Thursday, May 10, 2012

Field Trip: Washington, D.C.

Blue Morpho and Postman alight on N. as he examines a third butterfly.
Last weekend we went to visit my parents in Washington D.C. and in addition to the fun of a family visit, we got to enjoy some excellent exhibits at various Smithsonian institutions.  First we had a picnic lunch on the Mall across from the Smithsonian "Castle", the architecture of which N. happily pondered while he ate.  Then we headed to the Museum of Natural History to see the Titanoboa exhibit.  The Smithsonian Magazine article about the discovery of the Titanoboa was fascinating, but we found the exhibit, which was mainly just a full-size model of the giant snake (I guess I was expecting casts of fossils), quite disappointing.  Regardless, N. likes the rest of the Museum of Natural History a lot, so he was happy to be there again.  We made our third visit to the Butterfly Pavilion; N. walked slowly through the whole exhibit with this Blue Morpho on his bright yellow shirt.  We also spent time in "The Evolving Universe" which is gorgeous and mind-boggling, and in the Ocean Hall.  N. would have liked to stay longer at the Museum of Natural History, but Tim and I were fatigued by the noise from the hordes of kids on school trips racing around.  As I have written before, I can't process information very effectively in the museum format.  I like linear narratives, not snippets of seemingly random data on walls that I need to assimilate while also responding to objects on display.  Judging by the general mayhem in the museum, I wouldn't say too many other people were really getting much out of the Museum of Natural History that day other than the general buzz of visual stimuli.  (While we stood at the tank of tropical fish I was most bemused to hear every single person from age 2-60 who approached cry out "Nemo!" and "Dory!" as they spotted the clownfish and the purple tang, their brief encounter with these strange and gorgeous creatures entirely mediated by Disney/Pixar).   Lesson learned: avoid such places on a Friday afternoon in May!

After leaving the chaos of the Museum of Natural History we crossed the Mall for the calm of the Freer-Sackler Gallery, where we showed N. the pieces from their beautiful Whistler collection that are on display and Whistler's Peacock Room, which N. loved. 

The next day was devoted to an exhibit that N. has long been anticipating: the America on the Move show at the National Museum of American History.  His main goal was to see the Southern Railway #1401 steam locomotive, and he was pleasantly surprised to find two additional earlier steam engines on display as well.  Having visited many more transportation museums in the past seven years that I ever would have imagined before becoming the mother of a passionate railfan, I was very impressed with this exhibit.  It situates all the trains, cars, trucks, etc. contextually, creating scenes that help you understand the ways these objects functioned in real historical people's lives.  Also at the American History museum we looked at an amazing doll house (which N. loved!), historic string instruments, a statue of George Washington and an exhibit about the 200-year history of a house in Massachusetts (interesting but overwhelming).

Finally, the third day, we drove out to the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport in Virginia.  This far exceeded our expectations and we had a great time viewing historic aircraft (I was especially pleased by a collection of objects from the eighteenth-century Balloonomania!) and the newly arrived Space Shuttle Discovery!  Seeing the Enola Gay and Discovery in one day was quite thought-provoking.

We're so glad my parents live in D.C. so we can gradually work our way through the riches of the Smithsonians and other sights with them each visit!

Bonus reading: previous trips we've made to Washington, D.C. here and here.

4 comments:

Mom and Kiddo said...

Kiddo just asked the other day when he was going to go to D.C., but I now suspect we would never leave the America on the Move exhibit.

Fanny Harville said...

Kiddo would definitely love "America on the Move!"

Megan D. Neal said...

Sounds like a grand time! I love visiting D.C. So much to see and do. One of these days we'll take the kids now that they're all of an age to enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Come back, N!

-cmr