Day 31 – Washington DC

Yesterday was cold, today was freezing.  The howling winds of last night continued this morning, and with snow cover on the ground, we chose to defer the visit to Arlington cemetery and opt to visit indoor attractions.

Every visit to Washington requires a visit to one or more of the Smithsonian museums, a collection of 19 museums and galleries, mainly gathered around the National Mall.  Unless you were staying in Washington for a week or more, you couldn’t hope to cover all of the museums.  Given we were only going to have one day to explore the museums, we chose three.

First was the National Museum of American History.  Pride of place in this museum is the original 30 by 34 foot American flag, that hung over a fort in Baltimore during a battle in 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “Star Spangled Banner”, but didn’t become the national anthem until 1931.  Hearing the context in which the song was written now gives me a whole new understanding of the words of the anthem.

There are many other sections of the museum, covering many aspects of America’s history and culture, but we both felt like we were seeing a lot of what we had seen in other museums on the trip, so kept our visit relatively short.

Next was the Natural History Museum.  Tracing the evolution of the world, we spent a lot of time just in the amazing prehistoric and dinosaur halls.  The range of dinosaur skeletons on display is staggering.  Feeling a bit leg weary, we had a quick look through the marine section then took in the 3D IMAX movie on dinosaurs, which had families with little kiddies leaving throughout the show as various dinosaurs gnashed their teeth at the audience.  Last stop was the butterfly display, with hundreds of live butterflies in a hothouse like enclosure.

Before we left the museum, Jane had me posing for photographs with the life size elephant in the main atrium.  Amusing herself no end, she had me strategically positioning my hand so that it looks like I was catching droppings out of its enormous bottom (I thought she was making it look like I was holding its tail … )   In return, I made her hold a box of popcorn so it looked like the elephant was eating out of it.  I think she got the better end of the deal.

Time gets away from you in these museums, so we were running short of time to see the Air and Space Museum.  Fortunately we arriving in the museum just as a tour guide was starting his presentation around the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.  Once again I was amazed at the encyclopedic knowledge of the guide, and his insight into the lunar mission was fascinating.

Hearing the stories of what was required to achieve a successful mission, and the near misses they had that could have made it a very unsuccessful mission, was fascinating, especially given the relatively primitive computers available at the time.  Apparently a eulogy for the three astronauts was prepared, just in case.  I wonder if they told the astronauts that before they took off ?

Our guide concluded his tour with the story of the original benefactor of the Smithsonian.  James Smithson, a British scientist in the 1700 and 1800’s, left his fortune to his nephew, with the stipulation that if his nephew died without any surviving children, then his estate was to the United States of America to create “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.  This funding created the Smithsonian Institute, a very generous gift from a man who never set foot in the US.

Feeling the tiredness of a long tourist day on the hoof, we caught a cab to Georgetown and found an Italian restaurant for a heart warming bowl of pasta for dinner, before returning to the hotel to watch an in-house movie from the comfort of bed.  (I don’t know why Jane doesn’t want to put a TV in our bedroom at home)

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