We started out our day at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. The zoo was developed in the late 1890’s and has over 200 animals. Among them were gorillas and orangutans, tigers, Komodo dragons, elephants (from the Calgary zoo) and a family of otters with adorable food themed names. Justine took Kris to the bird house (where she only had one little that-bird-is-out-to-kill-me fit) and Kris dragged Justine into the reptile house (although she still didn’t look at the giant snakes).
One of the highlights was the 6 lion cubs. We learned later that the 2 females were born in January and the 4 boys in March. The 4 youngest had just been put on display two days earlier! Lucky us to get to see them! It would have been unfortunate if they hadn’t successfully completed their swim test and weren’t allowed into the outdoor enclosure…seriously, look it up; the lion cub swim test is a real (and adorable) thing. They were too cute, just like you’d expect lion cubs to be.
We were also excited to see the cheetahs. This is one animal we’d never seen before. You can tell they were built for speed with their slender frame and long limbs.
However the highlights of the entire zoo were the 3 giant pandas. Our first glimpse was at the male sitting and chowing down on some bamboo…it was an iconic panda shot. We were overly excited. He was everything a panda should be…basically hungry…and cuddly looking. Additionally we were able to observe the female and little Bao Bao. Baby Bao Bao had only been allowed outside for the past two months so we were excited to see her…though she was hard to spot at first as she
was hidden up a tree. Apparently she likes climbing 🙂 Having arrived early the crowds weren’t too bad so we spent a lot of time sitting by the pandas smiling from ear to ear.
Overall we were extremely impressed with the zoo. All of the animals had large and open habitats. It seemed a lovely place to live and the home of extensive important animal research & breeding. With the recent influx of adorable baby animals, we just might start following the National Zoo on Twitter.
Although it was excellent weather for the zoo (sunny, warm but not too hot, and the least humid its been this entire trip) we were ready to welcome some air conditioning into our lives. We found some at Gordon Biersch Restaurant and Brewery. This was actually the second time Kris had been to this particular restaurant, as she’d come here last summer. Justine feasted on a California burger with avocado & thousand island dressing, while Kris indulged with a Farmhouse burger that featured bacon jam & a fried e.g.…she basically loves anything that sounds like a heart-attack on a bun. We enjoyed some much needed rest and sangria (because this pair cannot pass up sangria) before embarking on another afternoon of museum walking.
Our next destination was The National Portrait Gallery & Smithsonian American Art Museum. This museum, while being a Smithsonian, is not located on the Mall. It is instead downtown in the old Patents Office building. We explored the modern art section of the American Art gallery, as Kris enjoys the quirks & oddities of modern art, but spent the majority of our time in the Portrait Gallery. We find ourselves more interested in the people than the pictures themselves. In the Early Americans section we started a fun new “game”: We would walk into a room containing 8 to 12 portraits and go to the one we found ourselves most drawn to. As we have rather different personalities & tastes they were rarely the same painting. After reading about our subject we would rendezvous in the centre of the room to brief each other on our person’s contribution to American history. Double the learning in half the time!
A special exhibit was running that spotlighted the main contributors in the world of dance. Rooms were dedicated to ballerinas, choreographers, hollywood stars & starlets and the big names of Broadway. A video screen even played some of the most classic moments, such as Patrick Swazy in Dirty Dancing and Ginger Rodgers & Fred Astaire floating together magically. Another exhibit chronicalled the development of “cool” from jazz singers to the rebel without a cause actor James Dean to todays hit makers like Jay-Z.
Our favorite section was the Hall of Presidents…and it was a collective favourite. Justine loved it too, not just the president-obsessed Kris. This is the only collection of official portraits (meaning they were actually sat for by the subjects) outside the White House. Beside each was a brief description of the President. Sometimes his early life. Sometimes how he was elected. SOmetimes the great things he did in office. SOmetimes the accomplishments he made after retiring from running the country. Justine has yet to figure out who is her favorite, although she is inspired to read up on each of them. Kris has known her favorite is Lincoln since she was about 9 years old.
Justine had yet to see any of the Washington monuments so this evening Kris put her tour guide skills to the test and provided Justine with a walking tour of the Tidal Basin. She had went on an actual guided tour of the area last summer and Justine thought she did quite well recalling the historical stories. Only once was she caught on wikipedia checking her facts.
The tour started with Ford’s Theatre. It was here Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just days after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Next we passed the south front of the White House…where the Obama family actually lives. There’s no way to tell if the president is home, except for the number of snippers and we couldn’t see any from across the lawn. Interestingly the White House has no front or back door. There are two fronts, one facing north and one south. During the Civil War the direction of the front door would have shown preference to the Union or Confederates so they decided to remain ambiguous.
Next we headed towards the Tidal Basin, a man-made lake surrounded by a number of cherry blossom trees, a gift from Japan. The National Cherry Blossom festival is held here every year in
The first memorial was for Martin Luther King Jr. The monument opened in 2011 and shows MLK emerging as the ‘stone of hope’ from the ‘mountain of despair’. It is a representation of the words from his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. The wall behind the statue is filled with his most famous quotes. They were very moving and inspiring to read. It’s amazing to think of the power of one person.
The next monument was for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s longest serving president and president during the majority of WWII. The monument consists of 4 rooms showing the different stages of his presidency. A statue of him in his wheelchair was added after the unveiling as many believed his illness was a large part of who he was as president. Here you’ll also find the only monument for a first lady: Eleanor Roosevelt was not only an active first lady but also became the first US ambassador to the UN.
Next was a monument remembering George Mason. This monument for the ‘forgotten founder’ is often overlooked by tourists, as Mason is sometimes overlooked in history.George Mason played a large role in the writing of the US constitution but be would not sign it because it did not include a section on individual rights. This was ammended in the Bill of Rights but he still had differing views on slavery from the other founding fathers that prevented him from signing. This monument shows a lounging and relaxed Mason. It makes him look like a cool dude we’d like to hang out with sometime.
The final monument was for Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and writer
of the Declaration of Independence. The memorial is designed like a greek temple but is also based on designs of buildings Jefferson designed. Inside is a 19 foot statue of Jefferson looking out at the White House. His body placement implies he is ready to leap into action at a moments notice. Its not hard to imagine him striding across the basin to assisst Obama in a time of need.
After the tour we sat on the steps of the monument before beginning the walk home. It seemed like an extra long walk today and we collapsed onto the floor of our room when we finally made it back. Uuuggghhhhhhh! So much walking!
WHAT WE LEARNED TODAY:
– Panda mating is hilarious and awkward…as well as usually ineffective.
– Baby animals are the cutest.
– ALex Trebek has hosted a Guinness World Record setting 6, 829 episodes of Jeopardy!
Love, Luck, Lemurs & Lions,
Justine & Kris