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There are a couple of truths about being a tourist in Washington, D.C. One is that no matter how much time you allot, it will never be sufficient to see everything you want to see. (Particularly, when you get a late start.) The other is that you never, under any circumstances, drive there. There is a perfectly good, clean, efficient, Metro that is a stress-free way to get around without causing blood pressure or road-rage issues. Fortunately for me, it only took one horrible experience in my twenties to drill that lesson permanently into my psyche. The train from Greenbelt is a peaceful ride into the city and the best way we know to get around.

This weekend happened to also be the Cherry Blossom Festival. On our walk to the National Gallery, we got distracted by beautiful gardens full of blooming Yoshino and Weeping cherries and Saucer Magnolias, putting us a little further behind schedule, but worth the detour. By the time we met our friends at the National Gallery who were also running late, and got through the mandatory bag check, we had exactly twenty minutes before our lunch reservation at The Old Ebbit Grill. I can’t tell you that I learned anything, but the National Gallery is at top of the re-visit list, and I know now that it will require at least a day, not just a couple of hours. At least I can do a little virtual touring through their website.

Then it was time for lunch which was quite a walk, but worth it for the friendly service and good food. Thank goodness for the reservation. The waiting list was over an hour long.

Limited again to half an hour of touring, we opted for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I’d classify it as a favorite, but they all are, so I don’t have the ability to rank them. Happily, the exhibits are all open again so we were also treated to the ever-interesting Entymology exhibit of ants and spiders.

As usual, we had to force ourselves to leave without seeing everything we wanted to. There is never enough time. Never.

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Harborplace continues to have the same draw and appeal as when it opened in 1980. The sunny Spring day saw crowds of people enjoying the atmosphere of the Inner Harbor and the street performers.

With only a couple of hours for sight-seeing before meeting friends for dinner, my husband suggested a tour of the U.S.S. Constellation. Remembering my last tour in the late 80s that consisted of one, very dark deck, lined with canons, and that was it, I almost steered him to a different attraction. Fortunately, I kept an open mind.

The ship was renovated in 2004 and is a completely different and enjoyable touring experience now. It has so much history that I never remember learning about. Among other things, the U.S.S. Constellation was commissioned to capture ships engaging in the African slave trade, which was made illegal in 1808.

All the decks are open, with a view into the quarters of the officers, the hammocks of the “powder monkeys,” a view of the provisions, and the tools of the ship’s surgeon. There is a free portable audio tour that provides additional history to complement the plaques around the ship. The plaques are really informative if you have the time to read them.

As one example, I learned quite a bit about the medical history. Naval hospitals were considered the best hospitals around, and the navy doctors superior to that of the Army. In contrast, dentistry skills were rather limited and consisted of tools that you would never want to see near your mouth. Even though Pasteur and Lister were theorizing about germs and recommending the use of antiseptics and sterilization, their research was not yet known in the U.S. Nevertheless, some naval surgeons were already practicing some of the sterilization methods. Among painkillers used in the 1800s were morphine and cloves!. Very interesting tour and worth the money.

Learn more about the history of the ship at their website. The movie Amazing Grace addresses William Wilburforce’s indefatigueable struggle to end slavery. (The website has resources for teachers too.)

Here are a few pictures of the Inner Harbor and U.S.S. Constellation.

THe History Channel also did a few episodes on the U.S.S. Constellation.

Saturday, March 29, 2008. Fan Fest at Camden Yards.

Q: What’s great about Fan Fest?
A: Meeting other Orioles fans who love the team as much as you do and getting a great picture of Boog Powell.

There were a lot of giveaways and I missed those, but it was worth the wait in line to get Boog’s autograph.

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