Washington DC

That Time I Spent the Night at the Air and Space Museum

by on July 8, 2016

IMG_0640 (2)On Friday, July 1, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. celebrated its 40th birthday with an all night event inside the museum. Much like when the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland decided to celebrate Leap Day in 2012 with a 24-hour event, this Air and Space overnight was special simply because it had never been done. And I was there.

I’m going to start discussing my night by jumping to the end and admitting that I lied to you in the title. I didn’t make it all night–in fact, I barely made it past 3am. There are lots of reasons why and several of them are “I am very lame,” but I’ll get to the others as we go.

The Launch Crew

Most of the event was free of charge, but beginning at 8pm there was a 2-hour Launch Crew event. This event was $40 per person (21-and-over only) and here was the pitch:

Get exclusive access to Museum staff, special guests, and our outstanding objects. Sample food and beverages from DC area establishments and help launch the night’s festivities.

It is true that the above happened, but I don’t think they kept with the spirit of that description. Yes, museum staff were hanging around, but it seemed mostly to keep us from wandering (and they had no notifiers of who they were, so I didn’t even know what questions to ask). The special guests were there for a bit, but there were not many of them (see Destination Moon below). The objects were outstanding, but they kept us bottled in basically two different sections (one at a time), so the only non-busy section I saw was one that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to go into.

By far the most disappointing part, however, was the sample food and drink. I never expected unlimited booze, because that’s just asking for trouble, but for $40/person I expected a few beers. What we got was a checklist and instructions that we could have one of each item on them. That included a few snacks, one cocktail, and one beer–and not even a full beer, a six-ounce cup. Yes, I ended up getting three cocktails because I am sneaky and the woman checking off that square tended to chat with other people, but that’s not the point.

There was nothing in particular that felt like the $40 was worth the price and everyone else I spoke with felt the same way. It was cool being in the museum with a smattering of people, and our second floor overlook of everyone else coming in to the newly redesigned Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was interesting, but it was kind of boring.

Milestones of Flight

As mentioned, the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was newly redesigned and officially unveiled at 9pm on July 1. Since members of the Launch Crew still had a private gallery upstairs (the Pioneers of Flight), I mostly stayed there. Later in the night, however, I did wander down into the new entrance hall and it is really well done. The star is the recreation of the LM-2 Lunar Module (seen in photo above), although I dare say the most popular is the Starship Enterprise model (from the original Star Trek TV series). I won’t go into detail of everything in the hall, but I did on our Twitter feed if you scroll back to July 1.

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Washington DC: The Joy of Monuments in the Morning

by on July 4, 2016

2016-04-03 at 06-03-00Today is July 4, known in the United States of America as Independence Day in honor of the day we Brexited 240 years ago. Since we’ve been spinning up our coverage of America’s Capital following the release of the Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., I figured there was no better time to take an early morning walk through some of the most spectacular monuments in the United States.

Let’s get this out of the way: the unequivocal best times to visit the monuments along the National Mall are from sunset to sunrise–and yes, I mean overnight. Sunset and sunrise obviously offer dramatic natural lighting, but the monuments are also wonderfully lit during the night hours. The effects are striking and the sites are open 24 hours.

With that in mind, most visitors peruse the monuments during the bright daylight hours. Sure they’re still majestic, but the hot sun and masses of people can detract from their optimal enjoyment. On a recent trip to Washington, I took my own advice. Now, I tend to be an early to bed, early to rise type of fellow so this walk starts around 6:00am, but you don’t have to be do that. The latest photos below were taken close to 8:00am and, as you’ll see, there is still no one around.

Jefferson Memorial

I began this trip at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, built in honor of our nation’s 3rd President. It is a wonderful structure with an equally wonderful view and will definitely be the subject of a future post where I can do a deep dive into it’s history.

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Follow Along All Night Tonight from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

by on July 1, 2016

Tonight, July 1, I (Brian) will be spending all night at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. As part of the museum’s 40th birthday celebration, they are burning the midnight oil and keeping the incomparable collection of aeronautic excellence open from 8pm until 8am…and I will be there. Not only is it open, there is an entire night of entertainment lined up.

I’m starting the night at a 21-and-over launch party that will include “samplings of food and beverages from DC area establishments” and then attempting to stay up all night–something that I am entirely too old/lame for. Luckily for you, I will be posting all of my unique, overtired, and possibly delirious on all of our social media outlets.

Follow along on Twitter for comments, Facebook for live chats, and Snapchat (TouringPlans) for general weirdness. I will try to make it all the way until the end as well as provide insight, entertainment, and fun. Sadly, I can promise exactly none of those things.

Washington DC Dining Quick Hits: The BBQ Joint and Momofuku CCDC

by on June 14, 2016

2016-04-02 at 11-03-29Washington, D.C. is a great place to visit. Sure, it’s not a theme park, but the entertainment and educational mix of opportunities are without equal in America. The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. covers a lot of things, as those guides tend to do (and it is fabulously written might I add). The guide, however, tends to focus on some of the best restaurants available and we’ve been getting questions (for real, we have) about more…reasonably priced offerings.

Since I occasionally travel to D.C. for research I also end up eating, and I rarely have the time or the expense account for elaborate meals. Therefore, I seek out cheap-to-mid-priced options and relay them to you as these mini-reviews.

2016-04-02 at 14-35-25The BBQ Joint

The small city I live in has some surprisingly decent food options, but the two things that I love that it does not do very well are Hispanic food and barbecue. Because of that, I seek either of those out whenever I get the chance. There are a few different spots for barbecue around D.C. so I decided to pick one that got generally good reviews and thus ended up at the descriptively named BBQ Joint, owned by chef Andrew Evans.

There are four different locations: Easton and Pasadena in Maryland and Union Market and 14th Street in the District. I visited the 14th Street NW location, which is in the U Street area of the city–I picked that one basically because I was in the area.

It’s a relatively small, narrow spot that clearly was built as a bar. It was comfortable, if a little dark, but there’s no need to spend any more time on the atmosphere–it was fine but nothing that will enhance the rating. Sadly, that was kind of how I felt about the food, too.

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Washington DC: State Department Diplomatic Rooms

by on June 6, 2016

2015-12-18 at 14-56-08There are many, many (many!) tourist attractions in Washington, D.C. and we will eventually get to just about all of them on this blog (whether you like it or not). In honor the recent release of the all-new Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., I’ve decided to highlight a tour that we found to be both excellent and altogether surprising: The Diplomatic Rooms at the United States Department of State.

The State Department resides within a gigantic, blocky building in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom district and the exterior does not divulge the spectacular rooms within. You are asked to arrive 30 minutes early in order to make it through security and let me tell you that they will not delay the tour. Len, Laurel, and I underestimated the distance we needed to walk and got to the security shed about 5 minutes prior to our tour time. There was a tense few minutes where the security staff had to make a few calls to see if we’d be allowed in. Luckily our collective charm won them over and we made it in.

Much like walking up to the building, the initial foray in the foyer doesn’t make it seem special either. A typical government building entry and sterile hallway is where you meet the group. From there you are brought up to the top floor of the building where everything changes.

Exiting the elevator takes you into what looks like a cross between an elegant hotel and a museum. From there a guide walks you through each of the six rooms explaining each of the many, many antique pieces on display. Most are American made and many are pre-revolution. Unfortunately none of the pieces had museum-style placards to photograph and I didn’t take notes, so I cannot describe many specifics. I can tell you though, that most of what these rooms hold range from very expensive to priceless.

The tour begins in the Entrance Hall that is based on the interiors of Carter’s Grove and Westover, two Georgian plantation houses in Virginia. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the Entrance Hall, partially because it was hard to take photos of the small room with the group in there, partially because I’m a dummy and sometimes forget I’m carrying a camera. Anyway, from there, you head into the generically named Gallery with its anything-but-generic decorations. The furniture is American Queen Anne and Chippendale with an emphasis on blockfront furniture by John Townsend and John Goddard of Newport, Rhode Island. On the floor is a Baktiari rug (from around 1910) and a rug from northwest Persia (around 1900), so don’t go spilling the drink you’re not allowed to have.

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Washington, DC: The Phillips Collection

by on June 3, 2016

2016-02-14 at 15-11-21Many guests to Washington, D.C. don’t see many, if any, non-Smithsonian museums. I get it, they’re wonderful, easily accessible, and free, but there are others–lots of them. One of my personal favorites is the Phillips Collection in the Dupont Circle area. While it is not near the National Mall, it is still easy to get to being only 1 1/2 blocks up Q Street from the Dupont Circle Metro Station (Red Line).

Duncan Phillips began displaying his collected art in his family’s Dupont Circle home in 1921, even while the family still resided there. The original 1897 Georgian Revival house still makes up the part of the museum on the corner of 21st and Q Streets, although the Phillips family moved out in 1930 to accommodate the ever-growing gallery. In 1960 Duncan Phillips added what is now known as the Goh Annex – named after a Japanese businessman who funded its renovation – directly adjacent to the house. The third and final building that makes up the Phillips Collection is a former apartment building, the Sant Building, which was added in 2006 as part of a major expansion that also added 30,000 subterranean feet.

Where the Phillips Collection has an advantage over some other private art collections is that Duncan and his wife were interested in collecting modern art. Therefore, rather than having minor works by master painters, the Phillips Collection is home to some of the hottest artists of the early 20th century, people we consider masters today.

Housed within the collection are works by famous artists such as Renoir, Degas, Rothko, O’Keefe, Cezanne, and van Gogh and the museum continues to add contemporary artists. Special exhibits are also frequent, although there is a $2 increase on the weekend admission while exhibits are running. That same $12 adult fee is charged to visit any visiting exhibit on weekdays as well, although seeing only the permanent collection still remains an option for non-weekend visitors.

The interesting collection is well presented, making this a very worthwhile stop, even for a passive art lover. The museum also comprises a pleasant enclosed courtyard and a Tryst Coffeehouse that serves beverages, pastries, soups, and sandwiches. It really is possible to spend several hours enjoying the art and its surroundings despite the museum’s modest size. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by the size and scope of the major museums, the Phillips Collection might be perfect for you. Likewise, if you are a lover of impressionist and modern art, the Phillips Collection might be perfect for you too.

Notable Permanent Pieces:

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Washington, DC: Spend All Night in the Air and Space Museum

by on May 27, 2016

2016-04-02 at 17-16-55The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is turning 40 years old on July 1, 2016 and they are celebrating all night long. Beginning at 8pm on July 1, visitors can spend 12 straight hours inside the fascinating museum along with special guests and the unveiling of their new Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Here is some of what will be going on:

Launch Crew

This is a separately ticketed event costing $40 that will last from 8-10pm on July 1. Included in that price is a special program in the Moving Beyond Earth gallery, and a demonstration on what was done in the new Milestones of Flight hall. There will also be access to museum staff, special guests, and the all-important samplings of food and beverages. It is a 21-and-over event, so you can guess what some of the beverages will be.

Purchasing Launch Crew tickets also gets you guaranteed seating to the 10pm showing of Destination Moon, with live commentary by museum curators David DeVorkin and Layne Karafantis as well as Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. Tickets are on sale right now.

Opening Ceremony

For those not attending the Launch Crew party, the official opening will begin at 8:30pm outside on the spot where the building was first opened on July 1, 1976. Directly following the opening ceremony, the museum will be opened to the public: free of charge.

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Washington DC: World War II Memorial Review

by on April 29, 2016

2016-04-03 at 06-07-40World War II was a pivotal period for many countries. For the United States of America, it represented a time – some would say the last time – when the entire country was united in a singular cause. The World War II Memorial represents this unity by lining the elliptical monument with 56 pillars representing the 48 states (at the time) along with the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

These pillars form the ends of the memorials oval, with 43-foot arches acting as midpoints for the curves. Each side represents a different WWII campaign, with the north being “Atlantic” and the south “Pacific.” In the center of the memorial is a 246-foot wide, shallow, fountain-laden pool. The walls of the memorial are inscribed with scenes depicting each stage of a soldier in the war, from troops being issued uniforms right through a handshake agreement of peace. The Freedom Wall is found on the western side, complete with 4,048 gold stars: one for every 100 Americans who died during the war.

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Washington DC – The Cherry Blossom Festival Experience

by on April 12, 2016

2016-04-03 at 11-59-08I did it. I finally mustered up the courage to bury myself into the crowds of Washington, D.C.’s busiest time: the National Cherry Blossom Festival. As you know by my frequent writings, I have visited Washington numerous times. I have also lived in one of its suburbs and worked for a federal government agency right in the heart of D.C. for a handful of years. Yet I had never been near the National Mall and Tidal Basin area during the Cherrry Blossom Festival. In fact, one of the first things you’re told when you become a local is to avoid it as much as you can.

Still, I did it. I did it for you, dear readers. During the weekend of April 1-3, 2016 I waited in line at the museums, avoided getting hit by a myriad of tour buses, and walked under the trees while tourists took selfies. It was amusing, tiring, and occasionally frustrating, but I believe I learned some things from it that I can pass along to you.

Festival Overview

In short, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is a month-long celebration centered around the trees that were gifted from Japan in 1912. The festival corresponds roughly with the blooming of the flowering trees, although the exact time of their peak bloom (when >70% are in full bloom) isn’t usually known until a few weeks (or days) before it happens. The peak bloom is important because the trees only flower for a few days, especially if there is a storm or high winds.

If you visit, however, don’t plan around the peak bloom date unless you can adjust your plans last-minute: the date is very mobile. This year, for instance, here is how the announcement of peak bloom went down:

  • March 2 — National Park Service announces peak bloom as occurring between March 31 and April 3
  • March 8 — due to warm weather, peak bloom is moved up to March 18-23
  • March 15 — because of a cold snap, peak bloom is expected to occur on either March 23 or 24
  • March 23 — National Park Service officially marks today, March 23, as a peak bloom

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Washington DC Dining: DGS Delicatessen and Oyamel Cocina Mexicana

by on April 1, 2016

There are literally thousands of restaurants in Washington, D.C., even if we don’t count the fast food and chain dining. Trying to review every one of them is nearly impossible, but the Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. gives you a pretty good baseline. On my research trips to Washington I plan on eating at as many different places I can; some will be from the guide, some will not.

The two restaurants I tried on my most recent weekend in D.C. are representative of what I look for: simple and moderately priced. I enjoy food and the dining experience, but I still have a hard time justifying the price of the expensive fine dining found in a city like Washington. I prefer a simple dish, perfectly prepared in a casual environment. Since I think that’s something that’s more relatable than a $400 meal, I’ve decided to log my dining choices on the blog.

2016-02-14 at 17-57-46DGS Delicatessen

There is presumably a lot that you don’t know about me, but one of the many things that I love is a good corned beef sandwich. I happened to be in the Dupont Circle area visiting the Phillips Collection (blog post upcoming on that) and noticed that there was a well-reviewed deli/restaurant nearby so that was an easy dinner choice to make. DGS Delicatessen has two locations–Fairfax, VA and the 1317 Connecticut Ave one I visited–and is named for the District Grocery Stores that used to blanket the area.

DGS naturally serves all manners of sandwiches from pastrami to burgers as well as entrees like chicken schnitzel and braised brisket. Their dinner menu is small, but that didn’t matter to me because I was there for one thing. Well, okay, two things because DGS also has a full bar with several interesting cocktails.

Like many city restaurants, the space is long and narrow with few actual tables. DGS makes good use of the space by adding an upstairs area and having some counter and bar seating, but it’s still a small place. The decor also isn’t particularly memorable, but the exposed brick and white-tile floor are meant to evoke an old deli so they get a few points for having a purpose (*points are useless and will not matter to any rating).

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