Monday, August 27, 2018

To Break Ground in the Sky

Part 1 of a ?-Part Series: To Break Ground in the Sky

Greetings, travelers. It is I, the Guest Blogger. I have returned to incrediblememories in response to a very courteous request from my Blogette (wife), who mingled her very courteous request with a very courteous and totally pressure-free prompting about how her weekly post is due tomorrow and she doesn’t have anything written yet.

So, let’s talk about taking a trip to our nation’s capital. I realize in our current cultural and political climate setting foot inside the Washington, D.C. beltway may sound as enjoyable as undergoing root canal surgery performed by an angry chimpanzee. However, that may actually be the best reason to visit. The current climate thing, I mean, not the chimp. There are chimps in D.C., in the National Zoo. I’ve seen them. But to my knowledge they’re not allowed to practice amateur dentistry. Not on first-time visitors, anyway.

No, I mean if we are to believe the mainstream media or (God help us) Twitter and Facebook, our country is terribly divided. Maybe. But regardless, this wide spread perception is precisely why one should visit the capital, specifically the National Mall. For those unfamiliar with it, the Mall is a large section of land just south of the White House in downtown Washington, D.C. It stretches from just past the Capitol Building on the East side to the Lincoln Memorial at the edge of the Potomac, then across the river to Arlington National Cemetery. Other than the locations already mentioned, this large swath of land is home to the U.S. Smithsonian Institution and various memorials.

The Smithsonian itself isn’t a singular thing. It’s the largest series of museums, galleries, and research organizations in the world, all free of charge to the public. The Smithsonian can pull this off because it’s funded by federal appropriations along with private trust fund assets blah blah blah boring financial stuff blah blah who the heck cares. You don’t pay to go into the Smithsonian museums. They’re free, all the time. Win.

For today, we’re just going to focus on the Air & Space Museum because 1) I’m very familiar with it, so the research requirements are light, 2) I’m too lazy to write about all 19 parts of the Smithsonian at once, and 3) there is no way you’d read about all 19 at once anyway.
In planning a trip to the Air & Space Museum, you’ll first want to consider how to get there. If you’re staying in downtown D.C., you may be within walking distance. Pedestrians are a staple of D.C. life, so you’ll enjoy a cozy walk with many other tourists, would-be bureaucrats, Congressional staffers, food truck vendors, and homeless people.

I’m kidding, of course. Congressional staffers are never allowed outside as sunlight is fatal to them.

If you’re not within walking distance, you’ll face the classic Do I Drive or Do I Metro dilemma. Washington only has one empty parking space and it’s under construction, unfortunately. So, parking on the Mall can be a challenge. Thankfully, D.C. has a pretty decent metro system, simply called The Metro. There are multiple stations around the city and just about any metro line will stop off at the Mall at some point, so that’s a viable option.

Before riding you must get a Metro SmarTrip card by offering your debit card as a token sacrifice to one of the many imposing ticketing kiosks at any Metro station.

If it deems you worthy, you’ll receive a SmarTrip card in return and you are on your way.

The Air & Space Museum is one of the easiest buildings to find on the Mall because it’s somewhat centrally located and is pretty distinctive.

Inside you’ll find an incredibly impressive collection of exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia commemorating America’s...well, Air and Space exploits.

At first glance, the museum appears to have on display every single rocket NASA ever fired.

That’s just one shot of them. There are many more.

As you explore, you’ll find rooms and sections dedicated to different eras of flight, specific missions, like the moon landings, scaled down mock-ups of an aircraft carrier hangar deck and bridge, as well as at least one example of pretty much every kind of flying machine ever conceived.

There is a room dedicated to the Wright Brothers and the birth of manned flight. I highly recommend it. Few moments can be said to have truly altered history’s course. A couple of bicycle engineers on a beach in Kittyhawk, N.C. are responsible for one of them.  

In addition to the one pictured here, the museum also has the Wright Brothers plane Amy Adams and Ben Stiller somehow piloted out of the building in Night At The Museum 2, but I didn’t take a picture of it.

There are several rooms dedicated to aviation during WWI and WWII, which are incredibly poignant, humbling and tremendously informative. There is also an ode to more modern military aviation trends.

A personal favorite of mine, though, is the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit. Those worthy gentlemen receive an entire room honoring their impressive and groundbreaking accomplishments. One of the highlights is the below placard describing their commanding officer, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

Lt Gen Davis believed being an American was indeed a privilege, but one that must be earned.

There is more than I can possibly mention here. Much, much more.

No other nation broke ground in the sky like this one did. Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, is on display. He crossed the Atlantic in this thing, in the dark, and it didn’t even have a windshield. I’m not kidding. Look.

You really should see this place. Everyone should see this place. Not being satisfied with mere earth, a few driven, borderline insane people decided to try for the stars. We haven’t gotten quite that far yet, but man, where we have gotten to is pretty spectacular.

I hope you find your way there soon.

Next time: The National Gallery of Art! Really!

Photo credit: all photos are either my own or are public images put out by the Smithsonian. If you believe a photo featured here is from another source, please let the Blogette know, and after delivering a thorough tongue-lashing to me, she will take it down.

Monday, August 20, 2018

China - Part 2

As promised - PANDAS!!  Aren't they adorable??

Our daughter got to sit with a panda. He's about 1 year old.

I think Day 6 just may have been my favorite day on the tour.  We spent the morning at the Panda Reserve in Chengdu and were able to see many giant pandas in a beautiful park setting.

In the afternoon, we went to a city park to experience the culture.   We drank our jasmine tea, had our ear or neck shoulders massages,watched games of mahjong, ate some beautiful sugar treats and observed the activities of the locals.  I loved it all!

In the evening we attended a traditional Sichuan Mask Changing Opera.

By Day 7 we were exhausted and quite happy to have our day of relaxing  in the "City of Relax" as our guide called it.  We were able to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then head into the city of Chengdu before we caught an evening train.  We went to a spa where we all 4 had massages and did some shopping.

Massages are not like they are in America!  Sharing a massage room with another couple gave "couples massage" a whole new meaning. lol   Thankfully all massages were fully clothed.  I opted for just a foot/leg massage.  My husband had 1/2 hour of foot/leg and 1/2 hour of full body.

While shopping I stumbled upon 2 things I love - Pandas and the red phone box that reminds me of my beloved England.

Day 8 was another favorite day.  We took a river cruise on the Li River and saw the beautiful countryside of China.

Our river cruise ended in Yangshuo where we had Tai Chi lessons, the girls had cooking class and we saw a water and light show that was directed by the director of the Beijing Opening Olympics.

I loved that Yangshuo was definitely a Chinese tourist destination, and that while there we had time to truly observe our cultural differences.

Our last day was spent in Guangzhou after the official tour had ended.  It was more of a time of personal memories and sightseeing as Guangzhou is where the American Consulate is and where I had spent time with both girls as babies. I wanted them to see where we had walked together when they were infants. We were blessed to have another family from our trip to share that time with as well.

 We visited the hotels where I had stayed many years ago - the Victory Guangdong Hotel.

And the elegant White Swan hotel which has been remodeled.

We walked to the local park. 
 I adore the sculptures spread throughout Guangzhou.

And I'm pretty sure there were marching drills the day I walked along this promenade on the way to the Consulate both times I was here before.

In my International Travel blog post, I briefly discussed group or individual travel.  While in general, our family style veers more towards individual travel, for China  a group tour was definitely the way to go for us.  We enjoyed the camaraderie of our shared interest in the group (all families who had adopted from China) and the assistance and expertise of all the local tour guides who knew the language and culture.  Both of these aspects added greatly to our enjoyment of and confidence and comfort during a trip to a country with such a vastly different language and culture.  

We have been dreaming about this trip for many, many years and are so happy it is now an incredible memory.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

China - Part 1

In June, I wrote a blog post about preparing to travel internationally.  I was in the throes of preparing for our family's upcoming and long awaited trip to China.  We have now returned from that trip and I wanted to share a few highlights with you.

We began our tour in Beijing where we spent 3 days touring different sites.

Day 1 - Temple Of Heaven

 followed by a Kung Fu Show in the evening.

Day 2 was quite wet and dreary but we still managed to see some great sites.  We began in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in deluge of rain and a sea of umbrellas. (Some of our clothes from that day were still wet when we returned home over 10 days later!)

Thankfully, the afternoon got a little drier as we had rickshaw rides and ate dinner in a local family's home.

According to our tour guide, the  three "must do's" of visiting Beijing are visiting Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City,  climbing the Great Wall and having Peking Duck dinner.  On Day 3, we completed that list!

On Day 4 we flew to Xi'an and went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

It was also my birthday and our tour guides special ordered my dinner - Longevity Noodle Soup to ensure my long and happy life.  It was delicious!!

On Day 5 we visited the Ancient Wall of Xi'an before catching our train to our next destination.

I walked along the wall and enjoyed the sights.  I especially liked observing this dance class in the park below the wall.

The rest of my family opted for a bike ride.  One on a tandem with a friend, the other 2 riding solo.

As you can see in the title this is only Part 1.  You'll have to check back next week for Part 2 You won't want to miss it.  There are  PANDAS and a River Cruise in beautiful China as well as some interesting sights of life in China.