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Springtime always brings houseguests to our home and many of our visitors are first-timers to Washington DC. Although each person has their own particular interests/dislikes, and depending on their length of stay, there are sights I suggest everyone should see during their maiden journey into the city. My top 10 Washington DC (and surrounding area) must see list is as follows:

  • The Monuments at Night ~ The monuments are spectacular anytime of day but when they are lit up, they become magical. Bonus if there’s a full moon.
  • The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Performance ~ There are free performances of music or dance every night at 6 pm.For a schedule, click here.

Capitol Building from the top of the Washington Monument
The National Mall ~ Smithsonian Museums, National Gallery of Art and The US Capitol

  • Smithsonian Museums ~ It would take weeks to explore all the wonderful and free museums in Washington DC. Visitors should “speed-date” by walking along The National Mall and ducking into each museum to see the highlights. Visitors can return to the museum they liked best for a deeper dive into all the treasures. Some of the more popular displays are: the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum, the Star Spangled Banner flag at the American History Museum and the Kitty Hawk at the Air & Space museum. Click here for more information on all things Smithsonian.
  • The National Gallery of Art ~ My personal favorite. Again, this could take weeks to explore but it’s worth popping into the gallery for a few hours to gaze at the paintings and sculptures which spans from the middle ages to the present. Don’t miss the: Little Dancer (Degas)Self Portrait (Rembrandt van Rijn), and the paintings by the masters such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and many more. For information on hours and directions, click here.

Capitol Building with scaffolding

  • The U.S. Capitol Building ~ Take a tour of the Capitol building and stop in to see the Senate in session.
  • The Library of Congress ~ The building is gorgeous especially the Reading Room. There’s an original copy of a Gutenberg Bible (circa 1455)  on display in the lobby. It’s the first bible (major book) printed in Western Europe using movable metal type and was one of the turning points from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance era.
  • Mount Vernon Estates ~ Mount Vernon is located 14 miles south of Washington DC along the GW Parkway. The house and grounds are lovely. Give yourself about four hours in order to tour the home, wander the grounds and visit the on-site museum. Mount Vernon is accessible by public transportation, boat, biking and private vehicle (parking is free). For directions and assistance on getting there, click here.

Arlington Guard

Washington Monument

  • Washington Monument ~ Tickets are free but have a $1.50 service charge per person and anyone two years and older are required to have a ticket to go to the top of the monument. Tickets go on sale three months prior and I highly recommend purchasing them online the day they go on sale. Tour buses snap them up quickly. Click here for more information. If you’re unable to get tickets online, there are a limited number of Same Day tickets distributed at 8:30 am at the National Park Service building located at 15th street near the monument. These are free same-day, timed tickets and one person can get up to six. The line forms much earlier than 8:30am so get an early start.
  • Georgetown ~ It’s a dynamic area of DC to wander around; parts of it are serene and parts are packed with people. Stop in to see the gorgeous Georgetown University campus, take a peek at The Exorcist stairs (and run up them if you’re in great shape), walk along waterfront park and stop in for coffee/pastries at Baked and Wired.

Please note: All buildings in Washington DC have security at the entrances and be prepared to go through a scanner. There are lists of prohibited items on each website. It’s best to pack lightly when touring around DC.

I’ve used my list for the last five years for about thirty first-time visitors. Only one houseguest went rogue. She preferred to visit the National Cathedral, Catholic Basilica, the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum. That’s the great thing about Washington DC ~ there’s something for everyone!

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Attention all bibliophiles, mark your calendar ~ the 16th National Book Festival will be at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (Washington DC) on 24 September, 2016. It’ll be open from 10am to 10pm and all events are free of charge.

A list of authors already scheduled to attend (from the Library of Congress website):

  • Kwame Alexander, Newbery Medal winner
  • Douglas Brinkley, prize-winning historian
  • Christopher Buckley, author of such satirical works as “Thank You for Smoking”
  • Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and author
  • Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Winston Groom, author of “Forrest Gump”
  • Stephen King, best-selling, prize-winning author and literacy advocate
  • James McBride, National Book Award winner
  • Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian
  • Joyce Carol Oates, prize-winning author of more than 70 books
  • Ed Piskor, alternative comics artist
  • Michael Ramirez, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Diane Rehm, NPR host and author
  • Salman Rushdie, Man Booker Prize winner
  • Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Bob Woodward, Pulitzer prize winner and author of 17 No. 1 best-sellers
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, prize-winning author of “The Devil’s Highway”
  • Gene Luen Yang, Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

More authors expected to sign-on in the coming months.

For those who are unable to attend, but want to follow along, there’s an free app available. Click here.

 

 

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Little did I know, the American Horticultural Society headquarters is located just four miles south of Old Town Alexandria,VA. I love plants and beautifully blooming flowers but my mother was the green thumb of the family. It must have skipped a generation, but I try.

American Horticultural Society River Farm
Entrance to River Farm

Because I have visions of lovely gardens, I’m planning to attend the Annual Spring Garden Market at River Farm scheduled for April 10 and 11, 2015. The market will have:

  • plants for sale (including natives, specialty plants and edibles)
  • garden books
  • garden accessories
  • garden paintings for sale by local artist
  • Food from Rockland’s BBQ and Grilling Company
  • Whole Food’s Cooking demonstrations
  • Free raffle for garden prizes
  • “Pet the Alpaca”
  • Family-friendly activities for kids

Even if you’re not a gardener, a day at the beautiful River Farm’s estate is worth the visit. The views of the Potomac River are lovely.

If you want to go, the location is 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA. AHS members-only morning is Friday, April 10 from 10-noon. The public sales will be Friday, April 10 from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 11 from 10 am to 6 pm. Parking is $5.00 per car. For more information go to AHS or call 703-768-5700.

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On March 27, 1912, Cherry Blossom (Sakura) trees were planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington DC. They were a gift of Friendship and Goodwill from the Japanese Government. The Japanese were thankful for the role the United States played in brokering The Treaty of Portsmouth which formally ended the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05.

But the original idea for bringing the beautiful Sakura to Washington DC came from Eliza Scidmore. She worked as a travel writer and photographer. In 1885, she fell in love with the Cherry Blossom trees while visiting her diplomat brother in Japan and thought they would look lovely around the marshy area that had yet to be developed (later to be the National Mall and Tidal Basin). It took her almost 20 years to have her dream realized.

It wasn’t until she caught the attention of Dr. David Fairchild that the plan starting to take shape. He was a plant explorer and an official at the Department of Agriculture. In 1906, he personally imported seventy-five flowering cherry trees from Japan and planted these on his property in Chevy Chase, Maryland to test their survivability this area. By 1907, encouraged by the success of their own trees, the Fairchilds began to promote the idea of importing Cherry Blossoms for Washington DC. By 1909, First Lady Helen Taft was involved which meant the White House was on-board and it all came to fruition within a few years.

I’m not a fan of introducing plants or animals into an area where they aren’t indigenous. There have been too many destructive results from both intentional and unintentional introductions. As an example from a very long list, Fireweed (also known as Madagascar Fireweed) was discovered in the 1980s in Kohala’s cattle pastures on the Big Island (Hawaii). Many believe it was brought in via ground cover seeds from Australia where it is also invasive. The weed is toxic to cattle and is estimated to cost the Australian government and cattle industry over $2 million a year.

Even the beloved Cherry Blossom trees were not without incident. The original two thousand trees had to be burned once they arrived due to heavy bug infestations. Despite the possibility of a diplomatic disaster, the risk to the native trees, plants and crops was too high to be ignored. Thankfully, another 3,020 Cherry Blossom trees were sent and haven’t had any negative side-effects on the local environment ~ unless you count too many visiting blossom stalkers.

This is what the Tidal Basin in Washington DC looks without the blooms…
Tidal Basin Cherry Blossom Trees

Waiting for the Cherry Blossoms

but in a few weeks it will look more like this (these were taken at the end of the bloom period in 2012):

Jefferson Memorial and Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms and a pagoda

Cherry Blossoms and Washington Monument

Cherry Blossoms in Bloom

The 2015 Peak Blooms Prediction is April 11-14 which mean the blooming period will start a few days prior and can go for up to 14 days past the peak times. I’m excited I’ll be running in the Cherry Blossom 5K which is on April 12 this year ~ and hopefully the prediction is correct.

The National Park Service provides much more historic details and information about the trees as well an event list for the Cherry Blossom Festival at their website. For those unable to visit Washington DC during the Cherry Blossom season, there’s a webcam for your viewing here. The live feed isn’t active yet but will be in a couple of weeks. Enjoy!

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It was no surprise to me when Washington DC was ranked as the top “Fit City” in the United States by the American College of Sports Medicine. The two comments we always get from first time visitors to our nation’s capital are: “It’s such a beautiful city” and “There are a lot of fit and good looking people here.” The second comment is usually said while watching runners race by along the National Mall.

DC Fitness
There are people exercising all over the city!

If you’re a runner, I highly recommend two 10mile/5k runs in the spring. First is the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile/5K on 12 April 2015. You will run through the National Mall and the Tidal basin area where all the gorgeous Cherry Blossoms will hopefully be at their peak. This race is so popular, it requires a lottery. I haven’t been lucky enough to get a number through the lottery so I volunteered last year which guarantee me a spot for 2015. The lottery is open until 12 December. Click here to enter.

If you don’t get into the Cherry Blossom race, then there’s the scenic GW Parkway Classic 10 mile/5k on 26 April 2015. I ran this for the first time this year and loved it. The crowd was friendly and festive, I wasn’t the last one in (I’m not the fastest runner) and we lucked out with beautiful spring weather.

A few more fitness photos:

Bike in DC
Biking

Roosevelt Island Runner
Running on Roosevelt Island

Kayaking
Water Sports

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Supreme Court DC

Attending a session at the Supreme Court of the United States is an impressive experience. I was thrilled to listen to the attorneys arguing their case but was especially awed by the Justices. Those men and women are wicked smart which is comforting to witness since, as one of our three branches of government, their decisions affect all citizens of the United States.

It’s not easy to get tickets for the popular cases (those highlighted in the media) but it’s worth making the attempt to get in. I recommend getting in line early for the “hot” cases. If you’re interested in attending a court session, seating is on a first-come, first-seated basis. A line forms in the morning on the plaza in front of the building.

At approximately 9:30 a.m., limited seats are given out for the entire argument. If you don’t get tickets for that day, the police officers will start a “three-minute line,” which allows visitors to observe the Court in session for a brief period of time from the back of the courtroom. To find out if the Court is in session (Oct-April), click here for the schedule.

The Supreme Court building is located at 1 First Street, NE (between East Capitol St & Maryland Ave) and is open to the public Mon-Fri from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding federal holidays. If the court isn’t in session, you can still visit a Courtroom Lecture, Visitors’ Film and Exhibitions.

Supreme Court

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Washington DC is filled with beautiful parks and fountains ~ here are a few of my favorites.

DC Capitol Fountain
Fountain at the US Capitol building

DC WWII Fountain
WWII Memorial

DC Senate Park Fountain
Senate Park Fountain

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