Favorite thing: Beware of Museum hours. Generally all the museums close at 5 PM or so. We saw on the Smithsonian website that the Museum of Natural History had summer hours and closed at 7:30. We hit all the other stuff early and headed to Natural History at 5:45 only to be greeted by a sign that said they closed at 5:30 today. No dinosaur bones for the kids.
The museums in the Mall area (aka downtown DC) usually change two or three of their exhibits each month so there's always something new to see. The greatest thing is that most of the places you visit are free!
Aside from seeing the national monuments, I highly suggest visiting the National Zoo (free admission) and the Holocaust Museum. With the Holocaust Museum, I advise you get tickets ahead of time via the internet: http://www.ushmm.org/ or by telephone ($2 convenience fee) since they often run out of tickets by 10am.
Another fantastic site is the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The admission price used to be $13; however, I'm sure it's gone up in the past 5 years. You can often find discount tickets around the city.
Finally, the Cherry Blossom Festival in March is the next best thing to actually seeing it in Japan.
I have both positive and negative impressions from my visit to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
It's the world's largest collection of historic air and spacecraft with a lot of attractions for kids. I have seen hundreds of original, historic artifacts on display, including the highlights:
- Wright 1903 Flyer (the first successful airplane)
- the Spirit of St. Louis (the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in history - 1927)
- the Apollo 11 command module Columbia (first manned lunar landing mission - 1969)
- a Lunar rock sample that visitors can touch
- original space suites worn during the first walk on the Moon in 1969.
There are 22 exhibition galleries, the Albert Einstein Planetarium, IMAX Theater, and flight simulators. I enjoyed especially the Early Flight, Apollo to the Moon and Space Race gallery.
The museum is large but over-crowded both by historic air and spacecrafts on display and countless number of visitors. The large size exhibits of great historical value need both some distance and peace and quite to be amazed. Unfortunarelly they are packed one by one along the overcrowded and noisy main hall of the museum. Most of the galleries I visited were much better set up but overcrowded by visitors which was inconvenient as although some of them didn't attract me much I couldn't go through them faster. I can't say a good word about their food-court-style restaurant as well, except that it was not very expensive.
It seems that Smithsonian Institution is on the way to solve the problem as the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport (in Virginia!) has been already opened since 2003. Construction and move-in continues there.
More details and pictures in my Things To Do tips # 129 - 138. Start here, please.
When I was in DC, the best Smithsonian Museum in my opinion, that was the National Museum of the American Indian had been just opened for visitors. It's often called shortly the Indian Museum (or the Native American Museum). There were crowds of visitors waiting in a long line but it couldn't discourage me especially that I fell in love in impressive, wonderful, modern architecture of the edifice with no straight lines, no strict symmetry but full of curved surfaces and lines. This design imitates our nature thus looks very friendly, and somewhat warm and human. Well, once someone said that symmetry is a feature of fools.
Futher on I was amazed by the huge exposition itself and a multimedial way it's shown. The educational value of this museum is outstanding and the world should learn from the Smithsonians how to set up museums they to attract their visitors a lot.
The Smithsonian Institution is a powerful research and education center financed by US Congress (read: Federal tax payers - over US$ 500,000,000 a year) and sponsors. Some VT-ers, I know, are members of this great institution based in Washington, D.C. The organisation was founded in 1846 under terms of the will of James Smithson of London. He bequeathed his fortune to the United States (1829) to create an establishment for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The institution began as a museum and today "the nation's attic" is the largest museum in the world. There are 18 Smithsonians Museums (of which 13 in Washington, DC), 140 affiliate museums (all over the USA) and 9 research centers now. All their museums are FREE for visitors.
More details and pictures in my Things To Do tips # 90 - 128. Start here, please.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a very interesting collection of the 20th century art especially for those crazies who love various strange three-dimensional compositions made by people who named thesemselves artists and can influence many, them to call them geniuses of art, to publicise and eventually to buy their artworks at highly unreasonable price.
Fondest memory: Well, anyway, I like to look at them, I mean works of art not their difficult authors (well, they all passsed away, where are successors?) like:
1. Alexander Calder (American, 1898–1976); very ambitious; he first became an engineer but unfortunatelly instead of building bridges and highways in a just borning car country he went to Paris where he - weak character - followed his new friends and started to build abstractions in motion later called "mobiles", moving (kinetic) sculptures. When it had become to be boring he continued with "stabiles." I've seen his mobiles in Berlin, Germany recently.I would love to see one in my yard.
2. Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986); he wanted to create sculptures which represent dignity, monumentality, power, and timelessness, something close to minds of those in power, but he was very unstable and was changing his style so often that looking at his works of art I usually can't proudly say: "look, that's Moore."
3. Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917); he must had been always unemployed as he managed to create unbelievable number of sculptures including human beings in move but without a head. He was a good and sensitive observer, I see or his skills were limited, a head is a difficult part for each artist; well, maybe the Smithsonians couldn't afford his headed sculptures. I saw huge collection of his sculptures across the Mall in National Art Gallery West Building 3 days before, DC must love him, boring...
Let me add one more name I didn't know before:
4. Juan Munoz (Spanish, 1953 - 2001).
I liked a lot his composition of 3 + 1 + 1 almost human statues (Last Conversation Piece, 1994-95) standing on a lawn outdoors.
This pretty renovated building stands steps away from the White House (726 17th St NW, corner Pennsylvania Ave.). It was designed in the Second French Empire style by noted architect from New York City, Renwick Jr. who had already designed famous St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC and the Castle in Washington, DC. The writing on the wall says: "Dedicated to Art." And the edifice was the city's first art museum completed in 1861.
Fondest memory: I was really impressed looking at pretty exterior of the edifice but nothing compare to its stylish interiors. I have almost always seen pictures hang on empty walls of large rooms in galleries which is quite boring. Forget about it in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery. Let me say about the most impressive Grand Salon which is a huge room or a chamber set up like an ellegant 19th century collector's picture gallery. There are some old furnitures to look at and pantings from the collection are hung salon-style, top-to-bottom and side-by-side. I liked this way of showing old paintings, unusual nowadays.
I am not familiar with 19th - 21th American painting and art so better check their webpage to see what's on display. Hmm... I liked a few works of art like ironwork (doors or gates) and rocking chairs which were for me good introduction just before heading to the South.
I recommend National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) for all fans of the least visited and known continent and those who want to see African ceramics, textiles, furniture, tools, masks, figures, musical instruments (drums and very rare ones) etc. The large collection includes both tradition-based and contemporary works of art. Warnings: the interiors are mostly dark, you are not allowed to use flash, the use of a tripod requires permission; I wanted to buy a CD with "the best African folk music" but touristy price (over $20 for 30 min.) luckily discouraged me. The 70-min. CD of that music cost $3 - 10 in my hometown.
The creators of tradition-based art in Africa, in contrast to Europe and America, became known exclusively in their often small communities. Thus their names are unknown until now. Usually the name of local community or culture is marked. I've learned again that there is no one African culture but thousands ones made by numerous tribes, groups of people and communities.
Fondest memory: MASKS
I was a fan of African masks some time ago. I have finally bought one but in an African shop in Krakow, Poland. It's a wooden face mask painted in black and dark brown with a writing TAMBO, KENYA on the backside. It was made in Taiwan, China or noone knowns where else, I guess. I was dissapointed not to find any, even one, similar mask among tenths displayed in the museum. As I noticed, the real African masks are round or more often oval (sometimes unnaturally long), not almost rectangular ones like my fake mask. More, there have been masks from numerous African countries on display but to my surprise not from Kenya. Didn't they use them there?
I tried to make a research in the museum and point out where the most beautiful face masks are from. I coudn't find a single region but the masks from Liberia, Cote d 'Ivoire and Guinea attracted me most. Next travel destination for me?
Favorite thing: This museum contains a great number of exhibits concerning nature and human existence -- but it also contains some great jewelry as part of the geological and gemological exhibitions. This isn't the Hope diamond, but it is the crown given to Marie-Therèse by Napolean I.
National Air and Space Museum maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. It is also a vital center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight, as well as planetary science and terrestrial geology and geophysics.
Look at the size of this Pentagon flag! This flag was unfurled at the Pentagon on Sep 12, 2002, the morning after the terrorist attack. It draped the damaged West wall of the Pentagon for a month as a symbol of national unity and resilience. It was installed in the museum as a part of the commemorative exhibition September 11:Bearing Witness to History. The exhibition was on a national tour when I visited the museum, but the flag remained on display.
Below the flag there was a commemorative picture of Ronald Reagan who died a few days before.
I was really moved. Having seen Ground Zero in NYC just over two weeks before, I was now facing another reminder of that terrible 911 tragedy.
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