Friday, April 22, 2016

Photos on Friday: Moonlight views of the Washington Monument

Visiting Washington, D.C. is great any time of the day, but the moonlight views are really something. For today's Photos on Friday post I thought I'd share some photos I'd taken in March during an evening visit. The Washington Monument is very beautiful at night. Today's photos show it from different angles.

Viewing the Washington Monument at night
This photo of the Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool was taken while standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial

Viewing the Washington Monument at night
Standing at the FDR Memorial and looking over the Tidal Basin during peak cherry blossoms

Viewing the Washington Monument at night
Another view from the edge of the Tidal Basin showing the Washington Monument's reflection

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Views of the pretty Virginia Bluebells at Manassas Battlefield and Bull Run Park

This year was the first time I'd heard of the Virginia bluebells. Reaching peak approximately mid-April each year, these flowers cover the forest floors in a sea of blue, pinks and purples. 

On Saturday morning, we took a ride out to Manassas Battlefield and walked one of the loops there to see the bluebells. Afterward, we headed over to Bull Run Park, which I had heard was spectacular, and explored a good portion of the flowers on that trail too. It was a really enjoyable few hours. We saw a few pinks and purples, but at this time most of the flowers were a full blue.

I was so glad a friend of mine mentioned the Virginia bluebells. How I missed hearing about these during the decade I've been here, I'm not sure as I usually love to check out anything having to do with flowers. 

It looks like we caught the bluebells just as the peak was just about ending, but there was still plenty of color. Here are some photos from that day:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Celebrating Independence Day in Washington D.C. with a parade and fireworks

Feels like spring has just begun, but before we know it, the 4th of July will be upon us! As summertime kicks into full swing, what better place to celebrate America's day of Independence than in the U.S. Capital? 

Every year an exciting parade takes place along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Street. The parade features invited bands, fife and drum corps, military units, colonial re-enactors, giant floats and balloons, equestrian, drill teams, VIPs, national dignitaries and celebrities. This event is amazing and a grand event to celebrate America's birthday.

The parade takes place on (when else!) July 4th and, as customary, begins at 11:45 a.m. I'd recommend you get there early and lean towards public transportation because parking is bound to be a nightmare (availability is tough, at best on non-event days and during parade day, many parking spaces will be roped off). Keep in mind the Metro will probably be jam-packed too. You also want to ensure you get a good spot so you can view the parade and not to miss a thing. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended, but we got there early and had a great time.

Before and after the parade, there are lots of activities going on around the National Mall. The Mall area opens at 10 a.m. for public access - keep in mind you do need to go through security checkpoints to enter the area.

The spectacular and famous fireworks begin at dark. (If you can't stay for the fireworks, these are also televised, it's not going to be the same experience – just a guess on my part since we usually head out back to Virginia long before the fireworks – but we think it’s still a great event to see on TV!) In the event of rain, traditionally, the fireworks are postponed until July 5.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Photos on Friday: Big cats at the National Zoo

During spring break we spent a lot of time downtown exploring the museums, enjoying the cherry blossoms and took a few tours. One other outing was to the National Zoo. One of my favorite stops is to see the big cats. 

For today's Photos on Friday post I thought I'd share a few pictures I took that day. I didn't see the lion that day (I'm not sure how many live at the zoo, I've seen one in the past) and the tiger was asleep. A few of the lionesses were up and about. Others were snoozing.

National Zoo lion's den
Sometimes ya just gotta scratch that itch

National Zoo lion's den
Watching and waiting

National Zoo lions den
Dozing off

Snoozing away

Monday, April 11, 2016

10 fun facts about the Library of Congress (LOC)

The Library of Congress is an architectural wonder. I first visited this building in 2012 and have been back three or four times since, the most recent being spring break at the end of March. The LOC is a fascinating place to see and there is plenty to do once inside. 

For today's post I thought I'd share some photos of the Library of Congress and a few fun facts.

The exterior of the Thomas Jefferson Building, center of the Library of Congress

10 fun facts about the Library of Congress (LOC)

1. The Library of Congress was established in 1800 and was located inside of the U.S. Capitol building. The idea was to establish an official place to keep reference books for government officials to use. The LOC didn't get its own building until much later. On Nov. 1, 1897 the new Library opened. This building was named the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1980.

2. The Thomas Jefferson Building contains 15 varieties of marble, 400,000 cubic feet of granite, bronze, gold and mahogany. In the center is a huge rotunda that contains artwork that is - in a word - amazing. Ornate. Stunning.

LOC main hall Washington DC
One angle of the Great Hall at the LOC
3. The modern LOC in Washington is comprised of three buildings - the Thomas Jefferson Building (the "main" building), the John Adams Building (built in 1938) and the James Madison Memorial Building (built in 1981). I've only been in the Jefferson Building, but looking forward to seeing the rest on a future visit downtown.

4. The LOC claims the honor of being the largest library in the world. It boasts 162 million items on about 838 miles of bookshelves. Its collection includes books and other print materials, photographs, recordings, maps, sheet music and manuscripts.

LOC's main research room
Main Reading Room at the LOC

5. The original LOC collection was burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814 when forces set the still unfinished U.S. Capitol on fire. Thomas Jefferson, an avid lover of books, offered to sell his personal collection to the Library in order to "replace the devastations of British vandalism". The collection was purchased for $23,950 in 1815. It contained 6,487 volumes.

6. Congress, after several proposals and a lot of controversy, approved plans move the collection from the Capitol to a new building. The plans for the construction was approved in 1886. The design was decided to be one of Italian Renaissance style and was crafted by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz. Construction was managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thomas Jefferson Building at the LOC
The floor detail in the LOC is beautiful
7. Visitors today can view Jefferson's book collection in a special exhibit located in the Thomas Jefferson Building. The original collection is not complete because a second fire, occurring on Dec. 24, 1851, destroyed about two-thirds of Jefferson's books that Congress had purchased decades before. 

8. In the exhibit, the books with the green ribbons are ones that Jefferson himself owned, books with gold ribbons were recent purchases to reconstitute Jefferson's library and no ribbon indicates books that are identical to Jefferson's and were elsewhere in the LOC. Book boxes mark spaces of the books the Library is still hoping to find.

Library of Congress, Jefferson's books
This is only a small section of Jefferson's grand collection of books. Visitors basically step into a circle showing the entire collection, which is meticulously sorted the way Jefferson placed the books.

9. Two notable bibles are on display at the LOC in the Great Hall. The handwritten Giant Bible of Mainz and the printed Gutenberg Bible. Both were produced in the mid-1450s. 

Library of Congress exhibits
The Gutenberg Bible, not a clear photo
10. You can use the LOC if you apply for a Reader Identification Card. Researchers must be 16 years and older and the card is good for two years. The application process is fairly easy, applicants need to go to the Madison Building, Room LM140 with their ID. To learn more, check the official website. Applications and renewals must be done in person.

11. Bonus fun fact: There is a tunnel that connects the LOC and the U.S. Capitol. Visitors touring either of the buildings can take the tunnel to get to the other (note: Visitors going from the LOC to the Capitol will be screened by additional security. Visitors going from the Capitol to the LOC have already gone through the extra screening).

Upon entering the Great Hall, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the beautiful detail, but there are lots of other interesting things to see and do. I recommend, if on Capitol Hill, definitely checking it out if you haven't already. The LOC is located next to the Supreme Court. It is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is closed on New Year's, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

ornate ceilings, LOC

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cultural and ethnic festivals in the Washington DC area (2016)

Summertime brings a number of local cultural events and ethnic festivals to the Washington, D.C. Metro area. The diversity represented in the area is highlighted during the year through celebration. Here are a few of the upcoming events which will be taking place throughout the region over the next couple of months -

Passport D.C.: This event takes will run from May 1 through May 31. Put together by Cultural Tourism D.C., people can explore D.C.’s diversity and celebrate International Cultural Awareness Month. Enjoy embassy open houses, street festivals, exhibitions, performances, workshops and more. For more information and details about specific dates, you can keep updated on Cultural Tourism D.C.'s website.

Italian Festival: Festa Italiana takes place in Frederick, Md., this year’s festival is being held on June 11, 2016. Visitors can enjoy a day of fun, food, wine and discovery at Rose Hill Manor Park. Celebrating Italian and Italian-American culture and heritage, this event is also raising funds and awareness for Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County. Tickets can be bought online or at the gate, but you’ll get a discount for pre-purchasing your tickets. Family packages are also available – for admission and other information, see the official  website

Smithsonian Folklife Festival: This event has been running since 1967 and every year its theme changes. For 2016, the festival celebrates Basque culture. As customary, the festival spans two weekends - this year's event takes place on June 29-July 4 and July 7 to July 10. For more details, check out the official web page.  

German Festival: The 116th Maryland German Festival takes place on Sat., July 23 and Sun., July 24 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Rd, Timonium. This event features German entertainment, food and drink. There is an admission fee for this event, this year’s prices aren’t listed yet but tickets for last year were as follows: $8 adults, $6 seniors, Active Military $6; children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult ticket. 

Peruvian Festivals: This annual event usually takes place in Arlington at the Gunston Arts Center, located at 2700 S. Lang Street. This event honors Peru's day of Independence (July 28th) and features Peruvian dance, music and food. This is an annual event, but the information doesn’t appear to be out yet.

There is also a Peruvian culinary festival on May 28. Now in its 4th year, the Taste of Peru event showcases several expert chefs in the area. It all takes place at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC. 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door, but there is a discount if you buy online.   

African American Heritage Festivals:
The African American Festival in Baltimore runs on July 2 and July 3, 2016. A free festival, there will be entertainment, cultural exhibits, health screenings, contests and more, along with 150 vending booths and attractions. The entertainment is not listed yet, so stay tuned. The festival takes place at Camden Yards Sport Complex on lots B and C between Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St., Baltimore.

This year's African American Culture Arts Festival takes place in Manassas at Metz Middle School on Sat., Aug. 6, 2016 and will run from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. For 24 years this festival has been taking place in Prince William County on the first Saturday in August. According to the official website, this year's event will feature more than 125 exhibitors, entertainment (see schedule) a classic car show, games for the kids and much more. Admission to the festival is free.

Irish Festival:

This annual event hosted by Ballyshaners takes place on Sat., Aug. 13, 2016. Other than the date, current information is not available at the time of this writing. In years’ past the festival has taken place at Alexandria's waterfront park (1A Prince Street). Visitors can experience Irish culture including arts and crafts, food, refreshments, cultural dance and entertainment. This is an event open to all ages and entrance to the event is free.

Pakistan Festival: Approaching almost 30 years, this increasingly popular event usually takes place at Bull Run Regional Park, Centreville, Va. In 2014 and 2015 it took place in August.  Visitors can expect lots of traditional Pakistani food, folk music and more. Information for 2016 isn’t available just yet, but you can keep updated on the Pakistan Festival USA website.

Annual Cambodian Community Day Festival: This festival will be a celebration of Cambodian culture, showcasing folk and classical dance performances, live music, traditional foods and entertainment for the kids. The festival takes place on Sun., Sept. 11, 2016 at the Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Silver Spring, Md. You can learn more about the event on the Cambodian Community Day website.

Other cultural festivals to look out for:

KORUS Festival: This annual event takes place every September and is in its 14th year. In years’ past it was at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville, but looks like it was moved to Tysons Corner Center last year. Taking place over a weekend, visitors can enjoy a weekend of fun, food, music and more. Far as I can tell, the dates for 2016 haven’t been announced yet, but you can keep up to date with the latest on the event’s Facebook page.

Reston Multicultural Festival: No dates have been announced yet, but this one traditionally also takes place in September. To get an idea of what the festival is about, you can check out last year’s press release. Traditionally, it is an annual event, so likely to be announced in upcoming months. The festival celebrates the diversity represented in the community. Attendees are encouraged to come dressed in attire to represent their own cultural background. There will be entertainment, music, dress, food and anything related to cultural diversity. The event takes place at the Lake Anne Village Center located at 1609-A Washington Plaza in Reston.

The annual Turkish Festival in years’ past takes place at the end of September in Washington, D.C. to culminate Turkish Cultural Heritage Month. The website is not updated for 2016 yet, but you can visit the official page to keep up-to-date to see what’s in store for the festivals 16th year.  

I'm sure I missed a few, but will try to update as I come across new ones. I know there are also several cultural festivals in the Baltimore area throughout the year too. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Photos on Friday: Peak cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin

The end of March in Washington D.C. was all about the cherry blossoms. I posted some photos a few days ago, but today for Photos on Friday, I wanted to do one more. We went downtown on Monday again and turned out, despite some rain and wind, the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin were outstanding and still in peak. With the winds picking up, it looked like it was snowing. Just gorgeous.

Here is some of what we saw:

Washington DC cherry blossoms

Washington Monument peak cherry blossoms

Washington DC cherry blossoms

Washington DC cherry blossom peaks 2016

peak cherry blossoms Washington DC
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