Day in DC: the Botanic Gardens, the National Geographic Museum, and Arlington National Cemetery

Every time friends come in to town, my DC bucketlist seems to get longer, not shorter. It seems like DC is constantly adding museums, and of course even the museums I have been to change their exhibits quite frequently, warranting a return trip. So this week I found myself doing some repeat visits to some of my favorite DC sights.

US Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens feature outdoor gardens (the regional garden, the rose garden, butterfly garden, lawn terrace, and amphitheater) as well as indoor biomes (jungle, desert, and primeval paradise). They are open in the summers till 7 pm, and in the winter until 5, and right now they have holiday music concerts on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 8 pm. One of their most famous acquisitions is their corpse flower plant, which is quite rare and bloomed this past August. You can watch the corpse flower bloom on their Youtube video, but in order to smell it, you’d have to visit in person. Entry is always free.

In addition to the permanent collections of plants and flowers, the Botanic Gardens feature different exhibits inside. Right now, two plant-based exhibits are taking place, now through January 1, 2018. One is the “Plant-Based DC Landmarks” featuring 11 DC landmarks, crafted from plant materials (sycamore leaves, willow sticks, seagrass twine, mahogany pods, birch bark, etc). The representations can take up to 600 hours to complete and they are created by a Kentucky firm headed by Paul Busse. Here are a few pictures:

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Another exhibit, also made of plant material, currently showing is the “Roadside Attractions”. Model trains chug around the Conservatory, weaving in and out of more than 70 US roadside attractions, such as the World’s Largest Pecan, the Peachoid Water Tower, and the Corn Palace. Here was a few of my favorites:

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National Geographic Museum

The last time I went to the National Geographic Museum, they were just about to open the “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” exhibit, so they offered us free return tickets. Yesterday I went back to see the new exhibit, and it is amazing. The use of 3D, multimedia, and virtual reality will literally make you feel like you have been transported to Jerusalem and are standing (or in some cases, hovering in the air) at Jesus’s tomb. In fact, if you get dizzy or nauseous on some rides, you might want to skip this one. It is fully immersive. I have actually been to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and I swear I some more of it in this exhibit (could have saved a lot of money by just going to National Geographic Museum!). It is my fervent wish that in the near future they will do a similar exhibit on Petra, Chichen Itza, Angkor Wat, or another world cultural site. I only took a few pictures, because for the most part, you just have to be there to really experience the 3D and the multimedia aspect of it. The museum costs $15 for both exhibits (currently also featuring “Wild: Michael Nichols” until Jan 15), with discounts for military, students, and children. The Jerusalem exhibit will run through August 2018.

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Arlington National Cemetery

The two best ways to get to Arlington National Cemetery are to either take the metro, or if you have a military ID, you can park on the Fort Myer base right next to the cemetery. In general, cars are not allowed in the cemetery unless you have a special pass. When friends come into town and we take them to see the Arlington National Cemetery, we like to show them Robert E Lee’s house (here you can go on a guided tour with the National Parks Service), John Kennedy’s grave and the Eternal Flame, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with the changing of the guard every hour (on the hour). The cemetery is free to visit, and you can take a shuttle bus throughout if you wish (it’s very large), and there is an app you can download for a tour or to locate a particular grave. They are open from 8 am until 5 in the winter, and 7 pm in the summer.  In mid-December, Wreaths Across America lays a wreath on each grave in Arlington National Cemetery, as well as others across the US, and it is very beautiful to see the red wreaths on the 400,000 white tombstones.




I’m still not “done” with DC yet! I just found out about the new Museum of the Bible, and I haven’t been to Ford’s Theater or the African American History and Culture Museum yet. Or the National Building Museum. Or the Dumbarton Oaks Museum. Or….

For a look at some of my other DC days, check out one of these posts:

A Day in DC: White House, Renwick, National Geographic, and T.Roosevelt Island

A Day in DC: Just the highlights

Cuban Burgers, Craft Beers, and a Cabin: A weekend in Shenandoah Valley

cup of coffee with trees reflected

In September, I started feeling a little landlocked, so I booked several local trips: (this one to Outer Banks) and also two nights in a cabin in the Shenandoah Valley for the weekend after Thanksgiving. I figured a couple of nights of peace and quiet would be just what we needed after a busy holiday spent with family!

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley

I wasn’t sure how to find a cabin, and when I checked the National Parks nearby, a lot of them had a minimum requirement for holiday weekends. So next I looked on AirBnB, and found several to choose from within 2 to 4 hours’ drive from our house. We found a reasonably priced one that had both a heater and breakfast included, and I booked it (if you’ve never used it before, click on my AirBnB link for $40 off your first booking!).

Looks perfect for the two of us!

On our way down, we stopped in the town of Harrisonburg, Virginia first. Harrisonburg is home to two universities- James Madison and Eastern Mennonite. It also is the home to Rosetta Stone (the learning software company), and if you’ve seen those multilingual “Welcome Your Neighbors” signs in some neighborhoods, they originated in Harrisonburg as well.

We ate lunch at Cuban Burger, in the tiny downtown, and it was DELICIOUS. We had a Cuban sandwich and the Cuban Chop Chop with pork and they were both so good, I wish we could have ordered two of each. We topped them off with a Presidente and a Salva Vida, and reminisced about our years living in the Caribbean and Central America.

Cuban Burger in Harrisonburg Va
Cuban Burger in Harrisonburg Virginia


The Chop Chop Salad and half a Cuban Sandwich


After lunch we checked in to our “Bunkie“, a small off-grid cabin owned by David and Rachel. We met the owner and he walked us through the amenities such as the propane heater, the bathroom, the fire ring, and our breakfast order. We said hello to the two goats and three cats.  As dusk approached, we gathered some firewood and I prepared some mulled wine (thanks to FreshOffTheGrid for their recipe that came to my inbox last week!).

Our friendly wildlife neighbors


Mulled Wine with spices, orange, ginger, and maple syrup

The next day, we went up to New Market, just a few miles up the road, to see the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. It was fairly interesting- I loved the old museum building with the rotunda in the middle. The gently rolling hills and the Blue Ridge Mountain and Shenandoah Mountain backdrop was really pretty, and Chris spent a while working on his photography skills (he provides a lot of the great pictures on my blog. In fact, if it’s a really good picture, just assume he took it).

Chris’s awesome photo skills!

After the museum, we ate lunch at Bella Luna Wood Fired Pizza and tried some of their craft beers from nearby breweries. The Shenandoah Spirits Trail is a fun network of breweries, cider houses, wineries, and distilleries in this beautiful region- I wish we had time to visit them all! In addition to local craft brews, Bella Luna also sources all their pizza toppings from local farms- and they were all delicious!

Bella Luna Wood Fired Pizza, in Harrisonburg VA


On the way back to our cabin, we took the back roads and drove through green farmland and wooded hills. We stopped in the hamlet of Singers Glen and looked at some homes that were built as early as 1810! Our host had prepared a book of local activities and the tour of Singers Glen had caught my eye. Later, we played dominoes and built another fire, and then read for a while by lantern-light.

Baptist Church in Singers Glen: 1850


In the morning, we breakfasted on yogurt, granola, coffee, hard boiled eggs, and oranges (compliments of our host, which was great, because I didn’t want to have to worry about packing breakfast or leaving early to go get some), we packed up, tidied the cabin, and headed out. Chris spent some time taking some photos, and then we drove home, ready for the week and the final count to Winter Break and our next trip: Oman and Qatar.

A morning visit from one of the cats while Deah reads



A Day in DC: White House, Renwick, National Geographic, and T.Roosevelt Island

As we are currently living near DC, we try to take a day whenever friends visit and check out a part of DC we haven’t been to yet. This month, we applied for a tour of the White House and when the date was confirmed, we decided to take the whole day and cross a few things off our “DC Bucket List”.

How do you score a trip to the White House?

It’s pretty easy, actually. You just visit this page and fill in your zip code, which will lead you to Continue reading “A Day in DC: White House, Renwick, National Geographic, and T.Roosevelt Island”