Washington DC – Day 2

July 21, 2014 | By Patrick | Filed in: Vacation.

The main event for today was a special pre-opening guided tour of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. We met up with the other staff from Park Elementary outside of the building and talked about their driving adventure to DC. We were met outside by Peanuts’ cousin, Jeff Post, the curator of the mineral and gems area of the museum. We started with a brief tour of the general areas of the museum and then headed up to what is arguably the signature item in the entire museum, the Hope Diamond.

It was just the 10 of us guests plus a very large security guard in the room. We took pictures and heard the complete history – from memory – of the necklace and the pendant itself. We continued through the gems and minerals exhibits hearing stories of how the various items were obtained. Fascinating stuff! Right about the time the museum opened to the public we headed behind the scenes to where 90% of building activity happens. We got to walk through and hear stories about the mineral/gem library that they house. It was interesting to note that they give researchers around the world access to their library of items, often breaking off a piece for some research team to study. We continued through another layer of security where, among hundreds of large, unusual gems, we saw a raw diamond crystal, an 11 oz. chunk of gold, and a 19,000 carat brown crystal football deep in the vault. After more stories and more history, our tour was finally over. Wow! It was truly a rare, fascinating look at the exhibits and we counted ourselves lucky to get our information directly from one of the key people in this area. We thanked Jeff so he could get to work and we could tour several of the remaining public areas of the museum.

Since we were situated right on the edge of the mall, the 4 of us decided to head in the direction of the Washington Monument and see how far we could go. There was much walking. We walked past the Washington Monument (our timed tour is set up for Wednesday), over the hill to the WWII Memorial, down the path along the reflecting pool, then finally up the many steps to the Lincoln Memorial. About half way to Lincoln we decided that we would walk to the end but find a less arduous way back. It was hot and we were done walking. We were open to just about anything at that time – cab, bus, pedal taxi, or bikes. We decided on doing the quick rental bike route. After getting a quick lesson from another visitor at a bike station with not enough bikes, we headed toward another nearby station. Conveniently, our new route took us past the Vietnam Memorial and we got to see the name of Pat’s cousin and godfather, Jerome Norman Doll, etched in the wall.

We found the bike rack we were looking for, figured out the rental process, and headed toward the capitol on our rented 2-wheelers. Hannah was bent on showing us where she stayed when she visited in February, so we returned the bikes nearby and stopped in for a little cool air and refreshments. After a short rest, we walked to a different bike station, grabbed more bikes, then rode back to our hotel. After we all had a quick dinner at Cosi, Clare and I went back to Barnes & Nobel for a little work time, then back to the room for the evening.

Rental bikes are great! I’ve seen them around Madison, but never had the need to use them. The business model clearly relies on repeated short rentals. After your pay your 1- or 3-day membership, trips under 30 minutes are free. Trips between 31-60 minutes are only $2. For an urban environment like DC, plenty of stations make this the obvious choice to quickly get around. One can cover plenty of ground in 20-25 minutes for free, and the accompanying smartphone app shows the stations around you, and how many bikes and open slots are available at all stations.

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