Monthly Archives: October 2006

George Washington's House

October 14, 2006
Day 381

Picture of house.

Mount Vernon, where George Washington lived.

Today was another day of sightseeing. This morning we went to Mount Vernon, which was George Washington's house. It's located on a large farm in Virginia, about half an hour from DC. Washington inherited the farm from his brother when he was 22. He then married Martha, who was probably the richest widow in all of Virginia. She and her two kids came to live with George at Mount Vernon, and he decided to expand the small house, a process that took decades to complete.

We tend to think of Washington as a great ruler, but he was first and foremost a farmer. After he fought in the French and Indian War, he came back to Mount Vernon and ran the farm. He switched from growing tobacco to grains and hemp because they didn't deplete the soil as quickly, and he employed the newest technology of the time to produce the highest yields possible. Over 300 slaves worked on his farm from sunrise to sunset, six days per week.

Picture of equipment.

Washington's modern farm equipment.

After spending decades on the farm, Washington went away to fight in the Revolutionary war. He told Martha he'd be home for Christmas, but he never mentioned which year. Eight years later, on the day before Christmas, he was home, and the US had won the war. Of course he became the first President and conducted a lot of his business from Mount Vernon. He left office after two terms and went back to farming, but he unfortunately died about a year later. The farm was in the hands of private owners until the mid-19th century when it was bought by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and opened to the public.

Walking through the house and the rest of the farm was an interesting look at history. Washington was quite affluent, so I got to see how the upper crust of society lived back in the 18th century. The visitor's quarters themselves were larger than most houses of the day, and there are ten bedrooms in the main house, so the Washington's had a lot of visitors. In fact, they averaged over 500 annual visitors at one point. The slaves' quarters were very basic, with just a bunch of bunk beds and a small fireplace in a room, but at least they were livable. Still, it makes me wonder how some of the less-affluent people of the day treated their slaves.

Picture of Maoi.

One of only six Maois to be removed from Easter Island.

Mount Vernon is in an excellent location. It's right on the Potomac River, in the middle of a large forest, and many large fields. The view across the river is spectacular. I can easily see why Washington liked living there so much.

The Mount Vernon visit took a large part of the day, so we had just a few hours to head downtown. I went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, which is on the Mall like most of the Smithsonian's. On the way, I saw a game of Ultimate being played in front of the Capitol. I wanted to join in, but I didn't have much time left for sightseeing. Living in the area would be nice because there's always some sort of pickup game going on on the Mall.

The Natural History Museum was once again massive. The exhibits mainly contained fossils from throughout Earth's history and lots of stuffed animals. I also saw a Maoi from Easter Island, one of only six removed from the island and one of only two in the USA. Of course, I had already seen one on my visit to Vi?ña del Mar, Chile. Once again, I was totally overwhelmed by the size of the Smithsonian.

Tonight we met up with uncle Mike again for dinner. We attempted to drive to the Marines Memorial, but got completely twisted around in the labyrinth of roads and eventually turned back. It's so much fun sitting in the back of a car with your parents and great uncle and trying to navigate through an unknown city at night. You don't even know what a blast it is.

The photo albums for this entry are here and here.

Walking Around the Mall

October 13, 2006
Day 380

Picture of metro.

Getting onto the DC Metro can be tricky.

Our main goal today was to walk around the National Mall and maybe go up the Washington Monument. We were warned not to attempt driving in DC during the day because of the horrendous traffic, so we started out by taking our hotel's shuttle to the nearest metro station. The metro was a bit confusing because there were only vending machines to buy tickets from instead of people, and the fares were different depending on where you wanted to go. I thought I figured out how much it would cost and put enough money into the machine for the three of us, figuring it would give me the option to get three tickets. Instead, it only spat out one ticket with credit for all the money I put in the machine. I figured it wouldn't be a problem, so I went through the gate and handed my ticket back to my mom to use.

"Excuse me, where is your ticket sir?" a metro employee asked me.

"She's using it now," I replied, pointing back to my mom.

"You can't do that. Everyone needs their own ticket."

I don't know what difference it makes if everyone has their own ticket or if all three are together in one, but the fact that I was only given one ticket to begin with is what angered me. Every other subway I've been on has an actual person selling tickets, and you just request the number you need. The DC Metro's method is efficient if you know what you're doing, but it's extremely confusing for tourists, who seem to make up 90% of the metro's passengers. In fact, the city probably wastes more money employing people to help the tourists figure out the system than they would if they'd just hire actual people to sell tickets.

The first place we went to was the visitor's center. They were searching everyone's backpacks at the entrance, and since I had my laptop with me to search for a wireless hotspot, I had to turn it on to prove it worked. It was a pain in the ass, but I guess it's just something I'll have to get used to as long as I'm here. The visitor's center didn't give us much info about things to do, but it did have some interesting exhibits about the construction of the White House and the various presidents who have lived there.

Picture of White House.

The White House.

The National Mall is huge, and there are literally hundreds of attractions on it, so we just decided to walk around for awhile and go to whatever looked interesting. We saw a large crowd of tourists were gathered at what turned out to be the White House. You couldn't get very close to it, though, so about the only interesting thing I saw was a guy mowing the lawn. I could see that particular activity at just about every middle-class house on any given Saturday, so I quickly decided to move on.

The Washington Monument was nearby, so we walked to it and attempted to get a ticket to the top. We discovered that the tickets were free, but we couldn't get in anymore today, so we'll have to try again another day.

The next stop was the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The place was absolutely huge. It had replicas of the first US space station, the Hubble Space Telescope, the lunar landing site, lots of old airplanes, and just about everything else imaginable having to do with flying. I walked around for about four hours until it closed, but I didn't even see one quarter of the exhibits. Later, I found out that there are over twenty Smithsonian's in Washington DC, so it would probably take months to see it all.

Picture of me.

Me in front of the Capitol.

After the museum, we walked to the Capitol and watched people play football and soccer on the Mall for awhile. It was a beautiful sunny day, so lots of people were out and about all over the place. Getting back to the hotel took a long time, so we basically just relaxed with the small amount of time that remained in the day. I was pretty annoyed with the city at first because of the metro system and getting searched everywhere I went, but seeing the Smithsonian changed my mind. The only strange thing is that there's a huge, amazing museum dedicated to learning right next to dozens of government buildings dedicated to...well...I could say a lot of things, but certainly not learning.

The photo albums for this entry are here and here.

Our First Look at DC

October 12, 2006
Day 379

Picture of memorials.

The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.

Today we got up later than my dad would have liked, had breakfast with Dr. Turk, and said our goodbyes. He has had an amazing life and was a great host. I don't think I've ever met anyone who has been to as much of the world as him.

Today's drive took us through Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. It seemed to take a lot longer than it should have because of the congested highways around DC. We finally arrived at our hotel early in the evening. It's a nice place, but its location just outside of DC has caused it to be far more expensive than its luxury warrants.

Picture of FDR Memorial.

A waterfall at the FDR Memorial.

Late at night, my great uncle Mike, who lives near here, stopped by, still in his square dancing outfit. He took us for a drive around the major tourist points of town. We went past the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the capitol, and the FDR Memorial. Traffic wasn't bad at night, but we were told that it's horrendous during the day, so we'll take the subway to get around tomorrow. So far, DC seems like a beautiful place with an overwhelming amount of stuff to see. We'll only have few days to squeeze a lot in. I'm not going to have any great adventures write about yet. Just a lot of touristy stuff.

The photo albums for this entry are here, here, and here.

An Antarctic Reunion

October 11, 2006
Day 378

Picture of road.

The road on the way to Dayton.

I was rudely awoken at the horrible hour of 4:00 this morning, but that was OK. We were going on a road trip. My stuff was all packed and ready to go, so all I had to do was throw it in the car and slither into the back seat, ready to go back to sleep. The next thing I knew, we were deep into Illinois and the sun was coming up.

We stopped at a Big Boy for breakfast, gassed up, and continued onward to Indiana. Just like in Wisconsin, the trees were full of color, so it was a scenic drive. By mid-afternoon, we had arrived at our destination for the day, Dayton, Ohio.

I originally met Dr. Turk in Antarctica during my cruise on the Marco Polo. Dayton is right in the middle of the drive from Wisconsin and Washington DC, so stopping for a visit made perfect sense. And what a visit it turned out to be.

Picture of cockpit.

The president's cockpit.

We quickly unpacked our stuff and Dr. Turk shuffled us to the Air Force Museum. It was a huge place and we only had a few hours before it closed. The first exhibits we saw were of former presidents' planes, including those of FDR (the first president to fly), Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. Even back in the 1940's, the planes were luxurious, with the presidential suite located far from the roaring propellers and equipped with beds, couches, tables, and a movie projector. Kennedy's plane was quite modern. It had televisions, several telephones, and a large den area to get some hard work done. Unfortunately, it became Johnson's plane when Kennedy was assassinated. Several rows of seats had to be removed to transport his coffin home.

The next area we saw was of experimental aircrafts. They ranged from fighter jets that were used extensively in the Cold War to wastes of money that also cost dozens of lives, like a cargo plane whose propellers could shift vertically so it could hover like a helicopter. There were also unique aircraft like the YF-12A, a high-altitude Mach 3 interceptor for defense against supersonic bombers, and a few personal helicopters.

We still had a little time left, so we drove over to the other part of the museum, located in a massive three-hanger structure which showed off the Air Force's ever-evolving logo. We spent our time looking at the modern aircraft that have been used in Vietnam and Iraq, including some impressive jets that were both supersonic and stealth. Along the way, there were some interesting exhibits showcasing a Russian military base, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even a dog parachute. I was amazed by Dr. Turk's knowledge of the aircraft on display. He was a colonel during the Vietnam War, so he offered us a wealth of knowledge. Too bad we didn't have more time. We only scratched the surface of what the massive museum has to offer.

Next on the agenda was a tour of the "Turk Museum," as Dr. Turk's house has become affectionately known. He traveled all around the world in the military, and continues to do so today, so he has accumulated an amazing collection of artifacts from every continent. The centerpiece is a beautiful hand carved cabinet from Spain with stories from ancient Rome to medieval Europe. He also has a large collection of chess sets, statues, spears, clubs, swords, and furniture from his travels. I was quite impressed and overwhelmed with the site of it all.

Later, we went out to dinner and learned more about Dr. Turk. He was a colonel in Vietnam where he worked as a flight surgeon. He was stationed in many places around the world until he retired and went into trauma surgery. Occasionally, he would go on medical missions to places like Haiti with new doctors. Later, he became a professor, and he continues to lecture medical students. The job is great for him because he can take a lot of time off to travel. This year alone, he has been to Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Greenland, and France, and he plans to go on an African safari in November.

After dinner, Dr. Turk showed us his African room and we shared some more travel stories. Reuniting with someone who has traveled so extensively was the perfect way to start my new trip. I am now even more exited to continue my journey through South America.

The photo album for this entry is here.