Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for... The National Zoo

It's the final A to Z blog post!  I must admit, when I first signed up for this challenge, I wasn't quite sure what I'd gotten myself into.  Post every day, on one theme?  I had no idea what I was going to write about, and managed to procrastinate almost to the point of panic.  With April 1 fast approaching, I decided on Washington, D.C. in a rare flash of brilliance.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the diversity of this great city was a perfect topic, and the fact that my books are set here was a great way to share with readers who may not have visited before.

For the final post, let's explore the National Zoo.  A Smithsonian institution, admission to the Zoo is free of charge.  It's also right across the street from its own Metro station (Woodley Park/Zoo, in case it helps), so it's very easy to find.

Front entrance to the Zoo
I was living in D.C. when the panda cub Tai Shan was born.  There was a lot of excitement in the city concerning his birth, and the press reported on him so much that the joke was he should have been named 'Butterstick' since that was how his newborn size was described.

Tai Shan.  They grow up so fast...
Not only is the Zoo open year round, but there are also special events like Brew at the Zoo, Global Tiger Day, and Boo at the Zoo.  You're sure to find something you'll enjoy!

Thanks for coming on this tour with me!  I hope you learned something, and I hope you enjoyed your virtual trip!  I know I did :)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for... the Navy Yard

We're so close to the end--only 2 days left!

For today's letter, I thought we'd explore the Navy Yard.  This is a neighborhood in Southeast D.C., just off the Anacostia River.  It used to be quite sketchy, but in recent years this area has undergone extensive renovation and is becoming quite nice.

Navy Yard gate
Home of Nationals Park, the neighborhood is growing in terms of office and residential spaces.  It has the potential to be a great place to live, especially if you're lucky enough to have a view of the river!

That's it for the letter Y!  Come back tomorrow for the final A to Z post!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for...

This was, by far, the most difficult post of the month for me.  There just aren't that many x-things in D.C. (at least none that are appropriate for my blog, know what I'm saying?), so I struggled with what to discuss today.

I decided the easiest thing would be to talk about what isn't there.

I think the best place to start is by reviewing the overall map of D.C. The streets are laid out in a grid, and we have letter streets running east-west while numbered streets run north-south.  State streets run diagonally.

Pierre L'Enfant
You may notice there is something missing in terms of letter streets--there is no X Street (there's no J, Y or Z street either, but that's beside the point).  Why are we missing an X Street?

The likeliest answer posits that when Pierre L'Enfant was designing the city, he didn't want to include an X Street because X was a common symbol for Christ.  We'll never know if that's the real reason, but it certainly sounds plausible to me.

With that in mind, let us turn our attention to the National Christmas Tree (or X-Mas Tree, if you like).

Located in the Ellipse, the tree is decorated to the nines every year, along with additional, smaller trees for each of the 50 states.  It's quite a display, and the pictures don't really do it justice.

Here it is in 2011...
And here it is in 2012.
As you can see from the pictures, the tree is decorated differently every year, so even if you've seen it before, it's worth going back!

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for... The White House, the Washington Monument, and the World War Memorials

No tour of D.C. would be complete without stopping by our next few sites.

The White House is the home of the President and his family.  It also houses the Oval Office, where the President conducts business.  The first White House was built in the 1790's, and was burned by the British during the War of 1812.  The current White House was built right after the war, although there have been additions and renovations over the years.

Here's one view...
While the building is open for public tours (I can personally recommend the Christmas holiday tour), there is a bit of a protocol for getting on the list.  If you plan well enough in advance you should be able to get in.

And here's another.
Next up is the Washington Monument.  Standing at 555 feet, 5 and 1/8th inches tall, this is the world's tallest obelisk.  While usually open for tours, an earthquake damaged the monument in 2011, so it is currently closed for repairs.  Even though you can't go up to the top observation deck, this is still a great monument, one you can see from several places in the city and across the Potomac.

The view from the Lincoln Memorial
And from the WWII Memorial
Finally, we have the memorials dedicated to the two World Wars.  The World War I Memorial is just off the path from the WWII Memorial. Built first, it is tucked away in the trees and doesn't see many visitors, unless they happen to stumble upon it.  A shame, because this is a beautiful structure in its own right.

WWI Memorial.  Small, but lovely.
The World War II Memorial is one of the newer memorials, built at the end of the Reflecting Pool, opposite the Lincoln Memorial.  It's a large, detailed structure with lots to explore.

The Wall of Stars, commemorating the dead
Each state gets its own pillar.
An overview of the memorial
That wraps up our tour of the letter W.  Come back tomorrow for the letter X!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for... Mount Vernon and the Vietnam Wall

Welcome back!  Today we're exploring the letter V...

The Vietnam Wall is an instantly recognizable piece of D.C.  It's a haunting memorial, elegant in its simplicity--a stark black wall of granite, etched with the names of the dead.  It's a classic, fitting tribute, made all the more powerful by the mementos left behind by visitors.

There is also a memorial to the nurses of the war, placed near the Wall.

Next up is Mount Vernon.  While technically not in D.C., Washington's home is worth the short trip out of town.

View of Mount Vernon from the river
Sitting on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon provides a fascinating glimpse of colonial life in the mid-Atlantic region.

Washington's tomb
After you're done with the house tour, make sure to walk the grounds and visit the tomb of George and Martha Washington.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for... Union Station and DC United

Well, today is the last Wednesday of the A to Z blog challenge.  Can you believe this month has gone by so fast?

Our letter of the day is U, and we have two sites to explore.

First up is Union Station.  Located a few blocks from the Capitol building, Union Station is the central passenger rail station in the city. This is where you'll go if you need to catch the Amtrak train to New York, Philly, or Boston.  There's also a Metro station here.
Here's the inside
Union Station entrance
The building itself is pretty, and inside there's a shopping mall of sorts (complete with food court!), so you can pass the time while you wait for your train.  There are often public exhibits in the halls, and I went once to watch a friend compete in a Sudoku challenge hosted by the paper.  In short, Union Station is more than just a place to catch a train.

For you soccer fans, make sure to catch a DC United game while you're in town.  The fan base for D.C.'s professional soccer team is smaller than that of the Nats or Caps, but every bit as rabid.  When the fans stomp in support of the team, it shakes the entire stands so you feel it in your legs, no matter where you're sitting.  It's pretty fun, actually :)

A vocal group of fans

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for... The Tidal Basin, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Treasury Building

Here we are at the letter T, and it's going to be another busy day.  Let's get started!

The Tidal Basin is a reservoir very close to the Mall, and it's one of the most picturesque parts of this beautiful city.  Lined with memorials and cherry trees, a walk along the Tidal Basin is full of national landmarks and the beauty of nature.  For the bold, you can rent paddleboats and get out onto the basin itself. More of a land-lubber?  Take a walk along the water-side path, and make your way from the Lincoln memorial to the Jefferson Memorial, with a stop at the FDR memorial along the way.  Just don't forget your camera!

If you think this is amazing, wait until you see it in real life!
While you're walking, check out the Treasury Building.  Located next door to the White House, the building in and of itself is perhaps not that exciting. 
Beautiful, in the D.C. style
However, just a few years ago it was home to a rather famous guest:

Not the actual Treasury Duck, but a nice stand-in
That's right, a mama duck made her nest right outside the Treasury Building, next to a rather busy sidewalk.  It turned out to be a good place, as she got Secret Service protection during her stay.  After her babies hatched, they were safely relocated to Rock Creek Park.

Finally, let's consider Teddy Roosevelt.  Not only was he our 26th President, he's one of the mascots of the Nationals.  During every game, there's a Presidential race, where the absurdly large-headed mascots tear around the field in a bid to win.  Poor Teddy doesn't have a very good record.  In fact, he's lost so many times, there's a blog that expresses sympathy for his plight.  When Teddy did finally win a race, it made the news.
You can't win 'em all...
So while you're catching a game, tip a little out for old Teddy.  Despite his dismal record, he's still a good sport.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for... The Smithsonian Castle, the Supreme Court, and the Spy Museum

I don't know about you, but I had a nice, restful weekend.  Time to get back on the horse that is the A to Z blog challenge, and kick off week 4!

Today's letter is S, and we have a lot to cover.  Put on your comfortable walking shoes, make sure you're hydrated, and let's get to it!

First up is the Smithsonian Castle.  Located on The Mall, this is the headquarters of the Smithsonian Institution.  You've probably heard of the Smithsonian museum, but did you know it's not just one museum?  It's actually several museums, and while you can find most of them on the Mall, there are a few scattered throughout the city as well.

The Castle, as seen from the Mall
The Castle was built in 1847 and served as the first Smithsonian building.  It's got a few exhibits inside which kind of summarize what you'll find in each of the Smithsonian museums, institutes, and zoo. Definitely worth a visit, along with the Smithsonian museums in the city (bonus: all Smithsonian affiliates are free!).

Next, check out the Supreme Court.  The seat of the Judicial Branch of our nation's government, the building is beautiful and there are tours for the public.  If you play your cards right, you can even sit in the gallery during oral arguments, while the justices listen to lawyers present their cases.  How cool would that be?
CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia
And here's where the judges sit--isn't it impressive?

Finally, let's check out the International Spy Museum.  A newer museum located in Chinatown, this one will cost you to get in.  It's worth it though, as you get to explore the history of espionage and all the cloak-and-dagger tricks and techniques that go along with it.

Part of the sign
I think that's enough for today.  Get some rest, and come back tomorrow ready to explore!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for... Rock Creek Park and the Roosevelt Memorial

It's the third Saturday of the A to Z blog challenge, which means we find ourselves at the letter R.

For those of you looking for a bit of nature during your visit to D.C., may I suggest Rock Creek Park?  It's a large, lovely tract of green space in the middle of the busy city, with lots of bike trails and walking paths for you to explore.
Welcome to the park!
Rock Creek
It's an awesome park, but I'm a little bitter, seeing as how I got lost there one afternoon in the middle of summer...  Anyway, if you're better at reading a map than me (and trust me, the bar is not that high), you should be fine!

Next up is the FDR Memorial.  Located along the Tidal Basin, this is a sprawling memorial dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Each section is devoted to one of his presidential terms, so visitors get to explore some of the major events of his presidency as they walk through.

Remember the Fireside Chats?
The pictures don't really do it justice, so make sure to stop by when you're in town!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for... Quantico

We're almost done with week 3 of the A to Z blog challenge!  How is everyone holding up?  Are you as tired as I am? :)

Today's letter is Q, and while this location technically isn't in D.C., I decided to use it anyway because my heroes are all FBI agents.

Quantico, Virginia is the location of the FBI Academy, as well as one of the largest Marine corps bases in the world, the site of DEA training, and NCIS headquarters.

In terms of the FBI, most training takes place at Quantico.  New agents must complete a 20-week program, focusing on academics, case studies, firearms training, evidence collection, and intelligence gathering. There are physical standards as well, and students must pass physical fitness tests to continue.  After graduation, FBI agents may periodically return to Quantico and the FBI Academy for additional specialized training.  They even have a citizen's academy, where civilians can learn a lot of the strategy and tactics behind investigations.  Makes me wish I lived in the area again :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No Strings Attached Giveaway Winner!

***Looking for the A to Z post?  Scroll down!***

Congratulations go to Stacey Van Metre, winner of the autographed Melissa Mayhue book!  Stacey, please email me your mailing address, and I'll send your prize out right away!

Thanks to all who entered!  Be sure to come back next month for another giveaway :)

P is for... Petersen House and Politics and Prose

Here we are at the letter P already!  Still a lot to see in the city, but today we're going to focus on 2 sites.

First up is the Petersen House.  This is across the street from Ford's Theater, and is the private home where President Lincoln was taken after he was shot.  A replica of the bed in which he died is on display, and it's heartbreaking--it's such a small bed, you can imagine how they had to fold this tall man into it.  The tour doesn't take very long, and you should definitely check it out after you leave Ford's Theater.
The bed was too short, so they had to lay him at an angle to fit.
The exterior of Petersen House
Next on our tour is another bookstore: Politics and Prose.  Located in NW D.C., this is the city's other well-known independent bookstore that boasts a lot of discussion and author reading and signings.  It's a must-see for the literary set!
The storefront

That's it for today!  Be sure to stop by tomorrow for our celebration of the letter Q!