Saturday, December 27, 2014

Off the Mall, Washington DC

We have friends in town and I offered to give them suggestions on some off-the-beaten-path activities to do while here.  They're just on a short stay, so doubt they will take me up on it, but it got me thinking about some of the places we've visited beyond the Smithsonian and typical monuments.

So, here's a list in case someone asks me some time. In no particular order--

--The Anacostia Museum
Actually it is part of the Smithsonian, but away from the National Mall.  It specializes in African American artists.

--The O Street Mansion
Quirky, kitschy place with hidden rooms, hidden doors and EVERYTHING is for sale, if you're interested in paying sky high prices on dollar sotre level items.  The $10 self tour is fun and they have group rates.

--National Museum of the US Navy
If you're into ships and cannons.  Kids can climb up on some of them too. It's at the Navy Yard--former site of NCIS and the front of the bldg they shot for the TV show exterior is there. Check their web site to see what you need to enter the base.

--DAR Museum
Small museum with often-rotated exhibits including a large quilt exhibit and toy collection, I think they also have a room where children can play with replicas of old-timey toys.  My favorite parts are  the "period rooms" furnished as they would be in a certain decade.

--Mexican Cultural Institute
We went a long time ago and there was a room where kids could play with traditional Mexican toys, but that may have been a limited exhibition.  Still the murals are something to see.

--The Postal Museum
Also an SI museum off the Mall. Next to Union Station, which is also nice to see. Lots of hands on stuff.

--National Museum of Health and Medicine
Lots of things in jars, the bullet that killed Abe Lincoln and other odd medical specimens.  Possibly not for the squeemish, but I've definitely seen worse elsewhere (I have a morbid facination with stuff like this).

--National Arboretum and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

--The Phillips Collection
Small museum exhibited in connected historic houses

--National Geographic Museum
Rotating exhibits, some more interesting than others.  Also check the building behind the main museum, they sometimes have a smaller exhibit in there--also bathrooms and a tiny cafe.

Outside of DC
--Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary, Alexandria
Jar of leeches, need I say more?

--American Visionary Art Musem, Baltimore
Eccentric art collection in two buildings--do both.  The store is a hoot also.

--National Cryptologic Museum, Beltsville, MD
See lots of code-breaking machines and underground RR quilts, etc.

--National Wildlife Visitor Center, Laurel, MD
Nice museum (be aware of taxidermied animals) and hiking trails.  They have a tram tour weekends and for pre-arranged groups.

Add your suggestions in the comments!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paris--the end of the big trip

Uh....looks like this one never got published.  Here goes!

Paris--the last days of the trip

This was the day we planned to start up our museum passes.  Only Pete and I needed passes, the kids for the most part were eligible for free or very reduced entries but, because of our passes we could still take them with us to the front of the lines.  The only time this was an issue was at the Louvre, where you go through the lobby to get to different wings of the museum and need to show your ticket again and again.  because the kids never got their own tickets, we couldn't split up.  Turns out they decided to stay with us for most of the day anyway, so that didn't bother our plans.

But I'm jumping ahead.

As mentioned in the very first trip post, we were pretty tired out from the Angers trip but were still up fairly early and it wasn't a rushed start to the day, so I ignored that voice that told me to reschedule our plans and take a day off.  Zack hadn't slept well and was pretty draggy for most of the day.  Which was too bad since I think he would have enjoyed things more if he was less tired.

We started out with yet another church visit to Sainte-Chapelle--I know, I know! But it was supposed to be amazing stained glass and a very small church, so 1/2 hour at the most.  Actually, because the church is inside the police offices, the main wait is to get through security.  Museum passes didn't let us skip that, but once inside we didn't need to wait on a second line for tickets. It really is very tiny and only took 10-15 minutes to see the glass--which even ultra bored Zack was impressed with.

Next, back towards Notre Dame to the Crypte.  I loved this and everyone else indulged me. It's a years long dig under Notre Dame down to the original Roman walls that were originally on the site.

We had 12:30pm reservations for the Eiffel Tower, so we jumped onto Metro to head over there in the hopes of getting to go up a bit early.  Rain was expected and we didn't realize that there is an enclosed level at the top, so wanted to avoid rain if we could. We got there and were informed by a rather stern looking woman that we could not get in line until 5 mins before our ticket time.  We browsed the souvenir shops for a while then tried again when Stern Lady had left and were allowed to get in line about 15 mins early.

Zack was not happy that I got him a ticket to go to the top--heights are not his thing, but I assured him that no one has ever accidentally fallen off the tower and that it's even hard to fall off it intentionally.  The fact that the elevators are windowed did not thrill him either. But when it came right down to it, both he and Katie were extremely brave, walked all around the enclosed level and even braved the open air level at the tip top.

And the Tower is truly amazing--but I can't tell you why.  Maybe because I wasn't expecting it to be a big deal, maybe Paris was finally getting to me, I have no idea. But it was romantic, thrilling and very very Paris to me.  I loved it. Get an advance reservation and go.

We were hungry once back down on the ground, but decided to skip the stands  at the Tower since the weather was so chilly and damp.  Instead we headed closer to the Egout, our next stop, to see about a restaurant.  We passed the Quai Branley museum which had a living wall which was extremely cool (and I know wish we had gone to this museum instead of the Egout, but more about that later). Pete's photo didn't turn out, but see here for photos. After seeing many overpriced and too formal places, we stopped at a little bakery.  Turned out to be very average food and above average rude service, but they had some small tables indoors, so we ate there and just left as soon as we could.

Next was the Egout--a tour of the sewers.  No, do not think the romance of Phantom of the Opera, no, not the adventure of Les Miserables--think stinky public works tour.  Then skip it.  Stinky is an understatement.   Unless you're an engineer, then you might like it on a cool day.  It must be hell in the heat of summer!

Next walked over to the Musee Rodin.  It was not high on our list of places to see, but it was closeby and on our passes, so there didn't seem any reason not to go.  Plus the weather had improved making their extensive sculpture gardens very pleasant.  So pleasant that Zack relaxed an took a nap on a bench!

Pete and I were thrilled that there happened to be a Mapplethorpe exhibit.  We knew there was a large exhibit at the Palais Royal but didn't have the energy to try to get to it the night before, so this was a treat we thought we'd miss.  There were a lot of similarities in the poses of Rodin's statues and Mapplethorpe's photo poses. It was extraordinary. 

Also nice that the kids didn't need to have us with them, or go through massive warnings about the content of the exhibit before seeing it.  They just breezed in of their own accord, saw what they wanted and breezed out.

And that was it for the day.

The biggies--Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre.

I didn't expect to like the d'Orsay as much as I did but it was quite wonderful, not very large and very manageable for a morning visit.  We skipped an atrocious line with our passes which was great. The kids wandered on their own and made me anxious about their ability to get places on their own since neither of them found the huge Post-Impressionist wing and didn't get maps.  They claimed not to be able to use the signs because they were in French, but I reminded them that the painter's names are the same regardless and there were signs all over the place.

So, anyway, they saw very little of the museum, but Pete and I enjoyed several wings.  There were even some Toulouse Lautrec, a favorite of mine and which I have rarely seen in person. 

Then--a walk over to the Louvre, which impresses before you even enter due to the sheer size of the place.  There were many dogs and owners on the lawn outside the museum.  Again, all dogs are off the leash, but play nicely and sometimes not as nicely on the grass.  We missed our Toby while we watched them play for a while.

Then into the pyramid (I am not a fan, but I think the rest of the family is) and into the museum again passing up a HUGE line outside of people waiting to get tickets.

I like the inside view of the pyramid better than the outside.

I decided to follow the suggested tour by Rick Steves and it does cover a wide range, but I found it a bit difficult to navigate.  We got up to the Mona Lisa before deciding to stop for lunch. Sadly, Winged Victory, which I have wanted to see at the Louvre since college, is off display for restoration. :(

Pete and I decided it was worth museum prices on food to save the time and walk of finding a place off campus.  The food was quite good and typical museum prices and worth the convenience.  The Louvre is a big walking commitment and we were starving.

Back to the Mona Lisa and its huge crowd.  I didn't feel the need to get right up to it and enjoyed the rest of the room as best I could with the ML mobs in the way.

We continued through Renaissance, Neo Classicism, Revolutionary seeing mostly paintings and sculptures, and so on through Rick Steves tour.  We each got to see at least a few pieces we liked.  Then we heading to the objects wings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  I still love the Middle Ages and they had some very cool objects including crowns, swords and garments--plus a good deal of truly ugly serving pieces.

We were surprised by the number of tapestries in the Renaissance section since we connected those with the Middle Ages but there were a LOT of them.

After the Louvre, Pete and Zack had it and headed back to the room.  Katie and I tried to find one more museum but got all turned around, so when it started raining, we gave up and went back too.

As I went through the plans for the next day I made a terrible discovery.  The catacombs were going to be closed for Ascension Day. Pete and I knew this holiday was coming but checked up on it and read that travelers didn't find it to be a big deal and sights would be open.  I even checked the web site--but not the header on one page.  The catacombs are owned by the church and they do close.

It was 6pm the night before our last day in Paris.  Zack had been asking to see the catacombs every day of the terrible time he was having.  It was the ONLY site he wanted to see.  Closed for the day and closed tomorrow on our last day.

I fell apart.  To this day I still get a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes.  I could not have felt worse.  When I told him, he was very dejected, but was a good guy about it.

Pete got on the job to find something special for Zack for our last day and came through with flying colors.

Yes, you guessed it, another cathedral!  But this time with the oldest continuously working organ in Europe.  Something like 150 years old and the player wasn't much younger! The organist would do the Mass and then sometimes do more afterwards.  This was expected to be one of those days.

The Mass was interesting and the organ nice, but the concert afterwards was the real treat. Pete and I both received hugs from Zack who adored the playing. Whew. He liked something! Still, someday I want to get him back there to see those catacombs.

Afterwards we walked over to Gertrude Steins famous flat to pay our respects. On the way we saw a plaque that told us that Strindberg had lived in another building. We enjoyed that because of a series of YouTube cartoon on Strindberg we watch.

Then to lunch--because it's all about the food.  Sadly this end of town was extremely quiet and mostly closed down for the holiday.  The restaurants were open, but the one Pete had hoped to eat at didn't work out.  We did find a nice cafe that worked out well.

And that's it as far as I remember.
Too many cathedrals by far.
Pete is no longer allowed to plan subway routes
We need to go again so we can wander more and see fewer sites and have a more relaxed time.
But first I need more time to get over the harrowing flights across the ocean.

So, time to save up again.

Digs at kids during the holidays

I often say that parenting is the hardest job I've ever done.  It has also been the most rewarding, but sometimes the rewards lag behind the work.  I know this.

I also like my alone time. Not as much as some friends and family, but I do need time to myself and appreciate some peace and quiet. I do.

And I have average kids. Sometimes loud. Sometimes VERY LOUD. Sometimes obnoxious and mouthy. Sometimes eye-rolling. Really. I have teenagers not angels living in my house.

But what's with all the FB posts, articles, Tweets and conversations about how damn exhausting everyone's kids are just because they are home from school for a few days? Those of you with healthy typical kids--enough with the kvetching! Do you find everyone at work, on the street, in the stores or at social gatherings a treat right now? Kids are people, having all the emotional ups and downs that everyone has this time of year.

If you didn't want to spend time your kids, why did you have them? If your kids talk back to you, are brats or throw tantrums, maybe take a look at how you participated in getting them that way and work on changing you.

Take a moment to realize that you don't actually get much time with your kids. In a few years they will be holed up in their rooms with the headphones on.  Their friends will be way more important than you are. Then they will be off to their adult lives and you will take even more of a back seat.

So please, consider S-ingTFU. Loud is part of the job. Busy is part of the job. Loss of sleep is part of the job. Arguing, lying, breaking the rules, talking back--it is what they are supposed to be doing.  You're the adult, remember.  You signed up for this.

Do the self care you need to. Ask for the help you need. Get a babysitter and go out on a date with your co-parent or BFF as often as you can. Take care of yourself and please do stand up for yourself when your kids give you shit.

Just stop bitching in public about them, ok? Save it for close friends.  Save it for when you're really having problems figuring out this parenting thing. No it's not easy. It's parenting. Try to enjoy it..