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Posts Tagged ‘virtual vacation’

Keeping it simple today

Keeping it simple today

We’re flying home this afternoon, but there’s time for one last outing before heading to the airport! But first, here’s the outfit du jour. (Well, I’ll pair it with jeans, but you guessed that, right?) I’m keeping it simple today; unlike here, there will be no one to schlep my luggage when I get home. This grey tee will be perfect. It’s a little nippy out there this morning, but a Caramel Apple Cider ought to keep me warm and I’ll walk briskly. I’m going to miss my virtual wardrobe—my real one isn’t nearly as attractive—but I’d like to thank Coldwater Creek for making me look good this last week, even if it was just virtually.

Jill and Paula are ditching me for Mount Vernon this morning. I can’t blame them, I’d love to see it myself. But today I have a different priority . . . and I know all my writing buddies will totally understand when I explain that today is the National Book Festival.
VV Sat - Book Fest Poster

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until I went to the Library of Congress on Wednesday. They’re setting up tents (aka “pavilions”) on the National Mall today and scores of authors are coming to talk and sign books. And it’s FREE—or paid for by the Library of Congress, I suppose. If that’s the case, I’m quite happy to see my tax dollars at work today.

First up on my personal agenda is John Grisham at the Fiction & Fantasy Pavilion. Next I’ll pop over to the History & Biography Pavilion to see Sue Monk Kidd. (On the way I pass the Teens & Children Pavilion where Paula Deen is holding forth. I can’t see her through the crowd, but I can make out the faint strains of “Butter” floating through the morning air.)

National Book Festival

National Book Festival

Naturally, the very sound of Paula’s voice makes me hungry, but the line at the concession stand is a bit daunting. It’s not my first day in DC, though, and I happen to know the Smithsonian Castle, just behind the History & Biography Pavilion, has a nice little café where I can get a Panini and warm up a bit. Next I’m off to the Mysteries & Thrillers Pavilion for a little chat with Lisa Scottoline. I had to change my return flight to catch her presentation, but I love her books so it was so worth it. Before I know it, it’s time to dash back to the hotel to cram my newly signed volumes into my carry-on (oof!), meet up with the girls, and head home.

Thus ends the virtual vacation. I’ve been keeping a running tally of my virtual expenses, and I think it’s safe to say I won’t be taking this exact trip anytime soon. I had to estimate and do some rounding up—and numbers are not my strong point, ever. But in case you’re curious, here’s how it came out:

Wardrobe: $1,400
Airfare & Hotel: $4,250 (I told you it was a nice hotel)
Tours, Souvenirs, Spa, and Incidentals (cab rides, Metro tickets, tips, etc.): $1,400
Food: $500
TOTAL $7,300

I’m sure I can visit DC for much less in real life—which is a good thing. Otherwise I’d probably abandon hope of ever seeing my nation’s capitol in this life. It’s been grand fun to go there virtually; I hope you enjoyed it! Now I’m going to catch up on all the things I should have been doing this last week instead of researching and writing about my pretend life.

But don’t be a stranger . . . next Friday I’m leaving on a real-life trip. More on that later!

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Back at the Museum of Natural History, we head upstairs to the exhibit called “Written in Bone.” It’s fascinating! It’s a forensic investigation of human skeletons from the 17th century, some of Jamestown colonists and some from Maryland.

See? Just like on TV

See? Just like on TV

But even more exciting, today is Forensic Friday! We get to go to the super-cool Forensic Anthropology Lab for a special demonstration. Today they’re taking a skull and doing a facial reconstruction—that thing where model a face. (You can read about it here.) It’s like being in the middle of an episode of Bones (minus the cute FBI guy, unfortunately). Mind you, the real forensic people aren’t too impressed with the TV forensic people…but that might be because they feel the lack of cute FBI guys, too. (Although it probably has more to do with the science.)

Facial Reconstruction

Facial Reconstruction


We’re all fascinated by the demonstration; I tried hard to keep my natural tendency to interview people at bay and not ask too many questions, but everyone is intrigued by the process. It’s amazing to watch.

By the time that’s over and the face is complete, it’s pert near 5 pm. We have just enough time to run down to the Fossil Café (in Dinosaur Hall) for a quick sandwich before our next event, one more floor down in the Baird Auditorium. Is it a scholarly lecture on global warming? A film about the life and times of gorillas? No! It’s The Second City! Kind of appropriate to end an afternoon looking at bones with an event designed to tickle our funny bones, isn’t it?

second-city

I saw Second City in Dallas years ago and I’m still laughing over some of their improvs. Tonight’s show features some of the best sketches, songs, and improvisations from their 50-year history plus the past year’s most delectable political scandal, cultural milestones, and public disgraces. (LOTS of material there!) It’s Jill and Paula’s first time to see them; I’m sure we’ll be replaying tonight’s show all the way home tomorrow.

It’s still early enough after the show that we have time to enjoy the Empress Lounge at our hotel, the Mandarin Oriental. They have live jazz tonight, so we plop down to enjoy The Sharón Clark Quartet and a snack. For Jill and me, that would be the CityZen Candy Bar (yes, I had this Tuesday, but it’s so worth repeating). Paula, who does not care for chocolate (though we love her despite this unfortunate disability), ends up with Grand Marnier bread pudding.

Tomorrow, we go home . . . but there’s still time for one more adventure. Meanwhile, I’m going up to enjoy my last night in this beautiful room.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

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Not-too-casual Friday

Not-too-casual Fri

It’s our last full day in DC. While my virtual self will be sad to leave this fascinating city, my real self is getting mighty tired. Being in two places at once is exhausting! But never mind, there is yet more to see before we head home.

Today’s outfit is a little dressier, just because. It occurs to me that perhaps I should visit my local
Coldwater Creek and try on my virtual vacation wardrobe in person . . . nah. I can’t keep up with Jill & Paula’s outfits, too, so you’ll just have to take it on faith that they’re clothed and in their right minds. (And if you know them, that last part requires a lot of faith.)

When you walk in the door, here’s what you see. Impressive, no? And that’s just the beginning. There are creatures of all sorts, from dinosaurs to butterflies, on all sides and overhead.

African Elephant In the Rotunda

African Elephant In the Rotunda

The FossiLab, where you can watch paleontologists and trained volunteers extract fossils from rock and construct fossil casts and molds, makes me miss my nephew Josh, who had a brief but sparkling career as an archeologist (he was about 6 at the time).

But come on . . . we’re girls. I don’t care how cool the animals are—and they are—you know what I want to see: 45.52 carats of sparkling blue gorgeousness. Yep, I’m talking about the Hope Diamond. Who knew diamonds could be blue? Yellow, yes. Pink, yes. But blue? SO gorgeous. I think I need one; it would match my eyes. I’m reminded of the Sherlock Holmes’ tale of the Blue Carbuncle, another precious gem of a different color.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

But back to the Hope Diamond: Did you know its one-time owner, Evalyn Walsh McLean, once hocked it? She was trying to raise money to pay ransom for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby. I can only imagine the look on the pawn shop owner’s face.

This little red number is rather nice, as well. Not so little, actually, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is a 23.1-carat Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring with diamonds. Since the Hope Diamond is blue, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is red, and they’re both set with white diamonds, one could wear them both at the same time and be in patriotic red, white, & blue. Though perhaps that would be just a touch gaudy?

Carmen Lúcia Ruby

Carmen Lúcia Ruby

We’re not done here, but we’re thinking seafood for lunch. Maybe we’re influenced by The Sant Ocean Hall? There’s a whale suspended from the ceiling (it’s a model; no whales were harmed in the making of…) and fishies galore. Whatever the reason, we decide to repair to Johnny’s Half Shell for a little riparian refreshment.

Johnny's Half Shell

Johnny's Half Shell

Chef Ann Cashion is another James Beard Winner and the weather is nice enough we can eat on the patio—a combination made in gastronomic heaven. After dealing with the weighty matter of appetizers: spicy grilled chicken wings, easy on the spice (Jill), mixed green salad (Paula), and shrimp cocktail (me), we can sit and ponder life until our main courses arrive. Jill and Paula both choose the grilled halibut with Carolina black rice salad and red pepper oil. I decide on Chesapeake bouillabaisse (fish, shellfish, and a mini-crabcake in a rich lobster broth—yum). It’s a lovely lunch and well worth the cab ride over here…and back, because there is more to see this afternoon. And don’t worry, Vacation Rule #1 will definitely be enforced.

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Several years ago, Jill and I were on one of several trips to New York with our Dallas Symphony Chorus buddies to sing at Carnegie Hall. (I just had to throw that in there, sorry.) This particular time, I talked about 15 of the group into going on a ‘foodie’ walking tour of Greenwich Village. It was fabulous! So when I saw that Alexandria had a similar tour, I knew we had to go.

Alexandria, VA

Alexandria, VA

First of all, Alexandria is beautiful. Folks have been living here since well before the U.S. of A. was as much as a twinkle in Sam Adam’s eye; as early as 8000 B.C. according to archeologists. “Old Town” is the 3rd oldest historic district in the nation. You have to love a place whose Web site announces, “Dogs are optional but always welcome.” Alas, we’re dog-free on this trip.

Gadsby's Tavern

Gadsby's Tavern


The Old Town Alexandria Food Tour combines historic landmarks, art, and good food, all in one fell swoop. We visit Gadsby’s Tavern, where George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all lived for a spell. (George Washington slept here!)

Torpedo Factory Art Center

Torpedo Factory Art Center

Another stop is the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The, er, “factory” part goes with “torpedo,” it’s not a reflection of the kind of art produced and sold there. It’s three floors worth of open studios where you can watch artists at work and buy the art they produce.

Then there’s the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop Museum, which went under in 1933. When they did, they just locked their doors, leaving everything in place. Over 8,000 objects, including pill rollers, mortars and pestles, drug mills, and hand-blown medicine bottles with gold-leaf labels, were left in place. Back in its heyday, their customer list read like a Who’s Who in Colonial Washington: Martha Washington, James Monroe, and Robert E. Lee all patronized this fine establishment. We also toured a . . .

What’s that? Oh, the FOOD! You mean the baby back ribs, fried oysters, fish & chips, tapas, Thai dumplings, truffles . . . that food? Oh yes, there was plenty of that, too. The way it works is your group and your guide walk a little, learn a little, go into a restaurant to sit and eat a little (or not so little), then repeat. And keep repeating, for about three and a half hours. Mmm-hmm. Did I mention the Jelly Cake? No? Well, then…

Yum

Yum

“Old Town’s Famous 125-year-old Jelly Cake” was as good as advertised. Actually, better—from that title one might assume the cake itself was 125 years old, which would undoubtedly be a little on the dry side. The recipe is apparently an old Alexandrian specialty, beloved by many and specially requested for none other than Queen Elizabeth (II) herself (though at the time she was only Princess Elizabeth) on one occasion. It consists of thin layers of buttery pound cake slathered with red currant jelly, dusted with powdered sugar. I couldn’t worm the recipe out of them, but I think I can probably recreate it at home. I’ll let you know how that works out.

So in a nutshell, we walked, we ate, we walked, we ate, and then we walked and ate some more. I’d like to think the walking cancelled out the eating…I’d like to think that…

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Another Coldwater Creek option

Another Coldwater Creek option

They’re predicting scattered thunderstorms again today, so I’ll keep my outfit simple. This rich brown wrap top is similar to the one I wore in real life on Monday (except newer and nicer), so I know it’ll be comfortable when dashing through the raindrops. I’ll add a pair of brown slacks (they’ll dry faster than jeans if I get splashed) to my ensemble and be good to go.

We shop @ the same place

We shop @ the same place

Jill wanted you to know she was wearing this. (She shops at the same place I do.) Paula was late for breakfast, so her outfit didn’t make the deadline. You snooze, you lose.

I’m told the National Air and Space Museum is the most popular of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. Really? I mean, it’s interesting and all, but I wouldn’t classify it as number one on my list. My father would have loved it, but it strikes me as a little too technical for my taste.

I must admit, we did enjoy watching “Cosmic Collisions” at the Albert Einstein Planetarium. Described as an “immersive theater experience” you feel the sensation of zooming through the cosmos on a thrilling trip through space and time. It was fun and no one got…spacesick? What’s the intergalactic equivalent of carsickness? Whatever, we all survived.

Smithsonian Institution Photo SI2003-35575, Eric Long/NASM

Smithsonian Institution Photo SI2003-35575, Eric Long/NASM

I’ll grant you, the Wright brothers’ plane is fun. I visited Kitty Hawk several years ago and can recommend The Bishop’s Boys, an excellent biography of Orville and Wilbur (I’m sure those names were all the rage back in the day). They were definitely the right people in the right place at the right time. (Or would that be the “Wright” people…sorry.)

The space stuff is really cool, too. (They’re protective of those images so I can’t show you any.) But much as I hate to admit it, my favorite thing at this museum was the talking Albert Einstein bobblehead. How can you not love a cute little genius who says things like, “Let me help you vit dat.” and “You seem smarter than you actually are!”

Isn't he darling?

Isn't he darling?

On the whole, none of us is that thrilled with this place. Maybe it’s because the three of us recently visited the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, where we got to talk to a real, live, NASA rocket scientist who worked on the early space flights. This place is a lot like that, only bigger. (Much, MUCH bigger.) But never mind, we can cross it off our list of places we’ve been and move on to our next adventure, which will take us across the Potomac to Alexandria.

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Lunch at Zola

Lunch at Zola

After collecting my friends at the hotel we whisk ourselves off to at late lunch at Zola.

Described as “straightforward American cuisine” with “inspired and imaginative combinations of fresh ingredients reflecting our country’s rich cultural diversity,” it’s an elegant choice for a late lunch. Considering that it’s right across the street from our next adventure, the location is perfect. I opt for the lobster mac & cheese, just because I can. Maine lobster, fontina cheese, asparagus spears . . . yum. Jill chose the salmon BLT (with avocado mayo) and Paula, bemoaning the lack of a taco salad, went with the handmade burger. It was all delicious.

Over lunch, as our next stop is the International Spy Museum, we decide to choose spy names. I went with “Natasha” in honor of my old friends Rocky & Bullwinkle. Jill is Sophie and Paula, Scarlet. Armed with new identities, we decide to skip dessert (shocking, I know) and head to the museum for an afternoon of intrigue.

Int'l Spy Museum

Int'l Spy Museum

Once inside, we realize our plotting and planning was for naught—we’re assigned a spy profile and given 5 minutes to memorize details of our cover (name, age, place of birth, destination, etc.) before we’re allowed to proceed into the exhibit area. (How fun is that?!) I was even stopped by the museum “police” later and questioned about my identity. I think I managed to avoid blowing my cover, but I’m not sure…I eventually made it out alive, so I think I can claim to be a successful operative.

The exhibits are amazing…it’s like being in Q’s lab with James Bond. (Well, not exactly like that… I mean, Jill and Paula are my friends, but they’re no Pierce Brosnan, if you know what I mean.) We learn the stories of spymasters from Moses to Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth I to George Washington, Cardinal Richelieu to Joseph Stalin—all of whom relied on intelligence to be effective leaders. My favorite had to be the section on D-Day and all that went into making it a success.

Spy Stuff

Spy Stuff

Playing spy was grand fun, but did confirm I was right not to take that job with the CIA. I really did interview with them once, many years ago, but I was thinking analyst and they were thinking agent…and since I absolutely hate keeping secrets, that was never going to work.

We round off the evening with an Old Town Trolley Monuments by Moonlight tour. After all, the last time Jill was here she hardly got to see a thing (other than Nancy Pelosi at the opera). The tour is a great way to sit and see the sights, and while it’s a little cloudy for much moonlight, the government has done a fine job with their landscape lighting, so it’s a lovely view whatever the weather. It’s good to end the day with a relaxing trolley ride, because tomorrow we have a lot of walking to do. Until then . . .

DC at Night

DC at Night

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There’s a 40% chance of rain today, which means it’s a perfect day to stay indoors. As the employee of a publishing company I probably shouldn’t say this, but while there are many, many books I need to read, there are not all that many I need to own. Sorry! Just keeping it real. The rest of you need to buy lots of books, OK? Preferably those published by Thomas Nelson.

Sexy Librarian? by Coldwater Creek

Sexy Librarian? by Coldwater Creek


Where was I? Oh yes, the library. That would be the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. (I get a little giddy thinking about that.) This is my idea of a cool—dare I say sexy?—librarian outfit. If I had actually finished my MLS instead of dropping out when I a) ran out of money and b) got a job I really liked, this is what I’d like to think I’d wear to work at my state-of-the-art public library. Instead, I’ll (virtually) wear it to the grandaddy of all U.S. public libraries.

The Library of Congress (LOC) was established in 1800; the British proceeded to burn it down 15 years later. But (cue heroic music) Thomas Jefferson saved the day by selling his personal library (more than 6,000 volumes) to the feds for $23,950. Not chump change, but a bargain nonetheless. Get this: his bookshelves were also boxes, so when the books arrived, they were already in order. Tom may have had his issues (don’t we all?) but dang, that man was brilliant.

There is WAY more to this place than books—and if you arrive expecting to see rows of shelves a la your local library, you’re in for a surprise. Books are brought out by request and must be referenced in the library; you can’t check them out. You can virtually turn the pages of Thomas Jefferson’s books, zoom in on architectural features, and much more via kiosks located throughout the building. It’s a very high-tech place! But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s see how it looks:

The Great Hall Photography by Carol M. Highsmith

The Great Hall Photography by Carol M. Highsmith


See what I mean? As their site says, “When its doors opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress represented an unparalleled national achievement, the “largest, costliest, and safest” library in the world.”

Detail from Giant Bible of Mainz

Detail from Giant Bible of Mainz

Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible

In the Great Hall are two Bibles: the Giant Bible of Mainz, which represents the end of handwritten manuscripts and a Gutenberg Bible, representing the beginning of the printed word. Both were produced in the same city during the same period. The “giant” Bible is 22” x 16”. Imagine hauling that to church every Sunday!

As a singer, I naturally have to visit the Gershwin exhibit. They have manuscript and printed music, lyric sheets and librettos . . . it’s all I can do not to indulge in a little min-concert. What is it about this town that makes me want to sing? I am in a library, however, so I restrain the impulse yet again, and wander off with “Someone to Watch Over Me” playing in my head.

Bob Hope

Bob Hope

The “Bob Hope and American Variety” exhibit is fun, too. He was the speaker at my college graduation (Oral Roberts University) and I somehow scored a seat on the front row for the ceremony. Thanks for the memories, Bob!

Gosh, I haven’t even gotten to the second floor yet. There are all sorts of important historical documents and things to talk about, but in the interest of time I suggest you just go see for yourself: http://www.loc.gov/index.html

Meanwhile, I have to get back to the hotel—Jill just called (you remember Jill, from the opera last Saturday). She and Paula, another friend, decided I was having too much fun here on my own and flew in to DC as a surprise this morning! I’m going to meet up with them and we’ll all go exploring this afternoon. Later!

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