Day 5: A “Holy-Gee-Whiz Grand Tour of Everything in the World Plus Infinity”

Posted by Whit Barringer , Tuesday, June 17, 2008 6:09 PM

The holy-gee-whiz grand tour of everything in the world plus infinity took place today. We had a lot to do and so little time to do it in, with only one day left after today. So off we went, Ash with her purse, me with my moleskine (and the trusty pocket in the back with my passes, card, and license in it- it is seriously the equivalent of a towel).

We were stumbling on our sore nubs-for-feet and out the door by 10:00 this morning. We decided to go ahead and do the Air and Space Museum today since Ash wanted to go and I didn't think there was much I wanted to see. As soon as we got there (which took a bit, since we had to orient ourselves amongst a sea of tents, which were to find out later what they were for), we both dove for the piece of moon rock. Rarely are iconic pieces of history available for one's fingertips, but this was one exception. I guess they weren't worried about a piece of rock disintegrating into a thousand pieces, beyond repair or hope. Thank God the moon wasn't really made out of cheese, huh?

We immediately flipped a coin to decide whether to go up to the second floor, stay on the first floor, go left, or go right. We ended up going second floor right to see the World War II aviation exhibit. It was boring as hell for non-plane/flight enthusiasts such as ourselves, but with my job as a museum researcher, the medals and some of the history interested me. I also got to see some uniforms and was careful to observe how the uniforms were showcased, so I could bring back suggestions. We went across the hall, looked at an odd but short exhibit on amphibious planes, with at least one model of a ship.

Before we went to the museum, we saw signs advertising their Albert Einstein Planetarium. As it turns out, we were on the right part of the floor to go see the movie, but we only had 10 minutes before the next showing and a painfully slow moving line to wait in to get tickets. We got to buy our tickets in time, though. We were going to see a film on black holes narrated by Liam Neeson. It was a really cool film, though it didn't really tell me anything beyond the class I took in Descriptive (read: "Dumbass") Astronomy. The graphics were beautiful though, as we were taken through the process of being sucked into a black hole in IMAX type presentation. Nothing beats watching the picture and seeing the sun rise behind your head on the circular screen.

When we got out of there, we walked along the second floor and saw an exhibit on the planets, earth, and the moon. They also have some feeds showing the new Mars rover and some pictures of Mars (it's red, if you didn't know). We next saw the Lockheed Vega, Amelia Earhart's plane, which led to a rather humorous exchange at the time.

Ash: Isn't she the one that disappeared?
Me: Yeah.
Ash: And she wasn't flying this plane?
Me: Apparently not.
Ash: Well, no wonder she crashed!
Me: As good of an explanation as any, I guess.

We next went downstairs on the left side and got to see the Wright Brothers exhibit. It was very cool to see the very first plane, as well as watch the first flights on video. They also had interactive models of the frame plane and some of the inner workings of the engine so that people could play hands-on and see how it worked. Lastly, we went and saw the paraphernalia covering the trip to the moon. It was interesting, if a little old news for my tastes. We went to the gift shop (I got my grandmother a solar keychain), Ash took a picture of the Apollo reentry vessel/ship/what have you, and then we bolted out the door. We were already starving, but we decided that going to the gallery was a good idea, because there was a cafeteria there. We could do half of the museum and then go see the other half after we ate if we so chose.

This is when we found out what those tents had been for. At first I thought it was a world cultural fair/festival, because I saw the flag of Israel above one of the tents. As I started looking around, I realized that all of the tents had Israeli flags. There was a huge stage with a screen behind it at one end of the field, and people were sitting underneath all of the tents that I could see. Then someone hands Ash a pamphlet of the day's events and tells her to enjoy herself. They don't hand me anything (I think they knew I wasn't Jewish; then again, neither is Ash) – although I wanted to grab one of the Obama stickers that was in Hebrew, but I was afraid to ask after they didn't even offer me a pamphlet. As it turns out, it was a celebration of Israel's existence, which made me a bit nervous. I don't know that I agree with the case for Israel and I absolutely don't agree with the case for violence, so I was hoping that no one would stop me and try to talk to me about it. The people who were speaking in the tents and in front of the screen seemed angry. As we were leaving the field, a woman in front of an audience proclaimed that every Jew should buy property in Palestine, "invade Palestine" and "take back Israel."

We climbed the steps to the National Gallery, which felt like forever, and merrily went on our way to see statues. I saw pre-Renaissance art that was similar to what I'd seen for four consecutive weeks last summer, so I was a bit bored until we got to the modern pieces that were by people – and peoples – whom I really enjoy their art. I've always admired the paintings of the Flemish, Dutch, and Netherlandish because they seem so rich and vibrant, even if I've heard them described as "flamboyant" and "vulgar. Take a look Johannes Verspronck's "Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer" or Sir Peter Paul Rubens "The Fall of Phaeton." We saw paintings by Fra
Lippo Lippi, Da Vinci, Monet, Cezanne, El Greco, De Goya, and Van Gogh (his self-portrait, no less).

We finally went to lunch, exhausted and barely able to move. We got really good food (gourmet pizza!), went to the gift shop, and bolted out the door to our next stop – the Archives.

Well, it really wasn't as dramatic as it sounds, especially since we had to wait for about an hour overall to go in and see our nation's founding documents. We waited about twenty minutes outside and about forty in a queue to get in to actually see the documents. Before we went in, I got a picture of a copy of the Magna Carta. (Some snot-nosed kid asked, "What's the Magna Carta?" When someone told her to read the history, she said, "How about I don't and you just tell me?" I just shook my head in disgust.)

If you've seen National Treasure, the room looks exactly like that (if the one in the movie isn't the same as the real one). The paintings around the documents were interesting, too, but no one really explained what any of it meant. However, one of the guards, who told us what we could and couldn't do in the room, said that they were most frequently asked about the man with the peg leg. The man he was talking about is in the painting on the right, and he was Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania. He lost his leg while trying to get away from a girl's bedroom that he shouldn't have been in. He had been trying to get in the carriage, but fell out and it ran over his leg. Needless to say, it was amputated.

When we finally got to see the documents, it was a bit exhilarating to be that close. I took pictures of it all, and tried to get close-ups of Ben Franklin's signature, as well as the different headings for the Articles. I made sure to get a picture of "We the People" on the constitution, while I hummed "The Preamble." The woman in front of me in line (who happened to be the mother of the Magna Carta brat) started nodding her head. "Yes. It's still the best way to learn it." I agreed. We went to the Archives gift shop, sat down for a minute, and the sallied forth to the Natural History museum, our last major stop of the day.

By this time, Ash has about had it with the walking and I'm wearing down as well. But this is the place I've been waiting to see all day, and I'm not going to quit just yet.

When first walking in to the Natural History Museum, a huge African (or maybe Indian?) elephant is before you, standing on top of a huge rock. It's a grand welcome if there ever was one. We first went to see the dinosaurs. There was a dino café (I don't know if that's what it's called), and got an okay-tasting eggplant sandwich with two drinks. Turns out it was like $16, which was by far the most I'd paid yet for a meal, and this was only a snack. After getting over my "pissed-off", we went ahead and finished touring the dinosaurs, seeing a T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Albertosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Duckbill, a Brachiosaurus, and quite a few others.

Then we went on to what ended up being an "animals of the world exhibit" that included animals from every inhabitable continent. It was like a huge taxidermy exhibit. In that respect, it was really creepy. But it was pretty cool to be that close to so many animals that I wouldn't have been able to be close to otherwise. I mean, a leopard in a tree? A giraffe drinking water? How awesome, eh? Even if they are stuffed.

Next we went upstairs to see the Hope Diamond and other cool gems (mostly from India). It was interesting how nearly all of the really large pretty diamonds came from India and were used for so-and-so's crown, or so-and-so's royal necklace, and none of them had a story of how they ended up in the United States on some rich person's ring. All of the gems were gorgeous, though. They had lava rock as well, which was neat, too.

I really wanted to see the Butterfly exhibit, but it was closed, and the Korean exhibit was closed for renovations. Thus they were a big suck. Still, we got to see a lot and learn a lot, so we were able to limp away feeling good about all we'd done. There were three or four gift shops, two or three special ones for the exhibits, and one general one downstairs. We left through the downstairs door and went out for dinner.

We decided to eat dinner at Jaleo, a tapas bar, which was apparently all uphill from where we were. It was really good authentic Spanish (not Mexican) food, and the Sangria was a-MAZ-ing.

Finally it was time to go back and rest. We only have one more day to go.

3 Response to "Day 5: A “Holy-Gee-Whiz Grand Tour of Everything in the World Plus Infinity”"

Aedh Says:

This really makes me want to visit all of these places... maybe next summer.

Anonymous Says:
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