Written by zabelle on 24 Jun, 2006
Getting to Arlington couldn’t be easier. We actually went in a cab on the way there and then bought a day pass on the metro and took the metro back to Dupont Circle. It involved one change at metro Center from the Blue line to…Read More
Getting to Arlington couldn’t be easier. We actually went in a cab on the way there and then bought a day pass on the metro and took the metro back to Dupont Circle. It involved one change at metro Center from the Blue line to the Red line. The Metro station is just a short walk from the visitor center. However you arrive make the visitor center your first stop. If you are already on the Tourmobile tour you will just have to change over to the Cemetery tour, if not for $6 you can hop on and off the tourmobile at any of their three stops. One benefit of the tourmobile is that they narrate as they go along and point out things that you might miss on your own. We picked up a map of the cemetery at the visitor center so that we would be familiar with some of the more famous graves.The first stop on the tour is the Kennedy graves. It is very poignant for anyone of my generation. We can all tell you exactly what we were doing when we were told that the president had been shot. We all felt as if we knew the First family and the whole country went into mourning. I had been here before in 1967 when I came on a school trip and then again when my children were young but this was the first time I came since Jackie had joined her husband. Even if you aren’t a Kennedy fan the view from his grave is enough to make it worth a visit. You get a clear shot to the Lincoln memorial in one direction and the Custis-Lee mansion in the other.The second stop on the tour is the tomb of the unknown. There are three unknowns buried here, one from World War I; World War II and the Korean War. There was an unknown from the Vietnam War but with DNA testing his remains were identified and his family requested that his remains be returned to his hometown , which they were. At 1:30 we watched the changing of the guard ceremony. It is very touching and done with a great deal of reverence. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day. While here you can look for Audie Murphy’s grave, the memorial to the Challenger and Columbia crews, and the men who died attempting to free the Iranian hostages. You can also see the mast of the Maine, which was sunk at the beginning of the Spanish American War. One new addition is the grave of the captain of the flight that was flown into the Pentagon on 9/11. The third and final stop is the Custis Lee Mansion. This is a self guided tour of the former home of Robert E. Lee. It came to him through his wife Marianna who was the daughter of George Washington Payne Custis the adopted grandson of George Washington. The federal government sold the house for back taxes during the Civil War and Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs recommended that the Lee property be used for a National Cemetery. They then buried the first bodies as close to the house as possible to keep the family from ever returning. They never did. Robert E. lee made his home in Lexington Va where he taught at Washington-Lee University. Beyond the stops there are many places that are of further interest in the cemetery. If you have a family member buried here, there is a special desk at the visitor center that will help you to locate their grave. This is a solemn place to visit as well as a very historic one. For the most part there was complete silence during the changing of the guard even though there were hundreds of people watching and the same was true at the Kennedy graves. Close
Written by Shady Ady on 23 Jun, 2006
Well, finally after 3 years of work, and god knows how long spent writing my thesis, I have finally gained my Masters degree, passing with a Merit. I was a little disappointed with this, especially my thesis mark, which was the lowest in all my…Read More
Well, finally after 3 years of work, and god knows how long spent writing my thesis, I have finally gained my Masters degree, passing with a Merit. I was a little disappointed with this, especially my thesis mark, which was the lowest in all my 3 years of study! Obviously it goes to prove that the less time you spend doing a piece of work, the better the marks you get!! I have also managed to get my visa sorted for Ecuador as well, which is a relief and finally means I now have everything sorted for the next part of my trip.As per usual the World Cup is keeping me entertained. Unlike the first England game, the last two I have watched in bars, hoping for a little bit of atmosphere. So when I walked into a local bar down the road from where I live, and saw about 20 people, some of which were decked in England colours, I thought my wishes had come true. It wasn't until I got closer though that I realised, these weren't English but in fact Americans, all shouting for England. It seems that here in America, you don't have to support your country if they aren’t any good. This was confirmed upon entering a sports shop when after one of the shop assistants recognised I was English, told me in a broad American accent that like England, his team had easily made it through to the second round. Obviously I was a little confused at this, seeing that the USA had been knocked out a day earlier. See my confused expression, the shop assistant exclaimed, that Germany was his team, and you can't go wrong supporting a team like Germany. I was always brought up supporting the country in which you were born and live, but I must be wrong!! I was later informed that Americans hate to lose, so by supporting a team that is actually good at 'soccer' you lose less often! Genius!!!I managed to watch the third England game in one of the main pubs in Washington DC, and luckily I found myself surrounded by fellow English men, which gave a bit more of an atmosphere to the game. In future though I have made a mental note that it is not a good idea for pre-match preparations to include a trip around a Holocaust Museum. Constantly seeing graphic image after graphic image for this length of time is certainly not good for morale or enthusiasm!! Saying this though, the Holocaust Memorial Museum was an eye opener of how evil the human race can sometimes be and a memorial I would recommend to anyone visiting Washington, DC. The 10-hour journey to Washington DC was definitely worth it, not only for obtaining my visa. I was a little apprehensive seeing that Washington, DC is said to be one of the most dangerous cities in America, but I failed to see any of this dangerous side when I was there. Being as stingy as I am, Washington impressed me even more as all of the museums and art galleries are free. Although if you want to get in many of them then you have to start queuing at 6 in the morning, and with a free breakfast on offer there was no way I was going to be doing that!!Obviously I partaked in all of the typical tourist sightseeing, including the White House, State Capitol, Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial made famous by Martin Luther King, and to a lesser extent Forrest Gump. But the thing I found most intriguing about Washington were the homeless people. Now I know almost every big city has homeless people, but it seemed that almost all of the homeless people in Washington suffered from one type of schizophrenia or another. It was almost impossible to walk around and not see this. During the 4 days I spent there I saw one guy riding an imaginary bus, who then stopped his imaginary bus to let on some imaginary passengers. Another guy ran past riding an imaginary horse, whipping it ferociously in an attempt to go faster. There were also the numerous people who must have thought they were Martin Luther King himself giving a momentous speech about a democratic and equal society in front of thousands of people. Unfortunately, they weren’t talking to anyone. It just goes to show what you can do if you have a vivid imagination!!The only downside with Washington while I was there was being stuck in the middle of a horrendous thunderstorm while on the way back to the hotel. As we were walking through a park with the only cover being trees we decided that getting wet was less of a risk. By the time we had walked the 500 yards out of the park we were already as wet as we would have been jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool, and we still had a 2-mile walk back to the hotel! Unfortunately I had decided to wear a slightly tight fitting shirt, not because I wanted to look buff, because of the weight gain experienced in the past few months. Because of this it meant I had to parade through the entire downtown of Washington as though I was taking part in a prestigious wet T-shirt competition. I have no doubt in my mind that if it really was a wetT-shirt competition I would have walked away with first prize. To help vent some of my anger and embarrassment I decided to stick the V-signs up at numerous cars who failed to stop at the pedestrian crossings for me, which was infuriating. None of the cars though knew what I was implying with the V-sign though, as in America they only know the one finger salute. How rebellious!! I have now been living in Louisville for 4 weeks and I swear the house I’m living in is haunted. I have always been skeptical of such things until now but when you are home alone and start hearing doors opening and footsteps all the time then you start to wonder. At least I wasn't as unlucky as my girlfriend who, after taking an afternoon nap, awoke to hear footsteps walking towards her and then someone sitting down on the edge of her bed. When she opened her eyes there was no one there at all. Very freaky indeed!! Because of these ghostly experiences I have decided the best measure to take is to sleep with the light on. Quite pathetic when you remember I’ll be rubbing shoulders with Colombian guerrillas in the next few weeks!! Other than this, I have yet again been amusing myself with my sarcasm, and the fact that most people don’t understand it at all. While watching the World Cup I was asked why only one African team was still in it. I replied by saying that all the others had unfortunately been shot for being rubbish. Upon saying this I was met with a look of shock, horror, and disbelief. It still amazes me after all my time here how little my sarcasm is understood. Maybe it’s just me that’s the problem here!!My next email will be sent from California as I’ll be travelling there next Monday before I fly to Costa Rica. Although I’m intrigued to see the difference between California and where I am currently living, I’m not really that excited about the prospect of a 55 hour continuous bus journey. The trip to Washington was bad enough but 55 hours is going to be a killer! I'm sure though that there will be enough interesting characters to keep me entertained.Close
Written by JulieHolm on 29 Aug, 2005
The District of Columbia has recently instituted a new bus, called the "Circulator" as a transport option in Washington, DC. This bus is a convenient and inexpensive way to get close to some of the most popular spots in the city, and it may well…Read More
The District of Columbia has recently instituted a new bus, called the "Circulator" as a transport option in Washington, DC. This bus is a convenient and inexpensive way to get close to some of the most popular spots in the city, and it may well be the best option for public transport to Georgetown, but it has its limits.
On a recent Wednesday, I decided to try the Circulator Bus to have a weekday lunch with a friend. She works at the Kennedy Center, I work near Union Station. Metro would have cost me $1.35 and entailed changing trains at Union Station, which involves an unpredicatable wait, so I thought this one-vehicle trip might be better.
I boarded the bus at Union station. The busses are distinctive and bright; they board right near the metro exit at Union station in the westmost corner of the station. It was not hard to find their distinctive logo. I paid my $1 fare on the way in with cash, but could have gotten a ticket from a machine at the stop, or used my smart trip card. There are also transfers allowed from metro and other circulator busses.
The bus is, of course, very clean and new, since this is a new service. It's less like the typical metro bus, and more like the big open busses more typical of European cities (I've got pictures of front and back of the bus).
One confusing thing had to do with the route map. I wanted to exit at 24th Street, on the way west, and I even asked the driver, who was clearly new, if the bus stopped at that point. She was unsure but looked at the map and said yes, it did. Warning: the bus does not stop at 24th Street going westbound. I had to travel through georgetown and come back in order to get to my stop, about 8 blocks from the Kennedy Center.
This is also not a fast mode of transport. With many stops, and driving through traffic, it was close to 45 minutes to get from Union Station to Georgetown at the height of lunch hour. While this was annoying to me, it's less of an issue for someone who is a tourist, and I expect that this will be less of an issue for a tourist.
There are two circulator bus routes. One goes from Union Station to the DC Convention Center, then on down K Street all the way to Wisconsin Avenue, in Georgetown before returning via M Street and Pennsylvania to K street. That's the yellow route, which I rode.
The red route, which I did not ride, runs from the convention center on the north end, to the waterfront at Maine Avenue and 7th Street on the south end. In the mantime it crosses the mall, past archives and chinatown all the way to Maine Avenue. These are big loops and very convenient for heading around town. Note that there are not currently multi-trip or day tickets, although day tickets are promised in late fall 2005.
Undoubtably a boon to tourists, I recommend the ciruclator. Their web site is at http://www.dccirculator.com/
Written by JulieHolm on 04 Apr, 2003
If you ave visiting Washington, DC, your best transport option, at least when in town, will be the subway system, or metro. This journal entry is about how to use the metro.
Metro stations are identified by a tall square column at the entrance (usually…Read More
If you ave visiting Washington, DC, your best transport option, at least when in town, will be the subway system, or metro. This journal entry is about how to use the metro.
Metro stations are identified by a tall square column at the entrance (usually an escalator.) If you do not know where to find a metro station, head for the Mall, and go over near the castle. Just west of the castle, on the mall, you will encounter one of the entrances to the Smithsonian Metro Station. Go into the station and get a system map to help you find your way around.
BUYING A FARECARD
Once you have figured out where you want to go (and all of the entries in this journal will include the closest metro stop), then enter the system. Your first step will be to buy a farecard. To do this, you first decide what kind of a card you want (a regular farecard, a day pass, a weekly pass, a $20 plus farecard; more on this later). The simplest choice, but not usually the best is a farecard for the amount of one trip. To determine this, there is a sign in every metro station, on the kiosk, giving the cost to every other station in the system. You need to figure out if you are in rush hour or not (hours are on the sign).
Once you have figured out what amount of farecard you need, you go to a farecard machine and buy a card. Be careful, because the machines will NOT return change over $5; save those larger bills for something else. Put your money in, use the buttons on the front of the machine to set the amount you want to spend, press the button and out pops your farecard.
GETTING ON THE TRAIN
It is important to know what color line you are on, and in what direction you are going. This is pretty much the same as any subway in the world. You will put your farecard in the turnstile, and it will come out on the top (except for handicapped turnstiles, where it comes back out where you put it in). You grab it and go through, then find the right platform. Don't feel embarrased to ask one of us Washingtonians. We're usually happy to help.
There are a couple of rules that I should make you aware of before you get on the train. First on all escalators: it is the custom for standers to stay right, so walkers can move up the left. We're all in a hurry here in Washington, so let us past.
Secondly, we wait for the people getting off the train to exit before we get on the train.
Thirdly no food, drink, smoking, or music without headphones is allowed in the system. They are serious about this and do ticket, though not terribly often. But if you don't follow this rule, you'll get a lot of dirty looks; this really is important to us.
GETTING OFF A TRAIN.
Like I said, we wait for folks to get off the train, but be ready to get off when you get to the stop. Then be careful to see which of up to 4 entrances you really want to leave from. Getting off in the wrong direction can mean a six to eight block walk, sometimes!
When you come to the turnstiles, again you must put your farecard through. If you bought an exact change farecard, the system will keep it. If you bought a pass or a larger amount, then the system will spit it back to you. On a farecard with an amount, it will print the balance on the farecard. If you happen to not have enough money on your farecard, the system will not let you out and you need to go to the machines near the exits to pay the rest of the bill.
PASSES AND LARGER FARECARDS
If you are planning to be in the city for a while, you may find a pass or larger farecard to be a good deal. If you will spend $20 or more on metro in a week, you can get a $20 farecard, which will give you a 10% bonus. It will come out worth $22!
A one day pass is available for $5.00. It's not good until 9:30 AM, but most tourists, especially those staying in town, don't need it earlier (this can be a pain if you are staying with friends in Greenbelt or New Carrollton or Vienna: sometimes it is worthwhile to get a regular farecard for one trip then a day pass for the rest of the day). Figure out if you expect to use more than $5 (usually more than 3 or 4 trips in the day; more if you go to VA or MD Suburbs) and if so, this will give you unlimited travel for the day. Likewise for $25 you can get a pass good for a week. You buy these passes from the machines on the end of the bank of fare machines, and they are dated when you use it, so you can buy them in advance and use them when you like.
LOCAL AREA MAPS
Every station has local area maps, both in the station itself and available at the kiosk. These can be very useful.
HANDICAPPED PEOPLE AND METRO
Metro can be pretty good for the handicapped. Guide dogs are permitted, there are elevators, wide doors, handicapped turnstiles at every station (even those sides without elevators) and lots of attention to them. However, we have alot of elevator outages. Before you get somewhere, ask the station manager at your embarkation station for elevator status where you are going. If an elevator is out, there will be a bus from a nearby station where the elevator is working, but they are often not very quick. If you talk to the station manager when you get ON, some of the delay may be avoided.
Written by SMozingo on 15 Feb, 2002
WOW! How easy could it be to navigate a major US city? Simply pick up a Metro Pocket Guide at the first stop and follow the legend. The five lines are all color-coded and there is a key for all "Points of…Read More
WOW! How easy could it be to navigate a major US city? Simply pick up a Metro Pocket Guide at the first stop and follow the legend. The five lines are all color-coded and there is a key for all "Points of Interest" and the lines that serve them. With over 75 stations, the city is well-served. The stations are cool and attractive with terra-cotta floors and huge vaulted ceilings. They are surely an attraction in their own right! Make a special trip to Dupont Circle! Unbelievable! I've never seen escalators that long! The cars are air-conditioned, large, and comfortable. The routes are also well-marked in each station and you don't have to walk a mile to transfer routes. QUICK TIPS: 1. Look for a five dollar day pass, however it can't be used until after 9:30am during the week. If staying longer a 7-day pass is available. 2. Fares are determined by distance traveled and discounts are given for riding during non-rush hour times. 3. Be advised that the orange and blue lines are identical throughout the heart of the city. No use waiting for the orange if the blue will take you there as well. 4. During rush hours trains come about every six minutes. Non-rush hour trains are every 15 minutes.Close
Written by Idler on 19 Apr, 2005
George W. Bush has done exactly two things in office that this lifelong Democrat approves of: letting government employees keep their frequent flyer miles and starting the National Book Festival. Actually, I should give credit where credit is due: Laura Bush, our unofficial…Read More
George W. Bush has done exactly two things in office that this lifelong Democrat approves of: letting government employees keep their frequent flyer miles and starting the National Book Festival. Actually, I should give credit where credit is due: Laura Bush, our unofficial "librarian in chief," is really the mover and shaker behind the National Book Festival.
I anticipate this one-day festival the way a kid looks forward to Christmas. Beginning as a relatively low-key affair in 2001, the first festival was held in large pavilion tents set up on the West Lawn of the Capitol, each tent devoted to a broad literary genre, such as Fiction & Imagination, History & Current Events, or Mystery & Suspense. Noted authors such as Stephen Ambrose, Michael Beschloss, and George Will read from their work, answered questions from the audience, and participated in panel discussions.
The first festival was such a success that it was decided to make it a yearly event. The 2002 festival was larger, though still held on the West Lawn of the Capitol, but by 2003, it had grown to such proportions that it had to be moved to the Mall proper, stretching all the way from 7th to 14th Streets. The festival had greatly expanded, with more tents accommodating more types of writers and books. Last year’s festival was the biggest yet, noticeably better-promoted and with an even broader spectrum of literary talent.
Washington has always been a bookish town – an impressive number of riders on the Metro on any given morning have their noses buried in books. This is even more the case in this age of the Washington political biography (or hagiography), government agency tell-all, or partisan diatribe. It seems that nearly everyone who’s anyone in D.C. has a book to promote, yet the Book Festival manages to be far more than a gussied-up book promotional tour. Instead, it’s an egalitarian slice of what America likes to read, with a respectful nod toward writers who have shaped public policy and influenced the way Americans think.
Somehow – and this is the thing I admire most about the festival – it has avoided becoming too "Washingtonian" or geared towards policy wonks; in fact, it’s become an extremely popular family event with an impressive number of children’s and young adult authors represented. Many of the displays and entertainment are targeted at kids, such as a full-scale replica of the "Magic School Bus" to climb on board and explore. This, I think, is Laura Bush’s doing. Good for her.
Since the festival is refreshingly non-stuffy and egalitarian, it caters to just about every taste. Avid readers of romance novels and readers of weighty historical tomes alike will find something of interest. Last year’s festival included such popular authors as Heloise (as in "Hints from Heloise)," travel writer Arthur Frommer, basketball player and autobiographer Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, one-man "Goosebumps" assembly line R.L. Stine, blockbuster thriller writer Clive Cussler, and PBS anchor Jim Lehr. It’s exciting to catch even a glimpse of faces seen previously only on the back of book jackets or television screens, and it’s even a bigger thrill to get a favorite author to sign a book at one of the extremely popular book signings. Some authors go to almost heroic lengths to accommodate the droves of people who turn up clutching their well-thumbed copies of favorite books or the brand-new books they’ve purchased at the Barnes & Noble tent set up nearby.
Another great thing about this festival is that it’s held in late September or early October, a far more civilized time in Washington than the summer. I’ve managed to attend three of the four festivals held so far, and I wouldn’t dream of missing the 2005 National Book Festival, which will be held on Saturday, September 24th.
In fact, the hardest part of attending the festival is deciding which sessions to attend. For any given hour of the day, there always seem to be two or three different talks I’d like to hear. For me, it’s a matter of choosing authors whose work I’ve long admired along with a sprinkling of authors I may have heard of but never read. Thus, a highlight of last year’s festival for me was hearing seminal science fiction writer Fredrik Pohl, now in his eighties, reminisce about the early days of science fiction publishing in the U.S. He recalled attending the "first science fiction convention ever held," but noted that, "Unfortunately, the records for this event have been lost. I know this because I was the one who lost them!" Later in the same tent, a much younger writer, Neil Gaiman, mesmerized the audience by reading from his work-in-progress, a book that, by the sound of it, will significantly add to the membership of the ever-growing Neil Gaiman fan club.
I listened to Nathaniel Philbrick read from his latest historical account of seafaring explorers, Ron Chernow discuss his bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, David Macaulay explain the process behind creating one of his elaboratly illustrated architectural books, and Azar Nafisi describe Reading Lolita in Tehran.
Later, while standing in line to have David Maucalay sign my beloved copy of his irreverent classic, Motel of the Mysteries, I chatted with fellow Macaulay fans and assorted booklovers. I noticed a tremendously long line snaking down the Mall and assumed it was for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But no – this was the line for Azar Nafisi, whose Reading Lolita in Tehran has been a huge success. I hadn’t read her book but had been intrigued by her talk, so I bought a copy in the sales tent and joined line to have her sign it. It was a long wait, but it seemed short because the entire line became an ad hoc literary discussion group, with everyone animatedly recalling favorite parts of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Booklovers love to talk almost as much as they love to read.
Remarkably, when I finally drew near the front of the line, I saw that Azar Nafisi still had a fresh smile and kind word for each person who approached her. What a wonderful lady, I thought to myself. I could see why her students in Iran had been willing to risk being arrested for attending the private classes she had organized in her home.
On the Metro ride home, I began reading my newly signed copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran, feeling a special connection to the book after hearing the author speak and seeing her gentle smile. I reflected that this is what the book festival was all about: connecting authors and readers in a personal way, adding a new dimension to the normally solitary pursuit of reading.
Written by Idler on 18 Apr, 2005
For openings of major museums and monuments, such as last year’s Memorial Day dedication of the World War II Memorial, Washington pulls out all the stops. This was the case again last September, when the long-anticipated National Museum of the American Indian opened.…Read More
For openings of major museums and monuments, such as last year’s Memorial Day dedication of the World War II Memorial, Washington pulls out all the stops. This was the case again last September, when the long-anticipated National Museum of the American Indian opened. I’d seen this striking museum slowly take shape in the space between the National Air & Space Museum and the National Botanical Garden, and it was clear that this was going to be a new type of museum for the city.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004, the day the museum opened, began with an amazing procession of thousands of native people from all over the globe, many in traditional regalia. I didn’t manage to make it down early for the first day’s festivities (in fact, I had just come back late the night before from the IgoUgo get-together in Vancouver), but I managed to get down to the Mall later in the day for an unforgettable afternoon. What struck me most was the incredible diversity of native peoples that were assembled. This was a very special day for them, and the pride and sense of inclusion they felt was palpable.
Moments after exiting the Smithsonian Metro station, I stopped in my tracks just to watch festival participants pass by. I don’t ever think I’ve seen such beautiful traditional clothing – beaded, feathered, embroidered, and elaborately worked in all manner of materials. This was a day for unabashed picture-taking, as people who had earlier marched in the procession continued to wear their regalia throughout the day. Perhaps the most striking ensembles were worn by an Aztec dance group hailing from San Francisco, but, really, everywhere I turned were there native people – from as far away as New Zealand all the way up to the northern reaches of Canada.
I’d just spent time in Vancouver at the Anthropology Museum of British Columbia, so I was glad to see so many people from the Pacific Northwest, including the Git-Hoan dancers of the Tsimshian people, who performed traditional dances wearing beautifully carved and painted masks. Throughout the day, I gravitated toward the Dance Stage, which featured one impressive group after another. Dancers from Rangimarie, a pan-tribal Maori performing arts group, gave the museum’s new director, Richard West, an honorary welcome in a heartfelt ceremony. Later, on the same stage, I was so impressed by the performance by the Halau O Kekuhi group, practitioners of the art of hula and oli (chant), that I made sure to take in their performance again on another day of the festival.
Indeed, Hawai’i was particularly well represented. Outside the new museum, large volcanic rocks "on loan" from our fiftieth state (for it is said to anger the gods when pieces of the landscape, such as rocks, are permanently removed from the islands) have been set in the reflective pool running the length of the building, just below to the shimmering waters that cascade down the side of the building. I was happy to hear Ledward Ka’apana, one of the masters of ki ho’alu, or slack-key guitar; I’d seen him the winter before at the Barns of Wolftrap in Vienna, VA, during the annual Slack Key Festival, and it was a pleasure to hear him once again.
The evening featured a star-studded concert with such well-known musicians as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rita Coolidge (now we’re talkin’ ‘bout my generation, folks!), and Lila Downs. Before the performance ended, though, we got in the immensely long line to enter the museum. Timed passes had been given out earlier in the day, and ours were for 10pm. In fact, it was around 11pm when we finally entered the building, but it was worth the wait. The museum stayed open all night long, with dancing, drumming, and singing taking place continuously in the Sacred Circle, the focal point of the atrium of the museum. Only the thought that our carriage (the Metro) would soon into a pumpkin (that is, shut down) sent us scurrying home well past midnight.
We came back a few days later, though, for more of the same. The festival stretched over 6 days, though the first day was unquestionably the most unique, as there were so many people wearing traditional clothes. Still, we wanted to bring several friends with us to see some of the musicians, exhibits, and dancers that we hadn’t been able to take in on Tuesday. Somehow, for example, we’d missed the amazing "scissor dancers" from Peru, who performed jaipanakay, "the dance of confrontation," with almost unbelievable agility and strength. We watched young Diné (Navajo) carry on the traditions of their people through decorous but lively dances; ate traditional foods, such as fry bread, authentically prepared at the food tents; relaxed in the shade while the Aloha Boys played backyard-style Hawaiian music; and listened to traditional Inuit throat singing and storytelling.
Although this festival was what I’d call a fabulous one-off never to be repeated, performances are still regularly held at the new National Museum of the American Indian – the Sacred Circle is an ideal performing space – so if you do plan on visiting the museum while in Washington, check their website’s event page to see if there will be an performance or gathering. Also, it’s worth noting that the National PowWow, sponsored by the NMAI, will be held at the nearby MCI Center from August 12 to 14, 2005.
The quintessential Cherry Blossom Festival events consist of a parade down Constitution Avenue and the classic stroll around the Tidal Basin at peak blossom time, but there’s a great deal more than this to the two-week-long festival, which begins in March and continues well into…Read More
The quintessential Cherry Blossom Festival events consist of a parade down Constitution Avenue and the classic stroll around the Tidal Basin at peak blossom time, but there’s a great deal more than this to the two-week-long festival, which begins in March and continues well into April each year. There are bike tours, evening lantern-lit walks, a fireworks display on the waterfront, events at the National Arboretum and other local horticultural venues, and a virtual smorgasbord of food and culture at restaurants, embassies, art galleries, and concert halls around town. In short, the entire two weeks is packed with things to do. This year’s festival ran from March 26th to April 10th and benefitted from a rare convergence of peak blossoms on the most important days of the festival.
I took a special interest in the festival this year, as I’m travelling to Japan in May and am immersing myself as much as possible in all things Japanese, so I devoted several days to the Cherry Blossom Festival, going downtown on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the final week. What I learned from my treks is that if you want to see the blossoms in relative peace and quiet (and that’s relative, mind you), then it’s really necessary to visit the most popular spot, the Tidal Basin, fairly early on a weekday. Forget about seeing the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin on the day of the parade – you need the scrum-busting skills of a rugby player just to make your way through the crowds.
Luck was with me the Wednesday that I roused myself earlier than normal and took the bus from Poolesville to the Metro in Rockville and then into D.C. Just three days before, the weather had been cold and blustery for the Smithsonian Kite Festival, but on Tuesday, the fickle Atlantic Coast weather turned unexpectedly benign. Temperatures rose, the sun came out... and the blossoms began to open.
A word about the history of the trees: Ninety-three years ago, the mayor of Tokyo presented 3,000 cherry trees to the people of Washington, D.C. as a gesture of friendship. Only around 125 of the original trees that were planted around the Tidal Basin remain, but there are more than 3,000 trees today, as cherry trees have been planted and replanted all throughout the town. Cherry blossoms are the emblems of Washington, D.C. (along with the monuments), and the festival attracts over a million visitors each year.
I arrived on the Mall by 9am and made a beeline for the Tidal Basin. Most of the people there that time of day were busy photographing the blossoms; the best light for catching the classic view of the Jefferson Memorial is in the morning. In the afternoon, the sun is behind the monument. Plus, the cherry blossoms just seem to look their freshest in the morning, though I can attest that they also look quite alluring at night lit only by streetlamp.
Unfortunately, there’s still a considerable amount of construction/terrorist-proofing going on around the Washington Monument and the new World War II Memorial, but the real challenge to the morning visitor is threading through rush-hour traffic. D.C. is one of the few places where I always watch and obey the pedestrian-crossing signals; even then, there’s no assurance that some type-A maniac won’t round the corner and try to zoom past.
There was scarcely any wind at 9am – another benefit of coming in the morning – providing near-ideal conditions for appreciating and photographing the blossoms. I strolled past the paddleboat rental docks and along the east side of the Tidal Basin toward the Jefferson Memorial. Young lovers find this walk irresistible, and more than a few brides and grooms use it as a wedding photo backdrop. Everyone wants a photo of themselves framed by the boughs of the cherry trees with the glistening white memorial in the background. I must’ve taken a dozen photos for couples and families just traversing the mile or so around the Tidal Basin.
It took me a while to reach the Jefferson Memorial, as I stopped practically every other minute to take in some new vista. By the time I reached it, the day’s entertainment at the stage in front of the memorial was about to begin. I got a schedule from a volunteer and noted there would be a traditional Indian dance performance later in the day. I kept on walking, making a side excursion to the George Mason statue, which was ringed by a stunning display of deep pink saucer magnolias, bright-yellow forsythia (I am not, on the whole, a fan of forsythia, but this display was stunning), and cheerful plantings of daffodils and pansies. By this time, the tour buses were clogging all the roads near the Tidal Basin, and great hordes of tourists were descending clutching disposable cameras and sunhats. It was a zoo, but a very agreeable one.
There are actually four main types of cherry trees planted in Washington, and they bloom at different times. The Weeping Higan, which ranges from a deep pink to white, blooms first, followed about a week later by the white Yoshino and pale pink Akebono cherry trees. Pink Kwanzan cherry trees, laden with heavy clusters of double flowers, bloom last. The Tidal Basin is noted for its 1,400 Yoshino trees, while other impressive displays are at the West and Potomac Parks and the Washington Monument grounds.
Akebono cherry blossoms
It’s illegal to climb the trees or pick the their blossoms, but I still saw clueless visitors hoisting their offspring into the branches of trees. I later read in the Washington Post that the main damage sustained by the trees each year is caused the compaction of the soil over the trees' roots caused by the trampling of millions of feet, slowly killing the trees in the process. It’s actually hard not to walk on the areas below the trees at some points because the concrete path that runs around the Tidal Basin is fairly narrow. Two people walking abreast are more or less the width of the path in certain places. (That’s another reason to come early on a weekday morning to do this walk!)
I wended my way back to the performance stage and watched a performance by the Jayamangala Indian Dance Company – three young ladies (the youngest, I learned, was only ten) with the poise and precision of experienced dancers. Then I continued my trek around the Tidal Basin, admiring some of the extravagantly twisted older trees and stopping by the FDR Memorial, which, somehow, I’d never managed to visit before. By the time I’d made the complete circuit, it was well into the afternoon, and I was starving. The sight of groups of people basking in the sun and picnicking beneath the cherry trees made me wish I’d had the foresight to bring a packed lunch.
I made my way over toward the Smithsonian castle for a snack – a longish trek, but as there are unfortunately no Metro stops close to the main monuments my only other option would have been a cab. I considered it, but it was such a lovely day that it just didn’t seem right. I felt positively revived, however, upon entering the Enid Haupt Garden fronting the Smithsonian Castle on the Independence Avenue side. Here the saucer magnolias were giving the cherry trees a run for their money. The entire large courtyard was an almost overpowering display of PINK. Often in this region, a late frost will mar the saucer magnolia blossoms before they bloom, turning them an unsightly brown, but not this year. This year everything was perfection.
I had a one gigabyte card in my digital camera, and somehow I managed to fill it that afternoon taking pictures. Was I content with that one perfect day at the festival? No; I came back on Friday for a second dose of cherry trees and then on Saturday afternoon to take in the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival. Once you’ve gotten into the spirit of the Cherry Blossom Festival, you see, it’s hard to stay away from it.
I’d always meant to spend a day at the Smithsonian Kite Festival, which is held each spring at the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival, and this year I finally managed to. We’d driven by the Mall in previous years when the…Read More
I’d always meant to spend a day at the Smithsonian Kite Festival, which is held each spring at the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival, and this year I finally managed to. We’d driven by the Mall in previous years when the festival was in progress, catching sight of dozens of kites fluttering in the breeze near the Washington Monument, but we never stopped, parking being what it is in Washington. This year, with the area next to the Washington Monument blocked off by immense, ugly, safety/construction barriers, the festival was held further up the Mall, near the Smithsonian museums.
My husband always stubbornly insists on driving to Washington, parking in Outer Mongolia (herein defined as somewhere beyond HUD), but he was out of town the day of the Kite Festival and so I sensibly took the Metro. The crowd getting off at the Smithsonian station spilled off the escalator and was immediately greeted by gusts of wind that sent loose hats careening down the long grassy expanse of the Mall. Kites are associated with windy days, of course, but this was a case of too much of a good thing. The stiff 20-30mph winds played havoc with many of the kites, plus the unseasonably cold weather had most folks dressed up as if they were going to, well, Outer Mongolia. I’m well-insulated by nature (ahem) and seldom feel the cold, but I found I had to thaw out with several ‘hot tea breaks’ during the day at the nearby Pavilion Café.
But despite the cold and the wind, the festival was still a success. There’s something wonderfully poignant and hopeful about kites. Spirits rise with as the kites ascend, then swoop and dip… and sometimes crash, of course. Most of the people who were on the Mall for the festival had store-bought kites and were strictly in the amateur class, but there were two large roped-off demonstration fields in which the competitors flew ingeniously engineered and elaborately decorated kites, many demonstrating "hot tricks" kite stunts.
One kite caught my eye even before it was airborne. Two men were laying out its immense tail – meters long – and wrestling with the enormous kite itself. It came as little surprise to me when this entry later won the National Air & Space Museum’s aerodynamics award.
Actually, it was a little hard to tell exactly which events for the competition were going on at any one time. The wind caused problems for amateurs and pros alike, and the Smithsonian staff seemed to be struggling to impart order to the proceedings. Somehow I managed to miss the "costumed" portion of the competition, (must’ve been during a tea break), a fact I regretted when I later saw the winners, the "Holmes Family Pirates," accept their award uttering convincing "ARRRGGH"s.
It came as something of a surprise to me how seriously... no, wait, that’s the wrong word... how wholeheartedly people threw themselves into flying kites. There are no fewer than three kite societies in the greater Washington area (perhaps more), and they were all amply represented, not to mention people from all over the country who had come to participate, such as members of the "Ohio Society for the Elevation of Kites."
And never let it be said that kite-flying is a gentle sport – that is, certainly not when battling rokkaku kites are in the sky. The day ended with a battle royale among these traditional six-sided Japanese kites. The kite handlers employ the most cut-throat of flying techniques, seeking to ‘ground’ opposing kites with a variety of impressive maneuvers. When a rokakku’s line was severed, it plummeted earthward in an impressive arc. Amazingly, the rokkaku seemed to sustain little damage from the impact and were soon back in the air.
Despite the cold weather and buffeting winds, scores of families, many with young children, turned out. The kids were suitably bundled up, some looking like fat little penguins as they ran at a waddle holding kites up to the wind. Along one side of the demonstration field, a bubble machine sent cascades of enormous iridescent bubbles racing on the wind, and this proved a huge hit with young and old alike. No one came anywhere near the bubble machine without breaking into a silly grin or doing a bobbing "catch that bubble!" shuffle with complete strangers.
They should set up a bubble machine on the floors of the House and Senate whenever things get particularly rancorous in Congress, I think. Or maybe just let the Republicans and Democrats duke it out with rokkaku.
Even though sakura means "cherry blossom" and matsuri means festival, there’s scarcely a cherry blossom in sight for this jam-packed, blockbuster street festival held "inland" (off the Mall and away from the Tidal Basin) between 12th and Pennsylvania, NW. While the Sakura…Read More
Even though sakura means "cherry blossom" and matsuri means festival, there’s scarcely a cherry blossom in sight for this jam-packed, blockbuster street festival held "inland" (off the Mall and away from the Tidal Basin) between 12th and Pennsylvania, NW. While the Sakura Matsuri is part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, its focus is more on Japanese culture and less on the cherry blossoms per se. Organized by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., the street festival transforms the Federal Triangle area into a slice of Japan for a single day. But what a day – arts-and-crafts demonstrations, food stalls offering a "Taste of Japan," a "Ginza" shopping arcade, several performing arts stages, and, of course, karaoke performances fueled by lots of Sapporo beer.
I had a long meeting on the Saturday morning of the Cherry Blossom Festival parade (bummer!), so I missed the parade but arrived in time to take in the afternoon’s festivities at the Sakura Matsuri. By the time I arrived, the street festival was in full swing, with an absolutely beautiful spring day bringing people out in droves. The media had fueled the crowds, too, by trumpeting the fact that, for once, the day of the parade would also be the day of peak bloom for the cherry blossoms themselves.
The Metro coming downtown was just about the most crowded I’ve ever seen it outside of Fourth of July. I actually got off one tightly packed train and waited for the next, which turned out to be only slightly less cramped. Adding to the congestion was the number of cyclists who were participating in a Cherry Blossom ride who had brought bikes onto the train. Then there was my pet peeve, the massive double-wide strollers favored by modern parents, the Humvees of baby transport. The Metro ride was, in short, a mess.
But that inconvenience seemed a trifle once I exited the station and was swept up into the street scene. Crowds moved at a leisurely stroll through the grassy central plaza of the Federal Triangle and along the broad corridors of the surrounding blocks. The restrained-looking government buildings formed an odd backdrop for the clusters of bright balloons, the giant inflatable Sapporo beer bottle, the rows of tent booths, and the colorful festival banners. I wondered for a moment why the festival hadn’t been held on the Mall, but then quickly realized that the National Park Service and the Smithsonian have a stranglehold on that prime real estate. However, the Japan-America Society did just fine making use of the Federal Triangle area, whose streets are normally deserted on the weekend.
Lines for all the Japanese food vendors were long, so I snacked on candied nuts from a line-free vendor and amused myself watching the karaoke stage, where the brave (or simply inebriated) belted off-key renditions of such timeless tunes as "Stand by Your Man." I was tempted to enter one of the fenced-off official beer-imbibing areas myself but got sidetracked by the arts-and-crafts booths, not to mention all the stands selling everything from elaborate hairpins to earth-toned pottery.
I stopped to ask a festival volunteer for directions to the main performance stage, but no sooner had I asked than I heard the boom of taiko drums and knew which direction to go. I made a beeline for the stage, hoping to catch the performance by the Tamagawa University Dance & Taiko Group. I’d missed the Drum Festival held at the Kennedy Center the day before but had heard this group had delivered a knock-out performance. (Happily, it can be viewed online in a streamed version, though, of course, that doesn’t match a live performance.)
I’ve been to dozens of folk and cultural festivals and seen hundreds of performances, but this company put on one of the most dazzling displays I’ve ever seen. Tamagawa University Dance & Taiko Group is one of Japan’s premiere university performing ensembles, and it’s easy to see why. My first impression was that Tamagawa U. must have one helluva set of selection criteria. The men and women were all of a uniform type – tall, willowy, and graceful - but they must surely have also been selected on the basis of dazzling smiles. I’ve never seen such smiles – the megawatts flashed at a Hollywood awards ceremony pale in comparison. Their smiles, combined with the enthusiasm of their dancing and drumming, proclaimed, "We live to do this!"
The drumming was done chiefly by the men, with the all-out fervor and athleticism that’s the hallmark of taiko drumming. The art of taiko is over 2,000 years old, but the Tamagawa group made it seem positively contemporary. There was a joyful camaraderie among the drummers, too, that was charming to watch. The synchronized arms-high movements and broad spilts stance assumed by the drummers were especially effective.
The women primarily performed in dances, usually holding props such as batons or fans. My favorite piece featured bright-purple parasols twirled and arrayed with consummate grace. Whoever does the choreography for this group has a wonderful eye for harmony and line. Another highly entertaining dance featured both the men and women, presumably evoking a bathhouse setting. The women paraded saucily about with yellow towels draped around their necks or mocked "toweling off" motions, shimmying with the towels held behind them as they "dried" their backsides. The men, emerging from the wings, beheld this bevy of bathing beauties and immediately set about courting and flirting with the women, falling backwards (presumably in awe and amazement) whenever the ladies affected a particularly breathtaking stance.
In fact, I had a hard time deciding which was cuter, the guys or the gals. But I knew one thing for sure: if the Tamagawa University Dance & Taiko Group performs at next year’s Sakura Matsuri, I’ll definitely make a point to be there.