Tag: Animals

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

Anyone who has been to Washington DC knows that it can be a pretty expensive city to visit.  Most studies rank it somewhere in the top ten list of the most expensive American cities. For someone who is making a non-DC salary and visiting the nation’s capital, the expense of everything can be daunting.

Fortunately, Washington DC free attractions are plentiful.  Here are over 60 places you can explore without paying for admission, listed by neighborhood:

The National Mall Area

Washington DC Free Attractions

  1. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial
  3. National Museum of American History
  4. National Air & Space Museum
  5. Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – modern art
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. National Museum of Natural History
  8. Smithsonian Castle
  9. Washington Monument – currently closed for elevator upgrade – check before you go
  10. National Archives
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Multiverse Light Sculpture between National Gallery East & West Buildings
  13. Freer Gallery – Asian art (closed until October 14, 2017)
  14. Sackler Gallery – Asian art
  15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  16. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  17. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
  18. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  19. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  20. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
  21. US Holocaust Memorial Museum – free but requires timed tickets March through August
  22. National Museum of the American Indian
  23. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  24. Albert Einstein Memorial
  25. Bureau of Engraving & Printing (free, but reservations required through September 1)
  26. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden

 

Brookland Area

Washington DC free attractions in Brookland area

  1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  2. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

 

Capitol Hill

Washington Dc free attractions capitol hill

  1. National Postal Museum
  2. Library of Congress
  3. US Capitol
  4. US Botanic Garden
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library
  6. Historic Congressional Cemetery

 

Capitol Riverfront

Washington DC Free attractions capitol riverfront

  1. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  2. National Museum of the US Navy
  3. Yards Park

 

Anacostia

Washington DC Free Attractions Anacostia

  1. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
  2. Anacostia Community Museum

 

Upper Northwest

Washington DC Free Attractions Upper Northwest

  1. National Cathedral

 

Georgetown

Washington DC Free ATtractions Georgetown

  1. C&O Canal Paths
  2. Old Stone House (the oldest home in DC)
  3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
  4. Rock Creek Park

 

Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Washington DC Free Attractions Penn Quarter Chinatown

  1. National Portrait Gallery
  2. Smithsonian American Art Museum
  3. Lunder Conservation Center
  4. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  5. Archives of American Art Gallery

 

Dupont Circle

Washington DC Free Attractions Dupont Circle

  1. Anderson House

 

Woodley Park

Washington DC Free Attractions Woodley Park

  1. National Zoo

 

Foggy Bottom

Washington DC free attractions Foggy Bottom

  1. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (free tour)
  2. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (free performances)

 

Downtown

Washington DC Free Attractions Donwtown

  1. White House Visitor Center
  2. White House tour (request through Congressional representative at least 3 months in advance)
  3. Renwick Gallery – American contemporary art

 

Shaw

Washington DC Free Attractions Shaw

  1. African American Civil War Memorial
  2. African American Civil War Museum

 

H Street NE

Washington DC Free Attractions H Street NE

  1. US National Arboretum
  2. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum – inside National Arboretum

 

Arlington, Virginia (technically not DC, but just across the river)

 

  1. US Air Force Memorial
  2. US Marine Corps Memorial (aka Statue of Iwo Jima)
  3. Arlington House, former home of Robert E Lee
  4. Arlington National Cemetery
  5. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

 

As you can see, there are plenty of Washington DC free must-see attractions… and a few that are a little off the beaten path.  With so many choices for things to see and do at no expense, Washington DC can be an affordable vacation destination after all.

 

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

I will never forget the times that my parents took me to The Enchanted Forest, an awesome fairy tale theme park near Baltimore. The park was full of amazing scenes from fairy tales and other stories brought to life. It was my Disney World.

Sadly, The Enchanted Forest closed in 1989. But thanks to some wonderful people with fond childhood memories and a lot of land, you and your children can kinda-sorta visit The Enchanted Forest today.

Clark’s Elioak Farm has lovingly restored many of the original items from The Enchanted Forest and put them on display for this generation of children to enjoy. The restoration continues on, so there are plenty of new attractions not covered in this post.

From the moment you arrive, the magic begins. Rapunzel leans out of her castle tower to greet you.

enchanted forest rapunzel
You can see such beloved characters as Mother Goose (which is also a toddler size sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Mother Goose
Take a peek inside the Three Little Pigs house. You can’t see it in this photo, but there is a wolf-skin rug on the floor.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm 3 Little Pigs
Disney immortalized Sleeping Beauty in the film of the same name, but I find this version just as enchanting. Who wouldn’t want to sleep under a golden blanket?

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Sleeping Beauty.jpg

Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Three Men in a Tub

You can catch Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ house:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Goldilocks

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe (another sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Old Woman in Shoe.jpg

Hey diddle diddle, the cat & the fiddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Hey Diddle Diddle.jpg

And finally, Jack & the Beanstalk:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Jack and Beanstalk.jpg
These are just some of the attractions, and as mentioned above, the proprietors are adding more every year. The site also features farm animals that children can see up close, pony rides, and a pumpkin patch in the fall. If you have young children and are near Clark’s Elioak Farm, treat them to a day there… they will love it and so will you!

Clark’s Elioak Farm is located at 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042. Telephone 410-730-4049. Hours vary by day and season, so check the web site or call when planning your visit.

Wales Bucket List: My Top Ten

Wales Bucket List: My Top Ten

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain.  In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as a Wales & England trip.  Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both.  Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town.  In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center.  There are book stores on every corner and even unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers.  The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle, books:  I could spend days there!

Hay-Castle-Bookshop.jpg

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

rsz_straining_tower.jpg

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters.  (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world.  That honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.”  I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

rsz_long_name_town_in_wales

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

Castell Coch.jpg

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long; the views are outstanding, from what I’ve read.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.jpg

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.  Tintern is one of the prettiest I’ve seen in photos.

Tintern Abbey.jpg

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

rsz_skomer_puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when our eyes are worn out, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these places in person!

 

Bucket List: An Island Like No Other

Bucket List: An Island Like No Other

Socotra, an island of 50,000 people measuring 82 x 31 miles, is located in the Indian Ocean and is part of the country of Yemen.

Thomas the Apostle was shipwrecked on Socotra on his way to evangelize India in 52 AD. He constructed a church out of his ship’s wreckage and baptized many Socotrans. The population of the island remained Christian until the 1500s.

Socotra is also mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo; Marco Polo did not pass anywhere near the island but recorded a report that “the inhabitants are baptized Christians and have an ‘archbishop'” who, it is further explained, “has nothing to do with the Pope in Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad.”

The island is one of the most isolated land forms on earth that was not the result of volcanic eruptions. As a result, roughly one-third of the plant life on Socatra is found nowhere else on earth. That’s nearly 700 species of plants that are unique to Socotra. One of them is the Dragon’s Blood Tree:

Socotra Dragonblood Tree

Shaped like an umbrella, this tree has red sap that was thought to be the dragon’s blood of the ancients.  It was sought after as a dye, and today is used as paint and varnish.  The people who live on the island also use the tree sap for medicinal purposes such as general wound healing, as a coagulant, cure for diarrhea, for dysentery diseases,  and for lowering fevers.

Another unique plant on Socotra is the cucumber tree:

socotra cucumber tree.jpg

In times of severe drought, these trees are cut down, pulped and fed to livestock. Unfortunately, than means that there are some areas of the island where these trees have been almost completely eradicated.

The island is just as unique in terms of its wildlife.  There are at least seven unique bird species and nearly 90% of the reptiles on the island are only found there.  Because of these characteristics in its flora and fauna, the island was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.

The physical characteristics of the island are just as interesting as its plants and wildlife. There are several caves, with enormous stalagmites and stalactites.  Here is a shot of Halah Cave:

halah Cave

The bright light near the center of the photo is from a man holding a flashlight.  That should give you an idea of how big the cave is.

And the beaches are just beautiful:

Socotra Coastline.jpg

So, if you’re looking for a getaway that’s a little unique and mostly unheard of, consider going to Socatra.  You will see things most people don’t even know about!

For more information about Socatra and how to travel there, visit the Socatra Information web site.

Bucket List: Churchill, Manitoba

Bucket List: Churchill, Manitoba

I have loved polar bears since I took an elementary school field trip to the National Zoo. I thought they were just fascinating and utterly adorable.  Some years later, when the polar bear exhibit at the zoo was closed, the zoo became significantly less enjoyable for me.

Oddly enough, it was a trip to the Baltimore Zoo that re-kindled my love for polar bears and put this particular trip on my travel Bucket List.  The polar bear exhibit there showcased the town of Churchill in Manitoba (population 800), which sees an influx of polar bears (and now tourists) every year between late October and early November.  It is also known as The Polar Bear Capital of the World, among other things.

churchillsign.jpg

The polar bears gather at nearby Cape Churchill waiting for ice to form on Hudson Bay. Once the ice is stable, they head out to spend the winter hunting seals. It is during this time that tourists are able to go out in a special vehicle called a tundra buggy which is big enough to allow the polar bears to get close to the people without anyone’s safety being jeopardized.

tundra buggy.JPG

As you can imagine, living in close proximity to such fearsome hunters means that certain precautions must be taken for safety.  For instance, on Halloween, children are not allowed to wear all-white costumes (such as a ghost), and every street is patrolled by residents.

Many local residents leave their cars unlocked in case someone needs to make a quick escape from the polar bears in the area.  Local authorities maintain a so-called “polar bear jail” where bears (mostly adolescents) who persistently loiter in or close to town, are held after being tranquilized.  They are then released back into the wild when the bay freezes over.

A lot of the places in Churchill offering polar bear expeditions do a full package with lodging and everything else.  They run in the $5000 range.  The three of us are going to the UK this year for $5000 total (everything except meals), so I think that’s a bit steep.  And my Grand Canyon experience has made me leery of spending multiple days in locations that are not highly populated.

Thankfully, you can do a tundra buggy day trip in the fall polar bear season for less than $500 per person, which seems a tad more manageable.

 

 

The National Zoo

The National Zoo

The National Zoo is a little panda-intensive.  And with good reason, as there are only four zoos in the United States where you can see pandas.  The National Zoo has four, including Bei Bei, who was just born in August of 2015.  My luck at being able to see the pandas over the years has been hit or miss. The last time I went, I was successful in getting one photo of the cuddly creatures:

National Zoo Panda

He was a little shy.  If you aren’t lucky enough to see the pandas in person, you can take advantage of the zoo’s Panda Cam which allows you to see them real time.

My favorites at the zoo (any zoo) are the big cats.  This was a particularly good trip for catching them alert.  Sometimes I haven’t been so lucky.  Here are the photos I snapped:National Zoo Cheetah

National Zoo Lion

National Zoo Tiger

I think we were there towards the end of the day — somewhere between 3 and 5 pm.  That seems to be a good time for catching the animals when they are alert as it’s probably getting closer to their feeding time.

Exhibits at the zoo include the following:

  • Giant Panda Habitat
  • Elephant Trail
  • Asia Trail
  • Lemur Island
  • Small Mammal House
  • Great Ape House
  • Think  Tank (education)
  • Gibbon Ridge
  • Cheetah Conservation Station
  • American Trail
  • Invertebrate Exhibit
  • Amazonia
  • Great Cats
  • Reptile Discovery Center
  • The Bird House
  • Kids’ Farm
  • American Bison Exhibit

Insider Tip:  If you take the Metro (Washington DC’s subway system), there are two stops you can use to get to the zoo.  The Woodley Park-Zoo stop (which most people use because of the name) is an uphill walk to the zoo.  The Cleveland Park stop is the same distance, but is a flat walk.  If you choose to drive to the zoo, there is limited parking available but there is a hefty charge (as of this writing, $22).

App It: The National Zoo has an app that includes interactive maps, schedules, animal information, and more.

The National Zoo is located at  3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008. Telephone  202-633-4888.  The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas.  Hours vary by season, so call or check the website when planning your visit.

national-zoo

Oswalds Bear Ranch – Newberry MI

Oswalds Bear Ranch – Newberry MI

I really enjoyed our vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The attractions pretty much equaled our time there. We didn’t sit around bored, but we didn’t have to do tourist triage on the things we wanted to see, either. It was a perfect fit.

One of the things we saw on the UP was Oswald’s Bear Ranch. I am fairly certain that it was the Oswalds who brought some of their bears to the Delaware State Fair one year. I remember being astonished as I watched the man playing with the bears. All parties involved were having a blast, and no one was getting hurt.

So when I read about the bear ranch in Newberry, I put it on our list of things to do. Oswald’s is the largest (bear only) Bear Ranch in the entire United States of America. They have 29 bears in 4 habitats, and most bears are rescue cases. Apparently people adopt bear cubs and then realize as the cubs grow into full sized bears that they cannot care for them. Shocking, I know.

The Oswalds take the bears in and give them a place where they can safely live among other bears, since in most cases they have never lived in the wild before.

Oswalds Bear Ranch 3.jpg

The bears are pretty friendly, although not overly so. It was possible to get close enough to take some photos, but they weren’t curious enough about us to come closer.

Oswalds Bear Ranch MI 2

The big highlight was when we got to feed and pet a baby bear cub. Here’s a shot of my daughter feeding him a snack (a mixture of Froot Loops and Puppy Chow).

feeding cub

How cool is that? It was a little disappointing, however, to discover that bears are not as soft and squishy as their stuffed animal counterparts. Baby Bear’s fur was actually kind of coarse and as for squishiness… well, I didn’t test that.  😉

Kids will love the opportunity to see these majestic animals up close and to learn more about them. This is a very family friendly attraction and I recommend that you check it out if you’re on the UP of Michigan!

Oswald’s Bear Ranch is located at 13814 County Rd 407 (H-37), Newberry, MI 49868. Telephone 906-293-3147. Open the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend through Sept. 30th each year. Hours are 9:30 am to 5:00 pm thru Labor Day. After Labor Day, the hours are from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm.  

Cornish Seal Sanctuary

Cornish Seal Sanctuary

I will begin this post with a slight disclaimer:

Due to an unexpected vehicle malfunction on our way to the Seal Sanctuary, we arrived dreadfully late and not in the best of moods. We rushed through it as quickly as we could. I am confident that I did not see enough or photograph enough to give it a thorough review. But half a loaf is better than none, as they say… so here we are.

Seal Sanctuary Cornwall 1

The sea lion above is named Andre and as you can see, he is quite vocal. During our visit to the sanctuary we were able to learn the difference between seals and sea lions. Sea lions are brown, bark loudly, “walk” on land using their large flippers and have visible ear flaps. Seals have small flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, and lack visible ear flaps.

In addition to the sea lions like Andre, the Seal Sanctuary is also home to grey seals, common seals, Asian short clawed otters, and Humboldt penguins. The otters and the penguins were an absolute joy to watch but I was unable to get any really good pictures to share here.

If you time your visit right, you can catch a feed talk at the Sanctuary, at which time you will learn more about the animals while watching them get fed. Feed talks are held at multiple locations in the Sanctuary throughout the day. We caught the end of one of the feed walks, where this trio was really hamming it up for the visitors. I have no idea what they were saying, but they were saying a lot of it!

Seal Sanctuary Cornwall 2.jpg
They look like they’re singing, don’t they?

The Sanctuary had a lot of educational exhibits too, so we learned about important  topics like conservation, rescue & rehabilitation, and so on. My daughter loved the trip, even though it was shorter than we had intended it to be, and I would highly recommend it for families with school age children.

The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is located in Gweek, Cornwall.  Postcode TR12 6UG; telephone  01326 221361.  The Seal Sanctuary is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with the exception of Christmas Day.  

One Ocean (Orca Show) at Sea World Orlando

One Ocean (Orca Show) at Sea World Orlando

We almost felt guilty about going to see the orca show at Sea World, given that there had been so much bad press about them in recent years. But we had paid the full admission price to get in and I needed to sit for a spell, so we moseyed over to the Shamu Stadium.

Arriving early, we picked good seats that were not in the splash zone (although goodness knows a splash or two of cool water would have felt pretty good right about then).  One of the trainers was out with one of the orcas, and was making a big show of rubbing all over it and kissing on it. Either she was doing that under orders to make it known that Sea World staff puffy-pink-heart LOVES their orcas, or she needs to get out more. I’m hoping it’s the former and not the latter.

rsz_seaworld_shamu_5

Anyway, after I finished gawking at that awkward cross-species PDA, I noticed that the stadium had begun to fill up quite a bit. What followed was a semi-dramatic combination of video clips, voice over narration, and some amazing orca leaps and dives, along with the requisite splashing of the people in the front rows. The orcas are majestic creatures and despite their size, they made jumping out of the water look effortless and graceful.

rsz_seaworld_shamu_15

rsz_seaworld_shamu_17

NOTE: The orca shows at Sea World are being phased out. By 2019, Sea World Orlando will no longer offer shows featuring the killer whales.

Sea World Orlando is located at 7007 Sea World Dr, Orlando, FL 32821. Telephone 1 (888) 800-5447. Park hours vary by season; check the web site or call for opening/closing times when planning your trip.

Dolphins @ Sea World Orlando

Dolphins @ Sea World Orlando

We loved seeing the dolphin shows at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, so of course we wanted to see the one at Sea World in Orlando too. It’s called Blue Horizons and it’s a “theatrical animal show.”

I’m not sure why they chose to go with a dramatic tale instead of just showing off the awesomeness of the dolphins, but I have to say I didn’t get it. The story is supposed to be about “a young girl named Marina as she discovers the secrets of the sea and sky in a mesmerizing blue world of adventure and wonder.” Whatever that means!  I just kept watching and waiting for the dolphins to do some amazing tricks.

seaworld dolphin show (1)

They did, as you can see above.  But in between amazing leaps and perky fin waving, there were a lot of costumes and acrobatics.  And occasionally, the two segments of the show combined.

seaworld dolphin show (6).JPG

Things got a little freaky when, towards the end of the show, an acrobat came out dressed like this:

seaworld dolphin show (14).JPG

That was a pretty stunning moment.  She twirled around in a way that made it look like she was flying, and then this happened:

seaworld dolphin show (16) (1).JPG

That I was not prepared for.  I tend to get a little jumpy when birds with big wings are flying right over my head.

So, if you’re headed to Sea World, my opinion is that Blue Horizons should not be on your short list of things to see, but rather on the “maybe I’ll check it out if I have time” list.

 

Sea World is located at  7007 Sea World Dr, Orlando, FL 32821.  Telephone 1-888-800-5447.  Hours vary by season; call or check the website when planning your visit.