Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 23: Washington D.C., Day 2

August 18, 2011 - Again, we woke up early in order to make it to the places we wanted to visit.  After a brief discussion, we concluded what I had originally thought the day before; there wouldn't be time to visit all of the Smithsonian museums.  So we narrowed down our choices.  Bruce wanted to see the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum while I decided upon the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  Additionally, we would visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and make our way to Arlington National Cemetery.

That was the plan, at least.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Holocaust Museum wasn't easy to find; luckily we had a tour map.

The Holocaust Museum was something that I felt we should visit.  For me, this was an interesting experience.  The inside of the building is reminiscent of post World War Two German architecture and various Holocaust sites around Europe.  The effect is to instill a sense of fear and solemnity in this museum and with the exhibits; does a very good job at it.

The first exhibit that I saw was Daniel's Story, an exhibit designed for children that explains the Holocaust through the eyes of a Jewish child.  The exhibit was amazing and very provoking.  I don't think there is ever a dry eye from people who visit that place.

A child's suitcase in the Daniel's Story exhibit.

The second place I visited in the Holocaust Museum was the Hall of Remembrance, a hexagonal room that memorializes eleven million victims with an Eternal Flame.  Visitors are allowed to light candles in remembrance of Holocaust victims or simply observe a moment or two of silence.  I happened to do both.

The Eternal Flame in The Hall of Remembrance

The last exhibit that I saw at the National Holocaust Museum was on Nazi propaganda.  With a mixture of video, sound, and posters, the propaganda machine that was controlling the minds of disheartened German citizens was very good at its job. There were no photographs allowed, so sorry, no pictures.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

If I would hazard a guess I would say Bruce absolutely loved this museum.  There was a lot to see; no really, there was.  From a couple of shows in the Planetarium to the seeing the Fokker T-2, there was so much to see, so much to enjoy, and so much to look at.

Just one of the many aircraft suspended from the ceiling at the main entrance.

The Baron Hilton Pioneers of Flight exhibit had a lot to see.  It was mostly focused on those pioneers of flight that pushed existing technological or social limits; so artifacts from Amelia Earhart and the Lindbergh's were everywhere.  I loved being able to see the Lockheed Vega that was flown by Earhart.

Earhart flew this plane to break two world records.

A small sample of Earhart artifacts.

Another exhibit Bruce and I saw was the Wright Brothers and Invention of the Age of Flight.  Seeing the 1903 Wright Flyer was, perhaps, the highlight of my trip to the museum.  This exhibit was the first time that the Wright Flyer was at ground level, so we were able to walk around it to get a better view from all angles.

The original Flyer; not the original Wright brother.

The Fifty Years of Space Flight exhibit in the grand entry hall in the museum showcases historical airplanes and jets.  Most of them are suspended from the ceiling which afforded amazing views from the second level balcony.  The historic planes viewable in this room were some of the most historic planes in history:  the Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager's Bell XP-59A Airacomet, and the X-15.

Strange decoration for the Air and Space Museum, eh?

If you can't find the airplane in this photograph; please consult your local optometrist.

We purchased tickets to see two shows in the Albert Einstein Planetarium; Cosmic Collisions and The Stars Tonight.  Resting comfortably in inclined seats and watching these two movies on a dome was absolutely amazing.  You almost got vertigo by watching the stars fly by and celestial objects colliding with each other.  It was definitely an experience both Bruce and I enjoyed.

Remember how I said that it could take days to explore a single Smithsonian museum?  Yeah, the Air and Space Museum took most of the day.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed myself immensely, but in the end I had to make a decision on what I wanted to really see; natural history or Arlington.  After a couple of minutes of painful decision making, I decided that Arlington was more important to me.

Bruce spent a record fifteen minutes in the gift shop; I was so proud of him!  There was a lot of things to buy, but I kept to my normal gift shop goodies (and a couple things that I could only find in the Smithsonian).

The Other Side of The Mall

Walking from the Air and Space Museum towards Arlington, we utilized the left side of the National Mall, you know, the side I didn't see yesterday because I was busy being stubborn and doing my own thing.  Walking on this side of the Mall allowed me to see a couple more of museums on the Mall, most notably the Smithsonian Castle and the Freer Gallery of Art.

The Smithsonian Castle looked out of place, mostly because of its red coloring.

The simple design of the Freer Gallery of Art.  I almost walked right past it.

The weather was starting to turn on us, and we rushed through the sprinkles without giving the magnificent buildings much more than a second glance; which was unfortunate.  With time running out to reach our next destination, Bruce and I took the Metro to the Arlington Station and rushed out to see if we could get to Arlington in time.

My hopes were not very high.


We arrived at Arlington National Cemetery a couple of minutes before they closed.  We arrived just as they were shutting the gates to the visitor center.  That meant that Bruce and I had a few minutes to look around and shop.  Knowing that I wouldn't have this opportunity again, I glumly purchased a few items; a book, a couple of key chains, and some post cards.  I made the purchases just as they were closing up the visitor center and the security guard was nice enough to let us out.

We walked outside and Bruce mentioned that we could probably look around the grounds a bit since visitors were still walking back, but we didn't get very far.  An employee of the grounds pretty much stopped us from going any farther than the first street.  We talked with him for a little while, and I took some pictures of the grounds I wanted to see.

The sign pretty much says it all.

Perhaps the closest I will come to Arlington National Cemetery.

I was very frustrated.  Enough said on that.

Final Thoughts on Washington D.C.

The part of the city that tourists visit is essentially a giant mausoleum.  The buildings are the same color of gray or white (with the exception of quite a few, including the Smithsonian Castle), which makes the city kind of depressing.

However, that being said, I was very happy to visit the nation's capital with my battle buddy.  We didn't get to see everything because Washington D.C. is too large for just two days.  What we did get to see was amazing and something that  I will always remember.

Maybe one day I will get to go back and pay my respects to those soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.  I can always hope.


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