DC Tourist – Day 5 (part Two)

After a rousing game of golf (mini that is) we headed over to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located next door to The Catholic University of America. It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America, and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. To get a sense of its size, it is over 1-1/2 football fields in length and nearly a football field wide.

img_20191008_121445794_hdr

It’s “blend” of Romanesque and Byzantine style architecture, and contempary collection of Byzantine mosaics and marble ecclesiastical art contained within two floors, seven domes and over 80 chapels and oratories is breathtaking. The fact that there are NO structural beams, columns or framework that hold this massive structure up (and together), is a marvel of engineering and craftsmanship.  img_20191006_142237220_hdr-1

img_20191006_125951641_hdr

The limestone and granite used in its construction all hale from the good old U.S. of A.  The Basilica’s Bell Tower (or Knights Tower), makes the Basilica the 2nd tallest building in DC, after the U.S. Monument (555 Ft.),  standing at 529 ft above sea level (the tower is 329′, but the “hill” upon which the Basilica is built is at 200′ above sea level).

img_20191008_121635007_hdr

In 1847, in answer to the 1846 petition from the American (Catholic) Bishops at the Sixth Council of Baltimore, Pope Pius IX officially named the Blessed Virgin Mary (also referred to as the Immaculate Conception) the offical Patroness of the United States.

The designation would lay a foundation for the building of a great shrine that includes many a Marian Chapel from all ethnicities and cultures that make up the United States, to honor Mary.  In 1910, the rector of The Catholic Univestity of America, Monsignor Thomas J Shahan (later made Bishop, and the only priest laid to rest in the Cathedral) requested of Pope Pius X, permission to build a great cathedral (this Cathedral), to honor Mary, the United State’s Patroness.

img_20191006_142108885

A peak into the Upper Chapel that holds 6,000 people

Shahan envisioned the Cathedral to be on par with the great cathedrals of Europe.  He was granted permission in 1913 to build such a Cathedral.  And thus began the nationwide fundraising for its construction. Seven years later, on May 16, 1920 the land upon which this amazing Cathedral is built, was blessed, and September 23, the cornerstone laid.  It was to have two levels. First to be built was the Crypt level (lower level). At the Crypt level is: the Crypt Church (that seats 4,000); the Hall of American Saints; a Papal exhibit; Memorial Hall (here the names of donors, are etched into 14,400 marble and granite tablets);

img_20191008_133418345

One of the more “famous” benefactors

33 Chapels (Interesting note is that within the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel is a replica of the grotto of Lourdes, (where Mary appeared to Bernadette Subirous, a peasant girl, in 1858) a stone, from the prison that held Joan of Arc, was used to build this chapel; 7 oratories.  The first public Mass was held on Easter Sunday April 20, 1924 in the Crypt Chapel (of which I have no pictures as daily Mass was in progress).  By 1931, the Crypt level was completed, but it wasn’t till November 20, 1959 with the second level having been built, that it was dedicated as a National Shrine.  Interuptions due to the Great Depression and WWII were significant factors in its lengthy build progress.  Interestingly enough, the entirety of project would still not be fully complete until Nov 20, 2017, whereupon the largest of the Basilica’s five domes, the Great Dome, or rather, the magnificant Trinity Dome mosaic was finished.

img_20191008_135634871

Trinity Dome

24 tons of Venitian glass brilliantly conveys the great Mystery of the Catholic faith, with the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels and mainly U.S. saints, (or saints significantly associated with the National Shrine…ie Mother Teresa, as an example) are encircled by the text of the Nicene Creed in an 89 ft diameter 159 ft tall dome.  The largest mosaic of its kind, in the world.  It was everything I could do to not lay upon the marble floor and marvel at its enormity, craftsmanship, pure beauty and bask in its resounding message.  The Upper Level, along with the Church (that seats 6,000) are 30 additonal chapels.

Fun Fact: Within this Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe not only will you find a stunning mosaic, but also the Basilica’s first altar that was used during the first Mass conducted in the Crypt Church on April 20, 1924.

img_20191008_140257840-1img_20191008_140337904-1img_20191008_135923379

The Byzantine style art, intricate mosaics and stained-glass windows, polished stone carvings, and marble veining throughout its interior that form symetrical patterns is truly captivating.

img_20191006_141609581img_20191006_131117844img_20191006_141256634

Having been to Lourdes (France), Portugal (Our Lady of Fatima), and having walked the entire Camino de Santiago (Frances route), Bishop Shahan’s dream, as he stated in his fundraising newsletters, the Shrine would be a

 “monument of love and gratitude, a great hymn in stone as perfect as the art of man can make it and as holy as the intentions of its builders could wish it to be.”

has been fullfilled, as this Cathedral truly is magnificent and certainly ranks with the great cathedrals of europe.

*As side note, there was so much to take in, we found that a one hour tour is not merely enough (whether you are Catholic or not).  Having gone back for a second “quick” tour, we found that each docent has different knowledge, or particular interests with regard to the history, significance and reason (and story behind) the art and chapels that grace this Cathedral. Still, two tours (hours) was NOT enough…for us (even Paul wanted to stay longer to take it all in). I think ideally, if one made a 1/2 day of it, you would also be able to tour the exterior as well, to include the garden. And besides, you never know, you just might get a photo op with the Pope.

img_20191006_140246531

 

Posted in Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, DC Adventures, Exploring Washington DC, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

DC Tourist – Day Five (part One)

What says more about DC and politics, than golf. Often deals and meetings are conducted on the gold course away from the confines of starched shirts and indoor lighting. This day’s morning outing would include heading out to the East Potomac golf course, and playing one of this country’s oldest and longest running mini-golf courses. Yes. Miniuarature golf. Under overcast skies, we would play a rousing and often frustrating “Happy Gilmore” game of fast putt, many obstacled, minuature golf. This day of working on our “short game”, was historic. Not that we played the games of our lives…well maybe, but historic in the sense that the course we played upon is the OLDEST continuously operated minuature golf course in the country.

img_20191006_114159793

It opened in 1931, and one can only imagine the multitudes of people that have “puttered” around this course. At $6/child and $7/adult it was a “steal”.

img_20191006_120316048_hdr

As it was “off-season”, the caddy shack (pictured above) was closed so we had to go into pro shop to pay our “greens” fee and pick up one of many multi-colored ball options. Once that was done, we picked out our putters from a barrel outside the caddy shack, and it was game-on!

img_20191006_110244031

While its current state is a bit “tired”, it was nun the less, both fun and challenging, and was not without many a belly laugh.

If one is looking for something historic, unique and off the beaten path to do while in DC, this is worth the outing.  April – October you will find it open daily 10am till dark (whatever “dark” means).  November – March, however, it is only open Saturday/Sunday, 10am – dark…weather dependent of course.

img_20191006_110828840_hdr

Posted in DC Adventures, Exploring Washington DC, National Register of Historic Places, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

DC Tourist – Day four

One of our favorite television “history” shows is Comedy Central’s, Drunk History. In this show, learned scholars with expertise in a specific area, historical event and/or person of historical significance, tells a story of said historical event/person peppered with additional insight/information based upon their studies/knowledge, whilst significantly inebriated. Comedy Central actors act out the scenes (and dialogue) as told by said learned expert.

With that in mind, this day’s excursion was fraught with history. Our destination, via General Lee Highway, Bull Run. The Winery at Bull Run to be specific (as there are around 250 wineries in Virginia)

What a better way to examine the completely disastrous (for Union forces) Civil War’s First Battle of Bull Run (yes there were two), then from where the first shot was fired.

Here with our niece and nephew (who are “club members”…with benefits), we would taste two flights of tastey Virginia wine, which by the way, in order to qualify as “Virginia” wine has to have the grapes, from which the wine is made of, predominately grown in Virginia.  This particular winery boasts of a wine made from Virginia’s own “native” grape, the Norton.

img_20191005_140603445_hdr

Following the generous tasting pours, we enjoyed another bottle (or two…can’t remember) with an elevated view of the beautiful landscape that “hosted”, the Battle of Bull Run.  Here, I would learn that this particular battle (of Bull Run) apparently had a “cheering” section, ie Spectators. Spectators you ask, well have I got a story for you…via “drunk history”.

History and libations!  What could go wrong?

(This next entire piece is more fun, if read with a slur…real, or imagined.)

So this particular First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the “First Battle of Manassas” (so much easier to say after a few drinks), took place approximately 25 miles from Washington DC, on July 21, 1861. (By the way, and fun fact. The Confederate forces liked to name battles after nearby towns, while Union forces named them after natural features like rivers/creeks/hills.) So anyways, up to this point, the “Union” and the “Northerners” didn’t really take this Civil War thing seriously.

[Insert scene with period attire “Northerners” at afternoon tea…

This war thing is so preposterous.

I mean really.  Slavery is so 1600’s.  

Geez, get with the times!  

I freed my slaves years ago. Now I pay them wages and they don’t live in my house.

If you ask me, those Southern folk are all just a bunch of country bumpkins, who we should give a good thrashing”.

…scene]

But the fact that the Confederate forces were camped some 25 miles away along the Bull Run creek, near the town of Manassas , put them just “too close for comfort”.  The political big wigs wanted the Confederate “menace” removed, and this “rebellion” quashed…immediately!

[Insert scene with President Lincoln, influential Congressmen, Senators and Lincoln’s cabinet...

“We don’t have the time or the money for a lengthy war! 

Hell, we don’t have enough soldiers as it is. 

Not to mention the 90 day enlistements, that genius came up with over here, expire near the end of July.

Isn’t that a good bulk of our Union forces?  

We need to get this “rebellion” over pronto!  

Our 35,000 soldiers vs their 20,000 is a no-brainer.

It’s a simple numbers game, and it’s a days walk to Bull Run where those hillbillies are camped.  

I say we end this NOW!

Get McDowell in here!”

…scene]

Nevermind that the Union Army’s Brig. General, Irwin McDowell (newly promoted 3 ranks from “desk duties”, thanks to the influence of his buddy, and Secretary of the Treasury – Salmon P. Chase) didn’t think his troops were adequately trained or disciplined. ‘Sorry ass bunch of greenhorns’…or something to that affect is how he described his troops. But the politicians (who obviously knew better) thought if they attacked right away, the war would probably be over in a couple hours, or so.  Besides, they told McDowell, if you won’t do it, we’ll promote a General that will. So on July 16th, 1861, McDowell not wanting to lose his job title rallied his troops and marched them in ridiculously hot and muggy weather…to battle…and for the most part, this very place upon which we are imbibing. Did I mention that it took twice as long as they had planned? Some dumbass forgot to pack enough field rations for the troops, so they had to wait for the wagon(s) to arrive.  And, as it was so frick’n miserable of a walk, the troops, regardless of orders, would stop to rest and/or wander off to get a drink and/or pick apples, blackberries, whatever they could find, before continuing on…reluctantly.  Meanwhile, the Confederates, led by West Point graduate and former US Military officer, Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (the “Little Frenchman”), was camped by the town of Manassas, fully fed, rested and aware that McDowell and his exhausted men were coming (thanks to a spy in the Union Army…or would you call him a traitor?).  Just for good measure, the “Little Frenchman” called for reinforcements (8,900), that were delivered by train, and just in time!  These reinforcements just happened to include, of notable report, a Thomas J. Jackson, aka. “Stonewall Jackson”.  It is here that the legend of “Stonewall Jackson” would begin, with having stood his ground (on Henry House Hill with his artillery)…like a Stonewall, whilst Confederate General Elliott Bee Jr. and his troops retreated…because they were tired.

Anyhoo.  The Union troops arrive around the 18th, and get a day or so of rest.  The morning of the 21st, and in the dark (say 2am-ish), 12,000 troops moved into their positions for a morning attack, having spent most of the time stumbling in the dark and getting lost. ( So they had that going for them as well.)  As daybreak comes, reporters, government officials and average citizens are picnicking not far from this winery (actually nearby as there wasn’t a winery here then) with lunches and libations to watch the “festivities”.  Many of them, I’m sure drinking wine made from Virginia’s own “native” grape, the Norton. I am told also, that German monks (brown robe guys), seeing that war was coming, and to be sure that the orginal Virginia grapes weren’t ALL lost in upcoming battle(s) dug up some plants and high tailed it to Missouri or someplace like that to preserve the “native” Norton grape…or maybe that was during prohibition…Either way, it was a good idea, as I found the Norton wine to be quite good.

img_20191005_133647908_hdr

If you think about it, who doesnt’ want to watch a good battle, in your Sunday best, over snacks and a bottle of wine? The battle begins, and things seem to be going okay for the Union forces, to which I’m sure the admiring spectators were clinking their glasses of wine, peering through opera glasses, commenting on the soldiers attire and tactics, and fist-bumping with each successful surge and kill by the Union Army…until it droned on to late in the afternoon.  It appears that being hot, sweaty, a little chaffed and poorly rested and fed, take a lot out a person, particularly a volunteer soldier with a week left in their enlistment.  In fact, some (two full units – 300ish) whose enlistment ended on the 21st, just said ‘fuck it’ and left.  McDowell tried to get them to stay, but seeing as he wasn’t the “boss” of them anymore, they told him ‘it’s been nice knowing ya’, and walked back to DC to turn in their stuff, and get their check.  So, by 4pm the battle was about even, and snacks were in short supply. The fans were a little dismayed.  General Beauregard (the Little Frenchman) had also had enough of the stalemate, and not wanting to be late for dinner (I added that part), ordered his confederate troops to “Charge”. Stonewall Jackson, additionally told his troops, “And when you charge, yell like furies!”…’that should make them shit their pants!’  And with that, the “Rebel yell”, was born.  David Bowie had nothing to do with it.  So, this apparently scared the shit out of the Union forces, so much so that they hastily advanced to the rear…also known as running away.  They fled in a very disorganized retreat.(I imagine a Three-Stooges style retreat here)  This of course was quite upsetting to the spectators, who having become a little bored with the lack of action, weren’t really paying attention, or were in the process of high-fiving over what they thought was going to be a big “W”.  NOT!  “WTF!” I’m sure they said, as the soldiers trampled over their neatly laid out picnic blankets near Centerville Virginia (a few miles from the actual battle). Being good citizens, some offered refreshments to the fleeing soldiers, while others threaten to shoot the same soldiers if they didn’t go back and fight. But like all superficial sports fans, who leave a perfectly good game early, believing they know the outcome, the spectators similarly packed their shit and left before the battle was fully over.  Actually it was a good thing, cause Union Army lost, BIG TIME!  That put two big battles in the WIN column for the Confederates and especially the Little Frenchman , who started this whole Civil War fighting thing when he successfully attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston South Carolina (April 12-13, 1861).

Following the successful “Charge” and dispersal of Union troops back to DC, Stonewall Jackson returned from battle to where Beauregard had withdrawn his troops.  Because both the Union and Confederate flags looked so similar (from a distance and when really tired), Beauregard got a little worried that he was about to get overrun, as he was not sure who was advancing on his position.

See the source image

[Insert counrty scene with Beauregard and Stonewall in conversation…Stonewall clasping Beauregard’s shoulder,

Stonewall: “Dude, it’s just me and the guys.  We won!”

Beauregard: “Ya scared me there for a moment. I thought I was gonna get my ass kicked.  We gotta do something about this flag.”

Stonewall:  “Ya, I was wanting to talk to you about that. General Lee has an awesome battle flag. A fully red flag with a big blue X with stars on it.  Dude, it’s really distinctive. We might think about getting a few from him”. 

See the source image

Beauregard: “Ya, that would be a little less confusing, and I wouldn’t have to change my shorts so often…if ya know what I mean.  Let’s celebrate with a drink!” 

Stonewall: “No thanks. I like liquor, its tastes and its effects, and that’s why I never drink it”. (true quote)

And with that, the Little Frenchman pops open a bottle of “local” wine and finishes it off himself]

…just like this nice bottle here.

img_20191005_133037108_hdr

So when everyone got back to DC, which miraculously only took a day for what remained of the army, and the smoke cleared, 2700 Union Troops had been either killed (460), wounded (1124) or missing (1312).  2000 Confederate troops had also been either killed (387), wounded (1582) or missing (13). This defeat woke up the North, and President Lincoln for that matter, to the fact that the South was serious about the economics of maintaining slavery and which powers (State vs Federal) rightly belonged to whom. In fact, so shocked by the loss, the next day, Lincoln signed a bill authorizing 500,000 more troops and 3 year enlistments. No more of this skipping off from a perfectly good battle, because your contract ran out.  Sadly, the 2nd Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas – if you’re a Confederate) would be won by the Confederates…again. Yet the Union would prevail, nearly 4 years later (April 9, 1965), but not without over 620,000 (some put it as high as 850,000) American soldiers (combined, both “sides) having lost their lives.

All joking and libations aside, the breadth of history (good and bad) that can be found within the DC area is mind boggling…or in this case, mind bottling.

…hic, hiccup.

 

Posted in Civil War, DC Adventures, Drunk History, Exploring Washington DC, First Battle of Bull Run, First Battle of Manassas, Uncategorized, Virgina wineries | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DC Tourist – Day Three

Unbelievably, there is more to do in DC than visit museums and wander downtown. As we are often drawn to adventures off the beaten path, today would be spent outdoors, and on a quest…of sorts. Having been fully enthralled with the International Spy Museum, and in particular the notorious US spy and FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, we discovered that Hanssen’s last “dead drop”, in Foxstone Park, was not far from our niece’s home, and on the way to the day’s planned adventure at Rock Creek National Park.Foxstone Park: Because the FBI’s recorded video of their takedown of Hanssen stated that he was arrested in a residential area near Foxstone Park, we plugged the park into our GPS. We knew that his last drop (USB Thumb drives) was placed under red footbridge in Foxstone park, in Vienna Virginia. Our mission, was to find that bridge and “re-inact” the drop. There are several paved paths within the neighborhood that weave through the park. We chose Foxstone Ave and parked in front of a house that looked like the one he had been arrested in front of. While it’s been nearly two decades since Hanssen’s arrest, I’m sure the neighborhood rolls their eyes (and curses the Spy Museum) when “tourists” pile out of their cars in search of Hanssen’s last drop. We brought our niece’s family dog with us as “cover”…and because he LOVES car rides, and walks.

We found a foot path in-between two homes. We couldn’t help but notice that it smelled like something had died nearby. Hmm, maybe we were on the right path, and this stench was supposed to be a permanent deterrent. The path led slightly downhill and into a wooded area. The path branched off immediately, in three directions with a low (grey) footbridge to our right.

This bridge was obviously too low, and not the right color. Straight or “uphill”? We headed straight for a bit into a green “tunnel” of healthy trees and low vines intertangled with poison ivy. Somehow, this direction did not feel right, so we headed back toward the “fork” in the road, to take the final path option. Turns out, that this one was the correct path. This reminded us that we should have employed our tried and truth method of route choosing, “when in doubt, Go Uphill”.

Soon we were at the Foxstone park sign.

Across a busy street from the sign was a closed off driveway to a parking area, and in the near distance, what appeared to be the infamous red bridge!

A QR sticker on the bridge confirmed we had successfully located the bridge.

As we looked under the bridge and “re-created” the drop, we couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous we looked and what a horrible place this was to have a dead drop so close to homes (that could see you) and a busy roadway (well, maybe not so busy then). There were so many areas along the way, that could have been used for dead drops than squatting under a foot bridge to drop a small package with thumb drives. But then one remembers, that this guy did this at several other places in the DC area, and for nearly two decades, so there is something to be said for hiding within “plain sight”. With that “mission” completed, we triumphantly headed back to the car for our next “quest”, The Capital Stones, but not without somehow driving off without the dog. Yes, we forgot to secure the dog (Chug) in the back of the car. We put him in the back, but we must have gotten distracted and therefore failed to fully close the rear hatch. We surmised that Chug must have leapt out just before we pulled from the curb. We didn’t notice that he was no longer in the car until the dinging sound, that we initially thought was the seatbelt reminder continued to “ding” as we pulled from the curb. A thoughtful look in the rearview mirror (after a short distance) to see ask who didn’t have their seatbelt fastened revealed Chug frantically galloping behind the car, in an effort to “catch” us. Horrified, we stopped immediately, glad we were driving in a neighborhood with absolutely NO traffic. With Chug securely loaded in the car, a new habit was instated, the “Chug check”, wherein all occupants are accounted for and all doors are secured…fully, before any vehicular departure.

Capitol Stones: We came to Rock Creek National Park, just outside of DC, in search of the Capitol Stones. The Capitol Stones are the “discarded” Aquia Creek sandstone blocks, steps, columns, etc, that were removed in 1958 from the East façade of of the U.S. Capitol building (where Congress “lives”), and replaced with exact replica, Georgia White marble. Being the nerds that we are, we thought it remarkable that something with such historical significance would just be plopped out in the open to weather the elements. These discarded sandstone pieces have witnessed, and been a part of, our country’s history for going on 200 years. Imagine the stories they could (and actually can) tell. Hence, our quest.For a historical perspective, take a look at the US Capitol building’s timeline below, to get an idea of how significant these stones, stacked up behind a Park’s maintenance yard are.https://youtu.be/jmo-A_8HoOMThe thought to repurpose these hundreds of stones for a new museum, was brought up and then quickly “buried” by the Congressional architect William Steward (a one term Congressman, and NOT an architect by trade), who was already getting crap about the cost of the mammoth remodel. He had sold Congress on the “need” for a remodel due to the cracking of the old sandstone façade. It is said that he also told the workers that he didn’t “care” where the Stones went as long as they were out of the city AND out of sight. So, they “dumped” (actually neatly stacked) them at Rock Creek National Park…behind what is now their maintenance yard. The original Capitol Columns, eventually ended up at the US Arboretum (another coming adventure). We parked next to Rock Creek Park’s Nature Center and made the short walk to the maintenance yard where we had to bushwhack around to the back to access the Stones. What a remarkable site.

Rows of often 10ft tall “walls”, of once magestic Stones stacked one upon another, in varied conditions, cover an area roughly the size of an Olympic size pool.

Some of these Stones are in pristine condition, while others are covered in faint green moss and/or blotches of lichen. As evidenced by the encroaching vegetation, it will not be long before the bulk of these Stones are swallowed up and “buried” by the surrounding vegetation’s natural tendencies.

We wish we had done a bit more research so that we could better “place” the Stones (in relation to the dismantled façade) we were viewing.

As I write this, we are continuing to research the “life” of these Stones. In fact, some of this cache of Stones have been used for restoration projects at the US Capitol and the Whitehouse. After wandering through and examining the Stones, we exited the cache and followed a well worn path to the Park’s “pink” blaze trail that would take us through some of the original and remaining “old growth” forest, which has been protected since 1890, when the land was set aside and the Park was created.

Rock Creek Park is an island of nature within the DC urban sprall, and holds a treasure trove of natural, cultural and archaeological history within its 1754 acres. Two interesting factoids, to wet your appetite. (1) Theodore Roosevelt was know to take many a walk through this Park over 100 years ago. And (2), lest we not forget, the mysterious murder and discovery of Congressional Intern, Chandra Levy’s decomposed body, was found in this Park in 2002. Nevertheless, our intension on this 4 mile or so hike was to see the Miller Cabin, one of the historic structures within the Park, but somehow (and not surprising) we missed a turn and ended up on the opposite site of the wide and cold creek, where the restored cabin stands. Somewhat famished, we bailed on figuring out another way to see this site in favor of heading to Old Alexandria for some much needed nourishment.

And while we would have loved to wandered this historic town, we had school age kids to get back to.

Posted in DC Adventures, Exploring Washington DC, International Spy Museum, Mini Adventures, National Parks, Side Trips, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DC Tourist -Day Two

Day Two, was spent at The International Spy Museum. The evening prior, our niece had purchased tickets online for a 1030 arrival, as the museum prefers to stagger it’s patrons for a more enjoyable experience. Ticket prices range between $18-23 dollars with children under 6 free, and discounts for active duty military. I can say without a doubt, that the experience is certainly worth the price of admission, as this museum is full of so much information your brain will hurt. We started our day unintentionally practicing good “spycraft”, having been dropped off at the King Street Metro station and boarding the wrong line, only to realize it once the Arlington stop came upon us. We exited at this stop in order to backtrack to the rail-line we needed to have boarded. Pretending we were “spies” we surmised that our inattention enabled us to identify a potential “tail”, as this was a sparsely populated stop. Releaved that no one exited with us (again thinking as “spies”), we joined a family of 4 that was on the platform waiting for the next train. In 4 minutes the appropriate line arrived and we headed back toward whence we came and got off at the Pentagon, where we changed rails and boarded the appropriate line to the L’Enfant Plaza Exit. Confident we had shaken any possible “tail”, we exited our stop and did our best to follow the “coded” directions provided by the Spy Museum’s website, which read as follows:

“The Museum’s address is 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW Washington, DC 20024.

METRORAIL

The closest Metro station is L’Enfant Plaza (Green, Yellow, Orange, Blue, and Silver lines).

Upon exiting the L’Enfant Plaza station, please proceed to the L’Enfant Plaza Mall Concourse, take the L’Enfant Plaza Exit up the escalator to enter the L’Enfant Plaza food court. Note: you will see Starbucks on your right as you reach the top of the escalator. Enter the glass doors straight ahead to access the food court. At the first hallway, when you reach Roti Mediterranean Grill, turn right.”

(For us, these directions, proved to be a total misdirection, which we found quite ironic considering the place we were trying to get to, and how our morning started. There was a Starbucks on our right at the top of the escalator, but the first hallway we reached, there was NO Roti Mediterranean Grill.)

Continue straight until you reach the Jamba Juice stand. You will see a large flight of stairs in front of you. Take the stairs up to the ground level and exit through the glass doors to your left once you reach the top. You have reached the back side of the Museum. Walk towards 10th street, SW to access the Museum’s main lobby doors. If an elevator is preferred, one is located in front of the Jamba Juice. Take it to the Plaza level. The Museum will be directly behind you when you exit from the elevator vestibule.”

So, what the directions don’t tell you, is once you exit the Metro, there is more than one escalator and which escalator to take. We, obviously chose the wrong one.

Not to worry, as we were resourceful and asked for directions, which also proved to be somewhat convoluted. We then accessed Google Maps, which also took us on a circutous route as well, but got us close enough to see the giant RED building, and we navigated from there, laughing all the way.

Once inside the museum, of which I suggest you bring a jacket, as it very cool inside as a climate control measure for the many artifacts on display within the museum, it is time to head to the “Briefing Center” where you recieve you “cover identity”, and should you choose to accept it…your Undercover Identity. Bum Bum Buuuum.  With your lanyard and “ID badge” (which you may keep), that is used for interactive purposes during your “mission”, you enter the dark world of the International Spy.

There are five centers of the museum to become totally immersed in:

  • Stealing Secrets: Here you can listen to first hand accounts of spying, and get a look at REAL gadgets and inventions/tools of the “trade” used to steal secrets.
  • Making Sense of Secrets:  Code cracking and turning secrets into useful information is explored/explained
  • Covert Action: Here ACTUAL and historical actions are on display in examples of, Sabatoge, Deception, Lethal Action, Secret Soldiers, Undermining Nations, Propoganda and Exfiltration (ie. the 2012 movie ARGO, that is a true story)
  • Spying the Shaped History:  This floor explores stories from the American Revolution to our current cyber warfare.  If you ever watched the remarkably historically accurate AMC series TURN (4 seasons now on Amazon Prime), you will see and learn about these real American Revolutionary spies.  An ACTUAL letter penned by George Washington to a revolutionary spy is on display.
  • An Uncertain World: How do countries/businesses (worldwide) respond to threats – real, percieved, or contrived.  What is the balance between security and freedom?  It is here that we learned a little more about some of the most notorious spies of the 20th Century, to include Robert Hanssen (who spied for Russia 1979-2001) that inspired a side trip for the following days adventure.  The 2002 TV/Movie “Master Spy”, and the book by David Wise, “SPY” explore the world of this notorious spy.

We spent a total of 5 hours at this fascinating museum, and we didn’t cover ALL that was housed within this treasure trove of information that tantilizes your senses and intellect. Interesting to note is that this museum operates as 501(c)(3) private non-profit and recieves no tax-payer/government monies to operatate.  Many of the artifacts are donated, or on loan from governments and private owners. (One of the cars from the many James Bond movies is on display) The nominal fee charged for admission goes to fund the museum’s research, exhibits and educational programs/events.

As we exited from the Debriefing Center, having “successfully” completed our “Undercover Missions”, we vowed to make it a point to return to this museum to complete our exploration of the world of the International Spy.  I wouldn’t be suprised if new and additional subjects/events/situations/inventions (think “current events”) will be on display.

 

 

Posted in DC Adventures, Exploring Washington DC, International Spy Museum, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The DC Tourist – Day One

Anytime we fly back east, no matter how you slice it, you lose a day of your life to travel. As eternal optimists we tried as we might to change that with an early, and I mean early (not red eye) flight. Daylight was still upon us when the shadow of our wings crossed the Potomac with the National Mall and the 555 foot tall Washington monument, and the  Jefferson Memorial, currently under renovation/cleaning, out our window, to our left.What used to seem larger than life was somehow reduced to a monopoly game pieces. We arrived at the Reagan Airport just in time to be caught in the traffic headed to the Washington Nationals ball park for their life or death wild card playoff game against the Brewers, of which we almost were able to attend. The fact that the Nationals won coming from behind in the 8th inning made for a spectacular finish, and not a total loss of a day. The days following, until the 8th, were to be filled with a plethora of “touristy” family activities with our niece and her husband (newly retired) as our guides.  To their kids dismay, they still had to go to school.

Day one began by with catching the Metro into downtown. As luck would have it (thank you Mother Nature), we arrived in DC during a record breaking heat spell, with this day being one of the hottest days (98 degrees) on record since 1941. As a result, any touring would be spent inside as much as possible. Our first stop, the Museum of Natural History, a three story collection exhibits, interpretive and interactive displays that span and “wet” the intellect of ages, of all things aquatic and terrestrial. Most of which having been formed and or existed thousands if not millions of years ago.

We found some displays more humerus than others…get it? Humerus?  Anyhoo, while their were several other areas within the Natrual History museum, we spent most of our time enthralled with the dinosaur exhibits, fascinated with not only the size of their bones, but more importantly the sharpness of their teeth.  I certainly would not wanted to be an early human, as they obviously, for some time, were NOT top of the food chain, but seemingly part of it.  Having “filled” our heads, it was time to fill our stomachs. And fill them we did with an amazing lunch at the historic Old Ebbitt Grill where the “who’s who” of DC can often be found. Fully satiated, it was time to view DC from a different perspective…The Old Post Office (circa 1899), specifically, its clock tower.

This building, located on 1100 Pennsylvania Ave (between Congress and the White House), operated as DC’s post office till the beginning of WWI and has gone through several renovations and uses to include nearly being demolished in the 70’s to make way for more office buildings. It’s Romanesque Revival style of architecture (1840-1900), a common style for churches and government buildings(1840-1925) with its monochromatic masonry, square towers and semi-circular window and door openings, just didn’t match the Federal Triangle complex it is nestled within and the immediate area’s architecture (Beaux Arts). It survived however, and in 2013 the U.S. General Services agency (GSA), the building’s owner, signed a 60 year lease with DJT Holdings LLC, who then repurposed the building into a 5 star luxury hotel, the Trump International Hotel.

Simply described in one word, Elegance.  The building’s exterior and interior atrium has kept its historical and intricate craftsmanship.  We however, were here to experience DC, and all its architectual glory and design from the clocktower.

If you read the panel above, you will discover how the celebration of “Flag Day” came about.

To access the clock tower, one enters from the “backside” of the hotel, adjacent the Starbucks.  From here you enter double doors, make a left, which leads you to the Trump store and a security guard who makes sure that you don’t have any liquids with you if you are headed to the clocktower.  You make a right and follow a long hallway adorned with very informative interpretive panels about the history surrounding the design of DC.  At the end of the hallway, and a right turn, you are met by a National Park Ranger who inquires from whence we came and directs us into the small elevator that first takes you to the 9th floor, where you can peak into the post office/hotel atrium/lobby-bar and the area where the pulls for the United States Bells of Congress, in which there are 6 varied size bells ( 581lbs – 2953 lbs) housed in the clock tower are located. The Washington Ringing Society is responsible for ringing these bells (a Bi-Centenial gift from England to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War) at the annual opening of Congress, Federal holidays and other special events.  They practice every Thursday to the tune of over 100db.

Once you pass the bell pulls, you board another elevator that takes you to the open air clock tower. From here, the 360 degree views are stunning. We lucked out with a near perfect bluebird day.Being able to see buildings from above in their “entirety” makes for a more complete perspective of the enormity and design of the Federal Triangle complex as well as other buildings within easy eyesight.  This 315 ft tall platform above DC, the second tallest in DC, also allowed for significant respite from the record breaking heat wave the city was experiencing.  Eventually we got thirsty and as Paul said, to the chagrin of a secruity guard who happened to ride the elevator down with us from the bell pulls level, “push C for cocktails”.  Considering that the hotel sported two bars (that we could see), we opted to enjoy a cocktail at the smaller and tucked away bar to the left of the lobby (as you enter the hotel), whose backbar facade sports original P.O. Boxes.  A pleasant conversation with the two bartenders tending bar, revealed that one of them hailed from Huntington Beach, where he worked as an ocean lifeguard.  Turns out we knew several of the same people…and the world shrinks, yet again!

Posted in DC Adventures, Exploring Washington DC, Mini Adventures, National Parks, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips (California)

April 11-12, 2019 As we were unable to pay for our site at Yosemite National Park’s Wawona Campground  the night before, we waited for the park aide to open the entrance station.  Seeing as Ethan (our #VanLife friend) is a medically retired Veteran, he offered to apply his discount to the site we occupied. Soon enough we are on the road to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.  This jointly run park (since 1940), is the second oldest National Park in the country (Yellowstone 1872, being the first). [Sequoia National Park having been created on September 25, 1890, and General Grant National Park (Kings Canyon) added a week later make it (Sequoia) #2 and #3 (Kings Canyon – maybe #4, as Yosemite may techinically have Kings Canyon/General Grant beat by a day or two) in the National Parks lineage.]  Out of Yosemite National Park, Wawona road melds into State Route (SR) 41, and skirts Freson as we turn “uphill” onto SR 180.  It takes us just under 3 hours to reach the entrance to Kings Canyon, “Land of the Giants”. img_20190411_113314412_hdr Kings Canyon National Park holds a special place in my heart, as it is where I got my first introduction to backpacking and camping in the “wild”. When I was 10 years old(or there abouts), and for Father’s Day, my dad and I went on a short backpacking trip to fish some streams in the area.  As I recall, less than an hour into the hike, I slipped and fell while crossing a stream (and looking for fish), which resulted in me becoming completely soaked…backpack and all.  My father reacted with an often heard phrase, “Now why’d you have to go and do that?”  As we enter, snow flanks the edges of road.  Signs posted along the road to the entrance remind us that chains may be required, and certainly 4WD is a plus.  We drive to Grant Grove Village where the Kings Canyon Visitor Center (open 9-4, daily) is located and inquire about trail conditions…if micro spikes or snowshoes would be more appropriate.  We are advised that snow shoes would be a “plus”, so we done our MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and tromps our way over uneven and often pine needle encrusted snow to the General Grant Tree, also known as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree and a national shrine”.   The General Grant Tree is a giant sequoia.  Giant sequoias only grow “naturally” on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. img_20190411_133225639 Under increasingly clouding skies and icy cool air we clumsily make our way to experience one of the world’s natural treasures.  Once again, we have a normally crowded park to ourselves.  Due to the excessive and late falling amount of snow, all of the campgrounds are still closed.  Day use, and/or those staying in the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village are the only visitors, which are remarkably few.   We are relative novices to the “art” of snowshoeing, and thus there is a slight learning curve.  One must pay particular attention to maintaining a wider gait to avoid stepping on one’s “feet”, which more than once resulted in a face plant into somewhat unforgiving snow.  Luckily there was no one nearby to witness our follies, or our frustration would have gotten the better of us. img_20190411_140320480_hdrWe made it to paved loop trail (that we could also have driven to) that contains the General Grant Tree and several other unique sites, and removed our snow shoes.  img_20190411_143021238img_20190411_140134815The General Grant Tree is fenced off so it is difficult to really show off this tree’s (and several others) massive girth and height.  The giant sequoias grow to upwards of 300 ft, with 40 foot diameter bases, 31 inch bark and branches that can be 8 ft in diameter.  These trees are resistant to fire and insects. In fact, their small egg sized cones generally only open and drop their seeds with fire.  img_20190411_142019498These magnificent trees mostly die of old age, generally having been blown over due to their shallow root system.  We meander along the trail, reading the interpretive signs and shaking our heads in wonder. img_20190411_142319107_burst000_cover_topWe make our way through the “fallen monarch”, and note newly fallen giant limbs having intersected violently with the wood rail fencing meant to keep visitors from wandering off the paved trail.  It makes us question the “wisdom” of walking back through the forest as the wind begins to pick up.  Literally throwing caution to the wind, we step back into our snowshoes and huff our way back to Grant Village and the warmth of our truck.  We are in luck, for the 32.5 miles, Generals Highway, that links King Canyon National Park with Sequoia National Park, has been plowed and is open. Had we arrived a day earlier, we would not have had the opportunity to drive this winding, narrow, steep, and scenic byway.  Vehicles greater than 22 ft are not recommended, and vehicles greater than 40 ft (12 m) are restricted from traveling on this road, even with a posted 10 mph speed limit.  We soon learned why. As it was built in 1935, most of today’s vehicle size (and speed) exceed the original design of this expertly engineered highway.  As of July of 2019, road construction has begun to widen narrow portions, fix/reinforce retaining walls and drainage issues.  Because of the still lingering depth of snow, we were not able to find a safe place in which to park our truck amidst the small and mostly filled to capacity lot, near the General Sherman Tree (274.9 ft), for the short snowy walk to gaze upon the “world’s largest living tree”.  We vow to return when conditions are better and the park shuttles are running, so as to avoid the stress of parking amongst “amateurs”. We continue on the Generals Highway and are not surprised to find that all other side trips within the park, like Morrow Rock, Crescent Meadow and Crystal Cave are all snow bound and thus inaccessible. What we are surprised to find is that as Generals Highway descends 7000 ft, out of the forest it weaves its way via butt-clenching, narrow, hairpin switchbacks that smoke our brakes to the point of significant worry.  (Note to self, on return trip, come up this way via SR 198 into Sequoia & Kings National Park and exit via SR 180.)
img_20190411_164047449

Note the silver ribbon of road that winds its way down the mountain

The views are stunning (for me).  Paul’s eyes are glued to the roadway, the at times head-on traffic and incessant tight and steep turns so as not to quicken our descent (or take a more “direct” route) down to the middle fork of the Kaweah River.  As no campgrounds were open in the upper portions of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, and road side camping is not allowed, our only hope to find a spot to camp is in the Foothills Campgrounds at either Buckeye Flat or Potwisha.  We pull into the Hospital Rock day use lot to let our brakes to cool off.  Across from there is the Buckeye Flats Campground whose entrance is a little too tricky for us to pull off with confidence in our truck.  Potwisha is our only hope. If not, the nearest Walmart here we come.  We pull into Potwisha and are able to grab the only site open…for one night only.  Hurray!   Exhausted we set up our camper surrounded by tall green grass and trees with brilliant fuscia colored flowers exploding from its branches.  The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River rages nearby.  No cell service exists here (for anyone), but an “ancient” and operable payphone provides connection to the “outside” world…if needed.  This reminds us that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to always activate and bring our 5 year old Delormne InReachSE (now Garmin) with us on our adventures, great and small.  Although the campground is full, we are treated to a quiet night’s sleep.  The following morning, after a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, we finish our descent of Generals Highway and exit Sequoia National Park onto SR 198 and head toward Visallia, the I-99 and eventually the I-5 freeway…home. Relieved that we have made it to a flat and wide roadway unscathed with brakes relatively intact, we come to a stop at our first traffic light only to find that once the light turns green, we are only able to accelerate at idle speed. The truck is running, we are in gear, but pressing the gas pedal generates no response.  We limp our way to the side of the road and pull off into an orchard.  A look under the hood and under the chasis does not reveal anything of note.  Luckily we have cell service, and our diesel mechanic at Rincon in San Clemente answers the phone.  Trouble shooting ensues as Paul and our mechanic tick off the possible problems.  At last it is discovered that the throttle cable head has become dislodged, actually worn to the point of failure.  Somehow the cable head needs to be re-attached in order for us to limp home, or even get to a mechanics shop.  After numerous failed  attempts at zipties, miraculously, Paul is able to rig a bungee cord to the throttle head/cable that allows us to limp all the way home.  As we traveled home, praying that the fix would hold, we can’t help but laugh about how all our adventures seem to begin and end with some form of mishap.
Posted in Calilfornia, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Mini Adventures, Mis-adventures, Side Trips, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments