It was getting quite cold and overcast, and parking was atrocious; we headed for the main building, called the Smithsonian Castle, which should be the starting point of any visit to this incredible compendium of displays. Yes, we got our answer, and we were thrilled! Except, it entailed some more walking to something called the "Ripley" . At first sight, it’s hard to tell if you are going into a museum or a fancy newspaper kiosk in Paris. Where the hell is the building? Go inside, and you’ll see the elevator going down. Yes, it’s all underground, and it even has halls which connect to the Sackler Gallery and the Museum of African Art .
As we arrived, it was not obvious that anything was going on, Viet Nam-wise or otherwise. As we began to walk, a gigantic road sign greeted us on the left with the words "Little Saigon". Please bear in mind that we had been to Viet Nam twice, and we both had a tremendous appreciation of the culture. Seeing this exhibit felt like closing an open-ended loop. Everything we saw was familiar, and yet we learned even more than we thought we could.
The lay out: both sides of the corridor contain a history of the South Viet Namese plight after 1975. Maps designate various camps, which provided temporary housing; sound bytes written by those that escaped, revealing their hopes, fears, despair. Off the wall displays included their national dish, pho, that we know and love so much. A typical refugee shelter is recreated with notes. Menus of area restaurants stand proud; testimonial videos are heard.
Toward the end of the exhibit are the life size images of famous Viet Namese Americans; the only one I recognized was Joy Chen, since I used to watch her on CNN. Below, I’ve copied the writing on the walls for you:
"We came to America not for material gain, but for freedom"
"We can never go back to our happy homes of the past…We can only go forward to build a new beginning."
"Our boat was made of bamboo and with 30 others, we sailed out to sea. Some of us died of thirst, some of starvation. "
"Throughout the green tent city, the sound of weeping was my refugee camp lullaby. "
"Of all my titles, I am most proud of being Vietnamese American. "
Results 1-9of 9 Reviews
Bayside, New York
May 11, 2007
From journal March on Washington
sorrento, undefined, Australia
March 11, 2005
The Smithsonian's museums are easily accessible by subway (hop off at the Smithsonian stop on the blue and orange lines) althoug you'll need a bit of stamina to walk between them. As with all major attractions in Washington since 9/11, security is tight and you'll have to go through a security process at each location. This can be tiresome, especially in winter with all the trappings of coats, boots, brollies etc but a smile (and no jokes) is the smoothest way through.
Most of the Smithsonian's museums are open from 10am to 5:30pm, and best of all, entry is free. For more information, log on to www.si.edu or call (202)633 1000.
Unfortunately, the Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum were closed for renovation when we visited, but there are plenty of other choices. The African Art Museum is an absolute must-see.
The only disappointment for us was the newly opened American Indian museum. Perhaps they haven't finished stocking it yet, but we found this architectually exciting building almost empty and uninspiring. Spend your time elsewhere - especially if you have kids.
One other word of advice - plan ahead if you want to eat! While the Smithsonian boasts more than 140 million artefacts, we found a decent feed hard to find. Your best bet is the food court in the Natural History museum, where quantities are large and sugar content is relatively low. Go for soup and salad. If your kids will only eat pizza, buy one serving - they're about the size of roof tiles and will easily satisfy two to three little kids' appetites (and it's only a few metres' walk to the dinosaur afterwards...).
From journal Washington in a Week
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 28, 2004
From journal Washington, DC 2003
madison Heights, Michigan
December 19, 2003
From journal Washington DC weekend
July 26, 2003
The Smithsonian is the world's largest museum complex and research organization. The Institute is composed of 14 museums and The National Zoo in the DC Area, and two museums in NYC.
A Break Down
The Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture has collections, studies, and exhibitions of African American history and culture.
The Arts and Industries Building has special changing exhibitions and Discovery Theater (for the kids).
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery holds Asian and a specialized collection of American art.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden houses Modern and contemporary art.
The National Air and Space Museum contains history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight.
The National Museum of African Art houses collections, research, and exhibitions of African art.
The National Museum of American History, Behring Center exhibits the history of science, technology, society, and culture in America.
The National Zoological Park is home to 3,600 animals from 475 species in a 163-acre biological park.
The National Postal Museum is an interactive museum of postal history and philately.
The National Museum of Natural History houses artifacts of nature.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery are now both open after renovation! Thank you M. Nunnelly!
Dining with History
The Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, the Arts and Industries building, the Natural History Museum, the National Zoo, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden all contain food service.
On the Mall
In pleasant weather, a picnic on the grassy, tree-lined National Mall can add to your day's enjoyment. You should bring your own provisions or you can purchase a variety of fast foods from street vendors or from National Park Service refreshment stands.
Oh, and don’t forget...
Nine of the 14 Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., span and area from 4th to 14th Streets between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue, that's approximately 4/5 miles! Because you are going to do a lot of walking between and within museums, plan to wear comfortable clothing and shoes!
More information about the Smithsonian Institute can be found at their website!
From journal Wonderful Washington
Warwick, United Kingdom
May 9, 2002
The National Air & Space Museum has a good restaurant and several floors of rockets, planes and specialist displays that are changed quarterly.
The National Museum of History has the largest Diamond in the world, which is worth a look at...not to mention lots of hands on displys and large stuffed animals.
The National Museum of America History has an interesting feature - a large pendulum which doesn't move, the earth is moving around it - a weird sensation as you watch it knock over the candles. Plus it has displays of native americans and american culture over the years.
The National Gallery is in two buildings - East and West - they take time but are spaciuos and have a nice coffee area.
The Holocaust museum is NOT for children, it's distressing to see the pictures and films, don't go if you don't want graphic details of the horrific attrocities of war.
All the museums have great bookstores and or souvenir stores.
From journal A Year in Washington D.C
December 13, 2001
The world-reknowned Smithsonian Institution has a remarkable history. It came about because of an extraordinary bequest by a 19th century English Oxford don, one James Smithson, the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, first Duke of Northumberland. After struggling for years to be accepted by his father, he developed a rather heightened sense of the importance of "legacy." According to the terms of his will, his fortune was to go first to a nephew, who died just a few years later. In the event that the nephew had no heir, then the money should go "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." This was in fact what happened. His
assets were converted into 105 bags of gold sovereigns worth some US $515,000, in those days a vast sum.
At first, many people, including members of Congress, felt it in some sense undignfied to accept such a gift. Better sense prevailed - not least because of the influence of former president, John Quincy Adams - and in 1846 the structure we still see today was built. During the tenure of its first secretary, physicist Joeseph Henry, it served as a scientific center. It was only after his death that it assumed its role as a repository for national treasures, for which it is so justly renowned today. It now comprises 14 museums, 8 of them on the Mall, with an annual budget of more than a half billion dollars, making it the largest and richest institution
of its kind in the world.
The following Washington museums make up the Smithsonian Institution:
Arts and Industries Building
Freer Gallery of Art
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of African Art
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of the American Indian (projected opening: 2002)
Off the Mall
National Museum of American Art
National Portrait Gallery
National Postal Museum
National Zoological Park
New York City
Cooper-Heweitt National Design Museum
From journal Washington, D.C., an American Anomaly
Little Rock,, Arkansas
July 21, 2001
From journal Let's Lobby Washington
Cary, North Carolina
July 10, 2000
From journal Something for all seasons in Washington, DC