Saturday, July 18, 2009

East Coast Trip

First of all, this trip was funded by saving money, going into debt, and the Teaching American History grant from the federal government to the Mendocino Office of Education.  It was the culmination of a three year event that had me in a classroom for weeks in the summertime with dozens of other teachers, an experience I will be for a later blog post. 

Since I'm teaching AP U.S. History this year (a long story that I won't be getting into), this trip has proved to be a dream.  First of all, my wife and I both teach history, which makes for some real easy choices when exploring new places.  Only one day did we split and do our own thing.  Otherwise, it was fantastic.  Yes, going "there" makes a difference.  By "there" I mean the actual places where history took place.  Going to the battlefields of Gettysburg gives you a great perspective on that historic event.  Walking in Monticello gives a person a fuller account of the life of Thomas Jefferson.  Singing the Star Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry while tracing the battle gives you the chills.  And the term "Gilded Age" will never be understood until you stand in the middle of the library of J.P. Morgan.  One can just feel the history!  It will make me a better teacher by far as I learned far more that I possibly imagined. 

So, what happened to your tax dollars and my savings?  Well, here's a little run down, minus the photo's that go up later.


Day One:   Ford's Theater, National Archives, Dupont Circle Farmer's Market, Phillips Art Collection

Avoid:  Ford's Theater.  It really wasn't that big of a deal, and if you are a history teacher, the John Wilkes Booth story will be total rehash.

See:  The National Archives, but don't stress on the major documents hall.  You can hardly read the originals, and there are others around the country.  Check out the other exhibits though, they are great. 

Gem:  The Phillips Art Collection.  The Rothko Room is very interesting, and for history teachers, the first half of the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series is on display. 

Day Two:  National Zoo, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, tour of Adams Morgan neighborhood

Avoid:  The National Zoo in the afternoon.  It is hot and the zoo is on a hill.  You'll have a blast walking down it, but coming up in the heat is a bitch.  Visit early and you'll even see the pandas being fed!

See:  The Supreme Court and do the 30 minute lecture that's in the courtroom.  It's fantastic!

Gem:  The Circulator buses that go all around Washington D.C. for only a buck.  It's $1 public transit at its finest!

Day Three:  Train to Philadelphia, City Hall and Broad Street, Redding Terminal Market, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, Phillies Game at Citizen's Bank.

Avoid:  A Phillies game at Citizen's Bank ballpark.  I just didn't feel a whole lot of soul from the park, and the walk there is just....blah.

See:  The National Constitution Center.  I really enjoyed the history of the Constitution and how the exhibits enhanced the story of the molding of the document.

Gem: Taking the train.  It is better than flying on the East Coast. 

Day Four:  Philadelphia Mint, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Liberty Bell, Barnes Foundation.

Avoid:  The Philadelphia Mint.  Not much to see, and if you have a cell phone or a camera, they won't let you in the door.

See:  Independence Hall and Congress Hall.  The tour is short, but very good.  Congress Hall gives you a fuller experience of the development of the legislative branch.  Oh, and look around for some documents that are in much better shape than those at the National Archives.

Gem:  Barnes Foundation.  An art gallery in a house about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia.  It is the single largest collection of Renoirs in the world, and that's not even half the museum.  

Day Five: Train to Baltimore, Inner Harbor, Camden Yards for Orioles game.

Avoid:  Walking in Baltimore at night.  Lots of aggressive homeless, and it just didn't feel safe.

See:  Camden Yards.  It was a nice time for a decent price, since the Orioles suck.

Gem:  Yeah, the train, again.  Why can't the West Coast do that?

Day Six:  Fort McHenry, Walter Art Museum, Maryland Historical Society

Avoid:  The Maryland Historical Society.  We went there for Star Spangled Banner research and were shut down.

See:  Fort McHenry.  It might have been the highlight of my trip.  It was all about the War of 1812, but it was done by enthusiastic rangers and great props. 

Gem:  Taking the light rail out of town north about 20 miles to Hunt Valley.  Yummy pizza and leaving downtown Baltimore behind for an afternoon.

Saturday:  Home for a couple of days rest.


Day Seven: Arrival from San Francisco, Walked around the outside of the White House, Corcoran Gallery of Art

Avoid:  The Washington Plaza hotel.  Our room was like something out of the 1970's with a bathroom that looked like a public toilet. 

See:  The White House.  No really, walk around the whole dang thing and look at how much goes into protecting the leader of the free world, but also how easy it is for people to protest in front of his house.

Gem:  The Metro Express 5A bus from Dulles to L'Enfant Plaza.  Yes, it takes an hour, but it only costs $3.50 a person.  The next cheapest thing will cost you at least $20. 

Day Eight:  Monticello, Nationals baseball game, The Shaw Neighborhood, Ben's Chili Bowl

Avoid:  Walking around the Shaw Neighborhood, other than U Street, at midnight.

See:  Monticello.  It was a fabulous look at Thomas Jefferson, who is arguably a near mad genius. 

Gem:  Ben's Chili Bowl.  Who cares that Obama visited, the chili is really, really good.  Oh, and order a chili half-smoke too. 

Day Nine:   Union Station for architecture, Capitol Hill, The Newseum, Sculpture Garden, walk along the Mall, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Fireworks in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

Avoid:  The Sculpture Garden in the Mall.  Eh, whatever.

See:  The Newseum.  And if you are a teacher, you might as well budget half a day for it.  Ok, maybe a full day. 

Gem:  The FDR Memorial is fantastic.  It is respectful, historic, and a contemplative spot to reminisce on one of the great presidents. 

Day Ten:   Native American Museum, National Air and Space Museum, 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Historic Georgetown

Avoid:  Beating the hell out of families who allow kids to run around disrespecting memorials.  At both Arlington and the Pentagon parents let children play on the memorials and graves while calmly chatting about the weather.  It was disgusting. 

See:  The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Then wait 30 minutes and watch it again.

Gem:  The 9/11 Memorial is beautiful and a model for simple, respectful architecture. 

Day Eleven:  Gettysburg, Nighttime tour of Washington D.C.

Avoid:  Lousy tour guides at Gettysburg.  Read Killer Angels, watch the Ken Burns documentary, go the visitor's center museum (excellent), then take the automobile tour and go at your own pace.

See:  Gettysburg.  You really have to see it to believe the monumental scope of the battle.

Gem:  The Washington Monuments at night. 

Day Twelve:   National Cathedral, Udar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Chantilly Virginia. 

Avoid:  Trying to find the Metro to the National Cathedral, because there isn't one.  Take the Metro to the nearest station, and take a taxi.

See:  The Udar-Hazy Air and Space Museum.  The trip out there is a bitch (it's out past Dulles), but the collection is incredible.

Gem:  Um, the Enola Gay, a Concorde SST, an SR-71, and the shuttle Enterprise at the Air and Space.  Yeah, that's pretty damn cool!

Day Thirteen:  Breakfast with Senator Feinstein, Tour of the Capital, Viewing of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Museum of American History, World War 2 Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, George Washington University.

Avoid:  The basic capital tour.  It's crowded, loud, and you go into three rooms.  Get your Representative or Senator to have a staffer or intern take you on a better tour.

See:  The Korean War Memorial.  Another classic display of respect for the fallen.

Gem:  Breakfast with Senator Feinstein.  I liked what she had to say, and when she started grilling me on filibusters I answered every question smoothly. 

Day Fourteen:  Where I went today:  Left for Boston at 7 a.m.,   Went to Plymouth Rock, Plimoth Plantation, and toured Cape Cod.

Avoid:  Plimoth Plantation.  Fine, but not worth the $30 admission to see a recreated village and the spot for Thanksgiving. 

See:  Cape Cod.  We found a nice beach at laid in the quiet sun for a few hours rest.

Gem:  Plymouth Rock is not that big of a deal, but the monuments around it are pretty neat.  Plus, a ranger told the story and had us enthralled.

Day Fifteen:  Boston Museum of Fine Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Copley Square, Trinity Church, Quincy Market

Avoid:  Quincy Market.  Bunch of tourist food that you don't need to eat.

See:  Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  It is an art museum, but it has much more going for it.  Doubly so if you like Renaissance Art.

Gem:  Seeing Songs.  30 people on 30 different television screens sing Madonna's entire Immaculate Collection album.  At the Museum of Fine Art, and a real piece of work.  

Day Sixteen:  Massachusetts State Archives, John F. Kennedy Museum, Harvard Square and Harvard Yard, Fenway Park for Boston Red Sox

Avoid:  Harvard Square.  Call me a killjoy, but it reminded me of a yuppier Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

See:  A game at Fenway.  The place is a cathedral for baseball.

Gem:  The Massachusetts State Archives has an exhibit on the Massachusetts Bay Colony that was fantastic.  Plus, they have some original documentation that is great for government teachers.

Day Seventeen:  Freedom Trail, Ferry in Boston Harbor

Avoid:  Guided Tours of the Freedom Trail.  They don't even go the entire length of the trail.  Buy a guidebook and do it yourself.

See:  The whole damn Freedom Trail.  It winds through Boston and is perfect for a one day look at the city and it's history.

Gem:  A good ranger at any of the stops.  The stories of our country's foundation are fantastic.

Day Eighteen:  Left for New York.  United Nations, Museum of Modern Art, Times Square

Avoid:  Wanting to tell your U.N. tour guide that the organization is ineffective.  They try to sell, seriously, their programs pretty hard.

See:  The Museum of Modern Art.  The amount of bizarre art (you know, White Panel type stuff) is limited, while the Van Gogh, Klimt, Picasso, and Rivera are everywhere.

Gem:  The second half of the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series is on display at the Museum of Modern Art

Day Nineteen:  Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Avoid:  Wanting to punch every person that works at the MET.  Everyone I met, from the clerks to the guides, was rude.

See:  The Impressionist Wing of the MET.  It is breath-taking.

Gem:  The Unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters, or for that matter, the cloisters themselves.

Day Twenty:  J.P. Morgan Library, The Frick Collection, Central Park, Grand Central Station

Avoid:  Grand Central Station at evening rush hour.  Holy God.

See:  The Frick Collection.  Like the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, this Gilded Age collection is beyond words.

Gem:  The J.P. Morgan Library.  Taking history more in-depth and standing in that beautiful library.

Day Twenty-One:   Home.

Avoid:  Dulles International and United Airlines.

See:  The smile on my face, as while I love exploring, Northern California is still the best place to live.

Gem:  The memories I made with my wife.

Ok, give me a few weeks and I'll be ready to teach.  This experience has made my passion fuller and richer, and I'm better for it.

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