George Washington

Our first president was the theme of this latest trip to the East Coast. We visited Mt. Vernon, his estate on the Potomac just s        outh of Alexandria; the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; Federal Hall in NYC, where he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States; and Mann’s City Tavern in Annapolis, where he celebrated the victory at Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War. While Jefferson has long been my favorite president (and the theme of our last visit to DC), this trip made me feel a lot closer to George Washington, the man, and not just the profile on coins, the general, and the subject of stupid stories about cherry trees.

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Mt. Vernon was very interesting, even if not as spectacular as Jefferson’s Monticello. The farm has been maintained with a fair amount of historical accuracy, including a reproduction of his “treading barn” for threshing wheat; old varieties of sheep, cows, pigs and chickens (even a “Christmas camel”); and heirloom vegetables. I was also happy to find out that Washington was a proponent of “living fences” or hedgerows instead of lumber fences. In fact, it seems he was a great lover of trees, and advocated against cutting the trees on the estate any more than was necessary. The house tour was annoying, though, with rather obnoxious doyens and too many people crammed into tight stairwells. There’s also a newish interpretive center with stories and personal effects, including a rather off-putting display of Washington’s dental history – the centerpiece of which were his actual dentures.

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For a little day trip we went up to Annapolis, which I had visited briefly on a previous trip and really enjoyed. Plus Mom and Pitt had to scope out the sailing school where they’re taking a class in a few weeks. We stopped at the visitor’s center for the Naval Academy for the sole purpose of viewing Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 capsule had to get some astronaut stuff in since we decided we were skipping Air & Space this time. Spent some time cruising the docks and scoping the nice boats, lunch in an old tavern, and a little walking tour of the old center of town.

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And, of course we had to do the museums on the Mall. The first day we got down to the Mall late because I had to wait for the airline to deliver my lost luggage (grrrr), and the lines at the popular museums were already really long. So we went to the Museum African Art, which was almost deserted, but had two excellent exhibits of jewelry and textiles. It really bothered me, though, that much of that museum was “courtesy of Walt Disney Co.” What business do they have buying African artifacts?

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The next day was Archives and the Botanical Gardens, though I didn’t have my camera since we were going to a Capitals game later and I knew they wouldn’t let me take it in. Archives was always closed whenever I’d been to DC in the past, so this was a first time for me to see the original documents. The most important ones are all on display in roughly chronological order around the Rotunda, with the Constitution highlighted in the middle. I think my favorite part was seeing all the edit marks on the documents, and the archaic ss’es (Congreff affembled). The Botanical Gardens were packed with people coming to see some model train thing that I didn’t care about, but we got to see lots of cool bromeliads and begonias (a few of which I’m going to have to track down for myself). Then the Caps kicked some stupid Maple Leaf ass, and all was well. Generally pretty impressed with Caps fans – the squealing puckbunnies next us even played the game themselves. Ovechkin was impressive in person, though I did notice a fair amount of cherry-picking at the blue line that you don’t see as well on TV. The Leafs did a lot of standing around, as is their wont, but didn’t lose too spectacularly, mostly because of Toskala in goal.

On our last museum day we got downtown early (before the lines) and saw the Pompeii exhibit at the National Gallery, on loan from the museum in Naples. Then on to the newly renovated Museum of American History. Highlights were: Julia Childs’ kitchen, painstakingly reassembled in every detail; a diorama of Portland’s own Sandy Boulevard circa 1949, illustrating the start of the car culture; and, of course, the portrait of Stephen Colbert – thankfully hanging at the entrance to the popular culture section so we didn’t even have to wade through a crowd to see it. Then a quick skim of the Natural History museum mostly just to see the new Ocean Hall exhibit. Very nicely done, and covered a lot of subjects in not very much space.

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Then on to big, bad New York City. Took the train up early, stayed one night, then caught an evening train the next day. That was about right, just enough time to see a few things, not so much time that it became unbearably annoying. We stayed at the Sofitel in Midtown (excellent European business hotel – especially the bar and bartender), and mostly just stuck to stuff within walking distance. The first afternoon we took the subway downtown to see Federal Hall – and Trinity Church, the Exchange and Battery Park along the way. We tried to do MOMA that afternoon, but it was their free Friday, and the line was around the block, so we just had a few drinks in the hotel bar, then dinner at Emporium Brasil around the corner (Aaron’s beef stew with butternut squash was divine). Accidently slept in the next day (oh well), so we only had time for a short walk through a bit of Central Park before meeting up with a friend from work for lunch in Bryant Park. We managed to prove that you can connect with someone you’ve never actually met in person, only in e-mail, on a street corner in NYC. Then we did finally go to MOMA, though the crowds were almost the same as they were the previous day. (MOMA appears to be somewhat of a hang-out for the natives, a very expensive one at that) Some Van Gogh thing was the big deal, but we’d already seen our fair share at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago, so we were happy to skip that and just get to the permanent collection. All my favorites were well represented – Max Ernst, Giacometti, Mondrian, Brancusi, and a delightful exhibition of Joseph Beuys.

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Back in DC for our last day we took a walk around Roosevelt Island on the Potomac. DC’s parks are always funny to me (as a federal lands geek) because they’re all US National Parks, no matter how small they are. We also took a hike around Georgetown and tried to go to Dumbarton Oaks, but it wasn’t open until the afternoon, so we just enjoyed our walk around the neighborhood.

All in all, a great trip. Saw lots of sights, but still managed to do the whole thing without getting stressed out. There’s always more to see, but I’ve become comfortable as a tourist just seeing what you get to see and saving what you didn’t for the next trip.

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