Dani and I went to Washington DC for a few days. (I start a new job next week so vacation time will be limited for a while, hence this timing.) Here are some random notes.
The Smithsonian is big. Really big. Actually it's a bunch of museums. We knew all this, and knew that we'd barely scratch the surface, but knowing it and experiencing it are different. We knew that "museum fatigue" would be a challenge and we figured we'd just cope with it as it happened (instead of trying to carefully orchestrate things). Sometimes the answer was "um, want to see this possibly-interesting half-hour show in the planetarium/Imax theatre?".
The Air & Space Museum was a priority for both of us. On our first visit, after wandering around for an hour or so on our own, we were able to join a guided "highlights" tour. As with the British Museum, this is totally worth it in my book. Yes, we spent more time on the Wright brothers than I would have on my own, but we learned cool stuff that was worth learning. And because the tour was only about an hour and a half long, we could then explore more on our own. (And as you might have picked up, we came back for a second round another day.)
I've read a lot about the space program of the 60s and 70s, watched the documentaries, listened to the music ( :-) ), and was glued to the TV for parts of it. (Yeah, like many others, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up.) Even so, even having seen the pictures, I was a little blown away by how small the early capsules were. Standing next to a Mercury capsule was quite educational.
We also made two visits to the National Gallery (and still didn't see most of it). Part of it we dispensed with quickly -- there we were wandering through some rooms when each of us realized that the other doesn't care for impressionists either. Great; let's go see something else. :-)
Having Wikipedia on tap was valuable in the gallery. There were lots of religious paintings with random saints who -- as far as we knew -- weren't part of the scenes being depicted. Being able to look up who those guys were was handy, even if it didn't answer the question of why they were there. Saint Jerome (from, IIRC, the 4th century, but that doesn't stop him from being in all of Jesus's major events) was extremely common, like that guy who insists on getting into all the family photos.
They have a large painting -- seemed like about 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide, or thereabouts -- of Daniel in the lions' den. It made us wonder where such a painting was hung originally. If it were something about Jesus I could imagine it being over (or near) an altar or otherwise in a church, but Daniel and the lions? But would a painting that size have been practical in someone's home in the early 17th century? Where was this painting intended to be hung?
We went to the National Zoo on what turned out to be the hottest and most humid day we were there (oops, but we were expecting rain for the rest of our visit). Very disappointing -- the only big cats I saw were a lioness and two of her cubs (no tigers), the pandas were likewise not in evidence, and the ratio of paths we had to walk down to animals to be seen was high. I understand, of course, that the animals should be given nice enclosures with hiding places and I certainly want the animals to be treated well. I was just disappointed by the resulting experience for us. (On the other hand, the small mammals were quite nifty and some of the apes were interesting to watch -- yes indeedy, tool use is not a problem.)
We noticed that the Spy Museum and the Crime Museum were near each other and thought to do both in one trip. The former was rather disappointing and we didn't go to the latter. I was hoping for more about modern techniques, particularly electronic stuff. I felt like I didn't learn much about surveillance, identifying threats, and such that I didn't already know from watching Burn Notice and Person of Interest. Oh well.
Other places visited:
- American Indian Museum (brief visit): very interesting restaurant, which was recommended to us.
- Natural History Museum: I wanted to go into the butterfly habitat but the line was long, no one was around to sell me a ticket, and it was the end of a long day. But we enjoyed some of the other exhibits, particularly the bones.
- Tour of (some) monuments. The FDR monument (more elaborate than he wanted, we were told) was quite nice. It also had a progression of waterfalls, leading us to identify all other waterfalls we saw (like one at the zoo) as extensions of the FDR monument.
- Bureau of Engraving: they have a ~45-minute tour where you see how (paper) money is made. You have to get tickets in the morning and then come back later for the tour, which is a bit of a hassle, but we were able to get the last tour of the day so at least that didn't break up the rest of the day. (It's a significant walk from there to anywhere else we wanted to be.)
- We tried to go to the Museum of Industrial Arts but it turns out it's been closed for a while. Oops.
- No, we did not try for the White House (requires planning far in advance, and the benefit-to-security-hassle tradeoff seemed unfavorable). I kind of wanted to go to the Capital but that requires tickets via your congressfolks and we probably left that too late too.
We saw two shows, The Magic Flute (which I previously wrote about) and Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which was fun and I hope to write about later.
We are both comfortable with plenty of walking, yet we felt somewhat worn down at times. (Temperature and humidity in the upper 80s probably affected me; I've never been good with wet heat.) The Metro is certainly helpful, but there's still a lot of walking. We needed to be able to mix in some things to do while sitting down, but there didn't seem to be much of that. (We'd tried and failed to get an evening riverboat tour; in retrospect we should have tried for an afternoon one.)
By the way, yes we know lots of people in DC and I'm sorry we missed you all. We were a little gun-shy about trying to add "organize all the social stuff with all the people there" to our list.