An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

December 30, 2012

All Aboard

Yesterday morning my son, his godmother, and I boarded a pre-dawn train in downtown Norfolk for a day trip to Washington.  This is a new route for Amtrak, and to entice local riders they were offering a $19 fare for the month of December.  That rate was too good to pass up, and if you have ever driven I-95 north of Richmond or looked for a place to park in D.C., then I don't need to tell what a bargain that was.  We spent our day at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (a separate post will follow) and at several of the great museums along the mall.

Outside Union Station, Columbus looked to be gathering his cloak against the cold rain, snow and blowing wind, or maybe he was holding it tight in case his naked companion got any felonious ideas.  We were not about to let something like miserable weather ruin our trip.

The Capitol grounds were a construction zone in preparation of the coming inaugural, and all along the mall temporary crisis response stations were being installed. I guess a necessary thing in these times, but I was able to get this shot through one of the gigantic Japanese pagoda trees (Sophora japonica) on the side Capitol Hill.
Through the Trees

After an hour or so warming ourselves in the jungle room at the gardens, we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian.  We did not have time to tour the museum, that will be on another trip, but our goal was lunch.  If you are looking for something varied to eat, their cafeteria serves good food that would not be unfamiliar to most native American groups.  I had buffalo/winter squash soup, corn bread and a wild rice and water cress salad.  It wasn't necessarily bargain friendly, but nothing is along the mall, except for the price of admission, which is usually free.  The museum's building was designed to resemble a western rock face, and it is surrounded by a distinctive landscape heavy on the water features and using naturalistic plantings of native trees and shrubs.

National Museum of the American Indian

Our next stop was the National Museum of Air and Space.  The place was so crowded it was unpleasant, especially since there were only about three things in there I had any interest in seeing.  I can appreciate the place's history and mission, but it's just not my cup of tea, especially with all the other things we could be seeing elsewhere. (If I had leaned over too far taking this picture and had fallen, I would have been uninjured, as there were more than enough people below to break my fall.  I wonder how quickly anyone can say "look out below" in Mandarin, Farsi, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic. )
National Air and Space Museum

River Birches (Betula Nigra)
Betula nigra

Lunar Bird, Juan Miro, Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden 
'Lunar Bird' Juan Miro

Graft, Roxy Paine, The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
'Graft Roxy' Paine

'Graft' Roxy Paine 2

The crowds were also epic at the National Museum of Natural History.  Pardon me for a moment, but I have to ask why people choose to congregate in the middle of corridors and doorways blocking the way for everyone else.  And why do parents let small children crawl all over marble floors where people need to walk (sorry for stepping on your fingers little girl, but I didn't see you, and your mother should have kept you closer). If you are a bored teenager and would rather listen to your music or text your friends to let them know how bored your are, go find a bench somewhere and leave the stairs for people who need to go up and down. If you wish to experience every minute of your museum visit from the other side of an iPad or laptop, than maybe you should just get out of the way and go to the gift shop and buy the DVD. 
Maurits' Stairs

Despite the crowds I found the exhibits at this museum more to my liking.  Is it telling that I am more fascinated by fossils, shiny rocks, and skeletons than I am by rockets and jet airplanes? One of the things I enjoyed the most was the exhibition of 2011's Best Nature Photography, and could have spent the day in that gallery alone, but then I might have missed Titanoboa.  This prehistoric snake was 48' long and made a living eating alligators.

With museum-fatigue setting in we made our last stop the National Gallery of Art, and it was thankfully devoid of crowds. Here I was able to enjoy some of my favorite artists, and considering the chaos of the other museums, I think we could have been happy here all day. The museum was decorated for the holidays, and around several of the indoor fountains they had groupings of poinsettias, English ivy, cyclamen, white hydrangeas and white orchids.  It was very nice.

Cascade Cafe

After a full day we headed back to Union Station for dinner and a therapeutic round of adult beverages before the long, but comfortable ride home.  I'll have my U.S. Botanic Gardens post up sometime next week.


  1. Familiar photos but it has been years since I've been to Washington. I took the train up from Charleston a couple of times with my kids.

  2. Les i was at the gallery on Thursday as our flight was delayed to orlando! funny IT WAS SO COLD!! great shots!!

  3. Our family went to DC for Christmas a few years ago. The crowds were fairly light. We saw the Lincoln and FDR monuments, which was great and new to me. Also went to the Native American museum and had lunch there, which everybody enjoyed. Nice that you can go toDC as a day trip.

  4. the Smithsonian is so great. If you ever are in the Houston area, they have a great natural history museum with a really fantastic minerals and precious gems wing.

  5. Thanks for taking us along on your trip. I've never visited our nation's capitol but really must do it someday!

  6. What a fine adventure to a city I haven't visited yet. Your rant against museum dawdlers and the generally oblivious types that crowd and obstruct corridors is one I definitely share. Beautiful photo of Capitol Hill.

  7. Sounds like a rewarding trip. I would like to make a such a trip in the opposite direction some day to see the sights you've described in your many blogs.

  8. Dear Les, I enjoyed this posting enormously. You covered a lot of ground in one day, and left me feeling somewhat exhausted -- I must admit a virtual tour suits my old body best these days. I look forward to your Botanical Gardens posting. Wishing you a very Happy New Year! P. x

  9. Enjoyed coming along on your trip and your photography. Thanks and Happy New Year, hope it is a botanically pleasing one for you and your family.

  10. Well, poo...wish I had checked on the train "special" from Hampton Roads and taken advantage of this great savings.
    My 8yr old grandson loves DC. We took him for his first visit last summer and he is still talking about it. We saw most of what you saw but missed the Museum of the American Indian. He would like that especially the cafeteria. He is always willing to try new foods.
    I feel your pain regarding the folks who enter a building and immediately stop. If you ever hear someone saying in a loud voice "please people, move along" that would be me!
    Thanks again for the most interesting blog around.

  11. We've been to both museums and eaten at the Museum of the American Indian. My sweet potato tamals (not tamales) were very good. I remember even now. The museum had just opened, and oh the gorgeous landscaping was extraordinary.

  12. So glad you took advantage of the special fare, that was really a great price. Museum fatigue is easy to come by in DC...there is so much to see. A couple years ago a handful of MGs and Jim and I went up to DC, lunch in the Native American museum was great!!

  13. Joan,
    I am sure you had a good time.

    That's a good way to make use of a flight delay. Beats trying to nap on the airport floor.

    If I make to Houston, I will be there.

    Everyone should try to get there at least once. There is so much to see.

    I just wanted to shout in some of the galleries "Other People! Other people are in here with you!"

    You should come south.

    It was a very tiring trip, but worth it. Unfortunately we were carrying around all this extra clothing, we had heavy boots and back packs on.

    Happy new year to you as well.

    I think next time I go we will look for one of the frequent hotel deals you can get in DC, but timing is everything.

    I had a very hard time deciding what to eat, but was happy with my choice. My son got a pulled buffalo BBQ which was fantastic.

    Though DC is not exactly nearby, it is close enough for day trips. Yet another great thing about Va.


  14. Oh so much to see there. I love the metal tree.

    Thought you might want to check out the museum of Civilization in Ottawa --

    Very similar in style to the one in your photo.

    Thanks for taking us along on your trip.