On our third day of our Washington, DC trip, we opted to try out the Metro system for transportation. We had heard from the concierge and other locals – the train is THE way to get around in DC conveniently and inexpensively. Going on the Metro was an experience in itself when you don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to do.
It’s really mostly an automated system. You figure out where you you are, figure out where you want to be, and put enough money into some ticket machines located at each station, and buy a ticket. I’m sure the system is easier when you know WHERE you are and where you want to be! But we did finally figure it out, and it took us to our destination in less than two minutes. Sure beats walking in the cold or paying too much for a cab…
We ended up beneath the The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. What a HUGE building – we learned later is the largest building in Washington (3.1 million square feet). As we were walking through its courtyard area to the street, I couldn’t help but be just awestruck by its size. From what I later learned, there’s all kinds of interesting things to see in the building as well. But we had another destination in mind – the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
Reaching for the door – we discovered we were an hour too early. Across the street was the National Archives – also not open yet. We wandered around its massive structure and watched all the construction workers on a web of scaffolding on all sides of the building. Across the street was the US Navy Memorial Plaza – a location we wanted to visit anyway. We clearly found Michigan on a map of the world in the center of the plaza – and Russ knew he had to take my portrait there from my MichiganMoments.com website.
Enough time had passed to hit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum right as the doors were opening. A person could easily spend a whole, full day here – and then some. There was a special new exhibit about the oceans, and it was amazing. We pressed on – wanting to make sure we got to see the fossils and dinosaur bones – something you don’t see in museums here in Grand Rapids. A saber-toothed cat sure must have been one frightening animal in its day – it’s hard to imagine anything with fangs like that! Other interesting exhibits included one on the Rastafarian culture and many African artifacts. Of course, we went to see the Hope Diamond (OK – I’ll admit it – we both thought it would be larger?).
I personally just had to see the Nature’s Best Photography 2008 Windland Smith Rice International Awards exhibit, as I have submitted images for this competition in the past. Let’s just say… the selected 45 pieces of photography left me feeling like I need to try… a LOT harder. WOW…
We had about three more hours after our lunch at the Smithsonian before needing to return for the National Geographic Adventure Celebration. So we popped back over to the National Archives. We knew it would be a bit unpatriotic unless we saw the Declaration of Independence first-hand. First, I will say the Archives probably has more important documents than any other place in the world. Second, I imagine it would take a lifetime to see everything stored inside. Third, there is some very SERIOUS security inside that building!
While I’m thinking about it – I wish to say – Washington DC is the most UNFRIENDLY place to use a tripod I’ve ever experienced. And unfortunately, most places are so dark inside, you truly need to use a tripod. Basically – everywhere you go (indoors and out!) – if you start to use a tripod, some security person will appear out of nowhere and bark at you to put it away. I was told not to have it in the sidewalk in front of the White House, on the plaza outdoors at the Washington Monument, some areas of the National Cathedral, at the Smithsonian, and here at the Archives. It really reduced the tripod to a conductor for frozen fingers, carrying it everywhere uselessly…
… but I digress. Knowing we had just an hour or so – we went directly to the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, which is the permanent home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. It is very, VERY dim inside the Rotunda – they are doing their best to protect the documents from further deterioration.
Well – I was truly surprised to discover how faded the documents are! If you want to read them, you’re better off doing so online or via a reproduction! We also wandered about a display in the Archives and realized that you really could spend a week (or a month!) in there. It was a bit overwhelming – and we were tired – so we headed back to the train station.
The time was drawing near… we headed the hotel to get ready for the Celebration!