2015 in Review…the Food

Yesterday I began a short series looking back on the best of 2015.  Between work and pleasure I took 25 overnight trips in 2015, so I started the series with travel.

Food is next!  With those trips came some really good food!  Conch salad in the Bahamas, sushi in San Francisco, it often has as much to do with the occasion as it does with what’s on the plate. (more…)

Operation Homefront & the Army 10 Miler

“I have committed to running the Army 10 Miler; and to raising $1,000 in the process.”

Happy Independence Day!

The official document informing England it was not the boss of us!

The official document informing England it was not the boss of us!

I love the 4th of July, the anniversary of us officially telling England, “You’re not the boss of me!”  If that doesn’t make you feel patriotic I don’t know what does!

So, in the spirit of patriotism, helping others, and–dropping 10 pounds–I committed this weekend to running the Army 10 Miler in October.  The longest race I’ve ever run is a 10k (6 miles) so this will be a new challenge.

I also committed to raising $1,000 for Operation Homefront in the process.  Operation Homefront provides financial and other assistance to families of deployed soldiers and wounded warriors.

Please consider making a $10 donation to this urgent and worthy cause.  You can click on the moneybag below and it will take you to the fundraising page.

ClicktoHelp

The longest race I have run is a 10k; but, that was part of a triathlon, so a 10 miler should be achievable.

The longest race I have run is a 10k; but, that was part of a triathlon, so a 10 miler should be achievable.

As I increase my mileage on training runs, I hope to also see the fundraising increase toward my goal of $1,000.  You can click on this link:  http://www.active.com/donate/teamoh2015atm/tonemanblog or on the moneybag above.

Thanks in advance for your generosity!

π

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.15.31 PMTheodore Roosevelt Island is in the Potomac River between the Arlington, VA neighborhood of Rosslyn and the Washington, DC neighborhood of Georgetown.  A footbridge takes you from the VA side to the island and once there you are in a different world.

A footbridge brings you from the Virginia side of the Potomac to Roosevelt Island.

A footbridge brings you from the Virginia side of the Potomac to Roosevelt Island.

For a city park, it is remarkably peaceful!  The stretch of water by the footbridge is narrow and calm and often hosts kayaks, canoes and on this day, a paddle-boarder.

The stretch of water by the footbridge is calm and often hosts paddle-boards, kayaks, and canoes.

The stretch of water by the footbridge is calm and often hosts paddle-boards, kayaks, and canoes.

The island is filled with gentle hiking trails and different eco-systems.  Marsh, swamp, and soft green forest are all found here.  At the edges of the island the urban cityscape is plainly visible but for most of the walk you find yourself in a different world.

A view of Arlington, VA's Rosslyn neighborhood from under the Roosevelt bridge.

A view of Arlington, VA’s Rosslyn neighborhood from under the Roosevelt bridge.

For this 3-mile walk I did a wide circuit around the perimeter of the island, and then wound in to the interior.  In the center is a plaza and monument to Theodore Roosevelt, including a 15-foot statue of TR himself.

The center of the island has a charming plaza, featuring a 15 ft statue of Teddy Roosevelt .

The center of the island has a charming plaza, featuring a 15 ft statue of Teddy Roosevelt .

The plaza is a pleasant park with fountains and different levels.  It is an idyllic spot for picnics, families out for a hike, and joggers.

Though the city is not far away, you would think you're in the middle of nowhere!

Though the city is not far away, you would think you’re in the middle of nowhere!

One of the many eco-systems found on the island is a wide marsh.

One of the many eco-systems found on the island is a wide marsh.

There is also a swamp, ebbing and flowing with the tide and rich with various creatures.

There is also a swamp, ebbing and flowing with the tide and rich with various creatures.

It’s a little tricky to get there because you have to be on the north-bound George Washington Parkway–which sounds easy enough, but try it!

Most of the island is accessible by a network of gentle hiking trails.

Most of the island is accessible by a network of gentle hiking trails.

A wide boardwalk takes you through marsh, swamp, and forest on the back side of the island.

A wide boardwalk takes you through marsh, swamp, and forest on the back side of the island.

Once there you can hike in any direction.  On the DC side of the island a wide boardwalk keeps you out of the swamp and marshy areas.  Along with ducks and wildflowers you will also see great views of Georgetown, Key Bridge, Rosslyn, and the Roosevelt Bridge.

The view of Georgetown’s Washington harbor on this day included a glimpse of the Pirate Ship.

Georgetown's Washington Harbor.

Georgetown’s Washington Harbor.

The view of Georgetown from Roosevelt Island.  At top is the skyline of Georgetown University, with Key Bridge in front and under that, the boathouses that host crew teams.

The view from the western tip of Roosevelt Island. Georgetown University, Key Bridge and the crew team boathouses.

π

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This post is one in a series of Ten DC Walks  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.15.31 PMTheodore Roosevelt Island is in the Potomac River between the Arlington, VA neighborhood of Rosslyn and the Washington, DC neighborhood of Georgetown.  A footbridge takes you from the VA side to the island and once there you are in a different world.

A footbridge brings you from the Virginia side of the Potomac to Roosevelt Island.

A footbridge brings you from the Virginia side of the Potomac to Roosevelt Island.

For a city park, it is remarkably peaceful!  The stretch of water by the footbridge is narrow and calm and often hosts kayaks, canoes and on this day, a paddle-boarder.

The stretch of water by the footbridge is calm and often hosts paddle-boards, kayaks, and canoes.

The stretch of water by the footbridge is calm and often hosts paddle-boards, kayaks, and canoes.

The island is filled with gentle hiking trails and different eco-systems.  Marsh, swamp, and soft green forest are all found here.  At the edges of the island the urban cityscape is plainly visible but for most of the walk you find yourself in a different world.

A view of Arlington, VA's Rosslyn neighborhood from under the Roosevelt bridge.

A view of Arlington, VA’s Rosslyn neighborhood from under the Roosevelt bridge.

For this 3-mile walk I did a wide circuit around the perimeter of the island, and then wound in to the interior.  In the center is a plaza and monument to Theodore Roosevelt, including a 15-foot statue of TR himself.

The center of the island has a charming plaza, featuring a 15 ft statue of Teddy Roosevelt .

The center of the island has a charming plaza, featuring a 15 ft statue of Teddy Roosevelt .

The plaza is a pleasant park with fountains and different levels.  It is an idyllic spot for picnics, families out for a hike, and joggers.

Though the city is not far away, you would think you're in the middle of nowhere!

Though the city is not far away, you would think you’re in the middle of nowhere!

One of the many eco-systems found on the island is a wide marsh.

One of the many eco-systems found on the island is a wide marsh.

There is also a swamp, ebbing and flowing with the tide and rich with various creatures.

There is also a swamp, ebbing and flowing with the tide and rich with various creatures.

It’s a little tricky to get there because you have to be on the north-bound George Washington Parkway–which sounds easy enough, but try it!

Most of the island is accessible by a network of gentle hiking trails.

Most of the island is accessible by a network of gentle hiking trails.

A wide boardwalk takes you through marsh, swamp, and forest on the back side of the island.

A wide boardwalk takes you through marsh, swamp, and forest on the back side of the island.

Once there you can hike in any direction.  On the DC side of the island a wide boardwalk keeps you out of the swamp and marshy areas.  Along with ducks and wildflowers you will also see great views of Georgetown, Key Bridge, Rosslyn, and the Roosevelt Bridge.

The view of Georgetown’s Washington harbor on this day included a glimpse of the Pirate Ship.

Georgetown's Washington Harbor.

Georgetown’s Washington Harbor.

The view of Georgetown from Roosevelt Island.  At top is the skyline of Georgetown University, with Key Bridge in front and under that, the boathouses that host crew teams.

The view from the western tip of Roosevelt Island. Georgetown University, Key Bridge and the crew team boathouses.

π

 

 

 

 

Spring in Washington, DC and The Elusive Cherry Blossoms

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The Jefferson Memorial viewed through the cherry blossoms from across the Tidal Basin.

After a relatively harsh winter, spring is finally here in Washington, DC.  This means the pursuit of the DC’s cherry blossoms!  The cherry blossoms are an elusive spectacle. Cool weather prolongs them, warm weather accelerates them. Wind, rain, and a spring snowstorm are all bad for them.  They are spectacular when in bloom but it doesn’t last long and the timing is difficult to predict in advance.

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All over town there are signs that winter is over.

People plan vacations around seeing them. My father for years would ask me when he should visit from New Hampshire to see them at their peak. We would settle on a weekend and he would arrive only to find they had come and gone, or would not bloom for another week.

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The “Sakura”, or flowering cherry trees were a gift from Japan in 1912 and have become as much a symbol of DC as the monuments.

The trees were a gift in 1912 from Japan.  First Lady Taft was instrumental in their being spread around the Potomac riverfront and among the monuments.  The Japanese government donated 2,000 trees.

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For those of us who live here, seeing them at their peak means joining crowds of tourists, walking from a distant parking space, or somehow finding time in the off-peak hours to check them out.

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This year we opted for the “Cherry Blossom Cruise” aboard the Boomerang Yacht, a 1-hour trip down the Potomac from Georgetown to the 14th St Bridge and back.

This year my wife and I decided to go full-on tourist and take one of the many cherry blossom cruises on the Potomac.  There’s a lot of them, and the one we chose was great.  The Boomerang Yacht departs from Georgetown Harbor, goes down to just short of the 14th St. Bridge, and back.

“The same company operates the Pirate Ship and I found it more than ironic that this ship was spotted right in front of the Watergate complex!”

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The irony of spotting a pirate ship in front of the Watergate Complex!

To pursue the cherry blossom is to be rewarded by the puffy quilted look of hundreds of blooming trees lining the Potomac River, the Tidal Basin, and around all the major monuments. The roads are choked with traffic and people from all over the world are out there with selfie-sticks, zoom lenses, and endearing family poses.

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On the day of our cruise there was activity everywhere!  Kayaks filled the river, bicycles, strollers, and joggers filled the bike path, and slow-moving traffic filled the streets.  On this day, the river cruise was the place to be!

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To catch the cherry blossoms at peak is to experience a vivid quilted dreamscape. They blanket the river and monuments for 1-2 weeks and then they are gone.

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The Jefferson Memorial viewed from the river.

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The Washington Monument viewed from the Boomerang Cherry Blossom Cruise.

DC is a great city in many ways but I personally do not get out on the river much.  This day I wondered why that was because there’s no shortage of ways to do it.  You can rent kayaks, rowing sculls, sailboats, paddle boards, canoes, and there are lots of party and dinner cruises.  Seeing the city from the water made me think I would have to start taking advantage of some of these.

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The Lincoln Memorial marks the beginning of the most impressive stretch of cherry blossoms on the riverfront.

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The Arlington, VA neighborhood of Rosslyn sitting behind the Memorial Bridge.

The opposite shore is Arlington, VA, where I live.  Heading upstream we got a great shot of Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood tucked behind the Memorial Bridge.

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The National Mall

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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As you can see from the map, this walk is really the “lower half” of the National Mall.  It covers many of the best sites, a few hidden gems and lesser known monuments.

The walk begins at about the corner of 14th and Independence.  This is roughly the mid-point of the National Mall.  Behind you is a great view of the “museum” half of the Mall.   (From left to right, the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Ave, The Museum of American History, and the domed Museum of Natural History.)

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The first monument encountered is a biggie, the Washington Monument.  “The Monument” as it is known locally is in view during this entire walk and on this very windy winter day, the flags surrounding it were rippling so hard it sounded like a rushing river.

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The monument shows white edges on the corners.  This is mortar where it underwent repairs from the 2011 earthquake that struck the DC area.  The monument was closed and encased in scaffolding for 2 1/2 years while the repairs were done.

The next monument encountered is the National World War II Memorial.  At the time of this walk it was still winter and the fountain was drained.  This is a beautiful monument and in my opinion really captures the age and character of that generation.  I will return and add photos when the fountain is operating.  The monument has a section for each state, a half dedicated to the Atlantic theater, and one to the Pacific.  It is solemn and impressive.

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The World War II Memorial is at one end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, with the Lincoln Memorial at the other end.  The  pool is currently drained for restoration.  It looked like a giant roller-rink and offered little in the way of reflection!

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As you walk toward the Lincoln Memorial, to your left you will see a domed gazebo.  This is the DC War Memorial.  It is a permanent record honoring the residents of the District of Columbia who gave their lives in military service to the country.

IMG_2860  Just before you get to the Lincoln Memorial, off to the left is the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  This is a very impressive memorial.  A Platoon of soldiers, laden with gear, wearing rain ponchos, spread out in a scouting formation marching through the brush.  At almost every angle at least one of them is looking at you, concerned, nervous.  The detail is inspiring and the backdrop is a black marble wall with faces, names, and a reflection of the Washington Monument.  This memorial deserves a post of its own one day.

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The next stop is one of the most popular monuments in all of Washington, DC.  The Lincoln Memorial, the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous ‘I have a Dream” speech, and memorial to one of our most beloved presidents.  I have lived in this area for over 30 years and it never gets old.  My children go here for Prom pictures, I ride my bike here on weekends, and always, it is packed with visitors.

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The view that Lincoln has from his chair is usually awe-inspiring and literally reflective.  On this day, however, with the water drained from the Reflecting Pool, it was lacking something.  At the top of this post I have included what I consider to be one of the finest photographs I have ever taken.  This past fall I was here with a friend at sunset as I watched two Buddhist monks playing tourist.  The colors in the picture, the sunlight on the Washington Monument, and the moment just all came together.  That is what Lincoln sees from his chair.

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The Lincoln Memorial is the farthest point from the beginning of the walk.  From there head up the other side of the Reflecting Pool.  Right before you get to the Vietnam Memorial is a sculpture called The Three Soldiers.  Officially part of the Vietnam Memorial, this is a striking piece of art and tribute to American Soldiers.  The uniforms they wear are reflective of all branches of the service.  The work is bronze but still shows color within the uniforms.  The soldiers look, with despair, at the solemn wall that is the Vietnam Memorial.

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The Vietnam Memorial, like the World War II Memorial is reflective of its generation.  Dark and filled with conflict, the black marble wall is built into the ground and tapers at each end to grade.  On it are the names of the fallen, over 50,000 of them.  As you walk through, veterans act as docents, people leave flowers, and etch the names of loved ones by tracing over the name with pencil on paper.  The reflection of the Washington Monument and the US Capitol can be seen in the memorial.  I have walked through here many times and always found it to be a moving experience.

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As you exit the Vietnam Memorial, walking toward the Washington Monument, there is a small lake and in it is a tiny island with a footbridge connecting it to the shore.  That island is a memorial to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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It’s a peaceful, almost hidden spot away from all the big monuments.  The names (56 of them) are in order of the colony they represented.  One of my favorite pieces of trivia is here.  One of the signers from my home state of New Hampshire, was named Josiah Bartlett.  If you were a fan of the NBC TV Series The West Wing, you know that the President of the United States in that show was from a storied New Hampshire political family.  Though he went by Jed, his full name was Josiah Bartlett.

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Continuing the walk, now on Constitution Avenue, you arrive at a small stone house on a corner.  It looks out of place among the marble and granite monuments. The Lockkeeper’s House was used back when a good part of Constitution Ave was a canal for shipping.  There was a lock here to adjust to changes in elevation.  This Washington City Canal connected the C&O Canal to the Anacostia River and barges were towed right past the US Capitol.    I find it amusing that once donkeys pulled barges right by the front door since now you can’t park a car within miles of the place!

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As you continue up Constitution Ave you pass the most famous residential address in DC, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  This view of the Whitehouse is across the Ellipse and during Christmas time the National Christmas tree which the president ceremoniously lights would be right in the center of this frame.  Despite all the police cars, there was no incident going on, this is just the standard security around the perimeter.

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The last site on the walk is the newest museum, still under construction.  The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture is scheduled to open in 2016, it occupies the last available space on the National Mall for a museum, right between the Museum of American History and the Washington Monument.

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The last leg of the walk is across the National Mall at 14th St.  As you cross, look left.  On this day, the setting sun was was shining on a great view of the  US Capitol, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Castle.

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Washington DC’s Tidal Basin

IMG_1452   This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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You can almost guess the time of day from this route. The gap in pictures is because at that point I was pointing into the setting sun.

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In the spring this view of the Jefferson Memorial would be obscured by thick quilted cherry blossoms.

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Temperatures approaching 60 degrees brought out lots of tourists during the week between Christmas and New Years.

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The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial is across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial.

I did this walk on an unseasonably warm day between Christmas and New Years.  Temperatures nearly reached 60° and there were lots of people out taking advantage of it.  The Tidal Basin is a man-made body of water between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel.  It serves a functional purpose as a buffer between the river and channel slowing the current of the tidal flows.  Without it, the channel would fill with sediment. IMG_1424   It also serves as ground zero for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.  The basin is lined with cherry blossom trees and during the 2-3 weeks when they are in bloom the paths are crowded like the streets of Manhattan.  The views are fantastic and it’s a great walk.IMG_1427 One infamous event took place here in 1974 when Congressman Wilbur Mills was stopped by police near the Tidal Basin.  Mills, a democrat from Arkansas was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  In the car with him was a stripper known as the “Argentine Firecracker” who went by the stage name of Fanne Fox.  As police stopped the vehicle she jumped out of the car and into the Tidal Basin!  The incident sparked a typical Washington media firestorm and a short while later Mills was reelected with 60% of the vote.  Same as it ever was. IMG_1434

As you stroll around the Tidal Basin you will enjoy dramatic views of monuments like the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.  The location also includes the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the George Mason Memorial but I will leave those for another walk of West Potomac Park.

IMG_1437   When I was a kid i had a toy called the View-Master.  It was a sort of personal slide projector that you looked into like binoculars.  Round slide sheets inserted into it and the user slid a lever to advance the slides.  Because of the stereographic quality of putting one image in front of each eye, the experience created 3-D images with gorgeous colors.

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The reflection of the Washington Monument on this warm winter day was like a painting!

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One brief section of the Tidal Basin gives a view of the US Capitol (presently undergoing a dome restoration).

One of the slide sheets showed scenes around Washington, DC including all the monuments, the cherry blossoms, and views around the Tidal Basin.  I can still remember those images and now with the exception of some new monuments, little else has changed in this scene.

I parked in a free lot underneath the 14th St. Bridge in the zone where East Potomac Park transitions to West Potomac Park.  From there the path around the Tidal Basin and back to the car was almost exactly three miles.

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A Walk Around the US Capitol

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Scaffolding covers the Capitol dome for a massive restoration project. The work is done at night with the help of over 700 LED lights to guide the workers.

This is the second in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  Click the link to see the rest!

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

 

This weekend my wife joined me and we walked around the US Capitol.  I have been going out just before sunset and that has been producing fantastic photos.  The soft low light of the winter sunset creates warm glowing colors and everything looks so beautiful!  Even the scaffold-encased Capitol dome looks magical with the pink light of sunset!

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The Museum of the American Indian makes a statement before you even enter it. Golden limestone was used to resemble rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water over the centuries,

We started at the southwest corner of Capitol Hill near the National Museum of the American Indian.  Dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture of native Americans, this building is one of the newest on the National Mall.  The building is made from golden limestone and is inspired from rock formations shaped by wind and water over the centuries.  It is ethereal and mystical.

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The oldest of the 4 House Office Buildings, the Cannon Building was constructed in 1908.

From there we walked up the House side of the hill, past the famous House office buildings, Cannon, Rayburn, Ford, and Longworth.  If you watch any shows based in Washington DC, House of Cards, Scandal, the West Wing, Homeland, they all feature footage from these seats of power.  You walk past benches where scenes have been filmed, past the Capitol veranda where inaugurations take place.  It’s both a powerful symbolic location and a beautiful open park at the same time.

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The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

As you reach the top of the hill, the magnificent Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress comes into view.  This building is worthy of a blog post all its own.  It has a rotunda with mosaic tiled interior over the “Old Reading Room”, and a Gutenberg Bible on display.  Outside, the building is no less magnificent with elaborate sculpture, imposing columns, and entrances.

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It’s not an easy neighborhood in which to stand out.  The US Capitol is across the street and the Supreme Court is next door! Not a problem, however, for the ornate architecture of the Library of Congress.

Next to the Library of Congress is the Supreme Court with its imposing steps, visually setting the court above all else.  Here, on a casual walk, is the origin of Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v Wade, and Bush v Gore to name just a few landmark cases!

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Part of the Supreme Court’s design is the large imposing steps that set the court on a higher plane, symbolically putting it above all else.

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The US Supreme Court

As you pass the Supreme Court you round the corner to the Senate side.  We had an unseasonably warm day in the mid 60’s and there were tons of people out jogging, with strollers, on bikes, and just sight seeing like us.

As we headed down the hill the sun was beginning to set.  We discovered something I had never noticed before.  The Summerhouse is a small brick hexagonal grotto with a fountain and some benches inside a brick enclosure.  It’s very charming!

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This small, almost hidden brick grotto is called Summerhouse. Built into the sloping west front lawn, it is a charming spot to rest and cool off on a hot day.

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The Summerhouse on the front west lawn of the US Capitol

Built over a hundred years ago, it is simply there to be pretty and offer travelers a spot to rest and restore.  It has a decorative fountain as well as drinking fountains.

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As we reached the bottom of Capitol Hill we arrived at the massive reflecting pool.  There is also some awe-inspiring sculpture!  Giant lions on pedestals, a stately Ulysses S. Grant astride his horse, and President James Garfield all have prominent spots.  There are also two large compositions that vividly depict civil war battle scenes.

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This large sculpture is one of a pair of vivid recreations of civil war battle scenes.

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In the center of a prominent intersection at the base of Capitol Hill is a solemn sculpture honoring assassinated president James Garfield.

As we got to the reflecting pool, the sun was setting and we were just in time for some spectacular pictures.  The light was perfect!

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The I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery.

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The last shards of sunlight turn the Canadian Embassy pink and gold.

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The setting sun highlights the silhouettes of the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Castle on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

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On the weekends (especially in the winter) parking on the National Mall is pretty easy.  If you pick a spot near the Museum of the American Indian and walk up the hill and around the Capitol it comes out to just about 3 miles.  There is also a metro stop called Smithsonian.  It comes up right on the Mall, but would make for a longer walk around the Capitol.

We had the good fortune of a gorgeous day, perfect sunset, and light crowds.  I felt a little guilty as my many friends in New England are battling heavy snow and arctic temperatures!

π

The US Capitol

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Scaffolding covers the Capitol dome for a massive restoration project. The work is done at night with the help of over 700 LED lights to guide the workers.

This is the second in a series of 10 DC Walks.  Click the link to see the rest!

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

 

This weekend my wife joined me and we walked around the US Capitol.  I have been going out just before sunset and that has been producing fantastic photos.  The soft low light of the winter sunset creates warm glowing colors and everything looks so beautiful!  Even the scaffold-encased Capitol dome looks magical with the pink light of sunset!

US Capitol-03

The Museum of the American Indian makes a statement before you even enter it. Golden limestone was used to resemble rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water over the centuries,

We started at the southwest corner of Capitol Hill near the National Museum of the American Indian.  Dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture of native Americans, this building is one of the newest on the National Mall.  The building is made from golden limestone and is inspired from rock formations shaped by wind and water over the centuries.  It is ethereal and mystical.

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The oldest of the 4 House Office Buildings, the Cannon Building was constructed in 1908.

From there we walked up the House side of the hill, past the famous House office buildings, Cannon, Rayburn, Ford, and Longworth.  If you watch any shows based in Washington DC, House of Cards, Scandal, the West Wing, Homeland, they all feature footage from these seats of power.  You walk past benches where scenes have been filmed, past the Capitol veranda where inaugurations take place.  It’s both a powerful symbolic location and a beautiful open park at the same time.

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The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

As you reach the top of the hill, the magnificent Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress comes into view.  This building is worthy of a blog post all its own.  It has a rotunda with mosaic tiled interior over the “Old Reading Room”, and a Gutenberg Bible on display.  Outside, the building is no less magnificent with elaborate sculpture, imposing columns, and entrances.

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It’s not an easy neighborhood in which to stand out.  The US Capitol is across the street and the Supreme Court is next door! Not a problem, however, for the ornate architecture of the Library of Congress.

Next to the Library of Congress is the Supreme Court with its imposing steps, visually setting the court above all else.  Here, on a casual walk, is the origin of Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v Wade, and Bush v Gore to name just a few landmark cases!

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Part of the Supreme Court’s design is the large imposing steps that set the court on a higher plane, symbolically putting it above all else.

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The US Supreme Court

As you pass the Supreme Court you round the corner to the Senate side.  We had an unseasonably warm day in the mid 60’s and there were tons of people out jogging, with strollers, on bikes, and just sight seeing like us.

As we headed down the hill the sun was beginning to set.  We discovered something I had never noticed before.  The Summerhouse is a small brick hexagonal grotto with a fountain and some benches inside a brick enclosure.  It’s very charming!

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This small, almost hidden brick grotto is called Summerhouse. Built into the sloping west front lawn, it is a charming spot to rest and cool off on a hot day.

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The Summerhouse on the front west lawn of the US Capitol

Built over a hundred years ago, it is simply there to be pretty and offer travelers a spot to rest and restore.  It has a decorative fountain as well as drinking fountains.

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As we reached the bottom of Capitol Hill we arrived at the massive reflecting pool.  There is also some awe-inspiring sculpture!  Giant lions on pedestals, a stately Ulysses S. Grant astride his horse, and President James Garfield all have prominent spots.  There are also two large compositions that vividly depict civil war battle scenes.

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This large sculpture is one of a pair of vivid recreations of civil war battle scenes.

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In the center of a prominent intersection at the base of Capitol Hill is a solemn sculpture honoring assassinated president James Garfield.

As we got to the reflecting pool, the sun was setting and we were just in time for some spectacular pictures.  The light was perfect!

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The I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery.

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The last shards of sunlight turn the Canadian Embassy pink and gold.

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The setting sun highlights the silhouettes of the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Castle on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

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On the weekends (especially in the winter) parking on the National Mall is pretty easy.  If you pick a spot near the Museum of the American Indian and walk up the hill and around the Capitol it comes out to just about 3 miles.  There is also a metro stop called Smithsonian.  It comes up right on the Mall, but would make for a longer walk around the Capitol.

We had the good fortune of a gorgeous day, perfect sunset, and light crowds.  I felt a little guilty as my many friends in New England are battling heavy snow and arctic temperatures!

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The National Gallery of Art – Featuring the Only da Vinci in the United States

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Ginevra de’ Benci, c1474 oil painting on a wood panel.

Thirty-five years ago on a college semester in Paris, I visited the Louvre.  Like most tourists I made a beeline for the Mona Lisa and took a picture through the thick glass that protects her.

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Ginevra de’ Benci is painted on a wood panel and this is the back of it. It is loaded with significance, and each item depicted has multiple meanings.

I would not see another da Vinci until this past summer when I visited Poland, and saw the  Lady with an Ermine.  Very few of his works survive and most are in Europe.

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Lady with an Ermine hangs in the Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland. When I went pictures were not allowed, so this photo is from Wikipedia.

It was in Krakow, at the Wawel Castle that I learned this fact.  Of all da Vinci’s paintings, there were only three female portraits.  A basic google search brings this into question, but I am no art expert and was not about to argue with a museum guide.  The guide said the Mona Lisa was one, Lady with an Ermine the second, and the third was called Ginevra de’ Benci and hung in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC!

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It was here at the Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland that I saw da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”, and learned she was one of only three portraits of a woman. I also learned that the third (after the Mona Lisa) was on display in Washington, DC, 5 miles from my house!

My friend and Polish guide Radek was with me and was planning on visiting DC in the Fall so we agreed when he got there we would visit it together and join what had to be a small club of people who had seen all three.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday we visited the National Gallery.  It’s right on the National Mall, between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.  The museum has a world class collection including some of the most famous impressionist works known.

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The National Gallery of Art hosts a world class collection including this Van Gough masterpiece!

I also learned, however, that the Ginevra de’ Benci is the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the entire United States!  I’ve lived in the DC area for over 30 years and had no idea!  This painting is approximately 540 years old and radiates timeless beauty!

The DC painting was, for me, the best experience of the three.  The Mona Lisa constantly has a giant crowd around it and the glass case is so thick it’s hard to see the detail of the painting.  The Lady with an Ermine though strikingly beautiful, is small, and heavily guarded in a rather dark room, and again, one cannot get very close to it, nor photograph it.

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Pardon the blurry photo, this is the sign beside the painting. There’s a very interesting story about the painting including the symbolism on the back.

 

Meanwhile, in the National Gallery, you can get up very close and see the brush strokes!  The lighting is ideal and the crowds that day were nonexistent.  The painting is on a wood panel and features painting on the back as well!

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The Smithsonian National Gallery of Art is a wonderful place to visit even if you don’t see a single painting! It is a serene welcome break from the more touristy museums that surround it.

 

If you’re planning a trip to Washington, DC, I highly recommend a visit to the National Gallery.  Like the rest of the Smithsonian, it is free.  It is beautiful, peaceful, and offers a glorious place to sit and relax after enduring the Air & Space Museum, or the Museum of American History!

If you live in the DC area, I encourage you to visit the National Gallery frequently.  Visit just a single room or style and focus just on that.  It is a world class art collection with free and convenient access.

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