I wonder… will I ever finish writing about our trip to the Chesapeake last May? Well, this is my last article!
When I last wrote, we were pushing off from the city dock in Annapolis and heading back towards Rock Hall, where we originally chartered, Carol Catie, a 32-foot Hunter sailboat. After two amazing days in Annapolis, the next day was a blur. We sailed, motored, and then anchored overnight, in the Chester River, a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
According to “local lore,” in 1774, in defiance against King George III, colonist boarded a British’s ship anchored in the Chester River at Chester Town and threw overboard its load of tea. The deed, which mimicked the Boston Tea Party, became known as the Chestertown Tea Party.
The tea-partiers of yore destroyed crates of tea. The tea-partiers of today are destroying the entire country. How times have changed!
As we approached the Chester River, we watched as the clear sky turned stormy and streaks of lightening flashed in the distance. I wanted to anchor and get away from all metal. Rich opted to man the wheel and keep the boat in the center of the river, away from the banks. The entire time, I rehearsed what I would do when Rich got struck by lightning, as it traveled down the mast, up the wheel, and through the top of his head.
Two rule of lightening safety is to 1) get out of the water, and 2) avoid all metal objects. And if you’re on a boat, stay in the cabin, away from all metal and electrical components.
In spite of lightening crackling around us, pelting rain, and bellowing thunder, we avoided getting electrocuted.
As the sky lightened, Rich looked around for a place to anchor. Normally, or at least in the Puget Sound, you anchor close to shore. In the Chesapeake, however, where the middle of a river is a staggering ten-feet deep, you stay away from the even more shallow shore. So, we anchored smack dab in the middle of the Chester River. It was weird beyond words to spend the night, anchored in the middle of a river.
The next morning, we zoomed back to Rock Hall to return the boat, and put the pedal-to-the-metal to reach Falls Church, Virginia, where we’d be staying for the next three nights. Our motel was less than a mile from a metro station and the train to Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian.
Rich had his handy-dandy GPS so we simply needed to listen and follow the directions, straight through Georgetown, during rush hour. Lovely Georgetown where the speeds down the main drag approaches five miles per hour!
In spite of moving at slug-speed, it was fun to see the many stores, everything from Georgetown Cupcakes to Abercrombie & Fitch, Anthropologie, BCBG, and Brooks Brothers… to United Colors of Benetton, Urban Chic and Victoria’s Secret. Sprinkled among the stores are over one hundred restaurants of every ilk, salons and spas, pharmacies, electronic and telephone stores, art galleries, shops for toys, fabrics, home décor, and boutique and hotels, including the Four Seasons to Ritz-Carlton.
It’s amazing the density of commerce and activity. The sidewalks were three- to four-deep with people. There wasn’t space along the curbs to even accommodate a Smart Coupe, let alone delivery trucks, which were forced to park in the middle of lanes, further impacting the ability to drive much more than a few feet at a time, and then wait through multiple signals to move to the next congested block.
With the throngs of people, each year, the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) Clean Team collects more than 80,000 bags of trash. Daily, they clean more than five miles of sidewalk!
After creeping through Georgetown, we encountered minimal traffic to Falls Church, a suburb with less than 12,000 people, but home to two Fortune 500 companies – defense conglomerate General Dynamics and Computer Science Corporation (CSC) – and the headquarters for aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman.
As we drove into the parking lot of our hotel, we noticed a helicopter hoover overhead with a man balanced on one of the landing skids. As we later learned, the utility company checks power lines via helicopter!
After chucking our stuff into our rooms, we took a Metro train to Foggy Bottom (downtown Washington D.C.). With most of the Smithsonian museums closed (some stay open until 7 p.m.), we opted to see the outside sites, including the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt memorials. We skipped the Vietnam Memorial, but spent time in the Korean Memorial, which I find fascinating. It features life-size sculptures of soldiers, in rain ponchos, carrying heavy backpacks and artillery as they slog to an unknown location – perhaps a battlefield or an encampment. Their faces filled with exhaustion.
Because Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minster of Israel, was visiting President Obama, we couldn’t get close to the White House. Although, when we walked across a field, we could see it in the distance.
When our legs felt as if they couldn’t take another step, we headed back to Falls Church where we argued about where to eat dinner. I wanted to drive around and stop when we spotted an interesting restaurant. Rich chose to use his GPS to find a “Mexican” restaurant. After several false turns, we arrived at the restaurant, which served both Mexican and Salvadorian food.
I’d never had Salvadorian food, so I decided to be adventurous. Rich concurred, and we both chose a combination plate, which provided a wonderful assortment of foods from fried cassava root (yucca) to chunks of chewy pork, cheese pupusas (thick hand-formed tortilla filled with cheese and then fried) and fried plantains. Everything tasted wonderful, even the pickled cabbage with a tangy dressing.
Unfortunately, it was after 9 o’clock at night when we reached the restaurant and gobbling plates of heavy, spicy Salvadorian food wasn’t conducive to sleep.
The next morning, after a breakfast of raisin bran and bananas, we were ready for a day on the “Mall.” Our first stops were the National Park Service exhibit (the only place open early Saturday morning) followed by the National Aquarium, the oldest aquarium in the country. The tropical fish gave me pause, remembering seeing many of the same fish while snorkeling in the British Virgin Islands.
Rather than just showing random fish, the National Aquarium focuses on the fish and plant life one would find in National Marine Sanctuaries, such as the Florida Everglades (alligators and turtles) and Keys, Channel Islands near Santa Barbara, California, Fatatele Bay in America Samoa, Flower Garden Banks off the coast of Texas and Louisiana, and Gray’s Reef off Samelo Island, Georgia.
There were also critters from the Rio Grande, Potomac, Colorado, and Mississippi Rivers.
I think we went to the Air and Space Museum next. It’s hard to remember because the next two days were a blur with us plodded through the National Portrait Gallery on Sunday afternoon, completely exhausted and virtually brain dead. It was sad because the pictures in the gallery were extraordinary, but I struggled to walk from room-to-room and absorb what I was seeing.
To thoroughly see all Smithsonian and non-Smithsonian museums, art galleries, zoo, gardens, parks, monuments, and other exhibits in the area — such as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court — would probably take a month. It takes at least 4-hours to walk at a brisk pace, scanning most of the displays, in a larger museum like the National Museum of American History.
In spite of much of what we saw congealing into a blur, two museums stood out: National Building Museumand United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The former is a dramatic brick and terracotta building, designed after an Italian Renaissance palace, with a massive 15-story interior with eight Corinthian columns that are 75-feet high. One of the pictures in the slide show associated with this article shows Rich standing in front of one of the columns.
One of the exhibit at the National Building Museum was America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930’s, which showed the homes, transportation, and cities of tomorrow. Very little of what they envisioned became reality. Although, many of the buildings from the Dallas World’s Fair still stand, and Rich and I were able to see them when we visited the Dallas State Fair.
I was scared to visit the Holocaust Museum, but Rich insisted. Early in the morning, we waited in line to get tickets to enter the museum later that afternoon. To see the exhibits, you start by getting an “identification card,” which provides the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. You then ride an elevator to the fourth floor, which opens up to a huge picture of what American soldiers found when they liberated the concentration camps in 1945. As you walk through the exhibits and down the floors, you learn about the “Nazi assault,” final solution,” and then “last chapter.”
It starts off showing how the Nazi Party formed and the initial euthanizing of crippled or mentally retarded individuals. You learn how the Germans did research to show how they were the superior race and could determine Aryan nationality by the size of a person’s head, eye and skin color. Soon, Jewish businesses are forced to close and Jewish and other “undesirables” were rounded up.
A large number of Jewish and other nationalities, which I didn’t know, were killed by convoys of German soldiers driving to villages and cities, rounding up people and then killed them. For instance, in 1942 in the Czech Republic village of Ludice, all 192 men over 16 years of age were murdered on the spot. The rest of the women and children were sent to concentration camps. The village was then burned and leveled.
There were also gas vans with airtight compartments in which exhaust gas was piped in while the engine was running, resulting in the death of the victims inside by carbon monoxide poisoning. Gas chambers replaced these vans because the drivers found the victims screams distracting and disturbing. More pertinent, it was faster and more efficient to kill large numbers of people in gas chambers.
As we walked down the floors of the Holocaust Museum, we passed through the Tower of Faces, a three-floor-high exhibit of pictures from the Jewish community of the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes. One the eve of the Jewish New Year in September 1941, the community was ordered to surrender their valuables. The following morning, they along with 1,000 Jews from neighboring towns of Valkininkas and Salcininkai, were assembled in the main synagogue and its two houses of study. They were kept there for two days with no food or water. On the third day, the men were shot at the old Jewish cemetery. The following day, the women and children were taken out and shot near the Christian cemetery.
Also in the museum is the entrance to a reconstructed Auschwitz barracks, prison bunks and food bowls, railroad cars in which people were transported to camps, prison uniforms, stacks of shoes and hair, handcart to transport deceased prisoners, and much, much more.
We spent over four hours in the museum and didn’t get to see all of the exhibits on the first floor. It was an exhausting experience.
At the start of our tour through the museum, we’d taken three “Identification Cards,” which detailed what happened to each person. On the first floor, we learned about Gabrielle Weidner, a Dutch woman whose father was a minister in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. She ended up being sent to Ravensbrueck camp in Germany, where she died of malnutrition days after being liberated by Soviet troops.
Carl Heumann was one of nine children born to Jewish parents living in a village near the Belgian border. He and his family were deported to the Theresienstade ghetto in Czechoslovakia; however, after being caught stealing food, they were deported to Auschwitz, where it’s believed everyone perished, but one of his daughters.
Born to a Jewish family in Prague, Charles Bruml was also deported to Theresienstadt, and then Auschwitz. Three years later, when the Allies approached, he was force-marched to Gleiwitz, put on open coal wagons to Dora-Nordhausen, and finally the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Miraculously, he was liberated by the British army in the spring of 1945.
Millions died during the “final solution,” including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Poles, Roma and Sinti (“gypsies”), persons with disabilities, blacks, and Soviet prisoners of war. I can’t imagine it happening with today’s rapid exchange and sharing of information. On the other hand, genocides are occurring today in the Congo, and Sudan, and watch groups are monitoring Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Burundi, and Chechnya, Russia.