DC part 2: Spies, Dinosaurs, Media, Aviation

New York NY, 2014-12-23

Catch up mode: Engage! So I managed to make it until day 15 of the trip before falling well and truly behind on the writing thing (and I'm even further behind with the typing up and posting online), so let's catch up! Luckily, I kept notes. I'll split this into DC and NYC posts.

Warning: lots of pictures in this one!

Washington DC, 2014-12-20

In a bid to save some money and eat less fatty, delicious and tasty food, we had bough some breakfast from Walgreens the night before and stashed it in the minibar. We ate that while lying in bed watching more HGTV (seriously, it's like crack), then surfaced and made the long trek (next door) to the International Spy Museum.

The entrance and first couple of rooms are very strongly themed, and definitely aimed at a younger audience. Obviously I wouldn't be a great secret agent, since I can't remember the cover identity that I picked from the ones on offer in the "Briefing Room". The museum was great fun though, with a lot of interactive stations, including air vents you could crawl through while trying not to set off a noise meter, live remote microphones capturing audio in different areas of the museum, replica Enigma machines, and several real examples of historical spy gear. It was very strange to see things like 1940s spy cameras and laugh at how huge and obvious they are by today's standards, only to realise that nobody at that time would be able to conceive of a camera that small, so would not suspect a thing (well, except maybe other spies and the camera manufacturer). There was also a large exhibition on 50 years of Bond villains, highlighting their dastardly plans and elaborate Bond-killing machines, and how likely the plans would be to succeed in the real world. Of course this made both Andy and I want to go watch some classic 007. Maybe we'll have a marathon once we're back home.

Continuing our attempt to eat light, we had a quick salad break for lunch, and then set off for the Natural History Museum with nowhere near enough time to see it all. We had about 2 hours, so immediately ruled at "rocks" and pretty quickly realised we would also have to skip "mummies". We managed "oceans" (with an impressive "Guess what, climate change is real and the ocean is not your friend when ice melts" section), "insects", "dinosaurs", "skeletons" and the taxidermy halls of Africa, North America (frozen parts, not the temperate parts), and Australia. No drop bears, but I guess it's an American museum, so they don't know any better.

What I had previously noticed at the Air and Space museum, but really struck me here, is the drastic contrast between the age of exhibits. The skeleton exhibit was delightfully retro, with pop-out letters and plain, matte, uniform coloured backgrounds to the dioramas (and they were all static dioramas). They were tersely and drily scientific wherever written information was displayed. On the other side, the dinosaur exhibit was only partially open due to refurbishment, and was obviously a lot more modern, with engaging writing wrapping up factoids, including a display basically trolling the T-Rex for its puny armlings.

Since we were in the National Mall1 and had no other museums to go to after the universal closing time of 17:30, we decided to do a night photowalk to the Washington Memorial, then onwards to Lincoln. From a distance it's really hard to appreciate the scale of these monuments, especially the Lincoln Memorial. With the long, flat and fairly plain Mall between the Washington and Lincoln memorials, the scale got distorted and we really didn't appreciate how far it was from one to the other. The World War II memorial in the middle of the walk was almost a welcome respite, as it gave us a chance to slow down. It does oversell the US commitment to the war and gloss over the rest of the Allied Forces, as if it was only the USA that fought the Axis.

Once we got to the Lincoln Memorial we were completely blown away by the scale of the building. The steps alone just seemed to keep on going before we even get to Lincoln. We took a few photos and then walked back towards our hotel via The White House. After the size of the Lincoln Memorial, the "Presidential Palace" didn't seem quite so impressive, but I was impressed by the giant Menorah and Christmas tree on the Ellipse. There was an ice rink there too, which I guess I shouldn't be surprised about, because ice rinks seem to pop up everywhere in the US during winter.

After a solid spell of walking we didn't feel like travelling too far for dinner, so we went to the nearby District of Pi pizzeria. Best choice. We opted for thin crust over their deep dish because we wanted pizza not a crusty tomato pie, and it was phenomenal. The DC Brau "Penn Quarter" porter was delicious, and appropriate since our hotel was, in fact, in the Penn Quarter district of DC.

After we got back to the hotel I watched quite a lot of the San Diego Chargers vs San Francisco 49ers game. I think I'm starting to understand the basics, but there are definitely a few rules I still don't get.

Washington DC, 2014-12-21

Our hotel offered a $5 coupon for every day you opted out of housekeeping services. While I worry about the impact this has on the incomes of the housekeeping staff, we typically prefer not to have our room serviced during our stay if it's a short stay, so the vouchers were a welcome bonus to us. This is just a roundabout way of saying we had many dollars off, so we opted for breakfast at the hotel and it was just "not cheap" instead of "no way" expensive. It was a very good breakfast though, and their tea selection was far better than their single coffee option (burned, warmed, drip coffee), so it was an English Breakfast kind of morning.

By this point in the trip I'd caught a bit of a cold and wasn't feeling very well, but we were determined to make the mose of our last day in DC so we set out. We walked past the J. Edgar Hoover building. That's about all there is to say about FBI HQ, except perhaps to wonder aloud why the upper section of the building is encased in nets. Quite strange.

We walked along Pennsylvania Avenue through the Navy memorial (we accidentally discovered quite a few memorials we hadn't planned to go through while walking through DC) while headed towards Newseum.

This is a really interesting museum dedicated to studying the history and impact of the "free press". What is slightly problematic is that it is curated and maintained by the same "free press", so at times has a very favourable view of the media as an organisation and is a little off-key about bias and ownership issues. Nevertheless, the exhibits are well worth the visit. I was very surprised to see several segments of the Berlin Wall on display, as well as a guard tower from the East Berlin side.

After Newseum my cold was catching up with me, so we started heading back towards the hotel so I could take a short break. Instead we ended up at Luke's Lobster, and I was thoroughly enjoying a lobster grilled cheese and an excellent porter from Maine.

Recharged, Andy and I decided to split up to tackle our respective higher priorities. Andy went to the National Gallery, and I crossed the Mall to try to finish off the Air and Space museum. I didn't even come close. I made it through modern jet-liners and some of the early days of flight, but there were was at least half a floor that I didn't even look at. Andy met me just before closing and we got some museum shopping done, then we raced across the strip to do some more gift shopping in the Art Gallery's massive store. Both the Air and Space museum and Art Gallery set the bar very high for the quality of gift shop!

By this point I was almost dead on my feet, so we went back to the hotel where I promptly collapsed in to bed with water and drugs. Andy was my burrito saviour, heading back into the cold to bring us dinner. A bit of rest and food perked me up enough to make it through a movie, so for our last night in DC we watched White House Down. It's a terrible movie, but it was perfect for the evening, and it was cool to be watching it with a lot of the landmarks fresh in our minds.

We packed as much as we could and headed to bed ready for our early start the next day to head to NYC.

  1. It was really cool to see so many people jogging through National Mall. Any time of day or night we would see many people jogging around the circuits. Sadly, we never made it out of the hotel for jogging in DC. 


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