Thursday, December 15, 2016

Quiet atmosphere during the holidays in Washington D.C.

The words “serenity” and “peace” are probably two words rarely used to describe Washington. As the center of the U.S. government and a heavily populated metro area, there is always a lot of activity going on, perhaps especially during an election/inaugural year.

Yet, living here almost a decade now, I’ve noticed all this slows down a bit during the winter holidays. We have taken a ride downtown on just about every holiday throughout the year and, while sometimes chilly, found November and December to be really nice. 

Thanksgiving Day, 2016

This year on Thanksgiving Day we spent several hours downtown. We started off at the U.S. Botanic Garden for the opening of the annual Season’s Greetings event to see the train and other exhibits in the conservatory. We then popped in a couple of the other museums and also did some walking around. Short lines, little waiting. I took the above photo just before we got online at the Botanic Garden. As the day went on, the District got a little busier, but no where near the crowds you'd see in the spring during Easter week.

Rewind back about a decade ago to when we were new in the area, coming from the New York metro area where the decorations are, for a lack of a better word, "big". We were curious about how Washington D.C. and the White House dressed up for the holidays.  That first year we learned the District is somewhat quiet around Christmastime and the decorations are more subtle – very different from the brightness and hustle and bustle of New York City. 

If you look closely, there is a bit of greenery draped over the entryways, maybe some white lights or other understated décor. Most of the government buildings stick to traditional greens with red ribbons. It is simple, yet elegant and pretty.

U.S. Treasury Building

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to see and do in the District during the holidays with plenty of activity. And there are a lot of decorations too, however, just walking around town on certain days or nights, there is a definite air of serenity as well. It's rather nice.

I feel I should do an update. We went downtown two days after Christmas and it was a balmly 60 degrees. While traffic was still relatively quiet, there were quite a few people on the National Mall, presumably enjoying the lovely weather. 

Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year! Thank you for visiting my blog. 

This was taken on Christmas Eve, 2006 in the late afternoon.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Photos on Friday: Season’s Greetings at U.S. Botanic Garden (2016)

Every year the U.S. Botanic Garden hosts its Season's Greetings event. There is a special train exhibit and some of the gardens are decked out in holiday spirit (the regular exhibits are still open for viewing).  

Season’s Greetings opens on Thanksgiving morning and typically ends shortly after the New Year. We took a ride down on opening day this year. We got there about 15 minutes before it opened and already there was a line that wrapped to the side of the building. It moved quickly though and we were in shortly after 10 a.m.  

This year’s Season’s Greetings theme celebrated the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. Since there are two entrances (one for the trains, the other brings you straight to the conservatory), we decided to see the trains. It was very nicely done.

There were NPS parks, historic sites and landmarks featured throughout with a mix of traditional and “Thomas the Tank” friends chugging their way through the regions of the United States. The exhibit is built from plants and natural materials, which is always cool to see.  

After we saw the trains, we headed on through the rest of the conservatory, which is always an enjoyable time. As you circle back to the front, this year there is a huge Christmas tree along with some other special holiday-themed surprises. 

The conservatory is located at 100 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington DC 20001. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

10 interesting facts about the U.S. Pentagon

The Pentagon is a large complex that serves as the central hub of the United States military. Built in 1941, today the building plays a very important role in U.S. operations. There are 25,000+ people (military, civilian and contractors) who occupy the building on any given day.  
By David B. Gleason from Chicago, IL - The Pentagon, CC BY-SA 2.0,
As you approach the Pentagon you can't help but be impressed by its magnificent presence. While a highly recognizable building, there are probably some things many people don’t know about the Pentagon.

10 interesting facts about the US Pentagon

1. The building itself is huge. There are five floors above ground and two floors underneath. If you walk around the outside perimeter of the building, you’ll have walked close to a mile. Each side of the Pentagon is 921 feet long. The building itself sits on 29 acres – 34 acres if the courtyard is included. This doesn't include the vast areas allotted for parking. 

2. Build for the Pentagon began on Sept. 11, 1941 and was completed less than two years later, on January 15, 1943. With the supply shortages associated with World War II, steel was in high demand, so it is primarily made from concrete – 435,000 tons of it. Due to this, architects designed the building as short instead of tall. Enough steel was saved to build a battleship. 

3. There are 17.5 miles of corridors housed within the Pentagon’s walls. 

4. The original U.S. military complex was planned to be in Washington DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. However, once built, the new building was quickly deemed to be too small to house the department and DoD (then called the War Department) was split across 17 buildings. The original building later was given as a home to the U.S. State Department.

5. The land where the Pentagon sits used to be an airfield called Hoover Field. This first metro area airport was deemed to be unnecessary once the National Airport was built in the early 1940s. The War Department would go on to acquire the land.  

6. For a time, the Pentagon was the only non-segregated building in Virginia. Originally, it was designed to be segregated which is why it was constructed with twice as many bathrooms than needed for the number of employees. There are 284 rest rooms in the building.

7. There are 131 stairways, 13 elevators and 19 escalators in the complex.

8. Physically, the Pentagon is located on the Virginia side of the Potomac River in Arlington County, however, each department has a Washington D.C. mailing address – there are six zip codes in the Pentagon – 20301 (Secretary of Defense), 20318 (Joint Chiefs of Staff), 20310 (United States Army), 20330 (United States Air Force), 20350 (United States Navy) and 20380 (United States Marine Corps). A whopping 1,200,000 pieces of mail are sent and received monthly.

9. Did you know you can move between any two points in the Pentagon in about 10 minutes? This was designed intentionally to make things more efficient, but it seems the building’s vast size wasn’t in that thought process. Story has it at least a couple of high-ranking officials have gotten lost from time to time trying to find their way to or from their offices. The building is truly that big. 

10. Visitors can tour the facility (there are steps people have to take in arranging one). Did you know the Pentagon also boasts several historic exhibits equivalent to many museums? During a guided tour, visitors will see these and many more features showcased in the Pentagon. 

I’ve been in the building a few times and was truly amazed at its size. It’s a wonder to imagine all the activity going on behind those closed doors in each section and floor.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christmas and holiday parades in Northern Virginia

Every year there is plenty to see and do in the Washington D.C. area for the holidays and, in Northern Virginia, there are a number of annual traditions to look forward to, including parades. 

Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

A very popular event each year, this one is usually scheduled for the first weekend in December. The tradition has been a staple for more than 45 years. In recent years the parade has featured more than 100 marching units and typically draws a big crowd. We’ve gone a couple of times and really enjoyed it! Sponsored by the Campagna Center (in partnership with The Scottish Government, The Saint Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C. and the City of Alexandria), proceeds go to benefit the center’s six educational programs. There are a number of events throughout the weekend. Check out the Campagna website for more information. Events take place rain or shine. 

Warrenton Christmas Parade

This annual Christmas parade takes place in Old Town Warrenton as it marches down Main Street. See Santa and the town’s Christmas tree lighting too! In previous years Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) was also running. For more information and updates associated with the parade, you can visit the official website. In 2016 it advertises the town’s annual tree lighting at the conclusion of the parade, followed by fireworks. This is a town I would love to explore more. I’ve been there a couple of times and really enjoyed my tour of the 19th century jail and museum at the Fauquier History Museum.

Greater Manassas Christmas Parade

Each December this parade takes place in Old Town Manassas. A tradition for more than 70 years, the parade usually takes place in early December. Check out the official website for details. Historically, this parade has been advertised as being held rain, snow or shine.

Annual Christmas and Holiday Parade (Leesburg)

Every year Leesburg holds its annual parade, it used to be held during the day, but in recent years I’ve noticed it takes place in the evening. The parade is scheduled for the second weekend in December in the historic district. It starts at Ida Lee Drive, travels down King Street and finishes on Fairfax Street. We really enjoyed the parade we saw in 2012 (that was when it was still the day parade).

Winterfest (McLean)

Another annual tradition, this parade takes place on the first Sunday of December.  The parade route is listed as being from Old Chain Bridge Road from Fleetwood Road to Elm Street. This year is the first year I’ve heard of this parade and don’t know much about it, but wanted to include it. It also advertises pre-parade entertainment. For more information on this year and previous year’s, see the official website and its Facebook page. 

Other towns that have parades in Northern Virginia include Dumfries and Purcellville, according to Northern Virginia Magazine

Parades are definitely not just for the warmer months in Northern Virginia. Keep in mind, the evening parades are likely to be a little chilly, so bundle up and have fun!

If you’re looking to spend time in D.C. proper during this year’s holiday season, there are many family-fun activities to check out.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Family fun during the holidays in Washington DC

There is just so much going on in Washington D.C. (and Northern Virginia) during the holidays, it can be hard to keep up with it all. If you’re looking for something to do with the kids at any given time during this year's festive season, you won’t be lacking for places to go. Here are a few ideas -

Zoolights, National Zoo

Zoolights is a fun time for the kids. On our last visit, we went during the holiday break and, while it was a little chilly, there was enough to see and do to keep us moving around. Lots of lights and enough of the animals were awake to visit with. During the week between Christmas and New Year, it’s likely to be a bit crowded but is still a great time. Admission is free!

Season’s Greetings at the US Botanic Garden

The USBG is a wonderful place. Always free admission year-round, during Season’s Greetings, the gardens transform into a botanical winter wonderland. You’ll find festive displays and the star of the show - the model train exhibit that is displayed each year. Season’s Greetings usually starts in late November and runs to early January, usually ending just after New Year’s Day. USBG is located a hop, skip and a jump from the U.S. Capitol, so if you're in town and wanting to take a tour, this is a great time to schedule it.

ICE! At the National Harbor 

Every year the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center hosts its ICE! Extravaganza. The theme changes each year and it’s touted as a day of family (albeit verrry chilly!) fun. We finally got down there in 2016 and we had a great time. Prices typically vary depending on the day of your visit (peak vs. non-peak). Check the official website for more information as there are other things to do too from what I hear. There are also some discounts available if you qualify. They give you a parka to wear but still dress warmly. And definitely don't forget the hat, gloves and boots!

Norwegian Christmas Tree Lighting

Union Station, which is a historic building worth seeing in itself, hosts its annual Norwegian Christmas Tree Lighting. As a longstanding custom for 20 years now, Norway presents a Christmas tree to the people of Washington as a recognition of friendship between the two nations. On the evening of the event, Santa makes an appearance and there is live music. Additionally, there is a holiday train display on exhibit in the Main Hall. The trains are hand-made replicas of Norwegian trains set in a Norwegian landscape. Admission is free. Check the official website for details. Even if you can't make the lighting, the tree and trains will be on display throughout December. 

When walking around town, check out the National Christmas Tree and Pageant of Peace. The tree is located in the White House ellipse and is usually lit early in the season (tickets for this evening are given out via an online lottery) and, after the initial lighting, the tree is open to the public to view. The Capitol Tree is usually lit the first week in December and shines each night through the holidays.

Happy holidays!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Photos on Friday: Barboursville Ruins (Virginia)

As the summer came to a close we took a road trip to James Madison's Montpelier, located in Orange, Virginia. It's about a 90 minute ride from Northern Virginia. After our tour we decided to check out the local area. We had spotted a sign on the road for Barboursville Ruins and decided to follow it and we arrived after just a few minutes. It began to pour when we arrived, but I wanted to jump out to take some photos anyway. Having a fascination with historic architecture the way I do, it was worth the rain. 

The home is the ruin of James Barbour, a former U.S. Senator, Secretary of War and Virginia Governor. The property was built in 1814 and was designed by Thomas Jefferson. The home is now in ruins due to a fire that took place on Christmas day in 1884. It is located on the property of the Barboursville Vineyards. 


Friday, November 4, 2016

Photos on Friday: National Museum of the American Indian

In honor of American Indian Heritage Month, I thought I'd post photos I'd taken at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. It's a beautiful museum located on the National Mall (near the Air & Space Museum and U.S. Capitol) and houses artifacts and history dating back tens of thousands of years right up until more recent times. 

Here are some photos I'd taken in 2015 and 2016 in some of the exhibits. If you are visiting, I highly recommend stopping in. There is an excellent, hands-on area for the kids (and fun for adults too!) and its restaurant is one of my favorites on the Mall.

Women's moccasins circa 1906

The photos I took of descriptions got a little mixed up, but (based on some of the photos I have), I think this piece was made around 850 AD. Either way, it's from an ancient time.

Ancient pottery - unfortunately I didn't catch the description in my photos

Seminole boy's shirt circa 1925

Friday, October 28, 2016

Photos on Friday: Fall foliage on Skyline Drive

For today's Photos on Friday, I'm going to post pics from our annual ride down Skyline Drive to see the beautiful fall foliage. We usually start off at Front Royal and see where the day takes us. This year we drove down to Swift Run Gap and exited on Route 33 which is a couple of miles past the 65-mile marker. 

The foliage was gorgeous! Temps were in the mid to upper 40s but the wind was mild, so it wasn't super cold. These are some photos I'd taken along the way. 

I took this one through the windshield. The early morning light was shining right on the dazzling colors of the leaves and I liked the way it looked so I snapped a pic.

Pulled over at an overlook to gaze upon the mountain ranges and the variety of color. Those shadows are from the clouds.

My eyes were drawn to the reds and yellows along the side of the road.

After entering at Front Royal, this spot is not too far down the drive. Usually, this section of the woods is all ablaze in yellow but I guess it was too early in the season for these this year.

Monday, October 24, 2016

10 fun facts about Morven Park

Morven Park is a place I'd heard of, but wasn't sure what type of historic site it was. On Labor Day weekend, we made a trip out to Leesburg. First we visited the beautiful Oatlands and next decided to stop by to learn more about Morven Park. And we learned a lot.

The home has deep roots to early American history, having been established in 1780 as a simple farmhouse built by Dr. Wilson Cary Seldon. Since that time the home and property has seen many changes and people.

The property possesses an interesting and remarkable history. A pamphlet picked up during our visit states Morven Park is a home that, "captures the essence of Virginia's rural heritage". That it does and so much more. Want to know more about Morven Park? 

10 fun facts about Morven Park

1. Morven Park was home to two governors - Thomas Swann Jr. (served as mayor of Baltimore before being elected as Maryland's governor) and Westmoreland Davis (Virginia).
2. Thomas Swann Sr. bought the land from Dr. Seldon in September 1800.  (I'm not clear on the spelling, I've also seen the surname spelled as "Selden". However, I'm going with the spelling Morven Park uses in its .pdf titled, "Summary of Morven Park Ownership"). Over time Swann would add numerous tracts of land to built up the estate. In 1837 Swann sells the property to his children and Thomas Swann Jr. buys his siblings out in 1842. Swann Sr. passed away in 1840. Swann, Jr. would spent time renovating the mansion between 1858 and 1861.

3.  The property changed hands a few times after Thomas Swann Jr.'s death in 1883. Several members of the Swann family would live in and/or own the estate.

4. Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis bought estate in 1903. They would be the final owners who used the home as a residence.

5. Over the years the simple farmhouse evolved into an amazing 22-room Greek Revival estate - this is what visitors see today. Between the Swann and Davis years improvements had been made by several owners, but the Davis' really left their mark on the property.

6. Westmoreland would go on to be a gentleman's farmer and built the estate and, as he learned, he shared his knowledge with the farming community in order to move the industry into a more modern age. 

7. There is a section at the entrance of the visitor's area of the mansion where the original stone exterior and later layers of stucco can be seen (I always find this type of thing fascinating). 

8. The mansion had Italianate towers for a time and were visible during the Civil War. These were removed on or around 1880. You can see images of this during a Morven Park tour.  

9. The interior of the mansion is wonderfully decorated and reflects the life of Westmoreland and Marguerite. The furniture and décor is amazing and highlights 16th century Flemish tapestries, European furniture, Asian art and gorgeous china, to name a few. There has been incredible preservation of the possessions and placement of the items.  

10. During the Westmoreland years, the estate was a full-time business and this is reflected in the tour. Perhaps especially when you get to see the kitchen area. With the antique furnishings, while I knew the house was modernized, it was still surprising to see such a massive and "modern" kitchen in a historic property since other properties are typically interpreted in earlier centuries.  

This was a fantastic tour and a gorgeous home, and it was interesting to learn about Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis. Visiting Morven Park again is something I hope to do again sometime in the not so distant future.