Thursday, August 5, 2010

10 Days

Eleven Museums, Two Memorials, One Walking Tour, One Fossil Hunt, and One Trip Down Memory Lane in 10 Days

Day 1
Maryland Science Center
Award: Best Dinosaur Exhibit.

Despite being much smaller The Maryland Science Center wins over DC's Natural History Museum.  Why?  It is much more interactive, and what is more, it conveys the feeling of science in action.  Check out the T. Rex above.  Does it look a little funny?  Yes, it has two rib cages.  That lower one is called a gastralia basket.  Video displays around the exhibit present controversies in paleontology, such as "Did sauropods travel in herds?", with interviews with paleontologists on both sides of the issue.  Fantastic.

Day 2
Natural History Museum
Award: Most Likely to Make You Wish You Lived Closer to DC

Note to self: always bring journals to museums.

The Natural History Museum is vast and rich and varied in quality of the exhibits.  Compared with our local California Academy of Sciences it has more information, but very few living animals.  New exhibits like the new Human Origins Hall are state of the art with video nooks where you are presented with evidence and try to solve a puzzle.  Written in Bone unites forensic science and historical documents.  Did a boat from Bermuda really save Jamestowne colonists from starvation as colonists' wrote in their journals?  Butchered bones of Bermuda petrels in the trash middens corroborate their accounts.  You could spend years at this museum.  We visited it 3 times this trip.

Day 3
Calvert Cliffs
Award: Most Insects

After two days of looking at fossils we had to go on a collecting trip of our own.  These cliffs were once an Ordovician sea bed.  They are full of shark teeth.  Medieval people called fossilized shark teeth glossipetrae--tongue stones--and believed they fell from the sky during thunderstorms.  A big storm two days earlier (while we were at the Maryland Science Center) gave me hope that there would be many teeth on the beach for collecting, but we were disappointed.  We did find 5 or 6 as well as stingray dental plate, but they could fit on your pinky fingernail.

Insects, however, were plentiful: dragonflies, damselflies, velvet ants, cicadas, hornets and butterflies galore.

Day 4
Walking Tour of Annapolis
Award: Hottest, and according to Clementine, Most Boring Thing We Did

I love Annapolis.  My friends and I used to walk all over it instead of going to the mall when we were in middle school.  We'd watch the students reading on the grass at St. John's College and imagine ourselves there, reading 100 great books.   And we'd watch midshipmen at the Naval Academy doing pushups on the lawn and imagine ourselves anywhere but there.  We'd descend into the great naval hero John Paul Jones' crypt and imagine his bones moldering in their great, gaudy marble sarcophagus.  After our tour I know that, while the Navy won't admit any error, John Paul Jones' bones were found in France in an unmarked grave 105 years after his death and were identified by comparing them to a bust of him.  The claim is that the friends who buried him filled his lead coffin with alcohol and so therefore he was so well preserved that he could be recognized.  Uh huh.

Memory Lane
Award: Best Old Fashioned Fun, Most Nettle Stings

I grew up in the most wonderful community.  The Washington Post profiled it in an article entitled: No Cookie Cutter Community, Bayberry believes in dirt, difference

It was such a hot day and after our hot, hot Annapolis Walking Tour, everyone was ready for a swim.
And a greased watermelon race.
My kids couldn't grow up here, so I try to pack a summer's worth of fun into a day.  The greased watermelon was a 4th of July tradition for us.  Here my daughter, my sister's daughter, my oldest friend's son and my cousin's daughter vie to be the one to carry the slippery melon onto the beach.

Every single kid got stung by sea nettles.  I couldn't believe how brave they were--they got right back in the water anyway.  Except Greta.  She was having such fun and then she jumped right on one and got stung all over her leg.  My sister lifted her onto the pier and she ran screaming all the way into the beach.  She screamed herself hoarse and vowed never to ever go swimming there ever again.  She screamed for a good fifteen minutes and every time someone asked her how she was or why she was sad she would ramp back up to full volume.

Day 5
Udvar Hazy
Awards: Greatest Docent, Worst Coffee
The guided tour made all the difference here.  A real fighter pilot shared his love of planes with us.  Not that this enormous hangar filled with planes and satellites isn't beautiful and impressive, it is.  

I had a lot of bad coffee on this trip, but none as bad as I imagine this cosmonaut cuisine coffee and milk in a tube would be.

Spy Museum
Award: Best Museum

No picture because this sneaky museum doesn't allow any.  Sure, many of the exhibits are mock-ups and not real artifacts, sure it is expensive.  But it is so good.  Computer games: view a mugshot of a spy and then try to pick that spy, in disguise, out of the stream of people an airport security video.  Sit down on a comfy chair in a dim room and listen to audio as a spotlight highlights artifacts around the room and weaves a tale of intrigue.  One of my favorite exhibits was a movie theater with WWII propaganda films.  And that East German car with five dummies in it showing how people escaped East Berlin (behind the front grille, in the engine, with your head skimming over the road--yikes!)

Day 6
Air and Space Museum
Award: Worst Museum

My parents both worked on Hubble.  I grew up going to and loving the Air & Space Museum, but it is sadly out of date.  It definitely does not give the exhilarating sense that the stars are our future.  Instead it has a stuck in the 70s feel.  I overheard a teenager talking on her iPhone, saying Boring boring boring this place is so boring.  Ugh.  I had to agree.

Day 7
National Archive
Award: Most uneven in its reception by me and the kids

I just love those Charters of Freedom.  Ev and Clem were quite interested and we talked a lot about the Bill of Rights.

I am not sure why, but the kids did not like the rest of the National Archive. The sliding touchscreens that allowed you to "open files" on Watergate, or the Rosenbergs, and look through the evidence and read the documents, well I thought they were awesome.  They left the kids cold.

National Gallery
Award: Best Guard

He ran up to us and insisted on taking a family photo.  It is one of two from the whole trip.
I would give them Best Audio Tour, but it wouldn't be fair since it was also Only Audio Tour We Took.

They also get an honorable mention for Sculpture You Can Sit On

Day 8
Jefferson Memorial
Award: Best Jumping, Sympathizing with Toddlers

We were all on information overload by this time.  Clem and Greta had no interest in the museum downstairs.  They spent their time going up and down the giant steps at the back of the memorial.  Each is nearly waist high.  It gives you a sense of what an accomplishment it is for a one year old to make it up a flight of stairs.  In retrospect we were perhaps not solemn and respectful enough.  Sorry, Thom!

George Mason Memorial
Award: So Close to Jefferson Memorial It is Hard to Justify Just Walking By Without Stopping Which Is What We Should Have Done

Nothing wrong with it, you know, just time is money.

Award: Most Disturbing.

Between the 9/11 Exhibit and the Pulitzer Prize Winning photos, this museum is not for young kids.  Clem asked my why people would want to take a picture of those things and look at pictures of those things.  Some of them made sense to me: the picture of a starving child watched over by a vulture as she crawls towards a U.N. Food Center changed the world's attitude toward the famine in Ethiopia.  But what about the mangled radio flyer wagon with the white sheet covering a small, still form on the road?  And much, much worse.

Day 9
National Aquarium, Baltimore
Award: Best Demonstrations, Best Way to See a Sea Nettle
An archer fish spit on us!  The docents held a cricket on a stick over the water.  The archer fishes' aim was not so great, but they did squirt us several times, which I enjoyed a whole lot.  In my opinion it is a whole lot better than being in the dolphin splash zone.  Finally an archer fish jumped up and nabbed the cricket off the stick with his mouth.
Aren't they pretty.  They're such a nuisance, though.  And it turns out that they are pretty bad fellows, thriving in poor water and gobbling up fish, crab and oyster eggs.

Day 10
American History
Award: Funniest Statue of Washington

This was the original Washington Monument.  It is so Putin-esque.  Except for the Toga.  I love the displays of old toasters and lunchboxes.

We had to visit The Desk, of course.

Hirschorn Sculpture Garden
Award: Art Worth Risking a Parking Ticket For

Not only had our parking time expired, but it was time to head to the airport.  But we just couldn't pass up Yoko Ono's Wish Tree.  There were little package labels and pencils in a box nearby.  You write your wish and hang it on the tree.  Mike said his wish was that we would not get a parking ticket while we wrote our wishes.

Evelyn wished that the wishes would not fall on the ground and become litter.  There were surprisingly few cynical wishes.  Clementine wished for pet quail.

Greta wished to grow up well.

We read a few more tags.  Someone wished for a yo-yo and a safe trip home.  Greta tried to run back and make a wish for a safe trip home.

I said that her wish to grow up well already included a safe trip home.

By the way, thanks Yoko, Mike's wish came true: we didn't get a ticket.


Carolyn said...

Sorry to hear that the Air & Space museum is stuck in the past. Sounds like it accurately reflects our current space program. I remember loving A&S as a kid. You've made me homesick for the Midatlantic US... except for the heat and the nettles :-)

Susan said...

Carolyn, we did see one sign in the A&S museum we were excited about. It said CLEMENTINE: A New Era in Space Exploration! Then we found out that it was called Clementine because after its mission it will be "lost and gone forever".

AM said...

I think there should be an award for Best Parents Opening Their Children's Minds To a World Full of Fun and Possibilities!

Unshod said...

Laughing at comment #2. You have seen "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"?

patricia said...

I just love this format for a trip retrospective. I am planning to steal it one day. Just so you know.

One good thing about sending my baby off to NYC is that we will sort of be east coast locals for a few years. Or at least family of locals. Which means I get to go back to some of these spots again sooner than I would have.

I wish I had a wish tree. But Tina M. has a wish tree here in Oakland, so maybe I can wish for one. That Greta is one smart wisher.

6512 and growing said...

Power packed vacation.
I love your children's wishes.

Karen said...

I love when you travel, I get to live vicariously through you!

How did everyone feel about The Desk this year? :-)