The whole ball of wax … and then some

12 Jul

Presidents! Lots of them!

How many boyfriends would spend a Saturday night taking pictures of their girlfriend standing next to life-size wax figures of all 44 presidents? At least one! God bless him.

I geek out on presidents and so when I found out about the new exhibit at Madame Tussauds featuring a figure of every single one, I knew I had to go. I got a Groupon, got busy, and it eventually expired. I called and asked if it could be extended to which the cheery sounding English chap replied, “Absolutely not!” But lucky for me I buy a large cheese pizza for $5.99 every Monday evening for dinner from Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, because it was there that I saw a buy-one-get-one free coupon, and my mission was back on.

Madame Tussauds is at the corner of 10th and F Street in Northwest—just a pleasant skip from Metro Center. It’s open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays.

Previous to hearing about the presidents exhibit, I had been a little weirded out by the wax museum, but it turns out there’s nothing to be afraid of. Madame Tussauds is, in fact, a very well done museum. I will say that some of the figures are better than others. Several of the female figures in particular seemed to be not quite right. But overall, they looked pretty darn accurate to me.

A wax version of Britney Spears doing her thang.

If you’re going to go, you really need to cheese it up, or else you shouldn’t have bothered because that’s the whole point. If you don’t have at least five silly photos of yourself interacting with the wax people by the time you leave, then I’d deem your visit a failure. And make sure you watch the short video about how they make the figures—it’s interesting.

I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable crowd. I can get overwhelmed, but I found the number of people manageable. What was weird though was that it always seemed like there were more people in the room than there actually were. That sounds dumb, but it really is a strange feeling when you’re there.

Tickets cost TWENTY-ONE DOLLARS. I know, pricey. But you really don’t need to ever pay full price. Besides the Jerry’s deal, you can get 15% off by booking online and Goldstar.com currently has tickets for $10 if you buy them at least one day in advance.

There were plenty of other figures besides the presidents but, to be honest, they didn’t interest me much. Though I have to admit, seeing George Clooney did put my heart a bit aflutter.

Off the Tourist Track: Science Museum

8 Jul

In summer the area’s popular museums swell with people to the point where virtually all enjoyment is lost. You shuffle along, waiting to take a peek at an exhibit before being elbowed out of the way by tourists wearing matching tie-dye T-shirts. But you don’t have to forgo museums until February, you just need to look beyond the Smithsonian.

The Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences, for instance, is perfect for a summer visit. Opened in 2004, the museum is at 525 E Street, NW, and it’s really, really small. But the exhibits, though a bit depressing (infectious disease and global warming are two topics explored) are really well done. And they have interactive components … my favorite!

I visited a couple Saturdays ago and I only saw five other visitors during the hour I was there. The highlight of the visit, for me, was learning about the future of energy-saving light bulbs from a docent. That may not sound very exciting but the volunteer had a well-planned display table and, because it wasn’t busy, he was able to spend a lot of time with my boyfriend and me.

After our visit we went to an early dinner and then to a movie at E-Street Cinema. I must say, it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday!

The Science Museum is open 10 to 5 every day except Tuesdays (when it’s closed). Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

Eight ways to meet people in DC

5 Jul

Somebody in this crowd could be your future friend!

Trying to make friends in DC can be a frustrating and disheartening venture, especially when everyone is telling you how easy it is because so many new people are always moving into the area. The important thing is not to give up! Making friends takes time. Below is a compiled list of suggestions I’ve written about in the past. And remember, it’s a numbers game! Keep putting yourself out there and sooner or later you’ll have success.

  • Try an uncommon sport: The great thing about becoming involved in a less common sport is that the communities tend to be small and members are usually really happy to have new people join. A perfect recipe for new friends!
  • Volunteer: This past spring I began volunteering as an English teacher for LETC. It’s been a fantastic experience and, on top of that, I’ve become friends with my co-teacher. I also met my boyfriend while volunteering at the Natural History Museum. I think in terms of meeting friends, a volunteer activity that allows you to regularly see the same people is ideal.
  • Professionals in the City: This organization has loads of events including speed dating. A few months ago I went to an evening organized by Professionals in the City and the Japanese embassy, and it was just lovely. They also offer trips both locally and internationally.
  • Ultimate Frisbee: My boyfriend has met virtually all of his friends over the last couple years playing Frisbee. And they are a great group of people. They’re the type of friends who throw surprise birthday parties for each other and go as a group to take someone to the airport. They’re super smart too. A lot of his teammates work in international development or are engineers. And you don’t have to be good or experienced to play (though it’s important to note that some teams are much more competitive than others).
  • Kickball: One of my very first posts was encouraging people to check out joining a kickball team. It is one of the easiest ways to meet people and you by no means need to be particularly athletic. A big part of the culture is going to the team’s bar after games, so if that’s not your thing, it might not be a good fit.
  • Take a class: Similarly to regular volunteer opportunities, classes are great because they allow you to get to know a group of people over a period of time. Plus, even if you don’t make new friends, you’ve at least learned something.
  • Join a book club: Again, this is great because you generally see the same people on a regular basis. Sometimes it takes awhile to find a book club that’s the right fit, but don’t get discouraged, there are many in the DC area.
  • Meetup.com: I’ve had a lot of success using Meetup.com. I became friends with a woman at a 20s and 30s ladies going out group, and we became so close I was in her wedding. I’m also involved with a weekly writing group through Meetup.com. It’s a great way to find people with similar interests.

Survival Guide: July 4th on the National Mall

29 Jun

What better way to celebrate July 4th than by watching the fireworks from the National Mall. But be forewarned, it is no easy venture.

Transportation
Do not, under any circumstances drive. Take Metro but be aware, the Smithsonian station will be closed for most of the day for security reasons. It will reopen after the fireworks, but it will be a mess, so I’d plan on walking to a farther station. Other stations that are within walking distance include Federal Triangle, Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Capitol South, L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW, Archives-Navy Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Someone told me it’s advisable to come from the Federal Triangle and even Foggy Bottom direction because crowds tend to be less heavy. I really like this map.

Metrobus will provide free shuttle service between the L’Enfant Plaza and Pentagon stations.

Free bicycle valet will be available from 2:00 p.m. until a half hour after the fireworks show. Locations are 15th Street between Independence Avenue and Jefferson Drive and the south side of the Lincoln Memorial on Daniel French Drive.

Note: The fireworks are launched from the Reflecting Pool and light up over the Washington Monument.

Crowds
Okay, it’s going to be really crowded. And to make things worse, there are security checkpoints to get into the Mall. So bring your patience. After the fireworks, you might want to go grab a drink somewhere until the mobs of people clear out a bit, though be prepared for bars and restaurants to be crowded too. Just go into this situation knowing that it will probably take you a couple hours to get home one way or another.

Schedule
When do people start arriving at the Mall? Earlier than you—as a presumably sane person—would ever consider. So you need to plan on being there at least several hours beforehand or else you’ll hate your life. Regardless, you will, at some point, feel like you’re being herded.

From about 8 p.m. to 9:30 the Capital Fourth Concert takes place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It’s free, you don’t need tickets and you can start piling in at 3. This year’s performers include Josh Groban, Little Richard and Steve Martin.

Earlier in the day, there’s a parade. It starts at 11:45 and will also be crowded so, if you’re interested, you’ll need to go early. Here’s a map of the parade route.

What to bring
A blanket, mosquito repellant, sunscreen, LOTS of water, plenty of food, a camera and your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer (the port-o-potty situation is not ideal). Alcohol isn’t allowed and coolers and bags are looked through at security, so if you’re planning on bringing it anyway, you better be stealthy.

If it rains
You better pray that that doesn’t happen because if it does, everyone runs for cover in all the local museums and its jam packed. The rain date is July 5.

Insider’s Tip from Sports Editor Rachel
You can also get a great view of the fireworks from some spots in Virginia along the Potomac. While you won’t be able to hear the music, it is a great vantage point for the fireworks. More importantly, the crowd is much less intense! Parks along the GW Parkway are set up to accommodate viewers. Things may change every year, but previous spots to seek out have included the Netherlands Carillon, Lady Bird Johnson Park and Gravelly Point. The Netherlands Carillon also has an afternoon bell concert if you want to show up early. But the great thing about watching from Virginia is that you can show up later in the afternoon to get a spot. And after the fireworks, you’ll beat the DC traffic back onto the roads.

Off the Tourist Track: Roosevelt Island

26 Jun

Summer is a great time for DC residents to explore new places around town since the most well-known spots are inundated with tourists. And on a nice day, might I suggest Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River. The small island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (there’s a big ole sign right before the turnoff). You could also take Metro and get off at Rosslyn, but it would be a decent walk.

The island is flat with a couple of trails, one of which goes around the entire perimeter. There are a few nice places to stop, and you can see Georgetown from one vantage point. And there’s a fair amount of wildlife to be seen. If you’re looking for solitude, this isn’t the place to go. It’s a popular spot with runners and people walking their dogs. But it’s the perfect thing to do if you only have a few hours and want to be outside. In the center of the island is an impressive statue of Teddy himself with several fountains.

There’s a not-too-large parking lot for the island, and if it’s a nice afternoon on a weekend, you will probably have to wait to park. But people are constantly coming and going, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Bikes aren’t allowed onto the island itself, but there’s a bike rack right before the footbridge to go to the island.

If you like tours, you’re in luck, as ranger tours are offered. Also good to note, there’s, strangely enough, bathrooms with European-style toilets.

Beyond the Cineplex: DC movie theaters

17 Jun

AFI Silver Theatre © Kate Mereand on Creative Commons

There’s no shortage of AMC and Regal movie complexes in the DC area, but there’s also quite a few lovely smaller chain and independent theaters too that show both mainstream movies and more artsy fartsy stuff. I thought I’d highlight a few of them.

West End Cinema: This theater opened its doors in October, taking over space that had also been a theater but closed in 2003. Located on 23rd Street between M and N, it’s tucked away in an office building and can be easy to miss. Foggy Bottom is the closest metro station but Dupont Circle isn’t too far either. You can park on the street or in one of the garages in the area, but this could be a pain depending on when you go. There are three small theaters within West End that show independent, foreign and documentary films. Of note: they have a full bar!

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: This 1938 restored movie house reopened in 2003 and is a filmophile’s dream. It hosts several annual events including a documentary film festival, will sometimes show classic films and occasionally has guest appearances. Parking is pretty easy thanks to several garages close by; it’s also two blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. And did I mention they serve beer and wine?

Avalon Theatre: Avalon isn’t only independently run, but it’s a non-profit. Located at 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW in the Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase area, it’s been operating since 1923 and shows mostly independent films. The theater is about a 15 minute walk from the Friendship Heights Metro, and street parking is available (but give yourself time to find a spot).

E-Street Cinema: Owned by Landmark Theatres, the largest art house movie theater chain in the country, E-Street is located on E Street (duh) between 10th and 11th in Penn Quarter. The theater opened in 2004 and has eight screens. A couple of E-streets theaters have amazingly few rows of seats, but I find that charming. In addition to independent films, E-Street also shows more mainstream flicks. Parking in that area can be a pain, so I’d recommend taking Metro—it’s only one block from Metro Center. What makes this one of my favorite theaters in DC is a) It’s a great location and b) there are very few kids or teenagers and c) they have cups and a pitcher of water to which you can help yourself. Like Silver Theatre, they  serve beer and wine.

Bethesda Row Cinema: Opened in 2002, this theater is also owned by Landmark and also has eight screens. Parking in this area is usually manageable, and it’s within walking distance of the Bethesda Metro station.

Friends You Haven’t Met: Try an uncommon sport, part II

7 Jun

My post last December on unusual sports continues to get visits, and so I thought I’d add a few more suggestions to the mix.

Paddle boarding: I feel like the popularity of paddle boarding came out of nowhere! If you’ve been curious to try this new trend, you’re in luck as the Potomac River is a great place to learn. Valley Mill Kayak School now offers lessons.

Fencing: Believe it or not, the world’s largest fencing school is in Springfield. Virginia Academy of Fencing offers Olympic Sport Fencing or, if you really want to geek out, you can take a Historical Swordmanship class.

Clay Target Shooting: If you’re unlike me, then you’ve always wanted to try clay target shooting. Well, turns out Prince George’s County is just the place! There are classes, leagues and tournaments.

Sculling: I actually know a couple people who have taken sculling lessons at the Thompson Boat Center and had really good experiences. I’d be interested except that class starts at 6:15 … A.M! I imagine though, that being on the water that early in the morning is a pretty great way to start the day.

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