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Donuts and Beigels

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The sign says “possibly DEFINITELY the best dougnuts in the world.”
Misspelling aside, that’s a bold statement to make. Especially to these American eyes. We did, after all, invent obesity thanks in large part to an endless supply of delicious donuts.
But, this is indeed a special donut. A big ball of fried dough oozing forth a vanilla cream that’s like eating a storm cloud, rich and thick…but also light and airy. I’m eating a storm cloud. (foreshadowing). Eating this thing is a gymnastic exercise in contorting your arm in all various positions to get every last bit of the cream before it’s claimed by Newtonian physics. I suppose you could use a knife and fork; but, that’s just un-American…even in England.
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With nary cloud in the sky the stream of the day is keeping us outdoors. The walk along Southbank is burnished into our subconscious, which is nice because that’s when you can relax a bit and pay attention to all the little things happening around you.
Lauren hasn’t been to the UK since high school, so the mission is to walk it out under beautiful blue skies and be tourists. Walking alongside Whitehall there is a small park with a series of war memorials. One of them is a simple oblisk with a soldier dedicated to the Korean War. It’s a sharp contrast to memorialize the same war on the National Mall. Again it’s fascinating to see how the collective memory works differently across international borders, perhaps it’s also a showcase of just how BIG we like to remember things in the States.
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Passing by Big Ben the crowds thicken. It is Friday, and a gorgeous one at that. We opt out of a walk through Westminster Abbey, I’ve been in there before and Lauren isn’t £20 interested. A long walk later puts us in front of Buckingham Palace where the crowds actually aren’t that bad. Sometimes it’s fun to return to a landmark, it’s another case where your attention works differently. The little details matter more, you’re less awestruck. For me, this is a good spot to play around with the camera and then watch people as they watch a palace presumably full of royal people. At least according to the flag.

The goal for the afternoon is to spend some time in the National Gallery, but that’s the only official item on the itinerary. And official is a loose term here. I was also debating with going into the Churchill War Rooms, which was the underground military brain during the Battle of Britain. The Gallery wins, in large part because I dragged Lauren through the British Museum for hours longer than she wanted to the day before. And I’m genuinely interested in the collection at the Gallery. Not to mention it, also, is free. Trafalgar Square is a fun place to photograph, the neoclassical design of the museum combined with the fountains in the plaza and the lions at the base of the Nelson monument create interesting scenes. The sun hangs low in the southern sky offering up some great light for a good part of the afternoon. Inside the works are nothing short of inspirational. I’ve written many times about the ability of art to transport you to another place, another frame of thought, if you let it. A few hours and a few IMG_2026Renoirs, Monets, Dagats and da Vincis later we were on our way back to Southbank. Another one of our friends is flying in, and a we have plans to meet a whole other set later in the evening.
Walking back along the river the Christmas markets are really picking up along with the post-work rush. As we walk along Southbank the milk tree is gone, replaced with…wait for it…a BEER tree. It’s a promotional stunt by Carlsberg, but all we have to do is wait in a short line and pour some beer from a tap IN THE TREE! Of course. So we pour a beer and sit and watch the river traffic along the Thames. It’s an English Christmas miracle.
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There are moments, if you’re paying attention, when you realize the depth and breadth of the scope of your life. It is through pure circumstance that I’m now at a place called Wheatsheaf adjacent to Borough Market sharing pints with seven Penn Staters. Five of them are good friends I’ve known for almost 15 years. A quirk of timing and opportunity brings us back together, and this is how life is great. Recreating the past, living in the present, pushing forward towards the future.
The pub scene of London is on full display here. We were lucky enough to score some inside territory, and a table, but the crowd is spilling into the street. That’s how the post-work pub party happens. It’s communal and maybe a tad bit excessive, but clearly traditional and, dare I say it, a bit more neighborly than the D.C. version of happy hour.
After a few pints we make some moves towards another part of town. The mission is salted beef bagels and, purportedly, the best pizza in London. In the process we lose one of our party to familial obligations, putting the kids to bed.
We choose the bus over the tube for this trip, and I’m more than happy with that. The double-decker buses are just as much tourist delight as they are public transit. The journey becomes the experience.
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Shoreditch is a model of gentrification. There are traces of a more traditional, and even turbulent past, but for the most part people here now have money and free time and a hunger to consume both.
We work up and put our name in at Homeslice. It’s actually a product of Covent Garden, but they’ve just opened this second location this week. The hope is that not too many people know about it yet.
Two hour wait.
So much for hopes and dreams. We put our names in, but with stomachs growling the new mission is IMG_2067salted beef beigels. We slice deeper into the neighborhood towards Brick Lane where the graffiti artist is a little more bold.
There are two competing places serving these sandwiches. Think Pats and Genos in Philly with smaller crowds. I’ve been forewarned that ordering is akin to an experience with the soup nazi. So yeah…just like Philly.
Within minutes we’re all on the sidewalk devouring these sandwiches from Brick Lane Beigel Bake. Some are pleased….others not so much. Me, well I’m in heaven. It’s a perfect balance of crunchy/chewy savory. Without even a word this thing is gone.
But, I can’t very well leave without trying the competitor. I walk two storefronts down to the Britain’s Best Beigel Shop. The sign says it’s the first and it has “best” in the name, so it has to be true.
“Kris, seriously…you don’t want to fill up on this before the pizza,” Em warns me.
IMG_2072Who’s filling up? This is the appetizer. And this is a mission, an experiment to determine the salted beef bagel champion.
The second is gone as quickly as the first. But, they lie: it is not “best”…it’s good…but not best.
With that eternally burning question satisfied we double back towards Homeslice, stopping at a pub called the Owl and the Pussycat to kill a little more time. This place is also packed to the brim, a situation made worse as we walk in the front door to the sound of shattering glass. It’s enough to prompt the bouncers to shuffle everyone inside. For about five minutes we’re playing the Jurassic Park drinking game. Oh, you don’t know the game??? It goes like this:
You’re in a crowded bar packed shoulder to shoulder such that extending your arm for a proper sip is an impossibility, thus the only way to bring rim of glass to lip is by pretending that your arms are little-T-Rex arms that you have to meet halfway. Jurassic Park. It’s a thing.
A beer or two later and it’s time for some pizza.
Here’s the deal, you know how I said there were seven Penn Staters…we now it’s actually eight on the evening. Another one of our friends from another era is in London with his wife house shopping ahead of a move to the city. Just another round of pure luck and he’s here with us for some pizza.
IMG_2081The pizza is delicious, not gonna lie. The chorizo and sweet corn is monstrously good. We plow through three of these pies with American efficiency. The stories along the way are as rich as the toppings (unfortunately those won’t be shared here).
The invisible string binding us all together is sometimes revealed when plucked just the right way. Tonight we’re playing that string like a harp.
Hugs, handshakes and waves later we’re back on a bus heading towards Southbank set for an early morning and a grand adventure (foreshadowing).
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Tea with Mummies

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Oh jetlag, sometimes you’re a sneaky little enemy.
I managed to make it until 1:30 in the morning before hitting bed. But waking up is next to impossible. My body wants to be in the deep REM mode typical for this time of day back home, but here it’s already mid morning. And all I want to do is sleep.
Coffee awaits.
Actually tea awaits…after the coffee.
Lauren has a reservation for a proper English tea. It’s not really my thing, but why not try out the experience.
Southbank is fairly easy access to much of what central London has to offer, and I love the need to cross over a bridge. There’s always a chance for a photo op.

A missed turn or two later and we are at Fortnum & Mason, a department store just bursting with four stories of Christmas.

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Down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason
The tea is served in the top level. It seems pretty fancy, then again I wouldn’t know otherwise. I’ve never done the high tea thing. At least the price tag says fancy. It’s all about the fine china here, and yet again Lauren and I are in a situation where we’re the youngest people in the place.
So tea is really lunch. At least that’s the impression I’m getting here. I mean, there is tea. But there’s also little finely cut finger sandwiches and scones and other delectable items about the size of my thumb. All of it is incredibly rich, some of it is tasty…and some of it I’d rather forget ever tasting.
It was a good experience. I’ll never do it again, but it’s worth trying…especially in London.
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The savory selection…which can get pretty interesting.
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It’s people having tea on a tea kettle staring back at you while you have tea. It’s all very meta.
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Just say no to teabags.
The British Museum has been something of a white whale for me. I’ve always wanted to check it out, but each time in London something would pop up. Not this time.
The natural place to start a journey through this immense collection is in the Enlightenment Room. It lays the foundation for why the museum exists in the first place, but it also serves as something of a monument to the Enlightenment (which also happens to be a historical infatuation of mine).
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Feeling enlightened.
The room is really a library, a collection of stuff. It’s organized to walk you through a dozen key points of the Enlightenment. Surrounded by books and artifacts and specimens you’ll get a new appreciation for the era.
The rest of the museum is a walk through time. Speaking of time, we didn’t have too much to play with before the museum closed. The map of the museum offers an “express highlight” tour that it says takes about 90 minutes.
I’m sure for most people that’s true, but with my ADD there’s no chance of making that timetable. Everything is interesting, even the things I wouldn’t think interesting.
There are entire civilizations and epochs to walk through, there’s no way this is happening in 90 minutes. It just took me an hour to get through the Babylonians and Assyrians and Persians.
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The long sleep.

We fast track to the Egyptian room. Surrounded by mummies and mummies and more mummies you get around to understanding that the British Museum barely has anything to do with the British. There’s also something really freaky about these mummies when you stop to think about it. Behind the glass in an atmosphere-controlled chamber, wrapped in linens, there are bodies…aged for three millennia. They died in the Egyptian desert and now here they are in damp London as millions of people gawk at them day in and day out.

Thankfully the mummies are not coming back to life today, and we make it to the Rosetta Stone unscathed. Here we are, staring at the stone that unlocked millions of mysteries of the ancient world. Just seeing this up close is worth the trip.
But alas, the English are serious about time, and at exactly 5:20 the museum staff politely escorted everyone out.

We are set to meet our friends at a Christmas market in Hyde Park (again this is the mission for Lauren). This means a healthy walk from the British Museum down Oxford Street. The sun sets early here, about 3:30, so we’re in full-on night mode. Light is a commodity in this part of the world. And to make up for a lack of natural light the English have gone full-out in decking the streets with every kind of Christmas light that exists.

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The London streets glow at night.

There are orbs and strings and stars and peacock-looking things. And suddenly it’s snowing! So magical…except, it shouldn’t be snowing. It’s like 45 degrees. High above one of the department stores snow guns are spewing out the artificial flakes. The crowd spills off of the sidewalk all along Oxford Street almost falling into traffic. A million carols and jingles drift in the air from competing storefronts, it’s holiday anarchy.

Clearly, the British take Christmas every bit as seriously as Americans…and Winter Wonderland is the final argument. Think of it this way: it’s like ten county fairs mated with the traditional German Christmas markets…that drinks like the English. It’s a spectacle. Ferris wheels and roller coasters and spinny-vomity machines illuminate the skyline. The pop-up theme park occupies a vast swath of Hyde Park. It feels a bit like the German part of Epcot, with a lot more whiskey.
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We sync up with Jon and Emily just as the rain starts falling in earnest. In our effort to find cover, we instead discover a gem of an experience. It’s a merry-go-round occupied by people drinking. AND there is a bar in the middle, so there’s no need to hop off this little carousel. But, hop off we do and continue on to another bit of cover. It’s a patio with a massive fire pit in the middle, a perfect spot to warm up and dry off, and game plan. I think we met our fill of Winter Wonderland relatively quickly, in large part because of a rain that was only picking up.
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An Uber later and we were eating an entire chicken speared into a plate of fries at a Southbank restaurant with cleverly named cocktails and pictures of naked women in the bathrooms.
Goodnight London.
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This chicken flew straight into the ground, sad story…
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You probably won’t find this menu item at Denny’s.
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Ah, yes…the traditional Christmas ferris wheel.
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That does not look like the North Pole.
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This fire pit could really be more fire and less pit.
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Just another staring contest lost by me.
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Bodies…everywhere.
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In case of emergency, do NOT break glass.

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Nothing like a little 13th century chess match…somebody should just call a draw on this one.
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So happy my high school latin class is finally paying off…
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The British Museum is fancy on the inside.
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English candy is not unhealthy. #facts
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This is how I learned spanish!

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The time machine.
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Cribs: Vanderbilt edition

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It’s an estate the size of a small European nation. The Biltmore counts in its original footprint some of the tallest mountains on the East Coast. And that’s where we’d spend most of the day.

But, we started in downtown Asheville at a restaurant called the Early Girl. As we waited an hour for a table I was sure we’d stumbled into the Portlandia Brunch Special.

Asheville has that same sorta vibe as places like Burlington or Portland. It’s a hipsterism that can seem simultaneously authentic and contrived. Whatever it is, it’s entertaining. The people watching is fabulous. The 90’s are clearly alive in Asheville.

After brunch and a stop in a pretty sweet bookstore, we were on our way out towards Biltmore by way of one last brewery.

Highland Brewery is one of the original craft brews in Asheville. They’re a bit out of town, but their space is worthy of the trip. We had a round of beers, listened to some reggae and left for the biggest house in America.

There was a bit of Google maps confusion on the way there. Just searching for “Biltmore” sends you to a different place than “Biltmore House”. It turns out they’re both right. “Biltmore” is the entry gate…and then you have another 15-minute drive through the estate before getting to the house.

Palatial is a descriptor that gets tossed around pretty loosely. But, in this case it is the absolute perfect word. More than 250 rooms, including a library that probably makes even Library of Congress librarians swoon. The ceiling in the main dining room is seven stories high. The fireplaces are bigger than our apartment.

You get the point.

We toured during the day, then went for a wine tasting before touring in the evening. A little bonus, the ticket to the grounds comes with the wine tasting.

When we came back for the evening tour everything was decked out in Christmas lights. The songs of carolers echoed from the stone hallways. This place is already in full holiday mode. And instead of resisting, I decided to just swim with the current.

We did the audio tour, it takes about two and a half hours. That shows just how big this place is. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. The Biltmore is a landmark to an age when phenomenal wealth was gained by the few on the backs of the many. Don’t expect an honest discussion about the Gilded Age here. It’s a beautiful estate, but its cost isn’t something that can be measured in dollars.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

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Observational Touring

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So get this…the U.S. Naval Observatory does tours.

We discovered this little bit of information a few months ago. The tours are offered very irregularly, but it’s well worth the effort and wait. We were able to book this past Monday night.

And of course after like 80 days of sunshine the day started gloomy and damp. Typical Washington weather…it’s only gorgeous when you’re already busy. Or is it. Magically the skies cleared just about a half hour before our tour.

I was really amped for this, mainly because I’m a huge nerd. But, I also let my imagination get the better of me. I had this vision of hanging out with Joe Biden, drinking beers looking through a telescope.

There was no beer. There was no Biden. But there were telescopes.

The tour winds through the original telescope building. After a chat about the history of the Naval Observatory (and why it exists in the first place) they walk you into the library. It’s a beautiful circular room with thousands of books lining the walls and a fountain in the center. I felt smarter just being inside the room. Four titles lay beneath a glass case near the middle of the room, books written by guys with names like Galileo and Newton. Original copies. ORIGINAL.

The nerd baptism ceremony continues with an elevator trip to the telescope. A 12″ Alvan Clark refracting telescope pointed through an open slot in the dome roof. The planets weren’t out yet for us, so we peered through time at a binary star system of blue and gold. I wanted to keep staring, but this was a tour after all.

A dark walk later we were back in a room full of clocks, placed in chronological order. It’s a history of keeping time. And that’s when it hits you, this is a working monument dedicated to space and time. The relationship between the two becomes clear in this place where astronomical observations were critical to keeping perfect time for the Navy.

I’ll leave you with the best line of the tour: “Time is the thing that we probably measure most. And it’s the thing we know the least about.”


  
  
  
  

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The Neon Museum in Las Vegas

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On my last trip to Las Vegas, I did something a little outside of the gamble-drink-dance-until-you-can’t-stand box. In fact, I would even venture to say that my excursion to the Neon Museum educational. Take that, Vegas.

Just north of the outdated yet nostalgic casinos and flashing lights that radiate from Vegas Vic and the Fremont Street experience, a humble museum visitors’ center is staged in the renovated space-age lobby of the La Concha Motel. The low key atmosphere is completely stripped away once you step outside under the blazing Vegas sun and make your way to the boneyard. Winding your way through the dusty alleys, you’ll see signs that you may have only read about and thought were long lost to history. The museum has the boneyard separated by casino, motel, and restaurant/wedding chapel/misc. signs and under the guidance of your knowledgeable tour guide (mine was excellent) you will be taken back to an era of Bugsy Siegel and $2 steak dinners after a long night at the tables.

Mind you, hardly any of the signs have been restored so you are looking at the effects of time and weather. But these rusted out monstrosities are not only completely amazing, they are the heartbeat of Las Vegas and should not be missed. I’ll let my sweet pics do the talking from here.

 

The Neon Museum

770 Las Vegas Boulevard North

Las Vegas, NV 89101

Getting there: Take the Deuce headed North and get off at 4th Street at Stewart. From there, it’s about a 1/2 mile walk

Tip: Take a tour in the early morning or at night to avoid the hot, hot desert heat. Take a bottle of water with you!

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Museum Monday: Souvenir Nation

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Looking around our apartment I see a bullet from Gettysburg…a wooden carved elephant from India…a rock from the top of Kilimanjaro and another from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There’s a vase from Zambia and an engraved Nittany Lion statue. And then there’s the matryoshka doll containing the nickel that changed my life. (another story for another time)

Tokens, mementos, keepsakes, totems…souvenirs.

These relics of past experience are an exhibit to our lives. Each item carrying an amazing story and deep meaning. That’s the power of the souvenir. A power rivaled only by song and scent. (So really a smelly, singing souvenir is all-powerful.)

Now imagine if you brought together a collection of all-time great souvenirs. That’s what the Smithsonian has done, along with great museum complexes around the world. Museums are nothing more than a collection of souvenirs, when you get right down to it. And it’s that spirit that’s celebrated with the National Museum of American History’s new exhibit Souvenir Nation. Think of it like the souvenir hall of fame.

You’ll find things like a piece of Plymouth Rock and a piece of a tie from the transcontinental railroad:

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This little piece of wood is from the “last tie” of the transcontinental railroad…as in the one with the Golden Spike. But it wasn’t the one with the Golden Spike…it’s a long story. But that’s the point!

There’s also the random, like Napoleon’s Napkin:

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The napkin of Emperor Napoleon while on the Island of Elba…there’s probably some DNA on there in case you wanted to bring back the miniature megalomaniac Jurassic Park-style.

And a fence-rail that was split by Abraham Lincoln:

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Here’s a fence rail split by Abraham Lincoln

The exhibit is easy enough to breeze through whether you’re occupying a lunch break or making a stop in while trying to take in all the museums during a visit to the District. One key point: It’s in the Smithsonian Castle...not the American History Museum building. Although if you accidentally end up in the wrong museum it’s not exactly the end of the world.

The exhibit just opened on Friday and is scheduled to run through August of next year. In all there are 28 items on display, each one with a pretty fantastic story: a piece of the Bastille, a can opener used by Teddy Roosevelt while on safari in Africa, JFK’s tie-clip and the last remaining piece of the Washington Monument cornerstone. And be prepared to see hair…lots of hair.

 

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Museums to Love: The SPAM Museum

The Spam Museum, Austin, MN

Unbeknownst to most people, there stands a small, and importantly free of charge museum in the small town of Austin, Minnesota just off the I-90. Its cause? SPAM.  And that’s not the kind you find in your inbox my friends, it’s the delectable and novel canned meat…or something of that nature…which I think has the taste and consistency of what cat food may be like. But hey, to each their own.  A friend and fellow traveler told me a story of how she heard the processed food lent its name to the spam you filter through your gmail accounts as well.  It goes like this in her words:

“There was a Monte Python sketch about a lady who went into a restaurant and SPAM came with everything. She kept trying to explain that she didn’t want any SPAM, but the waitress kept trying to add it to her order. This went on for a really long time (as Monte Python sketches tend to do). Basically, SPAM email is stuff you don’t want, but they send it to you, anyway.”

The Spam Museum, Austin, MN

I will say that going to the SPAM museum is a great way to stretch your legs, use the bathroom and learn something useful about the novelty that has actually impacted many more people than I would have ever thought. There are interactive exhibits, videos you can watch regarding how SPAM is cooked all over the world (Ever been to Hawaii? They love SPAM and eggs for breakfast) information on how useful SPAM has been to service men and women during wars and even a movie featuring a Monte Python skit on the delicious snack.

The Spam Museum, Austin, MN

Across the ceiling rides what I like to call “the SPAM train” carting cans of SPAM throughout the museum and the gift shop is enormous. You can purchase anything from a baby onesie to SPAM pajama pants or a SPAM Christmas tree ornament. And don’t forget to stock up on every variety of SPAM offered! But my advice to you—stay away from the spicy SPAM unless you enjoy your bathroom immensely.

In all seriousness, this piece of American kitsch should not be missed. The employees who greet you at the door are so friendly and they will even give you a sample of this scrumptious treat if you ask. It’s nostalgic, it’s fun and it reminds us of how far preservatives can really go.

The Spam Museum, Austin, MN

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Museums to Love: National Geographic Museum

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Is there really any reason not to love National Geographic? Really, is there? I think not. The society that began in 1888 has really taken our culture by storm by expanding millions of minds with the informational exhibitions and following articles and television shows on geography, history, culture, science, and their famed annual photography contest.

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the museum’s enormous rotating globe

So for a traveler like me who lives just a mile away from the Nat Geo Museum it’s basically globetrotter/nerd alert bliss. My first visit to the museum was in May and I was in awe of the opening hallway that displays floor to ceiling copies of the Nat Geo magazine (see feature photo). Which actually makes total sense because with covers this colorful and enthralling, it would be foolish to keep them hidden away. Just Foolish. Following this, you are introduced to “A New Age of Exploration” that celebrates 125 years of Nat Geo exploration through interactive exhibits, photographs, and video.  This includes the evolution of Nat Geo as a society and television channel.

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How many of you owned that TV at the bottom?

While you’re at the museum, don’t forget to check out the traveling exhibit. Right now, you can learn about a real life pirate ship and see an actual treasure chest full of bounty. And if I wasn’t the type of person who followed the rules/scared to get caught using my camera when it was prohibited, you would have an awesome picture of that treasure here. Because I’m too straight laced and you don’t, you can use your imagination. “The Untold Story of the Whydah: From Slave Ship to Pirate Ship” is fascinating and will take you straight back to childhood and the days of Peter Pan. And lastly, because I am a sucker for museum gift shops (in that I can browse for an hour and leave without a purchase because I can’t afford a hand painted Christmas tree ornament that is $38) the Nat Geo gift shop is great with loads of books to look through, DVDs, and legit gifts to give to all of your expedition seeking friends.

Nat Geo gift shop
Nat Geo gift shop

 

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Museum Monday: The Woodrow Wilson House

Entrance

One inch…

That’s how close I came to destroying Woodrow Wilson’s glass globe. Yes, that Woodrow Wilson…the 28th president of the United States, the guy who led America through World War I.

I was listening to the executive director of the Woodrow Wilson House talk about how the former president was the first to travel to Europe while in office. Standing just a foot away from Wilson’s desk I was aiming to take a photo when my phone slipped out of my hands. I bobbled it…then I knocked it into the air.

Suddenly everything went all Matrix.

The phone floated in mid-air, turning end over end in super-slow motion until it hit the leather chair at Wilson’s desk and bounced, taking dead aim for a gorgeous and ancient looking glass globe. I sucked in air, blood rushed to my head flushing my face red, I reached out in vain. Every head in the room turned in my direction just in time to see the phone land harmlessly on the hardwood floor. Well behind the ropes.

Woodrow Wilson's desk and a globe
Woodrow Wilson’s desk and a globe that I almost destroyed

One of the museum workers picked up my phone and brought it back to me…she could tell I was mortified.

“It’s OK…at least you didn’t break that glass globe,” she said with a smirk.

Truth be told, there are a lot of breakable things in Wilson’s study…and that’s what makes this museum particularly neat. You’re up close and personal in the space largely as it was. Wilson’s second wife, Edith, would live until 1961 and she kept the house in order knowing it would be offered for historic preservation. And she did a good job. The study looks like my dream room, with a wall of books and spoils from around the world. Wilson married Edith while in office, and then traveled to Versailles to negotiate peace. Because of these two events he ended up with a bevy of state gifts, like a chronometer from the first president of Czechoslovakia.

A chronometer given to Wilson by the first president of Czechoslovakia
A chronometer given to Wilson by the first president of Czechoslovakia

And a mosaic painting from Pope Benedict XV.

A gift to Wilson from Pope Benedict XV
A gift to Wilson from Pope Benedict XV

Tucked in the corner of the study is an ancient Graphoscope movie projector, the screen a rolled up piece of canvas hanging atop his wall of books. And on a desk next to that is a radio microphone…the one used to give the first nationwide remote address via that medium. He gave the speech from the comfort of this house on the 5th anniversary of Armistice Day. As a radio broadcaster I geek out on things like that.

An old school movie projector and mic
An old school movie projector and mic

On the floor is a handwoven rug with detailed American scenes like the Statue of Liberty. While standing on the rug, the museum’s executive director told the story of a guest visiting Wilson in this home. Wilson was debilitated by a stroke suffered while in office and the guest remarked on the former president’s ability to get up, walk across the rug and shake the man’s hand.

Wilson quipped: “I move so well that I have just walked across Niagara Falls”…or something to that effect. Niagara Falls is one of the images woven into the rug.

A custom woven rug with American images
A custom woven rug with American images

Every room has its fair share of artifacts and pieces that tell a story. The day I went was part of a special museum program, so certain areas were closed off. But on a normal day visitors have access to the bedrooms and the kitchen. On a positive note they had the garden open. It was still set up for a wedding from the previous day.

It's all set up for a wedding
It’s all set up for a wedding

In the solarium leading to the garden is a phone. It may or may not have been used…but it’s presence is a reminder that Wilson was president in a unique age straddling the line between modernity. The house itself is a reminder of the unique nature of the American presidency. It’s refined but not palatial. It’s accessible and republican.

Woodrow Wilson could have used this phone
Woodrow Wilson could have used this phone

A lot of presidents have lived in DC…but only one really lived in the District.

In a city overflowing with museum space, the Woodrow Wilson House is easily overlooked. It’s modesty is possibly it’s most attractive quality…because it ultimately underscores the difference of the American presidency in an age that kings and queens still ruled internationally.

The Woodrow Wilson House is at S and 23rd NW in Kalorama Heights…just north of Dupont Circle. The museum is open Tues-Sun 10a-4p. It’ll cost you $10 unless you’re a senior ($8) or  a student ($5). A good 90 minutes will give you a nice look at the place, of course more time could always be spent. They’ve also started their own blog if you want a taste of what you’ll see.

 

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Museums We Love: Newseum

Newseum

A deciding factor for Kris and me to make the move to Washington, DC was the rich collection of museums that embrace the city. By no means are we shy to admit that we are complete history nerds and will happily geek out on anyone who wants to accompany us to a place that stands to educate others through, well, a lot of really cool stuff. Because really that’s the simplest way to describe museums, right? They house millions of articles of stuff. Stuff that once belonged to royalty or presidents or was a part of a historical event. Stuff that’s from nature or beings that lived billions of years before us. Stuff that is art and stuff that is what only a tiny percentage of humans consider art. Regardless, it’s all really cool STUFF. Get it? Fabulous, let’s keep moving.

 

So, Kris and I decided that since we love all of this historical stuff and have many ties to the museum environment here in DC, we would try to highlight the museums and current exhibits we think are pretty rad. Read for enjoyment, to further your knowledge or to put in your back pocket for your upcoming DC trip. I’m starting with one of the very few museums in DC that is not free. We’ll get to the freebies later. I’m choosing to look at the Newseum because it is perhaps one of the best museums in the world for people who are intrigued by media and journalism. And it houses some of the most amazing stuff we’ve ever seen.

 

A look at the interior of the museum before they open
A look at the interior of the museum before they open

The Newseum is a 250,000 square foot space that dedicates itself to the news—over five centuries of news to be exact. It features seven levels of exhibits, theaters, and galleries. Some of its permanent exhibits really strike a chord with those who were born in the 20th century. Like the eight pieces of the intact Berlin Wall that stand high in front of the three story guard tower that once loomed near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. Or the mangled and rusted antenna that once sat perched atop the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City before it was destroyed during the terrorist attack on 9/11. Perhaps your interest lies more on the history of news reporting and newspapers or Pulitzer Prize winning photographs. The Newseum has galleries that feature both. Do you remember the Watergate scandal or the Unabomber? Yep, both are covered at this museum. All with a focus that is taken from the journalists point of view, something that sets this museum apart from others.

 

Recently, Newseum launched three exhibits that highlight different aspects of John F. Kennedy’s administration. First, Creating Camelot explores JFK’s presidency through the lens of Jacques Lowe, Kennedy’s personal photographer. This exhibit gives the viewer an intimate look into the family like of JFK including many photos of stunning Jackie O and their children. Second, Three Shots were Fired features the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, again through the eyes of those who were reporting the incident to the nation. It also includes artifacts like the typewriter JFK used aboard Air Force One, the personal schedule Jackie had for Nov. 21-22, 1963 with her own handwritten notes, and numerous personal belongings of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lastly, A Thousand Days is a Newseum original film that illustrates the fabulousness that the Kennedy’s brought to the White House. A glam that many consider has yet to be matched. These exhibits will be on display through January 5th, 2014.

There's a chopper in the atrium!
There’s a chopper in the atrium!

 

When you visit the Newseum, don’t forget to spend time lingering by the entrance, as here you’ll find the front page of a newspaper from each of the 50 United States. These change daily and viewing them is free. Be sure to also take some time out on the balcony looking over Pennsylvania Ave. You’ll have breathtaking views of the Capitol and National Mall. Newseum tickets cost $21.95 and are good for two consecutive days.

 

Newseum

555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20001

888.639.7386

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