Walking the DC Memorials…

Growing up in the Washington DC metropolitan area, I know my parents took me to see a lot as a kid. And over the years when friends and family came into town, we would head in and do something touristy. But in all honesty, I rarely cross the river. Since I am a part-time traveller, I figured I should get to know the area I live in just as I would want to get to know the places I visit. Recently I had the awesome opportunity to work with Context Travel and attend their Front Yard America walk in downtown DC with Katie.

In the many years since I have moved abroad and returned to my home city, new monuments have surfaced that I had yet to have seen, so this was a perfect chance to get myself out and about! Katie was full of information, somethings I remember learning as I grew up, some things I think I knew but I had forgotten, and many things, I simply just didn’t know! DC was once mostly swamp area, and during the summers the area suffer’s from immense heat, humidity, and bugs! Fortunately our three-hour tour included a lot of shaded area’s; because it was the first silly hot day of the season, even at 9am the sun was suffocating. We did our best not to let it distract us too much!

Starting by the capitol building in front of the botanical gardens we got a brief overall lesson of the basic city plan in the early days and headed to the Smithsonian castle to view a 3D model of the current city as is. We then wandered our way down the length of the mall, past the Washington Monuments and almost all the memorials. Did you know that there is only one monument in Washington DC? Everything else is considered a memorial. New fact!

Interesting facts and tidbits:

Washington DC, USA

-The (current) Capitol Building is actually the third design throughout time. The first, with a leaky roof, the British kindly burned down for us during the war of 1812. The second was the rebuild from that fire and I think the third update was due to the ever-growing congress and renovations were required for a larger building.

-To get the marble to the capitol building location to build the capitol, a canal was built from the river to the building site following the now road that is called Constitution. The canal is still present under the road, it was never drained or filled in, so the road floods easily.

-The monument that proudly stands in front of the Capitol building is the Grant memorial. It is also the third largest equestrian memorial in the western hemisphere…who would have thought?!

Washington DC, USA

-The Botanical Gardens was originally planned to be directly in front of the capitol building, over time it was moved to the side. Maybe as not to effect the view from the steps to the washington monument.

Washington DC, USA

-The Washington Monument lost funding around the time of the civil war. When construction restarted, they could not get the same marble, you can see the difference in color just shy of half way up.

-2011’s earthquake caused structural damage to the Monument. Repairs are expensive, but there are plans for private and public funds to be put towards the project of repairing and reopening the Monument.

Washington DC, USA   Washington DC, USA

-Smithsonian Castle. Washington is somewhat unique in the fact that they offer free museums. “The Smithsonian Institution was established with funds from James Smithson (1765-1829), a British scientist who left his estate to the United States to found ‘at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.'” (Smithsonian Institute). The Castle was the first building ever built under the name Smithsonian and mostly offers a rest area with bathrooms for tourists, the rest of the building I believe is purely administrative. But they do have beautiful roses out front.

Washington DC, USA

-Our newest memorial, The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial looks out over the tidal basin towards the Jefferson Memorial, a lot of controversy went into developing this memorial from the position it was facing to the paraphrased quotes used around the site.

Washington DC, USA

-Franklin D. Roosevelt was our only disabled president, what are the changes a man in a wheel chair are to get elected again? Of course there were not TV’s and the opposition back then didn’t seem to strike at personal information quite like the cat fights of today! This is one of my favorite memorials.

Washington DC, USA

-The Vietnam Memorial is a long reflective wall listing all servicemen’s name who died in action during that time. Here’s the thing, this memorial was built about what many consider a less important “Conflict” when still nothing had been built for WWII or the Korean War. These soldiers standing watch over the wall was actually an after thought because of the controversy of there being no actual figures.

Washington DC, USA   Washington DC, USA

-In response to the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial was built shortly after, also with a reflecting wall, but this time with a field full of soldier figures.

-The World War II Memorial is one of the most recently built memorials. With a large fountain surrounded but an Atlantic side and a Pacific side, every state and territory is named on a pillar with a memorial wreath.

-The tour didn’t actually take us to the Jefferson Memorial because the walk to the other side of the tidal basin is not by any means a short one! But the beauty of the memorial radiates.

Washington DC, USA   Washington DC, USA

-The Lincoln Memorial, I swear Lincoln gets bigger every time I see him! Lincoln proudly watches over the mall from his perch with a view towards the capitol building.

Wow, what a walk! Although I was a guest of Context Travel on this walk, all of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Front Yard America, Context Travel

Smithsonian Institute

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Spite House

In the 1800’s two neighbors in Alexandria Virginia fought tirelessly over an alley between their homes. As the story goes, when one neighbor went out-of-town, the other took that opportunity to build a house on the ally to stake his claim. In the end, the city decided neither neighbor owned that alley and the house belonged to them. Wikipedia’s version is slightly different and not half as fun (but probably closer to fact)! Built in 1830, today the Spite House in Alexandria Virginia, is privately owned. At 7 feet wide it is one of the narrowest homes in the world.

Spite House, Alexandria, Virginia

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Rest and Relaxation in Florence

Florence, Italy

Everyone travel’s a bit differently. I like to be on the go, but I also like to have a bit of downtime in my travels. I recently attended a Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Umbria, Italy. Between 2 blog trips and a conference, I was exhausted! Nine days of full on go, go, go! It was a fantastic conference preceded by a great time in Rome and followed by being treated like royalty throughout Umbria. By the time I made it to Florence all I wanted was some down time. And down time is what I got! It never occurred to me how exhausted I would be by the time I got there. Fortunately Florence is a great city to relax in. Sure there is loads of stuff to see and do, and I did a fair bit of walking and seeing. But I didn’t visit any museums, no city tours, no wine tasting. Just me and my camera. I wandered the beautiful streets of Florence, hiked up to watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and relaxed in my great apartment with the amazing view!

Florence, Italy

A big thanks to House Trip for helping to organize my stay while in Florence. I had a beautiful apartment, with an amazing roof top view of the city. A full one bedroom with a living room, kitchen and dining room. The bed was so comfy and I slept so well, that I ended up taking 2 naps! Of course I was only in Florence for a limited time, so I couldn’t waste away all my time sleeping and relaxing on my veranda overlooking the beautiful city, but I sure did spend a fair amount of time there. The owner of the apartment, Eleonora, couldn’t have been sweeter. She was so friendly and welcoming. I enjoyed her list of must see, do’s and eats while in her home city! I ate at a restaurant she recommended, I ate at her favorite gelato shop, and I even walked a few streets on both sides of the city that she had mapped out for me.

Florence, Italy

Although House Trip did sponsor my lodging, the thoughts and opinions are all my own.

Interesting Links:

House Trip, Apartments in Florence and worldwide

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Bella Napoli, local Italian cuisine!

So, I have to say, that Bella Napoli has turned into my favorite local Italian restaurant. Located in Del Ray, a neighborhood of Alexandria Virginia, it’s a small restaurant, very relaxed atmosphere and excellent home-made pasta. It’s a place where the family and staff who own and run the place remember your face and always greet people with a smile. You will feel like a local on your first visit.

Just like Irish pubs, I am not sure I have been anywhere in the world that doesn’t have an Italian restaurant. Nothing compare’s to eating Italian in Italy, but the cuisine varies just as much from North to South, East to West as it does from restaurant to restaurant here in the states.

I was first introduced to this local restaurant by a good friend. We started meeting at Bella Napoli’s on sunday’s to discuss his website or upcoming book (he’s a client of mine, I maintain his websites and publish his short stories). Or more or less these days we discuss life in general while we both separately work. The restaurant has maybe 10 tables inside and about 6 outside. I have yet to stop by for a beer or a meal and not seen a steady stream of people in and out.

If you live in the area or passing through, I highly recommend stopping by for dinner. They also just installed wi-fi, which likely means you can find me working from here a lot more often! (Sitting at Bella Napoli’s while I am writing this blog.)

Bella Napoli Del Rey Alexandria

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Small Concert Venues and Jo Dee Messina!

Annapolis, from what I can tell has a beautiful downtown area with shops and restaurants. Although, I have only ever been to Annapolis to see performances at Ram’s Head Tavern, I should really get back one of these weekends and write-up a blog on the area. Ram’s Head Tavern is a great place for a night out, they have great food, good beer and an awesome outdoor seating area. They also offer live music. But what makes this place stand out is that they have a concert hall attached. It seats maybe 400 people, give or take 100 in either direction. It’s a “dinner theatre” style, so you buy seats at a table and order food and drinks during the performance. Small settings are a great way to see any musical act, everyone has a great seat!

Last week I had the opportunity to travel up to Annapolis with a group of friends to see Jo Dee Messina perform. She started with two of my favorite songs of hers, Heads Carolina, Tails California and I’m Alright. Already the night was off to a great start in my opinion. Then she announced, in small settings, she likes to interact with her fans, so she ask us to start offering up questions. Some one even got up on stage and sang with her.

Ila & Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee & “The Dream Lady” Ila

It made the concert personal, which was really awesome. The show I attended was her 4th performance in 3 days, and the second of that day, plus she is a mom of a 3-year-old and a 3 month old, so she expressed her exhaustion to us, but that didn’t stop the show from ending 40 min’s late! My friend Ila asked her a thought-provoking question about dreams, which then got Ila termed as the Dream Lady! Fair play, she had plenty more questions. One of her later questions was when did Jo Dee feel closest to god, and Jo Dee sang us her song that she wrote specifically about that. What an awesome way for a singer to respond to a question!

Heather Markman & Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee & Me

Jo Dee also gave us the honor of sharing a bit of herself outside of the question world and sang for us two new song’s she has recently written and the background of what was going on in her life/in her head at the time she wrote them. How fun! At the end of the night, although she didn’t officially come out to sign autographs, Ila and I snuck up and got our picture’s taken. I will admit, I was so excited, I was shaking! I also promised to give a shout out to her blog, Fumbling Mom. A funny blog sharing day-to-day stories about life as a mom.

Interesting Links:

Fumbling Mom Blog, Jo Dee Messina’s humorous blog about motherhood & other stuff

Rams Head Tavern

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