After 3 hours of driving, we arrived at our final destination for the trip, the capital city of Washington D.C. We were all ready to explore one of the major highlights of the city – the Smithsonian Institution, which in DC alone comprises 17 museums, galleries and a zoo. Entrance to the Institution is free, and we learnt this was because of a generous donation almost 200 years ago by British scientist, James Smithson, who donated his entire estate to create an establishment for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.
|An amazing collection of natural treasures await us at the Smithsonian. Pictured here is a dinosaur exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.|
National Museum of Natural History
We made some errors getting into the National Mall area, the heart of the political and cultural district in Washington DC, where we were headed to visit the National Museum of Natural History, part of the vast complex of Smithsonian institutions. These included parking in a paid lot instead of the free one offered to us by our Air BnB host, losing two Metro cards on the train, and not stopping for groceries for lunch so we had to hunt for food and pay exorbitant prices for rather average food near the museum. We also had a sensory overload from the crowds and noise, and facing the tired faces and abrupt manner which comes from life in the city brought our moods down significantly. It was a point of reflection for us that as a family, we much prefer a quiet life in the country!
|While taking the Washington metro is a relatively easy experience, it was more the transition from country to city life that threw us off course.|
Nevertheless, we soldiered on, and after getting everyone fed, we made it just in time for the tarantula feeding at the Live Insect Zoo. It was quite an experience gathering around to see the Museum staff drop a cricket into the tarantula’s enclosure; however, it turned out to be a fortunate day for the insect as the hairy arthropod was not hungry and probably was getting ready to moult. The live insect exhibition was one of our highlights, particularly for our little naturalist E who was quivering with excitement as he saw the highly venomous black widow spider for the first time, several tarantula species, and other strange and marvellous creatures such as honeypot ants with their bellies swollen with honey, and giant stick insects.
|Up close and personal with a tarantula spider.|
|The Butterfly Pavilion is an amazing oasis for butterflies to roam freely and our little naturalist was clearly in his element.|
There were also the must-see exhibits like the infamous Hope Diamond. It was cool to see the subject of such contention and to recall the royal hands it had passed through, from France to England and then to the United States. The boys particularly enjoyed the special exhibition Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World, where they explored different kinds of viruses and bacteria and how they are transmitted. We got a chance to speak with two volunteers, one of whom is a scientist at a lab whose focus is on finding mutations of viruses, and the other, a NASA scientist who gathers precipitation data using satellite information and links it to water borne diseases.
|Learning from two scientists how viruses look like.|
It was rather amazing that despite our tiredness and fatigue, we managed to trudge on to the White House after dinner for some photos and ended up at the Washington Monument, where we decided to end our day, grateful to head back to our cosy accommodation in Silver Springs.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
After lunch the next day, we headed to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We had about 2/1/2 hours there, and within that time we only got to see one portion of the museum – the history section; but that was poignant for us in and of itself. The exhibition traced the journey of African Americans from slavery in Europe and America, through the revolutionary and civil wars, and finally to the civil rights movement and current day; and was an emotive and immersive experience.
|Shackles that were once used to contain children. Truly a symbol of a different society with completely different values.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is conveniently located near the Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, our exit point. The boys enjoyed their brief but delightful time at the museum, enjoying the guns, missies and other weaponry displayed. It was truly spectacular to see such a large display of aircraft displayed from the ceiling as well as on the hangar floor.
|Never a dull moment. The boys trying to escape from the attack helicopter.|
Personally, it was a most poignant experience to see the Enola Gay. This was the bomber used by the Americans for the release of the first atomic bomb on Japan on 6 August 1945 during World War Two. The Hiroshima bomb, followed by another strike against Nagasaki three days later, has been described as a major reason that contributed to the surrender of the Japanese. It was particularly poignant to come face-to-face with a weapon that has the power to wield so much destruction.
|This Sikorsky JRS-1 seaplane was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 Dec 1941, the day the Japanese attacked. Following the attack, the unarmed utility craft was used to seek out the Japanese fleet.
It was unfortunate that we were only able to visit 3 of the 17 museums during our short three days in the US capital. But considering the depth of knowledge that can be found within these walls, I am thankful that we got to experience what we did!