Washington D.C. Day 8: Air and Space Museum Annex and Flying Home

Thursday was my day to fly back to California. Before my afternoon flight, my parents and I decided to explore the Air and Space Museum Annex (officially: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center), conveniently close to Dulles Airport.

The size of the center is astounding. There are very many planes inside! They're all full-size, real vehicles. Plus there's space stuff too: satellites, rockets, etc., including the space shuttle. Yes, it fits in there without a problem. And there are air-related items (engines, airplane machine guns, etc.) and air-related memorabilia: aerial photographs, food cans used by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, medals, and even antique dinner plates with a painting of a hot air balloon.

The center does a great job in the design and arrangement of all these displays.

I took pictures. I'm sorry the pictures don't have detailed commentary--we were short on time so I didn't take many notes. We did, however, manage to see almost all of the complex. The only thing I know I missed that I would like to have seen is the air traffic controller simulation/model.

Getting to my flight was easy. There was no line to check-in and security was pretty fast. The only delay was that I had to take a shuttle to my gate/terminal. I didn't have to do this when I landed the week before.

My seat had a surprisingly large amount of legroom, no discernible reason why.

I transferred in Salt Lake City before completing my journey home to San Francisco. In Salt Lake City, I wandered the terminals hunting for food. En route, I saw art; for details see the pictures. After seeing many restaurants I wasn't in the mood for, I was happy when I spotted a Quiznos on a map. But this Quiznos only sold regular sandwiches, not small ones, and I didn't want a regular sandwich because I was still somewhat full from lunch in Dulles. Instead, I grabbed a nostalgic pepperoni slice from Sbarro. I say nostalgic because I often got a slice from Sbarro when my mom brought me to the mall when I was a kid. Sadly, this slice wasn't as good as the memory of my halcyon days of mall wandering.

Update: My parents tell me that what I used to eat in the mall was from a place called Luciano Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. If only I knew at the time, I wouldn't have stopped by Sbarro!

Washington D.C. Day 7: More Parts of Capitol Hill

We awoke to a bright and clear day. After a late start (or later than planned), we took the metro to the capitol. Once there, I began taking pictures. I also recorded our walking route for posterity.

After walking around the capitol, we explored the Supreme Court building and took a tour of it. It has many gilded things (elevators, window frames, etc.). Photographing was prohibited inside the courtroom, which is sad because it has some neat features. The courtroom, with seven rows of pews, four in each side, was smaller than I expected. Above the room are Greek friezes: some allegories, some symbols, and some simply references to great lawgivers from history. For details, see these two PDFs from the Supreme Court's website: one, two. Above the bench is an intimidating clock with a second hand; I'm sure it puts lots of stress on the lawyers who come to argue before the court.

During the tour I learned that guests are seated in order of their host's seniority (the person who invited them). The press, sketch artist, marshal, clerks, etc. all have assigned seats.

The Supreme Court building had a good exhibit on Thurgood Marshall and court history. There was also a nice display on the lower level.

I didn't get to hear oral arguments because the Supreme Court wasn't in session this time of year.

We emerged from the Supreme Court to discover a bit of drizzle and lots of thunder. Unlike the previous day, this time we had umbrellas. We trotted to our next destination, the Folger Shakespeare Library. Beside its areas for educational and research work, it has a small, multi-level theater that was set up for The Tempest. The displays intrigued me enough to later look up the three-part documentary on Shakespeare in American Life. I listened to all three parts, enjoying the second episode the most. Give it a try if you're vaguely tempted.

We swung by the main Library of Congress building but found it had a huge line. We didn't wait. Instead, we looked at one adjacent building and then another, the James Madison building. My "off the beaten path" guidebook suggested going to the top to the Madison building's cafeteria. The book was right--the trip was well worth it. Though the cafeteria seemed closed, we went in anyway and found what we were seeking: panoramic windows (facing south). I didn't take any pictures because the sky was overcast, but it was still pretty cool.

In the Madison Building, we also found exhibits from the Library of Congress. Maps in our Lives showed the kind of maps we used in elementary school: for instance, a map of the world in simple colors wherein each country has a few icons for the kind of things they produce. There was also a holomap of Manhattan (subways, streets, neighborhoods) and maps of airline routes, ethnic distribution, fire control, natural gas pipelines, and even a cultural map of Wisconsin. All these map me think back to Tufte. (I read his books about how to present information visually.)

My parents then indulged me, letting me go back to the National Gallery of Art to see the rooms I missed on my earlier visit. I got to see Manet, Degas, Vuillard, a whole room of Picasso, and some other notable artists as shown in the pictures.

When we left the National Gallery, the sky was clear and perfectly sunny again. We walked to the Federal Triangle Metro, passing many marble-plated buildings on the way, but were in too much of a hurry to take pictures.

We took the metro to Foggy Bottom and walked to the Kennedy Center, passing George Washington University and the Foggy Bottom Farmers Market on the way. I recorded our route from the Foggy Bottom metro station to the Kennedy Center.

The Kennedy Center is a large, respectable-looking performing arts space. See the pictures.

While at the Kennedy Center, we found the Millennium Stage, a performance area that puts on free shows nightly. We happened to be there during a show by Tiny Ninja Theater. The artists used dime-store figures to perform an abbreviated version of Romeo & Juliet.

For dinner we headed to Herndon for one of our favorite restaurants, The Tortilla Factory. My parents have been going there since before I was born. They brought me there in a baby carrier after I was born. We've been going regularly ever since. It serves a kind of Mexican food that's so Americanized, I can't find anything like it in California (not even in the Americanized restaurants there). We returned on this trip and were satisfied.

On our way home, there was a steady rain with thunder.

Washington D.C. Day 6: Dupont Circle / Embassy Row

Since we returned to our hotel after midnight the previous night, we got a late start on this day, sleeping until 10:30am. We therefore decided it'd be better to eat in Northern Virginia rather than starve until we made it to D.C.

For lunch, we went to the Einstein's near Reston Town Center, at which I had the same quality bagel (with lox) I've learned I can consistently expect from Einstein's. The sandwich was perfect -- exactly what it should be. We also shared some fresh orange juice. It was obvious it was squeezed recently. In all, a very satisfying meal. I'd give it a 4? on my rating scale.

As we left the area, I declined to see the Reston Town Center again. I'd seen it many times while growing up and didn't feel the need to see it again; I remembered it well enough.

Then, a drive, a Metro, and a long escalator ride later, we found ourselves in Dupont Circle. We'd spend the day visiting a museum and walking Dupont Circle and Embassy Row in particular. The route we walked and the pictures I took serve as the primary documentation of what we saw.

When we stopped by the National Geographic Society, we briefly explored the museum inside. It's a small, fairly traditional science museum. We were really looking for a giant glass globe of the world which only one of my guide books (published in 2007) mentioned. When we inquired, the staff said the globe hadn't been there for six years. Ah well. We did find some nice topological maps.

When in the vicinity of Scott Circle, rain started coming down hard. We jumped into the lobby of a Marriott Courtyard, oddly the same chain in which we were staying in Virginia. The rain quickly departed, so we hurried onward to the museum I wanted to see so we could see it before it closed. Because of this need for speed and worry about the return of the rain, I didn't get to photograph Scott Circle. I would've liked to as it had three sections, each with a statue. (Zoom in the Google map to see the different green parts.)

As we walked down Massachusetts Avenue to the Phillips Collection, we realized why the part of town was called Embassy Row. (Well, it actually houses more than just embassies. But it does house many embassies.) Within two blocks we passed the embassies for Australia, Trinidad & Toboga, and Uzbekistan, along with buildings for the Congressional Black Caucus, IEEE, the Brookings Institution, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

We stopped to explore the Phillips Collection. It's one of my favorite museums. It mainly shows art that I like (impressionist and other art from late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) and not much else. It thus has a high density of enjoyable art, yet is small and therefore unintimidating. I took more pictures than I'd expect for a museum this size. In addition to the artists/works represented in the pictures I took, I noted rooms devoted each to Cezanne, O'Keeffe, Rothko, Klee, and Arthur Dove, as well as paintings by Mondrian, Pollock, Miro, Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, and William Scott, and photographs by Stieglitz.

We left the Phillips Collection to continue walking the neighborhood.

When rain approached, the park we were in at the time emptied. Even the chess players disappeared. We heard it coming as well--the thunder is a give-away--but later than the locals. I guess the natives have a better sense of impending weather than us tourists.

We retreated to Kramerbooks, an independent bookstore. It's a small place but has a good selection. We browsed for while. It has a bar/cafe, Afterwords Cafe, but the cafe is for sit-down restaurant dining; it doesn't serve snacks like Starbucks.

Hence, we went next door to Starbucks. We sat in the corner by windows looking out onto the nearby circle and people-watched. We ate a Go Raw Banana 'Bread' Flax Bar that, while walking around D.C. earlier in the week, someone gave me as a sample, and also ate a brownie and an oatmeal raisin cookie, both from Starbucks. My mom liked the banana flax bar.

I wrote in my notes at the time that Seth would like this area because it has many young women. A bit after this trip, he moved to Washington D.C. and I learned I was right.

Somewhere along this walk, by the way, we found a nice field of day lilies. "Oh, I love it," said mom.

We didn't make it to Adams Morgan--I hoped we would--before needing to turn back to head to dinner.

For dinner, I took my parents to Restaurant Nora, allegedly the country's first certificated organic restaurant. Basically, it's the Chez Panisse of the east. The menu notes that everything they use is organic except for certain types of food (foraged mushrooms, some seafood, some wines and spirits) that have no certification body. The back of the menu has a statement of philosophy and a long list describing how and from whom they source every ingredient and how each of those farmers does his or her own thing in an organic, sustainable, healthy way. I think this disclosure is the opposite of many restaurants, who are tight-lipped about who their suppliers are for fear that disclosure will reveal to competitors where to get the best quality ingredients.

We enjoyed our meal. The dishes were all fresh and creatively put together. The portion sizes were good; after the main course we had room for dessert. Later, we left dinner not overstuffed, "very comfortable."

After dinner, we had a long train ride home with lots of waiting for trains, sitting at stations. Actually, today was a slow day for the metro overall. I love the your-train-will-arrive-in-x-minutes. Usually x was less than ten except for this day.

Washington D.C. Day 5: Art Museums and Part of Capitol Hill

I ate the free breakfast at the hotel: cereal and a bad (sweet) bagel. Then I met up with my parents and we dropped J off at the airport.

We ate lunch at Chipotle. This was my first Chipotle experience; my parents at this point in time went regularly. I thought I'd be snobby and disappointed given my experience with Mexican food in California. Nevertheless, I thought my burrito was good though not well mixed. It was also messier than most burritos. I particularly liked the cilantro-lime rice--I could eat it by itself; it didn't need to be mixed with other ingredients like most burrito fillings.

We took the metro downtown. Washington D.C. was warm in the sun and nicely green. I took out my camera and began to seriously take pictures. I also recorded the route we walked from where we emerged from the metro station to where we re-entered a different one in late afternoon

We first visited the Freer Gallery. Its collection ranges all over Asia: Moghul knifes, Indian religious objects, Islamic art, Japanese screens, Vietnamese ceramics, Korean ceramics, Chinese bronze, Chinese scrolls, and various Daoist and Buddhist objects. Oddly, it also has American landscapists such as Whistler. There were explanations of every piece in the gallery. I love it!

Next up: the Sackler Gallery. It was pretty similar, with more, say, southeast Asian jugs and more Whistlers. The only thing I have to say here is that I wrote down we quickly visited the Clash of Civilizations exhibit, and also wrote a note that we saw something (sculptures?) made using models with very detailed hands, real dirt, and real hair. I don't know if these two notes are related, nor can I find any reference to an exhibit by that name on the web.

We stopped in the Smithsonian Castle to get a snack. The Castle has a nice garden with many labeled flowers.

Next up was the Hirshhorn Museum, with its good amount of interesting, modern art. We saw Mondrian, Bolotowsky, Calder, Willem de Kooning (he's still bizarre), Clifford Still, Max Ernst, and Georgia O'Keeffe. We saw a funky multimedia installation about presidents. We visited an exhibit (perhaps this one) about lighting.

We saw the special photo exhibit on Wolfgang Tillmans. It included recent political news clippings, a whole gallery of pictures of bent paper, and a series of black squares, Memorial to Victims of Organized Religions. I don't think I need to say more about this wide-ranging, sometimes strange, artist.

The Hirshhorn's Sculpture Garden was unimpressive. You know de Kooning--the guy who makes weird paintings. Well, the garden has several ugly, mangled sculptures by him. It also has a Rodin and Picasso's famous Pregnant Woman sculpture.

Incidentally, the Hirshhorn Museum was really efficient at booting us out at closing time, even shepherding us out of its outdoor sculpture garden.

The National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden was much better than the Hirshhorn's. Almost every piece was worth talking about, most in a good way (though it too has its weirdness, such as Miro's sculpture).

From this Sculpture Garden, we headed north to Metro Center, from where we took the train to Union Station. I stopped recording my route when we entered the metro station, and re-started recording the route on a new map when we emerged from Union Station.

Of course, I continued taking pictures within Union Station. By the way, Union Station has a big food court. I continued taking pictures as we walked south from Union Station through Senate Park to and around Capitol Hill. This area has nice green spaces. One parent said, "the weather's great," but the weather was only great because we started walking after 6pm. The rest of the day was pretty warm.

As night fell, we caught a metro to Eastern Market station. I stopped recording our walking route. From the Eastern Market station, we walked a block to eat dinner at The Old Siam, a Thai restaurant. The Eastern Market area has homeless people begging; they're more noticeable there than the ones downtown (who I don't recall seeing). As for dinner, it was fairly good, a 2+ or 3- on my scale. After dinner, we took the metro and returned to our hotel.

On a future trip, I'd like to visit Eastern Market and its farmers market after they've rebuilt. We didn't bother going this trip because the market recently burned. I first heard about it when an NPR commentator profiled the market after its fire.

Washington D.C. Day 4: National Gallery and Ballston (VA)

I took a good number of pictures this day.

After brunch in the hotel, some friends and I took the metro into D.C. It was a comfortable, overcast day, warm in the sun.

Our destination was the National Gallery of Art. It's a respectable museum though I was disappointed there are few to no explanations of pieces.

The West Building has traditional art up through the nineteenth century, mostly Italian (some religious), French, and German. This building has all the good impressionists: Pissarro (who I like), Monet (who I like) (including The Houses of Parliament, Sunset), Gauguin (who I don't like much), and Cezanne (who's somewhere in the middle). Also, I enjoyed paintings by Canaletto (incredibly detailed), Turner, and Thomas Cole (except for the religious parts).

The National Gallery also has an exhibit of medals (a la coins) from the Renaissance. In addition, it has an exhibit of sketches that wasn't my thing.

The special exhibit on early photography (Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945) showed photographs that look like they were taken by people who just discovered the camera. Most were experimental, some were activist, some were montages, and some were surreal (but the surreal photos at the Mountain View festival I attended shortly before are better).

In order to spend time in the East Building, we didn't view the north side of the ground floor of the West Building.

The East Building has modern art. We saw Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Ruscha, Pollock, Calder (his pieces make awesome shadows), Jasper Johns, and O'Keeffe, among others. Sadly, we didn't have time to finish exploring the building. I'll have to come back sometime.

We spent several hours at the National Gallery.

During the trip, I heard about an art project to photograph pay-phones (before they disappear). Sounds neat!

Upon leaving the museum, we happened upon a gay street festival: Capital Pride. The shop booths sold colorful glass items in the shapes of hearts, stars, etc. The food booths sold crab cakes, gyros, crepes, fajitas, funnel cakes, etc. Sadly, most booths were closed; we stumbled upon the festival too late in the day.

We headed to Ballston, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, to meet a friend of one of us (E). Downtown Ballston, located next to the metro station, has a nice four-story mall. There are also bars around. The area was fairly empty when we visited. Away from the main drag, Ballston is pretty bland (like the rest of Arlington). Lots of brick buildings and houses.

With this friend, we went out for Afghani food at Bamian in Falls Church. The menu explained Afghanistan: "Afghanistan has occupied a favored invasion route since antiquity and was known as Ariana or Bactria in ancient times." Sounds a bit politically-loaded given the times.

Our waiter was funny. For instance, when asking him about a Afghani "dough" drink, he asked us about a different drink (a lassi I think): "Tried that? Liked it? Don't get this! It's an acquired taste."

Over dinner E's friend told us about bar tricks and about his drinking kickball league, which apparently is very popular in the area.

How To Give A Best Man Toast / Speech

I recently had to give a best-man-type toast/speech. While there's a wealth of advice on this topic on the web, it takes some time to get past the useless (to me) lists of two-sentence pithy / memorable / funny / touching / famous / witty / etc. quotes to get to guidelines on how to give a toast that is more like a speech. Here are the sites I found useful in no particular order:

Wedding Speeches. Includes many pages with suggestions and guidelines.
The Perfect Toast
Wedding Toasts and Speeches. Similarly good; has many advice articles and allows one to pay to have a toast written.
About.com has many pages about giving toasts. Most are useless. Here are the good ones:
I Rise to Toast the Bride and Groom. Has honest, personal opinions (with which I sometimes disagree).
Introduction to Wedding Speeches and Wedding Toasts. Has an interesting list on how toasts vary depending on the speaker's relationship with the couple.
Despite practice, not surprisingly I got a little tongue-tied during the actual event. Still, I think I managed to get across everything I intended to. Your experience may vary.

If you attended the B and C's wedding in 2007 and want a copy of my speech (or at least the written copy of what I intended to say), just ask.

Addendum: I later found another useful advice column: Modern Manners Guy's How to Make a Wedding Toast. This should go in the list above but I prefer to keep separate the list of columns I read before my speech and after.

Washington D.C. Day 3: Clarendon (VA) and a Wedding

On Saturday, we had some time to kill before the wedding. Some friends and I went to Arlington for brunch. In particular we went to the Market Common in the Clarendon section of Arlington. On the way we got lost around the Dolly Madison, Chain Bridge area, names of roads of recognized from my youth (but that didn't help getting us un-lost).

I discovered Arlington is nice, quaint, and manicured. The retail area puts its parking above the stores, allowing for nice views of shops' facades to remain unblemished by visible large expanses of asphalt.

We ate in Harry's Tap Room. I started taking pictures at this point. Harry's specializes in local, organic, natural food. I'd give it a 3 on my rating scale (which is pretty good). For details see the pictures.

After lunch, we walked around the area. The temperature was in the mid-80s, which was actually surprisingly pleasant in the shade or when clouds covered the sun.

We then returned to our hotel to prepare for the wedding. I don't have much to say about the wedding; it's a private affair. Where it was held, the atrium in Meadowlark Botanic Garden in Vienna, is a lovely setting for a wedding. I wrote down at the time that I wanted to comment on the vows, toasts, icebreaker (!), seating arrangements, and the style of wedding. However, as I'm writing this years after the time, I don't remember anything in particular I wanted to say. I think by "icebreaker" I might have been referring to a crossword puzzle they handed out. Entitled "Fuzzy and Techie", it was a neat combination: every answer was clued twice, once using fuzzy (humanities-oriented) hints and once using techie (science-oriented) hints. These reflected the background of the couple. Many fuzzy clues centered on the law and many techie clues on chemistry. I did a run-through of the crossword for the groom to verify everything worked and made sense. As an example of one of the wittiest clues, the same answer was clued both by "group lawsuit" and "taking a test." I think I called this puzzle an icebreaker because it got people to talk to each other regardless of whether they spoke the same academic language or not and help each other answer questions.

I participated twice in the wedding events, once reading a cute Ogden Nash poem (Reprise), and once giving a best-man-type-speech for B. The Nash poem was even funnier in the context of the ceremony because it immediately followed the reading of one of Shakespeare's sonnets. Ogden Nash, by the way, is a witty poet; I like much of his work.

On the way back to the hotel from the wedding venue, we crossed over a nice river. I guess I didn't notice it on the way.

Washington D.C. Day 2: Holocaust Museum

Last night, I stayed with my parents in the Fairfield in Chantilly, near Dulles Airport. I had a decent continental breakfast from its lounge, well stocked with donuts, muffins, bread, waffles, toast, yogurt, fruit, coffee, juices, etc. After breakfast, my parents dropped me off at the Tysons Corner Holiday Inn to meet some friends. I stayed at the Holiday Inn for the next two days with everyone else attending the wedding.

My friends and I took the metro downtown. Emerging from the station, I took out my camera. I took only a few pictures this day. I also recorded our walking route from when we appeared downtown until we re-entered the metro after dinner.

Walking around downtown, we sweltered in the 90-something degree heat. We quickly headed to our intended destination, the Holocaust Museum, stumbling on the small USDA farmers market on the way.

The Holocaust Museum's lobby is a bleak brick train station, yet it has hopeful tiles with messages from children (ages 6-15) on the wall. This made me wonder at what age kids should learn about the Holocaust. By the way, the wall is also known as the Wall of Remembrance.

The exhibit on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was interesting and detailed. I learned that The Protocols was plagiarized largely from a French work that didn't mention Jews. I also learned that in the 2000s, despite being fiction, it's still being published as if it were true. And, of course, it's in many places on the internet.

The children's exhibit was clearly for kids. The diary entries of children from the Holocaust began as full-page entries and later were mere dirty fragments. The museum does a good age-appropriate job in this exhibit.

The special exhibit on the ghetto in Lodz (the second largest city in Poland) portrayed how the community managed itself: its bureaucracy, currency (yes, it has its own), its stamps, its hospitals, its schools, its cultural and social life, and even how it strictly rationed itself. The community chose who received the limited supplies it received, and how much. All of this was to try to make as normal a world for the children as possible, but the fundamental message I got from this exhibit was that scarcity makes life difficult no matter how much you try. Governing is even more difficult when no one knew what was going to happen next or where people forced into vehicles were going. Incidentally, the presentation space was good at separating the sounds in this exhibit from the sounds in the neighboring exhibit.

The extensive permanent exhibit, though crowded, is powerful. Something about the displays reminded me how recent this horrific event was, made it feel closer than it did before. I had a similar reaction when I toured Martin Luther King's Historic Site in Atlanta.

The first section in the permanent exhibit, on the rise of the Nazis before the war, discusses the science of race and how the Germans defined someone as a Jew by the number of Jewish grandparents. This reminded me of how black was defined during the days of slavery and reconstruction in the United States. This section of the exhibit shows how the Germans, besides prosecuting Jews (even trampling Torahs), prosecuted Jehovah's witnesses (none of whom recanted), Poles (who the Germans viewed as being racially worse, though they had trouble distinguishing them from Germans), and even Freemasons. There was a backlash against targeting certain groups; for instance, people protested killing handicapped kids.

I also learned that the Evian conference, an international conference in 1938 intended to convince countries to let in more (Jewish) refugees, was useless. The conference, combined with reading the display on the ship St. Louis, vividly illustrates that immigration policy is always relevant.

In the section that covered WWII, I learned a lot about the Warsaw ghetto. I learned about the Warsaw ghetto revolt and how the rebels were valiant to the end. I learned there were footbridges for Jews over the non-Jewish parts of ghettos. (Basically, if some parts of a neighborhood weren't Jewish but divided the Jewish parts from one another, rather than make the non-Jews move, the Nazi built bridges connecting the Jewish parts so the Jews wouldn't have to leave the segregated part of the ghetto.)

I'm amazed that the museum has so many pictures of the Warsaw ghetto, even pictures of the rebels. The museum also has a wall from the Warsaw ghetto.

About the Kovno ghetto, I learned that the popularly-elected leaders of the ghetto rebelled. That takes chutzpah--the Nazis knew who the leaders where because they coordinated with them on ghetto rules. In rebelling, the leaders knew they would be killed.

Halfway through the permanent exhibit, there's a room by the stairs without any information; it's simply meant for visitors to refresh themselves before they continue on.

The museum has physical artifacts: shoes, hair, and other belongings. It also has a photo-montage of arms showing tattooed numbers.

I (re-)learned that the Allies didn't bomb Auschwitz because they wanted to see first-hand the conditions there.

Also, the museum tells stories about how Bulgaria, Sweden, and Denmark protected Jews, and describes how Norway became cleansed.

There's a four-story tower of family pictures of residents from a town, Eishyshok, that the Nazis destroyed.

Most of the last floor of the permanent exhibit is devoted to protests, rebels, and individual and group actions of resistance. The nearly final room is about war crime trials. Not enough people were convicted.

The last room is video interviews with survivors.

Like all visitors to the museum, I was given an identity card with the biographical information of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. In my case, I was an Italian Jew who was a lawyer turned pianist (after he wasn't allowed to practice law). Eventually he was deported to Auschwitz and, there, committed suicide.

In better news, The Hall of Remembrance is a beautiful sanctuary.

We spent several hours in the museum. I'm glad I visited with someone who knows much history and could answer the questions I had that weren't answered by the displays.

By the way, I was surprised the museum said practically nothing about Israel.

After the museum, we were hungry. It was a bit early for dinner but we decided to go for it. After wandering a bit, we found a random Italian place downtown, Finemondo. For the somewhat shocking details, see the pictures.

In the evening, we had a pre-wedding gathering for the groom in O'Malley Irish pub, conveniently located in our hotel. It was nice to see long-lost college friends again. But, O'Malley didn't treat us well. The waitress wasn't competent. She didn't really ask whether we wanted anything. If she had, I'm sure we would've ordered so much more that our tab would've been at least double. Also, she wasn't good about cleaning off the table. Finally, to top off the experience, at the end of the night, at closing time the bartender simply said, "Get out."

We retired to a sitting area in a nearby hallway to continue our conversation.

Washington D.C. Day 1: Travel

My journey began on June 7, 2007, with some uneventful train rides to the airport followed by an uneventful cross-country plane flight. What little I saw of Salt Lake City's airport during my brief stopover seemed decent enough. I flew Delta, giving the opportunity to compare its snacks with those served on United, my frequent carrier. I rediscovered how chompable Sun Chips are. :) I also had a boxed snack of havarti-flavored processed cheese spread, whole grain crackers, and Oreos. Considering the creaminess of the cheese and the richness of the crackers (they were so buttery as to be like Ritz), I wonder how many people are tricked by the whole grain label into thinking they're healthy. It's a high-fat, high-sugar snack. The Quaker Oatmeal Apples & Cinnamon Breakfast Bar I selected later on that flight wasn't much better. I had high hopes because I like Quaker Oats, but this bar was too cakey for me, both in texture, sugar content, and sugar topping. It wasn't actually that sugary (22 grams) according to the label, but it sure tasted like it. I think I prefer United's little bags of pretzels, nuts, and cheese-flavored sticks.

Oddly, when I landed, my bag had on it someone else's luggage tag--you know, those little pieces of paper with name and address. I can't easily imagine how it happened. Judging by the phone number's area code, the other person was also from the bay area; maybe she took the same flight.

As you've no doubt already guessed, I didn't see anything this day and hence was grasping for straws of things about which to write.

Washington D.C.: Overview

[Note the dates in this post. This is a trip report from a trip long ago. Most of this post and perhaps a slight majority of the later posts were written soon after the trip. The remaining 40% of the text was filled in years later from my notes.]

A friend of mine got married on June 9th 2007 in Northern Virginia, not far from where I grew up. I decided to use the wedding as an excuse to explore Washington D.C. Although I was raised in the vicinity, I haven't often been there since elementary school. I figured it deserved another look. I stayed in the D.C. area on this trip from June 7th through June 14th.

I suppose I should summarize my impressions of Washington.

D.C. provides an intellectual and cultural smorgasbord through its many government offices and innumerable free, quality museums. Having already visited many of the most famous attractions (the Capitol, the White House, and museums such as the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, and the Air and Space Museum), I presumed I'd be able to explore the rest of what I was interested in and some of D.C.'s distinctive neighborhoods on a five day trip. I soon learned I was very wrong. Although I managed to see many attractions, I could easily spend weeks if not a few months exploring D.C. It's got enough cultural attractions to rival New York City.

D.C. feels different from many other cities. Partially it's because the skyline is clean -- D.C.'s regulations force all buildings to be short (i.e., no skyscrapers). Partially it's the tons of marble used in building many institutions. Partially it's the presence of quiet, uncrowded streets, often with single family houses, mere blocks from major sites, such as the streets three blocks east of the Capitol.

The metro system feels like a good version of those in most cities. It's clean and generally efficient; one doesn't have to look at the schedule and plan around it.

I'd forgotten how temperamental the weather could be, changing from blue skies to rain within two hours and returning to blue skies two hours later. As long as one is prepared, this variability is not a problem. Indeed, it can even be a blessing, reducing the temperature to a more comfortable amount for a few hours. Each day during this trip was usually in the 80s and humid. Because of this, after day two I avoided the peak unpleasantness by planning major walking excursions only in the late afternoon or evening.

While reading guide books, I observed the city is constantly under construction and renovation. Union Station fell into disrepair to the point of having its roof leak, causing chunks of plaster to fall from the ceiling, until it was renovated in the 1980s. (It looks great now.) The Botanic Garden was closed in 1997 for renovations due to, as one guide book called it, "general dilapidation," reopening in 2001. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, colocated in the Old Patent Office building, recently reopened after a six-year renovation. The National Museum of American History is currently closed for renovation. Meanwhile, several new museums and other sites opened in the last few years. Amusingly, the guide books I borrowed from the library, all published in different years within the last four years, all said the Capitol Visitors Center, being built underneath the capitol, would open the following year.

My home region, Northern Virginia, is as lush and green as I remember it, with many two-lane roads winding through forests. (Well, at least areas that look like forests. There can't be large forests so close to D.C.) The trees are tall. The highways, however, vary in pleasantness; many have tall, ugly, sound-blocking walls.

Incidentally, all the national museums searched our bags upon entry. Once inside, some (but not all), let us keep our bags with us.

I'll conclude with an interesting thing I learned: I was surprised to read that the metro system was built mostly in the 1970s and 1980s (see Washington Metro Area Transit Authority: Metro History (PDF) and George Mason University's Center of History and New Media: Building the Washington Metro). This is surprising because most cities' subway systems were built before cities became too developed, before property rights and people density make it difficult to build without running into lots of opposition. By the way, though both web sites have interesting tales about Metro's history, GMU's online exhibit also explains the architectural design of the stations and the construction techniques for the lines, among other things. For instance, I learned that the yellow line's Potomac crossing is a tunnel that was built above ground, floated to the right place, then sunk.