August 7, 2010

One Side of the Smithsonian

July 7, 2010--Day 4 of the Pennsylvania Triangle trip was basically a museum crawl. There is an open-top sightseeing bus tour that does a loop around Washington. Conveniently, it makes a stop directly in front of the Hilton. One complete trip would take about 2 hours and 15 minutes, but riders have the option to hop on and off at any points all day long.

I bought a pass and took my seat on the upper deck. It was a sunny 102-degree day, though the motion of the bus made is feel quite cooler. Only when the bus was still did I feel the elements and, being on the open upper deck, I would get hit in the head every so often by low-hanging branches.

The bus tour was great. It drives through many of Washington's note-worthy neighborhoods as a recorded voice gives detailed explanations of all of the sights along the way. It passes by the Washington National Cathedral, its spires reaching over the horizon, able to be seen from miles away. It cruises down Embassy Row with the embassies from 170 countries lining both sides of the street. It crosses over the Potomac River into Virginia to make a stop at the Arlington National Cemetery; great golden statues stand at the four corners of Arlington Memorial Bridge.

I got off of the bus at Independence Ave SW to walk the street of museums that make up the Smithsonian. My first stop was the Visitor's Center, also known as the Smithsonian Castle, a tall orange/red building with a diamond-shaped garden in front. A sprinkler system was watering the garden so I paused for a moment to let the droplets shower on me. The temperature was soaring and the water felt very refreshing. Inside the Castle is a modeled layout of Washington and all of its sights.

Standing next to the Castle are the Sackler and Freer Galleries. Both of these galleries feature Asian art and are connected by a hallway so that visitors can go from one museum to the next without having to go outside. All of the museums of the Smithsonian are architecturally grand and spacious with amazing exhibits; they are also 100% free to visitors.

Continuing down Independence Ave, I next came to the African Art Museum. It has a great wishing fountain that runs through the center of the building; one could drop a coin from the top floor all the way down to the bottom. I own a small collection of African art so I really enjoyed this museum.

The next museum was perhaps my favorite: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It's a circular building that showcases many works of modern art including some pieces by Joan Miro and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

At one point in the tour, I was prompted to walk down an unlit corridor to the next exhibit. I groped my way down the hallway, gripping the handrail tightly, unable to see anything around me. It was a very disorienting experience. Finally, I emerged in a room where I could see faint traces of colored lights on the wall ahead of me. Thinking that I was approaching a display, I stepped forward when a stern voice erupted from the blackness behind me: "Don't go any further! You're standing on the white floor!" LOL! How cool is that?

Outside of the building, in the center of the circle, is a great fountain. The outer perimeter of the circle houses many lawn sculptures. Very nice...

The next building that I encountered was the Smithsonian Institute's Air and Space Museum, an incredible place that tells the story of flight from the earliest planes to modern space travel. I was very impressed by the sheer size of some of the exhibits. I hope my photos can capture a little bit of the perspective.

From the Air and Space Museum, I crossed over 4th Street to the National Museum of the American Indian. Now, I always thought that the term "Indian" was politically incorrect when talking about Native American peoples. I guess if it can be used on a museum in the middle of Washington DC, the word can't be that offensive. The museum itself is beautiful, 4 levels of displays and theaters showing all aspects of native culture. Fascinating and wonderful.

I decided to have a late lunch in the museum's Mitsitam Cafe. It offers a wide variety of native foods. I tried several dishes, some of them having unusual spices and flavors, my favorite being the sweet potato soup.

It is a short walk from the American Indian Museum to Capitol Hill. The first building I came to was the United States Botanic Garden. This awesome structure has a greenhouse conservatory that features different climate zones such as World Deserts, Southern Exposure, Orchids, Hawaii, Medicinal Plants, Jungle, and even a Children's Garden. The Jungle section has a glass elevator that rises 93 feet to a mezzanine level. Here guests can experience the jungle canopy from the dome of the greenhouse. It is terrific.

I walked out of the Botanic Garden to find the Capitol Building towering in front of me. Easily one of the most amazing sights that I have ever seen...

It was getting very late at this point, so I hopped on the tour bus to go back to the Hilton. I had hoped that I would get back to Capitol Hill the next day to see the US Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, but that was not going to be. The next time I come to DC, I will stay for three weeks instead of three days. A few days just isn't long enough to see everything.

"Now faith is being sure
of what we hope for and certain
of what we do not see."

~Hebrews 11:1