Inside The Pointy Obelisk

Long time readers of my blog know that I absolutely love tall things. Whenever I get into a new city, I generally like to find the tallest thing around and climb it. I get a little bit King Kongy, albeit from the inside. If it’s got an observation deck, you’ll observe me wanting to go to there.

When I arrived in Arlington in August, however, the Washington Monument was closed to inside visitors. It had only just reopened in September of 2019 after a three-year renovation to the elevator controls and security screening area and then had to close down again six months later because of Covid 19.

As you might imagine, I was incredibly stoked when they announced that it would reopen on October 1st, even with a limited capacity. In order to visit now, you have to get a timed entrance ticket from the recreation.gov site. A very limited number of tickets would be available each day, and each group would only get 10 minutes at the Observation level. They opened the Monument on schedule, and I tried a few times a week to snag one of the precious few visitor slots for each day that I might be able to visit.

On October 28th, I was finally able to snag a slot for the following day, soon after I finished my work for the day. I was incredibly excited to finally get to go up inside the Monument.

I wasn’t paying attention to the weather, though. Hurricane Zeta had just made landfall, and all the leftover rain was coming our way– it was slated to rain all day long, including well past the end of my time slot to visit the monument. I briefly considered not going at all since I would be trudging through rain and the views would be hampered, but after a series of should-I-go-or-not coin flips, I finally grabbed a rideshare to the National Mall. (Normally I would go via the Metro, but my workday and the visit timing were too close together, and I needed a slightly more direct route. I took the Metro home afterward.)

I don’t need to talk about the two shades of marble again, do I? I just talked about that the other day.

By the time I arrived, my feet were wet, and I was well and truly damp despite my coat and umbrella. You can’t quite tell in the photo above, but it was raining. It was raining a lot.

One unexpected benefit of going to the Washington Monument in the middle of what’s left of a hurricane, however, is that there was nobody else there. No tourists, I mean- the staff of Park Rangers was all there, waiting at the entrance of the security area for visitors. I was the only person visiting, though. I went through security in moments, and they let me into the lobby, past some VERY large metal security doors, to the elevator.

I was alone in the elevator, and after a moment I reached the observation deck at the top. There was nobody with me except for another Park Ranger, so I had all of the windows to myself. In hindsight, I really should have taken pictures of the observation deck’s interior to show how I had the place to myself- that’s never going to happen again. It was kind of magical.

Anyway, here’s what I could see out of the little slot windows at the top of the monument. Visibility was hampered by all the rain, but I could still see quite far. Looking East, I could see the National Gallery of Art on the left, the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian on the right, and all the way in the distance, the United States Capitol. The Library of Congress and the Supreme Court are back there too, but the rain made those nearly invisible.

Facing South, I could see the Tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The Tidal Basin is where they have the Cherry Blossom Festival when it’s not a pandemic year. I still need to visit the Jefferson Memorial; I haven’t been there.

Continuing my clockwise walk around the top level, this is the view toward the West. The World War II Memorial is in the foreground, then the Reflecting Pool, then the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. On a clear day, you could see the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from here, along with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I could not.

Lastly, I looked to the north. That big round path around grass is the Ellipse, and sitting behind that is the White House.

Here’s an obligatory selfie of me pointing toward the White House. I promise, that’s what I was pointing at.

After a few minutes looking out the various rain portals and up toward the capstone, I was ready to go back down to the ground. There’s an exhibit level just below the observation level, but it was closed during the pandemic. Stupid pandemic.

I really need to go back on a clear day.

After a brief but lively chat with a friendly Park Ranger, it was time to go back down to the ground. One more very heavy security door and another vestibule, and I was back outside. There was another group of about three people about to go in as I was leaving. Even though it was still raining, I decided to try getting some more National Mall photos- I’d never seen it that empty before. This is looking toward the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.

…and of course I had to take the “It’s right behind me, isn’t it?” photo. My camera lens was fogged up from all the rain, but there you go.

After that, it was time to walk along the National Mall, in the direction of the Capitol toward the Metro, and on toward home.

Have you ever been inside the Washington Monument?

34/52 (and 13 of 30!)

Local Tourist, Day One… er, Three

Let’s time travel, dear friends, back to the day I arrived on the Amtrak. The train arrived early on Friday, August 7th, and I was on the platform by twenty to nine in the morning. It didn’t take them long to unload my car, and I was on my way to my new apartment pretty quickly. Once I arrived, I unloaded the car, taking multiple trips to do so. I snuck in a brief but fitful nap to try to offset the mediocre sleep from the train, before my first visit to Harris Teeter I described in yesterday’s post.

On Saturday, August 8th, I waited for Verizon to come and install my Internet – a process that took all of 90 seconds once they were here. Afterward, I drove to a nearby Best Buy and acquired a new television- my previous TV committed Seppuku about two weeks before the move, so I needed a screen. I also drove by a local friend’s house to pick up a small table and chair that she was willing to part with so that I didn’t have to use my toilet as a desk until the movers arrived. I also made my first visit to a new favorite place, a local Irish pub with delicious food. The corned beef and cabbage was delightful.

Which brings us to Sunday, August 9th. The first day in my new city that I had no specific goals or plans in mind. I decided, after a little waffling, to take a Capital Bikeshare over the Potomac and check out the National Mall. I’d seen it all before, of course, but not as a local! Here’s my local tourist afternoon in eight photos.

Photo the first: After blundering my way through the Arlington roadways on my rented bikeshare with the help of my phone’s little mapping robot, I made my way to the Arlington Memorial Bridge. I stopped about halfway across to look at the boats on the Potomac, and the pretty stellar view of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

Photo the second: There was a rack for the the bikeshare pretty close to the Lincoln Memorial, so I made the decision to re-rack my bike and walk the rest of the way. This gave me time to poke around the Lincoln for a little bit.

Photo the third: Walking east from the Lincoln Memorial, I moved along the Reflecting Pool, enjoying the fact that although it was still a hot day, the breeze was actually cooling me off. That never happened in Florida.

Photo the fourth: Just past the Reflecting Pool is the World War II Memorial. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about this one- I know there’s at least a dozen different Memorials that I haven’t seen before, but this is a big one. I probably saw it on a previous visit, but it didn’t make an impression until I stumbled across it on this day. This is a big place. I bet it gets really crowded on especially hot days.

Picture the fifth: Continuing east, I reached the Washington Monument. Somehow in all the times I’ve been by here over the years, I never noticed before that there are two different colors to the marble, starting at about 150 feet up. This is because construction halted for about twenty-three years for a variety of reasons including the American Civil War. When they resumed construction in 1877, the marble came from a different source so it has different shading.

Picture the sixth: Still the Washington Monument, but the sun and clouds were doing neat things and I thought it would be an interesting photograph.

Picture the seventh: I continued east along the National Mall, past several of the Smithsonian museums, and toward the Capitol.

Picture the eighth: This is where I concluded my tourism for the day. I stopped at the Smithsonian metro station beneath the National Mall, and took the metro back to the station closest to my apartment. I’m very happy that I can walk a few minutes from my apartment to the Metro, and then take a fifteen minute train ride directly to the National Mall.

When post-pandemic life resumes and there’s more cool stuff going on in the city, I think I’m gonna be doing that a lot.

Have you been to the National Mall? What’s your favorite thing to see there?

28/52 (and 7 of 30!)

The United States Air Force Memorial

One night pretty soon after my arrival in Arlington, I saw this giant pointy thing from the passenger seat of a rideshare.

I had no idea what it was, and the driver of my Lyft didn’t know either, so when I got home I set about looking for it on Google Maps. I knew approximately where I was when I saw the thing, and it was obviously huge so it didn’t take long to figure out that it was the United States Air Force Memorial.

When Lorrie came up for a weekend visit a few weeks later, we noticed signs indicating it was nearby while we were on the way back from a diner. I had been meaning to go check it out, so we decided to stop. I’m glad we did, because the place was pretty neat.

The United States Air Force Memorial is at the east end of Columbia Pike, on the grounds of Fort Myer just south of Arlington National Cemetery. It is a fairly new memorial, relatively speaking- groundbreaking was in 2004 and it was dedicated in October of 2006.

The three metal spires are all different heights between 201 to 270 feet tall. They’re meant to look like the contrails of three jets doing a “bomb burst” maneuver, with the fourth spire missing to suggest a missing man formation.

Near the spires are four 8-foot-tall bronze statues sculpted by Zenos Frudakis, representing the United States Air Force Honor Guard. Across from the spires on the other side is a free-standing glass panel with the image of four F-16s in a missing man formation.

On either side of the spires are large reflective granite walls with various details carved in them. One section lists all the recipients of the Airmen Medal of Honor award, while another section contains comments and quotations from various important Air Force generals and other notables. Near the drive in are large carved inscriptions from Presidents Reagan and Bush.

I learned during the writing of this post that when there’s not a pandemic on, the United States Air Force Band holds concerts here every Friday night in the summertime.

Have you ever been to the US Air Force Memorial?

26/52 (and 5 of 30!)

Dinosaur World, Florida

On the way back from a thing in Tampa in April of 2017, I had the chance to stop in at Dinosaur World in Plant City.   I’ve been meaning to write about it since then, and I am just now getting around to it.  (I know it’s been more than a year.  Shut up, I’ve been busy!)

This wonderful and adorable little attraction is just off exit 17 of I-4, a little bit east of Tampa.  I thought it was one of a kind, but I have learned that there are three of these parks, all owned and operated by the same family.  The park is filled with life sized dino sculptures by a man named Christer Svensson.  (I keep wanting to call him Christopher, but the oph is truly silent.)

The park itself is not terribly expensive, and it won’t take up more than a few hours of your day.  Even from the highway and parking lot, the dinosaurs are visible.

This next picture was actually taken inside the restroom.  I was super entertained that they even themed the bathrooms.

Wherever there are dinosaur sculptures, there are also educational signs explaining what you’re looking at.

::cute the Jurassic Park theme music::

Some of the dino sculptures are just freaking adorable.  There’s a mom-sized one to the left of this little fellow.

The walkways throughout the park are very nicely maintained, and there’s lots of shade.  It’s actually a very pleasant place to stop if you’ve been on the road for a while.

As with nature documentaries, however, there are occasional horror shows.

The T-Rex walk was one of my favorite bits, of course.  It reminded me of that bit in Futurama

There are also numerous photo opportunities throughout the park, which led to one of my favorite recent photos of me.

The sculptures are foam covered in fiberglass and then painted.  A few of them needed touch-ups to their paint but for the most part, the dinos were very well cared for.

There were lots of little showcases throughout the park of dino family groupings.

I particularly liked this one, because a) stegosaurus has long been one of my favorites, and b) it’s so cute when they stand up to get the tall leaves.

There was also a mastodon section, set away from the dinosaurs because chronology.

There was also a set of play areas for children, including a fossil dig and a boneyard that little dino-fans can climb through.  I think there was a picnic styled area where you could bring a lunch, but I’m not positive about that.

Near the main entrance, there’s a smallish indoor exhibit with a few animatronics.  None of the outdoor dinos moved on their own, but this group did.  It just made me miss Universe of Energy more.

Have you ever been to Dinosaur World?

Los Angeles 2: Electric Boogaloo

While my first Los Angeles post was about Saturday night, most of what I’m including in this post took place on Friday.  We had arrived on Thursday night, and after a bit of sleep, we were ready to go see Los Angeles like proper tourists.

This awesome little Starbucks had just opened next to the hotel, and after briefly caffeinating, we were ready to go see the city.  (We sat on that deck once or twice, later in the weekend.  It’s really very nice.)

We started out a little before lunch, and Amelie’s friend Wendy met us at the metro station closest to the hotel.  We had a short list of things we wanted to see, so we set out on foot.  Halfway to our first destination, I realized that we were in front of the Webhosting company I’ve been using since about 2003.   Hi, Dreamhost!

We also walked right past The Bradbury Building, a lovely old built in 1893.

If this looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s used often in television, movies, literature, and even comics.  The Bradbury is where Sebastian’s apartment was located in Blade Runner, and there’s a Blade Runner sign posted near the stairwell detailing the movie’s production at the Bradbury Building.

Later in the day, we went to City Hall to take advantage of the free observation deck on the 27th floor.  I wish we had known that the night before this, they were shining the Bat Signal on City Hall in memory of the recently departed Adam West.  I would have liked to have seen that. Our visit was mid-afternoon on Friday, so no Bat Signal.

Across the street from City Hall is a signpost showing all of the sister cities of Los Angeles.

Once we went inside the Main Street entrance to City Hall, we went through metal detectors and checked in with the security desk.  First we took an express elevator to the 22nd floor, followed by another elevator to go up to 26.  On our way up, we saw the Mayor’s office, which in no way tempted us to knock.

After the elevator to floor 26,there’s one flight of stairs up to the observation level.  Inside, there’s a lectern set up, which leads to mugging for the camera, of course.  The first two are Amelie and her friend Wendy, and the third is me doing my best Shatner.  I’m not sure why podiums make me go full-Shat, but there it is.

Once we were done playing with the lectern, we went out to the observation part of the observation deck.  While City Hall isn’t the tallest building in LA, the observation deck goes all the way around the building for 360 degree views of Los Angeles.  You can even see all the wonderful LA traffic!

City Hall is just a block or two away from the Los Angeles Times, which gave us a pretty great view of that building.

This is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry building with a pretty interesting face.

Union Station is the main train station for Los Angeles.  We walked through it when we first reached LA the night before, and it’s a very pretty station.  It’s also much larger than I realized-  the red roof here is all part of the station, along with the many tracks behind it.

Here’s part of the Los Angeles skyline, as seen from City Hall.

The Hollywood sign and Griffith Park observatory are both visible from City Hall, but it was kind of hazy so this was the best shot I got on Friday.

I took a few dozen photos from the observation deck, but mostly it just looks like rambling cityscape.  Here’s a nice picture of tall LA buildings from sidewalk level.

During our walk on Friday, we also walked right past  the Angel’s Flight funicular.  It was originally opened in 1901 about a block away, and was moved to its current location in the mid-1990s. It’s been closed since 2013, but is currently being restored with some safety enhancements and should re-open later this year.  I’m sad it wasn’t open- I love a good funicular.

This next picture was not taken on the same day- this was a different part of our visit, where we were at a Hollywood metro station which was closer to the Griffith Observatory.  There’s a Dash bus line which runs between this metro station and the Observatory on a regular schedule.   You can actually see the very top of the Dash bus in the bottom edge of this photo.  Not pictured:  A tiny Rocketeer taking off from the Observatory to fight a Nazi zeppelin.

You can always tell where you are in LA by the decorations in the Metro.   Not sure you’re in the station closest to the Griffith Observatory?  Just look for starfields in the station’s rafters.

The last picture in this post is not related to anything else in the photo- it’s just a Korean restaurant where we had dinner on Sunday night.  We all thought the name of the place was pretty entertaining.  The food was delicious, if a bit zippy for my tastes.  I had Kimchi pancakes, and tried Soju, a clear Korean liquor that was similar to vodka.  Tasty stuff.

Have you been to Los Angeles City Hall?