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Posts tagged ‘Washington D.C.’

Washington D.C. continued – Gardens, Archives and more.

On the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend, I thought (quite naively, in hindsight) that it might be a great idea to see the Christmas display in the National Botanic Gardens. I was totally enticed by the description of tiny trains passing through many miniature twinkling lighthouses in an artificially created fog, amidst landscape created in amazing detail solely with plants. We could not have chosen a worse day for this endeavor!

When we reached the exhibit, we found that the line to get in was very long and it required waiting for a few hours in the freezing cold. We quickly gave up the idea, and decided to browse through the general open-all-year section of the Botanic gardens in the temperature controlled conservatory. What we saw were beautiful orchids, and Washington D.C.’s landmarks created in miniature with plant materials. Even though we could not see the Christmas display, the short time in the Botanical Gardens was well spent. The Botanic Gardens have a lot more to offer to a summer visitor, and the entrance, as is the case for a lot of other DC attractions, is free.

The Capitol recreated at the National Botanic Gardens

The Capitol recreated at the National Botanic Gardens

Orchids in bloom!

Orchids in bloom!

We then walked our way to the thing that I was really looking forward to in this trip – seeing the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives! En-route, we also took pictures of the Capitol, which is currently under restoration works, because of which the dome of the Capitol resembles a bird’s nest.

The US Capitol's dome resembles a bird's nest, while under restoration.

The US Capitol’s dome resembles a bird’s nest, while under restoration.

There is no photography allowed inside the National Archives, so the only photo I have is of the impressive facade of the building, which has the Greek-Roman columns which are the trademark of of D.C.’s landmarks. After some wait, we entered the vault like room which contains the original Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, all under glass display cases and heavily guarded (stealing these might not be as easy as it was made out to be in the movie “National Treasure”!). The writing in the documents is faded, especially on the Declaration of Independence, but the iconic signatures are clearly visible. Despite the wait and the having to slightly elbow the crowd to get a proper look, I was very happy to check off this item from the bucket list.

The only photo that I have of the National Archives

The only photo that I have of the National Archives

Our last day in D.C. dawned with an impressive 60F weather, which was perfect for what we had in mind for that day – the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall.

The Lincoln Memorial is truly impressive from the inside and the outside, and is such a fitting tribute to Abraham Lincoln. I was spellbound by the massive statue of Lincoln, and got goosebumps from reading the Gettysburg Address (“…. the Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”) which is carved on one of the inside walls of the monument.

After soaking in the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial, we walked leisurely down the reflecting pool of the National Mall, enjoying the bonus warm day, and stopped to take pictures of the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument.

The National Mall and the Washington Monument

The National Mall and the Washington Monument

The World War II Memorial in the National Mall

The World War II Memorial in the National Mall

As is obvious from my first and this account of our 3 day stay in Washington DC, we took things slow.. so much so that I still have not seen the Jefferson Memorial, the Holocaust Museum and the famed panda in the National Zoo. This only means one thing – I am (quite happily) not done with DC just yet!

 

 

Washington D.C. at leisure

The Washington Monument, Washington D.C.

The Washington Monument, Washington D.C.

Where do you stand with hop-on hop-off bus tours? Yay on the convenience of not having to take public transport or taxis to navigate between the important sites, and nay on being stuck in traffic? Unfortunately, once we “hop on”, we don’t easily “hop-off”. This held true when we once took a long mind-numbing long loop tour of Paris, not sure when to click pictures, or even if the tour-bus would be stationary enough for us to take the picture.

Now back to the topic at hand, in our first trip to Washington DC in the summer of 2008, where we had only one day to check off everything on a tourist’s must do list, and there were 5 people in our group, a hop on – hop off bus tour seemed like the easy way to get 5 people from point A to point B. We hopped off to see the Capitol from up-close, hopped off again to click and get clicked with the White House, and then we did not hop-off again until we reached the Georgetown neighborhood. There we took a short boat cruise on the Potomac river, and then hopped back on the bus. In short, we spent an inordinate amount of our precious one day on the bus, and all the interesting sights including the Arlington cemetery and the countless memorials of men in bronze statues, seemed to pass by in a blur.

So in a recent trip to DC (Thanksgiving, 2014), we did things a little (or a lot) differently. We had very few things on our to-see list and almost three days to see them. Added bonus – we took a train from New York into DC, and thus arrived more refreshed, than if we had taken a flight or a car.

The rotunda on the second level of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The rotunda on the second level of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Our first stop, right after checking into the hotel, was the National Gallery of Art. The fact that you can freely take photos alone has taken this museum to the top of my favorite list! But there are a few other things going for it – the entrance is free, the cafeteria serves decent food, the museum has its own free and excellent downloadable app which precludes the need to rent an expensive audio guide, and last but not the least – a very impressive collection of Impressionist Art (the one kind of art that I understand and appreciate). I was in a state of total bliss after feasting on the works by Manet, Monet, Camille Pissarro, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, and the very distinctive pointillist strokes of Van Gogh. But Impressionist Art is only a very small portion of the Gallery’s art collection.  Apart from brilliant masterpieces by Raphael and Rembrandt, the Gallery also has on display the only painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in the Americas – Ginevra de Benci, painted in the same enigmatic style as the Mona Lisa but considerably more austere.

Here is a gallery of some of the paintings at the Gallery. Hover over the painting’s photo to see the painting’s name and its painter.

The next day we left downtown DC to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have a special fondness for all places of worship – not only do they display stunning architecture on the outside and magnificent art on the inside, but also they offer peace and quite and a form of respite to the mind, and this church was no exception. The fact that it was a very cold late November morning, and that the church is not within walking distance of other DC tourist attractions resulted in not too many tourists.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.

The Basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, and is one of the ten largest churches in the world. The blue tiles of the dome and the adjoining spire against the white facade are quite striking. The most striking feature inside the church is the beautiful mosaics extending into the ceiling. One of them, in gold, is very reminiscent of the church of St. Mark in Venice.

While getting to the church was easy (quick taxi ride from downtown DC), going back to our next destination, the National Botanical Gardens proved to be cumbersome. With no taxis in site, we had to use Uber to call a cab.

One practical tip for visitors to Washington DC – Destinations on the map may appear closer than they really are! The distance between different tourist attractions can be covered by foot, but be prepared to walk fairly long distances. And really bundle up if you are visiting in the winter months.

More to come on our days in DC.

I know that it’s an over-saturated tourist destination, but have you had any unforgettable experiences in Washington DC? Please do share here.

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