|Along Pennsylvania Avenue Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
Any time of year, our nation’s capital is an interesting and exciting place to visit with loads of attractions for a visitor to see, many of them free of charge. But, during the holiday season, the city sparkles and glows with a myriad of lights, tall Christmas trees like the one on the White House lawn, and elaborate toy train exhibits, including the ever-popular one at the National Botanical Garden.
I began my own Christmas visit with a walk through ZooLights, where 500,000 LED colored lights line the walkways through the National Zoo. The 40 minute round trip hike took me past topiary-like animals formed from strings of light, trees immersed in falling "snowflakes," whole gardens of flowers that change color in sequence and beautifully floodlit buildings - all contributing to a blaze of color set against the evening sky.
|ZooLights Elephants at National Zoo Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
Admission to ZooLights is free of charge and includes live entertainment, entrance to some exhibit buildings, special events and more Holiday treats like hot chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread and holiday cookies are also available for purchase.
|Christmas Scene at Nage Bistro Photo Credit Bill Rockwel|
The burgers come with a choice of home made fries (garlic or white truffle oil and herb or the potent Ghost fries, dusted with the third hottest chile in the world and 900.5 times hotter than your feeble Tabasco sauce). Note: You can see several courageous folks eating one of these torrid chiles (or trying to) at various locations on youtube.
|Wild Mushroom Baklava at Nage Bistro Photo Credit bill Rockwell|
Day Two took us first to the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I’d been to the I.M. Pei-designed East Wing before but never its NeoClassic older sibling, completed in 1941. Our main goal, besides exploring the wondrous rotunda under the dome was to view the current El Greco exhibit - up through Feb. 16, 2015. The exhibit includes seven paintings from the gallery’s own collection as well as three others on loan from regional museums.
|Rotunda under the Dome at the National Gallery of Art Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
As a follow-up, we took the 12-minute tour and talk on a related painting by Spanish artist Diego Velazquez titled "The Needle-Woman." The gallery offers many guided tours daily, including free audio tours and a do-it-yourself Collection Highlights tour. Www.nga.gov.
Nearby, the "Seasons Greetings" exhibit at the National Botanical Garden features model trains and reproductions of many Washington buildings and monuments. This year, the exhibit’s theme "Exploration Along the Seas," includes lighthouses meant to navigate the way through the scenic wonderland. Interestingly enough, the model buildings are all made of plant material.
|Ice Rink in Sculpture Garden with National Archives in Background Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
|Entrance to Old Ebbitt Grill|
Dinner that evening took us to the Old Ebbitt Grill, whose roots go back to 1856 and whose patrons included Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt. After walking past two giant Nutcracker soldiers, which flank the entrance door, we moved into the historic eatery, which claims the city’s most popular oyster bar. As an appetizer, we took manager Dan Harding’s recommendation and tried the Peconic Bay Scallop Capellini, tender, thin and long, house-made noodles with meaty scallops tossed in a cream sauce. Yummy!
|Interior Shot of Old Ebbitt Grill Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
|Oyster Appetizer Plate at Old Ebbitt Grill Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
Day 3 started at the Newseum, located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the modern Canadian Embassy. Outside, the words of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press, are inscribed into the face of the wall. Inside, after paying for your admissions ticket, which gives patrons two consecutive day access for the price of one, three theaters on the concourse level give an brief orientation to the Newseum along with the signature film "What’s News?"
|Looking Down From Level Six at the Newseum Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
|Pulitzer Prize Winning Photo of Starving Child in Newseum Collection Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
With a total of 15 theaters and 15 galleries, it’s a good thing the admission ticket allows a two day visit. The galleries cover everything from the Berlin Wall, 9/11 - which includes the wreckage of the radio antenna atop the South Tower, the Civil Rights Movement at 50, the FBI, with artifacts of the agency’s biggest cases of the past 100 years, press freedom (or the lack of it) in countries around the world, even photos of the Presidents’ dogs.
With a mike in hand standing in front of a green screen, you can also try your skill at being a news reporter in the NBC News Interactive Newsroom, then take in a 4-D adventure through time and journalism history in a special theater with 3-D visual effects and seats that move as part of the screening. Phone 202-292-6100.
To get an orientation overview of Washington, we decided to take a Big Bus Tour, offered onboard a double deck bus. Big Bus has four different routes, two of which take you across the Potomac into Virginia for a look at the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery.
Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who narrates all sorts of interesting information on the city, its history and its famous people, the tours last 2 and a half hours and allows people to hop-off at a landmark they’d like to explore further, then hop back on the next bus to continue the tour. eng.bigbustours.com/washington or 877-332-8689.
Dinner that evening took us to Zengo, just off the Chinatown Metro stop, where the kitchen comes up with some very creative, adventurous dishes that blend Asian and Latin styles and flavors, and the decor is as sophisticated and eye-catching as the cuisine.
|Trio of Shrimp Tacos and Octopus Bibimbap at Zengo Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
|Seared Scallops and Short Rib Tamales at Zengo Photo Credit bill Rockwell|
|Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
The music played on the organ with choir accompaniment was incredibly beautiful, and when the congregation lit their hand-held candles, the lights in the church dimmed and a procession of clerics and laity brought the infant Jesus through the basilica, then laid him in the manger near a side altar. It proved to be an emotionally charged, magical and spiritual evening.
|Basilica Interior Photo Credit Bill Rockwell|
While not in the luxury class of DC hotels, the Harrington is clean, tidy and has some excellent family-friendly room rates, although the decor is a bit outdated. The hotel, celebrating its 101st anniversary this year, also houses a full service restaurant and pub. Phone 202-628-8140 or www.hotel-harrington.com.