Friday, December 11, 2009

DC Day 6: National Mall

Bitter cold and wind made this perhaps a poor day to choose for a visit to the western reaches of the National Mall. We had to stop in at each museum and visitor's center just to warm up. The very nice lady at the USDA visitor's center seemed pleased to have a few visitors, so we didn't explain we mostly came in for some federally-funded warmth and shelter.

Our first stop was the White House. Embarassingly I misread the map and picked the wrong building, thinking I was just seeing the White House from a different angle than the familiar facade. Further along towards the National Christmas Tree we found my mistake and the usual view (and a bunch of Japanese tourists living out the stereotype of photographing willy-nilly; we kept seeing the same group doing the same thing elsewhere).

We didn't go up in the Washington Monument, or down the mall to the Lincoln Memorial, but we did stand next to the monument (in part for the shelter from the wind!) and took pictures down the reflecting pool towards the Lincoln Memorial. Then we museum-hopped (for warmth) back to the National Air and Space Museum to catch the shows we hadn't yet seen.

In the planetarium, Journey To The Stars was amazing, an excellent use of the audiovisual capabilities of the planetarium to give a very informative and complete tour of the life and significance of stars in only a half hour.

Black Holes wasn't as good; it was a bit too busy being breathless to actually tell you much about black holes, though the graphical demonstration of the curvature of spacetime was effective. But how could you do a half hour about black holes and a journey into one, and not mention Stephen Hawking or time dilation or tide locking, even by reference?

The Imax 3D film Space Station was amazing. I had no idea how much of the prep, flights, assembly, and life on the space station was being filmed in Imax in 3D all along. I expected five minutes of actual in-space Imax 3D footage padded with lots of ground film, but easily more than half was genuine "you are there" 3D film in space, ranging through assembly up to the Expedition Two.

Of the many museums on the mall, there isn't a single one which holds zero interest, but one must make choices when there is limited time. The museums you do not visit are not unvalued, just ones you couldn't fit in. The one we didn't have time for that was nearest the top of the list was the National Museum of the American Indian. At least that was the plan, but having had a little time to see some of the space films yesterday we finished early enough today to get some time there. Only a few hours, clearly not enough, but more than we expected to get.

The architecture of the museum itself is striking, evocative of cliffside dwellings of the southwest while still feeling modern and integrated into the surrounding buildings. A lot of the space inside is not yet used for exhibits, so two hours was enough to at least see all three of the main ones. Each exhibit was very well done, though it didn't click together as impactfully as the sum of its parts. Perhaps that's because of our going through at a moderately quick pace, though. But the museum we visited recently at Foxwoods was more potent to me.

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