By Wendy Wood-Prince
The Capitol Building glowing in the autumn sun.
With politics on everyone’s mind these days, a visit to the birthplace of our nation’s political system seemed appropriate.
So, with my sister in tow, we flew into Washington Reagan and shortly after checking in, we walked a short distance to District Commons, a bustling restaurant with great fare, where we inhaled some delicious pretzel bread and a crispy crusted pizza.
An emerald and diamond necklace from the Smithsonian’s Gem Exhibit. This necklace was donated to the Smithsonian by Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Beautiful weather on our side, Friday morning we headed to The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Gem exhibit, a massive institution comprised of 19 museums and the National Zoological Park. It would take months to see everything there is to discover at the Smithsonian, so we had to have to have a plan of attack. We chose the Geology, Gems and Minerals exhibit. This exhibit is extensive and fascinating. It starts with the formation of the geology of the earth and moon, including a mesmerizing video map of earthquakes and volcanos around the world. The exhibit continues through time and the formation of minerals and gems, and culminates in a fantastic display of some of the most famous gems in the world, including the Hope Diamond and jewels worn by Kings and Maharajas of the past.
Continuing our meandering through Le Musee, we walked through the 21st Annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards. Truly amazing photographs by amateur photographers and the stories of how they got their amazing shots.
Finally, a quick trip through the Butterfly Pavilion, where exotic and everyday butterflies are on display in every stage of their life cycles. As you walk through this exhibit, butterflies land on you as well as the plants around you. Gentle docents remove the butterflies from your person with paintbrushes so that you do not leave the exhibit with any hitchhikers. So cool.
The hallway to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office in the Capitol Building.
On Friday afternoon, we were lucky enough to get a private tour of The Capitol through Representative Hal Roger’s office. Hal Rogers is the U.S. Representative for Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District and Chairman of The House Appropriations Committee. We were welcomed with a tray of Kentucky born offerings, including Keebler cookies and packets of Pop Tarts, all made in the Union’s 15th state.
The tour was fascinating. Roger’s great staffer, Ellen, led us through the National Statuary Hall where she demonstrated the “whispering effect”. Because of the acoustics of the Hall, a speaker can be heard from across the room more clearly than if the listener was standing very close by. We toured the room where the original Supreme Court met, got to visit the House Floor and see where the impassioned arguments for and against bills that are brought forward take place and sit in the seats that the Congressmen and women sit, discuss and vote on the bills that are brought forward.
Dinner that night at the trendy Sakerum on 14th street. Sakerum, an eclectic Asian Fusion restaurant with a variety of delicious food options and drinks. I am still thinking about how delicious the fried plantains with guacamole and corn tasted and the one of a kind custom cocktails were yummy and fun.
The view from Marjorie Merriweather Post’s bedroom window at Hillwood Estate.
Saturday morning, we headed to Hillwood Estate, one of Marjorie Merriweather Post’s former homes, filled to the brim with artifacts and photos from her fascinating life and travels. Owner and heir of General Foods and a busy socialite, Marjorie also owned Mar-a-Lago, presently owned by Donald Trump. Hillwood Estate houses much of the Russian treasures that she acquired while her third husband, Joseph Davies who was the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union, which during that time, was under Joseph Stalin’s control. During the 1930’s, when the Soviet Union was selling the valuables seized from The Romanov family, Marjorie was there to snap them up for her personal collection.
A jeweled pin from the Romanov’s, part of an extensive collection of Russian artifacts Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired in the late 1930’s.
Endless quantities of china, glassware, religious objects, and personal treasures from The Romanov family are on display and photos of her extensive dinner parties line the hallway walls. Particularly touching at this bucolic estate is Marjorie’s pet cemetery, where many of her beloved dogs are laid to rest in a shaded garden.
The Japanese Garden at Hillwood Estate, former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post.
We then hopped a cab and headed back downtown to Ford’s Theater, the site of President Lincoln’s assassination. After Lincoln was shot, he was carried across the street to Petersen House, where he later died. Petersen House is something to experience. The ground floor has remained virtually untouched since the assassination and the house is attached to an absolutely amazing interactive exhibit of the events surrounding President Lincoln’s death. If there is one piece of history not to miss when visiting DC, this is it.
J.M.W. Turner’s Keelmen Heaving in Coalsby Moonlight, one of the breathtaking paintings at the National Gallery of Art.
Our last daytime excursion was to The National Gallery of Art. The building itself is a work of art and to experience paintings and sculptures from around the world in this atmosphere is perfection. Wide couches and benches are placed in the large galleries and The Garden Courts at either end of the West Building provide a relaxing natural respite from the high drama of the stories and lives depicted in the art.
Truly exhausted after the day of exploration, we headed to the Michelin rated Blue Duck tavern and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner. Nothing like a crisp glass of Champagne and Mojo marinated Quail with whipped Ricotta and Roasted Figs to top off your day!
Mojo marinated Quail with whipped ricotta and roasted figs from Blue Duck Tavern.
Washington DC has an overwhelming abundance of history and beauty to explore. After this trip, we realized that three days wasn’t enough. We will have to go back!