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 d├ęcor. 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.