness, Hillwood Museum and Gardens is a few acres of green, colorful, luxe heaven. The tagline for the museum is “where fabulous lives” and I think that is the best possible way to sum up the place.

You drive up to the gates (yes, it is gated, they also recommend you have reservations to visit the grounds, though that is not required, we did not) and a guard lets you in. You drive up a windy, steep azalea-lined road, and are directed to the visitors center where you check in. The suggested donation is $12, and not particularly suggested, much more mandatory. But well worth it. After you are given a map and the lay of the land by guides, you’re set free to roam the house and the gardens.

There are many, many gardens to explore at Hillwood. There is the french parterre, the rose garden, a putting green, a Japanese-style garden, a lunar lawn, and a cutting garden. But I think it might be easier to show you, than tell you what those are like. Continue reading

The Daily Feed, Tourism

White House Cans Air Force One Aide

Photo courtesy of
‘AF1 over Liberty’
courtesy of ‘Life @ f2.8′

It was big news when the White House, without telling the public, sent Air Force One and a squadron of fighter aircraft to fly over New York City at low altitude. Many folks screamed to the high heavens that it was too soon after 9/11 to do it, and many others still called 911 suggesting another attack was underway. Today, we hear that the White House has fired the head of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, who authorized and oversaw the photoshoot.

While it might’ve been a cool idea, it goes to show that even cool ideas when poorly executed become the least possible cool. Via Mark Knoller on Twitter, the photo that cost Caldera his job:

af1ny.jpg

A second photoshoot was planned over DC, but scrapped after the furor.

Essential DC, Fun & Games, Life in the Capital, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: National Zoo

Pandamania!

Pandamania! by flickr user needlessspaces

The National Zoo was the second major DC tourism spot that I hit after I moved here. The first was the Washington Monument. Our Zoo is great – it’s my second favorite zoo I’ve ever been to (second only to the zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. No I’m not joking, that zoo is phenomenal.) so when my parents came into town to visit, we decided to make the journey.

It sort of feels wrong, you know? Just walking right in without paying. Put aside the guilt and it’s actually a fabulous feeling. It allows people to come back and back again, and it seems like there are people who truly take advantage. As we were walking in a runner in full workout garb jogged past – what a great run! Aside from dodging all the bumbling people and strollers, you’d have incredibly entertaining scenery and quite a steep hill workout. Envious.

As you enter the zoo you’re faced with starting your zoo tour by heading down towards the pandas on the the Asia walk, or going down the entire hill and doing everything on the way back up. I don’t have an opinion either way. But I do recommend that you print out a map before you go – available on the zoo web site, you can save yourself money by printing it out on your own. Otherwise they charge for a take-with-you map. Fair, I think, since entry is free. So off you go to meet and greet all the animals. Continue reading

Downtown, History, Penn Quarter, Special Events, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: Ford’s Theatre

Rehearsal, Ford's Theatre

"Rehearsal, Ford's Theatre" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

It seemed eerie and yet fitting that as I was rushing to get to Ford’s Theatre I was delayed by a major traffic jam as the President was attending an event downtown. People were lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the man who counts Lincoln as a guide, and I was on the way to see a tech rehearsal of a musical on the Civil War, in the theater where Lincoln fell. Sometimes the line between the present and the past in this town gets blurred in a truly palpable way. It’s manifest in the remarkable renovation of this living museum.

Ford’s Theatre’s reopening season continues this month with “The Civil War,” a Tony-nominated musical opening tonight and in performance through May 24. I’m very impressed by the renovated space. Last time I saw a show in this theater it was a bit clunky, and that’s being charitable. Now they are up-to-date, with all new lighting, sound and visual equipment – it’s a bit snazzy actually! And those infamously uncomfortable seats and obstructed sightlines are a thing of the past. It looks to be an admirable job updating the theater while maintaining its historical and monumental status.

With all the tourists pouring into our city this week, I hope many of them take the chance to see the renovations and catch a show. “The Civil War” sounded quite rousing musically, a little bit bluesy, with some incredible vocalists, live musicians, and moving visuals. Get some important history mixed in with your cherry blossoms. 

Ford’s Theatre
511 10th Street NW
between E and F Streets
202.347.4833
“The Civil War” performs Tuesdays thru Sundays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm, now thru May 24

Alexandria, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: Torpedo Factory

Photo courtesy of
‘Torpedo Factory Artist’s Faces’
courtesy of ‘nicmcc’

Generally, I am delighted by repurposed old buildings, especially when their new use is wildly unrelated to what the builders had in mind (see: The Surratt House, now a Wok and Roll; The Pension Building, now the National Building Museum, etc). My all-time favorite of these is probably The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria.

The Torpedo Factory is full of surprises. They first get you with the name: who would expect a building full of artists’ studios and an Archaeology Museum from a factory? Yet this former factory is packed to the brim with creativity and fun things to explore. Continue reading

Getaways, Tourism, Travel

Getaways: Artists Inn Residence

Lionshead Faucet, Artists Inn Residence

"Lionshead Faucet, Artists Inn Residence" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

Sigh. Stupid economic apocalypse. I really wanted to get away for my birthday this year. Rough times on all fronts. Originally I had some fantasy about skipping town to Barcelona or Marseilles. But, no such luck. So, I settled for a staycation and escaped for the night to exotic Dupont Circle. The bed and breakfast that I discovered, however, turned out to be the best birthday idea I’d had in ages.

The Artists Inn Residence, run by the incredibly kind Terry Gerace, is an amazing B&B at 18th and R Streets NW. If you have any out-of-town guests to house or are looking for a romantic or peaceful escape, this is the place. Beautifully renovated, it’s filled with light and gives the impression of a gracious Parisian mansion with a modern twist. Six suites are lovingly decorated like perfect jewelboxes – each with a different theme that is never heavy-handed. The rooms are also completely outfitted with the technophile essentials like high-speed wireless internet, crazily hidden HDTVs, heated floors, mood lighting… I easily spent half-an-hour just fiddling with the gadgets like the TV hidden in the mirror over the massive stone fireplace.

I stayed in the Da Vinci suite, with its bed constructed out of massive carved doors making me feel like I was nestled in a Tuscan farmhouse. Upon arrival I was even sweetly greeted by a little chocolate cake. Now that’s a class act. Continue reading

Alexandria, Arlington, Fun & Games, Life in the Capital, Tourism

Tourism: Ice Skating

Photo courtesy of
‘Skating Together’
courtesy of ‘Karon’

There are few outdoor activities I enjoy when the weather gets this cold. Skiing and ice skating are about the only two that I daydream fondly about. So just in case this week’s iceageddon didn’t take you down, and you’re itching for more (or you want to tackle the ice with proper equipment), you’re in luck.  DC is home to tons of great indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks for you to take a spin (or a fall) on.  Continue reading

Tourism

Tourism: Mount Vernon Trail

my bike alongside the mt. vernon trail

I am the proud owner of a Suede by Giant Coasting bike (pictured above, sitting along the trail). It’s delicious. It’s Carolina blue (yay!), and has a pretty little wicker basket on the front, and a tiny bell on the handles so I don’t have to yell “on your left!” constantly. Coasting bikes have automatic bike gear shifts made by Shimano, and the coasting gears are kind of like an automatic transmission for your car. Three gears, and the bike will shift for you, according to your speed. Pretty back-to-basics, re-learning how to ride, type bike. And let’s be real, I’m not a super cyclist, I’m just a coaster (see, it works doesn’t it! Coasting bike, coaster, you get it.) and I just piddle around on my pretty blue bike and take pictures.

So obviously, living in Arlington, I was naturally drawn to the Mount Vernon Trail. With three gears, I can’t be climbing up the Custis Trail to the W&OD, so I head on down to the Mount Vernon Trail for all my off-road riding. It’s one of the things I miss the most about spring and summer, and even fall, is going on my bike down the trail.

The Mount Vernon Trail is a must-see for any DC resident or tourist. It travels through some pretty crucial DC tourism spots. Continue reading

Adventures, Tourism

Tourism: Fells Point

Fells Point, photo by rjohnson

Fells Point, photo by rjohnson

If you take a 42 mile northeast jaunt up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, you’ll find yourself walking through the historic Baltimore neighborhood of Fells Point. A home to Frederick Douglass and drinking spot for Edgar Allen Poe, the area was established in 1730 by William Fell, and bore the names “Fell’s Prospect,” “Long Island Point,” and “Copus Harbor,” before finally settling on Fells Point in 1763.

Home to the Fells Point Ship Yard, area shipbuilders produced world renowned schooners (aka Baltimore Clippers) whose easy handling and quick speed helped U.S. Privateers plunder British shipping vessels during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.During this era the shipyard also produced the USS Constellation, a 38-gun frigate that was the first US Navy warship to engage with, defeat and capture an enemy. However, make no mistake; this vessel is not to be confused with the same named 1854 sloop-of-war that now resides in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
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Essential DC, Tourism

Tourism: United States Botanic Gardens

flowers at US Botanical Gardens

So the doldrums have hit. It’s cold. You’ve got on your scarf, your hat, your gloves, and soon we’ll upgrade and add in some ear muffs and your heaviest coat. It’s the perfect time to plan your winter escape to the United States Botanic Gardens. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (including holidays and weekends!) the conservatory is a large glassed-in garden-topia. You can get there a number of ways, but my lovely roommate and I took the metro to Federal Center and walked a quick few blocks to the West side front lawn of the Capitol.

The conservatory is split into different plant-type sections, for example, one for orchids and one for the desert, etc. (Wow, am I a botinast or what?) And then there’s a big huge rainforest in the middle stretching two or three stories high. It’s humid and somewhere around 78 degrees, kind of like a mild DC summer day. It’ll bring nostalgic flashbacks of those wonderful, warm days of yore. Short on cash? The US Botanic Gardens admission is free, like all the best things in DC.

So aside from the rainforest, and the desert, there is plenty more to see at the Botanic Gardens…

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