Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 7 - Day of the Dead

We had an early start to our day so decided to walk from our hotel to the Lincoln Memorial, giving us an opportunity to see more of the city. From the WWII Memorial, honouring those who lost lives in WWII, we had a view of the Lincoln Memorial to the west and the Washington Memorial (scaffolded for repairs) to the east. A long reflecting pool lead us to a series of steps up to the Memorial that commemorates the man who stated "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth".

Off to one side is the Korean War Memorial with statues of soldiers scattered through a field of grass with an embossed marble wall that reflects their images...very impressive!

26,000 Canadians served in the Korean War along with military recruits from fifteen other United Nations countries during this three year war.

Moving on, we visited the Vietnam War Memorial next. With its simple design and seemingly endless inscription of casualties, this memorial has a profound effect. Such a waste of young lives. Nearby was a statue dedicated to the women of the Vietnam War, mostly nurses.

The three figures depict Faith, Hope and Charity

From here we were determined to visit the National Holocaust Museum but felt the need to replenish our spirits and our bellies before bearing witness to one of mankind's worse atrocities. The Smithsonian Castle cafe provided a refreshing respite.

Upon entry to the Holocaust Museum we were asked to pick up an Identification Card. Each card identifies a victim of the holocaust. Mine was Eva Brigitte Marum, born July 17, 1919 in Karlsruhe Germany. She died in 1943.

The multi-media presentation does a brilliant job of presenting this disturbing piece of history including Hitler's rise to power. The Nazis were compulsive record keepers so much of the exhibit was from their extensive collection of data and film. It defies any explanation!

After two hours we escaped to the outdoors, took deep breaths and walked back toward the Hirsshorn Gallery. We desperately needed to feast our eyes on objects of beauty.

by Willem de Koonig

Triangles within Triangles
by Sol LeWitt

The Hirshhorn is the Smithsonian's museum of international modern and contemporary art. It was very uplifting to view this brilliant collection of paintings and sculptures after a day of memorials.

A dinner of Thai food completed an extremely interesting day. We are exhausted!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 6 - Part Two

We arrived at our Metro station this morning to discover a Farmer's Market set up with produce, cheeses, breads and gorgeous flowers. It was a colourful start to our day.

Our next stop was the Eastern Market with a varied assortment of stalls selling everything from food to used clothing, from old windows to jewelery, from original artwork to funky shoes.

Shortening our visit to the Market, we headed to the National Gallery of Art. At the west end, we toured the National Sculpture garden first. Some of the creators of these pieces will be obvious, all are American sculptors.

Walking into the West wing of the Gallery we were immediately impressed! What a treat! The original building, when it was constructed in 1941, was the largest marble structure in the world. It is a work of architectural art with high ceilings, marble columns, garden courts and a rotunda that features a bronze statue of Mercury. On display are works by Rembrandt,  El Greco, Vermeer, Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin, Cezanne. Monet, Manet and a two sided piece by da Vinci. My personal favourite was Modigliani.

Nude on a blue cushion

The artwork is almost eclipsed by the architecture...but, not quite. We enjoyed the Garden Courts, lined with comfortable seating, discovered many treasures in the labyrinth of small gallery rooms and finally made our way to the "moving walkway" that connects the West Wing with an ultra modern East wing.

The lights along the walkway blink, change colour and flashed as we moved along."Multiverse" is the name of the light sculpture that accompanies the walkway with programmed LEDs in a continually changing constellation.

The East wing contains a collection of modern and contemporary artwork. Chuck Close's two paintings were immediate highlights for both of us. "Fanny" was painted in oil on canvas using only his fingers.
The other painting of "Nat" was  painted in acrylics on canvas. They are each huge ( 7' x 9 1/2' ).

Fanny and Nat
Close-up of Nat....this is not a photograph!

The Invisible Object
by Alberto Giacometti

Feeling overwhelmed by such a rich display of talent we finally left the gallery and walked over to the Hirschhorn Sculpture gardens to sit under the trees for a rest before taking the Metro back to the hotel.

Day 6 - Part One

The sun is shining again and we are headed for a walk through The Eastern Market which holds the
Sunday Flea Market each week. There is a real concern that the government could shut down on Tuesday so we will try to squeeze in a visit to the National Art Gallery and Sculpture Gardens this afternoon. All National and Smithsonian sites will be closed if there is a shut down!

Before I forget, I must mention that the Carlyle Suites Hotel has been great. The staff is very friendly, helpful and all of them seem to have a sense of humour. Any requests have been dealt with promptly...including our inability to operate the Keurig! The location couldn't be better. Situated in a quiet area near groceries, wine, eateries and the Metro. Each day we walk along tree lined streets with jaw-dropping architecture. Even the pedestrians are friendly and helpful. The school crossing guard greets everyone with a hearty "good morning" as they pass by.

Last night we walked over to a large Mexican restaurant for dinner, arriving early enough that we didn't have to stand in line for an hour to get in. The margarita was the highlight! Dorothy's highlight so far has been the opportunity to purchase Cote du Rhone red wine for $8.00 per bottle(or per day)!

This must be the best time of year to rain!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Day 5 - Embassy Row, Dufy, donkeys, elephants and falafel

On our way to view the Phillips Collection we stopped for a few minutes with Ghandi, positioned across from the Indian Embassy.

The Phillips Collection is housed in a Georgian Revival house that has been expanded and renovated to hold an eclectic mix of artworks. There were pieces by Renoir, El Greco, Modigliani, Klee, Kandinski, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, O'Keefe and Raoul Dufy. Photos are permitted in most galleries but "no flash"!

The Artist's Studio by Raoul Dufy

From here we walked along Massachussetts Avenue admiring the architecture and the many embassies with colourful flags. Mixed in between the embassies are lavish homes that announce their political affiliation with sculptures of donkeys(Democrat) or elephants (Republican).

We aren't sure which political affiliation is reflected by the Woolly Mammoth in this courtyard!

Along our walk we also passed several old police and fire call boxes that have been converted into free standing pieces of artwork by local artists. Some include sculpture and others incorporate paintings. These boxes were originally used from 1880-1950's to call for police or firefighter assistance.

St. Jerome the Priest (The Greatest Doctor of the Church)
by I. Mestrovic at the Croatian Embassy

Arriving finally in the Adams Morgan area, we stopped a guy who was walking down the street with a loaded flatbread that resembled a wrap. He pointed us toward Amsterdam Falafel where we had scrumptious, delicious falafel wrapped in flatbread with 20 different toppings/fillings! It has been consistently voted the "Best cheap eats in DC" since opening in 2004.

Our next stop was the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Temple and Museum with two sphinxes denoting Wisdom & Power mounted at the entrance. Unfortunately we could not tour the building because a private function was taking place.

Wisdom Sphinx at the Scottish Rite Freemasonry Temple

Next door was a garden full of pre-Halloween creations.

We also stopped in at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church which is the oldest "black-owned" church in the USA, built by freed slaves in 1886. The choir was rehearsing along with the organist and we were the only visitors!

Stacks of magazines line the entrance doorway to exhibition area

We stopped at the National Geographic Museum but decided not to view the exhibition. Once again our calves and feet were aching. It was time to rest with a coffee before heading back to the hotel. If we have the energy, we will walk to a Mexican restaurant for dinner later.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 4 - Aching calves

My sister's birthday started with toasted bagels & cream cheese and a Keurig coffee. We were feeling a bit lazy this morning (due to aching calves) so missed the morning Metro rush.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only museum in the world that is solely dedicated to the artistic achievements of women. It is housed in a beautiful Renaissance Revival building that previously served as a Masonic Temple. I was surprised to find a lovely sculpture by Sarah Bernhardt,  having no idea that she was an accomplished sculptor.

By Sarah Bernhardt

The two dimensional pieces were interesting but I was drawn to the sculptures.

Four seated Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Mary Magdalene by Kiki Smith

After our tour of this museum we wandered past a line of 14 food trucks trying to decide on our choice of lunch. Serenaded by a street musician, we had a delicious lunch outdoors while watching office workers sharing their lunch hour in the sun.

The Capital Bike Share program is very successful here with well located stations to pick up/drop off the bikes. We talked with one fellow who pays $75/ year for all of his city transportation.

Next stop was the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. The building and the collection were equally incredible. The third floor mezzanine areas include paintings & sculptures of famous entertainers in the BRAVO wing. Two highlights were a painting of Ethel Merman and a sculpture of Bob Hope.

Ethel Merman

Bob Hope

A sculpture of Casey Stengel stands proud in the CHAMPIONS wing alongside a huge painting of the 1919 fight between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard. 

We both fell in love with Alice Neel's self portrait at age 80 years. 

Wandered through the Luce Foundation storage area. The attendant explained that only 3 percent of the National collection is on exhibit. Another 7 percent is available to view in storage areas. They provide tea and coffee (free) in a small cafeteria space where we sat amid sculptures, rested our aching calves and pondered what to see next. It was a very welcome respite. 

There were too many highlights to exhibit but here are a few.

Needing outdoor space, we finally left the confines of the Museum to walk toward the White House. Unfortunately Michelle must have forgotten to advise the guards about our invitation for afternoon tea. We got no closer than the rest of the crowd!!

From the White House we walked another 546 miles back to our hotel where we collapsed on the beds and attempted to stretch our extremely aching calves! Ouch! Wine, cheese and salad in our room for dinner tonight!!

Day 3 - Failure of navigational skills

We tackled peak hour ridership on the Metro this morning along with thousands in business suits. Our first appointment of the day was a tour of the Capitol building. It is necessary to pass through security before entering any of the national galleries, museums and government buildings. Disappointingly, there were no sightings of any political figures during our tour but we did see a lot of dead people statues! Each state is allowed to send two statues for display in the Capitol building. The only regulations are that the statues be in bronze or marble and that the person be dead!! The tour was limited to an explanatory film and a walk through the Statuary Hall and the Rotunda.

From the Capitol tour we crossed over to the Library of Congress housed in the Thomas Jefferson building. The interior decor is very impressive in this Italian Renaissance building. From a balcony we were able to look down into the main reading room with its 236 reference desks. This library holds the world's largest collection with over 150 million items. It is a beautiful space.

Next door to the Library is the Supreme Court building designed in a classical corinthian style. Unfortunately the court doesn't meet until October so we weren't able to observe a session. Fortunately they have a great cafeteria that offers inexpensive lunch options so we took a break and enjoyed grilled cheese sandwiches.

Using my trusty pocket map we took a post-lunch, circuitous route to the Postal Museum. My navigational skills must have been on hiatus because we walked in circles before asking for directions. Located next to Union Station, the museum was a yawn! Apparently we were in the wrong place. It was really The Old Post Office building that we wanted to visit…so, back on the Metro followed by yet another navigational disaster (not my fault this time) we arrived at The Old Post Office which is currently leased for 60 years to Donald Trump. He is planning to convert the office levels to a hotel. The 360 degree view from the tower was amazing. 

There is never a reason to be uninformed in Washington. A plethora of free news media can be found on every street corner, extolling the virtues of left, right and centrist viewpoints.

What a day! Time to head for the comfort of our hotel room, put our feet up and plan for tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day Two - 27.7 miles on foot

What a great day! Sitting in the Bar at the Hotel with an amazing martini while I am writing this. Wi-fi in the room is almost non-existent.

Introduced ourselves to the Metro system with friendly advice from Metro employees. It is very easy. One of the advantages of old age is a Senior Transit Pass!!...half the price of Dorothy's!!

Managed to find our way to The Mall and wandered around the Capitol building, visited the National Museum of the American Indian for a lunch that offered a great variety of food in the cafeteria. I had quinoa & cauliflower salad with blue cornmeal bread and Dorothy devoured a chipotle chicken taco. Of course the architecture of this building is wonderful too.

From there we "walked the solar system" down the south side of The Mall from our SUN to PLUTO.

Incredibly, we found ourselves at the Hirshhorn Gallery Sculpture Garden. OMG!!

Self portrait with model at Bergamo
by Giacomo Manzu

by Henry Moore

Lunar Bird
by Joan Miro

Brush Stroke
based on a piece by Roy Lichtenstein

Sub Committee
by Tony Cragg

The martini is great in this bar and the music belongs to the 40's. The bartender, Taj, is a dapper "silver fox" who has tended bar for the past 40 years.

This city is amazingly pedestrian friendly. There are thousands of walkers, cyclists, joggers along the pathways. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, dispensing advice and info. The historical architecture is breathtaking. Our hotel is in Embassy Row (Dupont Circle) so we walk past Ecuador, Belarus, Costa Rica and many others.

Before dropping our shoes and heading for the bar in our hotel we dropped into the National Museum of Natural History to see the Hope Diamond, a Dinosaur collection, Egyptian mummies and underwater wonders. What a day! And it is not over yet?!