Tag: East Coast

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Foreign Embassy Tours

Every year at the beginning of May, Cultural Tourism DC hosts an event called “The Around the World Embassy Tour.”  I have been lucky enough to go in the past, and I went again this year.  I think it is probably one of the coolest free events I’ve ever been to, with the possible exception of the Ceremony of the Keys in London.

On May 6 of this year, 43 embassies representing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America opened their doors and invited the general public in to learn more about their culture and heritage.  The European Union embassies will follow suit and host an open house on May 13.

To give you a better idea of what it’s like, I took a lot of pictures.  Our first stop was the Embassy of Peru.

Peru

Inside, we got to see beautiful Peruvian hand crafted items, sample some Peruvian chocolate, and we got to see the ambassador’s office and conference room.  Peruvian food was available for purchase both inside and outside the embassy, including Pisco sours, empanadas, and Alfajores cookies.

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Some of the handicrafts in the Peruvian embassy.

Then, outside the embassy, we experienced music and Latin dancing.

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The dancers outside the Peruvian embassy.

From there we walked up Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row, and marveled at the beautiful buildings now serving as embassies. The Colombian embassy was ROCKING. Loud party music and bright colorfully-clad dancers attracted everyone’s attention. It also had a line of people that went down the street and around the corner. Having already gotten a late start, we decided to visit the embassies that seemed to have little to no wait to enter. Otherwise, we would have probably only seen two!

The first one we happened upon was Indonesia.

Indonesia

I am not exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful house I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was the grand entrance.

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The foyer of the Indonesian embassy

(I don’t know about you, but every time I see a place like this, I imagine myself in an evening gown and lots of diamonds, slowly gliding down the stairs to the tune of dramatic-yet-elegant music.  No?  I’m the only one?)

As it turns out, the building is also known as the Walsh Mansion, and it Dates to 1903. At that time, it was the most expensive residence in the city, with a construction cost of $835,000.  The original owner, a Thomas J Walsh, came to this county from Ireland without a penny to his name in 1869. Over the next 25 years, he built up a small fortune through his business pursuits, then lost nearly everything in the Panic of 1893.  In 1896, he took his family to Colorado, and purchased a mine that most thought was of no value. However, it wasn’t long before mine workers struck a massive vein of gold and silver, making Walsh a multi-millionaire.

Walsh’s daughter Evalyn married into the McLean family, which owned The Washington Post.  In 1910, her husband bought the Hope Diamond for her at a cost of $180,000 (that’s $4.6 million in today’s economy).  Over time, rumors developed that the Hope Diamond had a curse on it.  Evalyn Walsh McLean’s first son died in a car accident. Her husband ran off with another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. The Washington Post went bankrupt, and eventually her daughter died of an overdose, and one of her grandsons died in the Vietnam war. Evalyn never believed the curse had anything to do with her misfortunes.

In 1952 the government of Indonesia purchased the mansion for use as an embassy. Thankfully, they have preserved the beauty of the historic home, including this very large and ornate organ:

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Upper part of the massive pipe organ in the Indonesian embassy.

The pipe organ’s wind system and some of its pipes were located in the basement, making this a two-story pipe organ.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but based solely on its appearance, it is impressive!

The painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers are probably very much like they were before it became the Indonesian embassy.

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A doll on the mantle in the Indonesian embassy

A small glassed in walkway connected the residence portion of the house with the offices, which were more modern.  As you enter the office area, you pass by a huge gold bird, the heraldic symbol of Indonesia.

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Our next stop was going to be the Chilean embassy, but the line was incredibly long, so we wandered up the street a little farther and found a performer outside the Korean embassy.

Korea

Just above the heads of the people gathered around to watch, we could see a man walking a tightrope while making jokes via an interpreter. There was also this little statue:

embassy tours korea

This is a Dol Hareubang, which means Stone Grandfather.  They are from Jeju, a small volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea.  Dol Hareubang is a guardian deity, and the people of Jeju erect these statues to ward off danger and harm.

Right next door to Korea was the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, other than that it’s a relatively new country.  It was a very enlightening visit.  First, I learned that Kyrgyzstan shares a border with China. As we made our way through the embassy and looked at the displays, I learned that many people of Kyrgyzstan live in yurts.  We saw scarves and slippers and multiple other woolen items, beautifully made. But their talents do not end there. I thought this painting was just adorable:

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

They were also offering shots of a cognac from their country. Nearby, these lovely ladies in traditional native costumes greeted and posed for everyone.

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

Haiti

The Haitian embassy was all about art.  Every room we entered had beautiful, brightly colored paintings done by Haitian artists. The one hanging over the fireplace was especially striking.

Embassy tours haiti

And in the back of the house, just before we stepped outside, we saw a beautiful collection of bottles covered in sequins.  Then we exited the house and stepped out onto a gorgeous patio. The biggest wall had an arrangement of metal decorations that was pretty incredible.

Embassy tours Haiti patio

There were tin lanterns hanging all over the place, with designs of dragonflies, and other small animals.

By this time the event was coming to a close, so we started walking back toward the Metro station.  On the way, we passed a stunning display outside the Guatemalan embassy.

Embassy tours Guatemala

 

The white parts were rice, and we guessed that the colored bits were dyed sawdust.  From a distance, it looked like a rug.

After that, we followed the sound of music until we happened upon the embassy of the Dominican Republic.  There were people everywhere – some were in line for food but quite a few were dancing.  It was such an awesome display of living in the moment, anyone watching couldn’t help but smile.

I cannot recommend the Around the World Embassy Tour enough. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other cultures and see some magnificent art and architecture.  If you’re ever in D.C. on a Saturday in early May, check it out!

Sea Glass Scavenging in the US

Sea Glass Scavenging in the US

From May through September, tourists crowd the mid-Atlantic beaches near my home. As a result, looking for sea glass is generally not a fruitful endeavor. In fact, I have only found one piece in 15 years at my local beach.

However, when I went to Port Isaac, Cornwall, I happened to glance down and notice a piece of sea glass when walking through the harbor at low tide. Then another. And another. Within a half an hour, I had two pockets full of sea glass – not to mention a new obsession, fueled by Pinterest. Since I’m not likely to return to Port Isaac any time soon (alas!), I started looking for sea glass destinations on this side of the Atlantic. And I’m happy to report that scavengers can find sea glass in abundance at many locations in the US. Here are what I consider to be the top five.

Eastport Maine

The deepest port on the East Coast, Eastport is located between Cobscook Bay and Passamaquoddy Bay.  The area is notorious for its ripping tides and powerful currents. Plus, if you find you need a change of scenery on your quest, there are two other great sea glass beaches are nearby – Cobscook bay (about 30 minutes drive) and Lubec (about 60 minutes drive).

Glass Beach at Fort Bragg, California

This cove – a former dump site – is completely covered in sea glass, but you must not remove any glass from the northern section of the beach, as it is state park land. However, if you head south at the edge of the bluff, you’ll find a path that leads to another unprotected beach where you may take glass; it’s not as plentiful as on Glass Beach, but it’s legal. When you’re done beach combing, you can visit the International Sea Glass Museum, which is nearby.

looking for sea glass fort bragg california glass beach

Glass Beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauai

This glass beach is where you’ll find millions of smooth glass pebbles in blue, aqua, brown, green and occasionally a rare red. It is located near Poipu on Kauai’s southern end, and not the easiest to get to, but for avid collectors, it’s worth the effort.

Spectacle Island, Massachusetts

Spectacle Island is just a ferry ride away from Boston. One of the island’s beaches is loaded with sea glass and pottery from up to 100 years ago. The island’s sea glass may not be as smooth as shards found on an ocean coastline since the currents and surf within Boston Harbor are not as active. The upside is that many pieces of glass, while having smooth edges, will have a lot of their original shape and surface texture. This ini turn leads to easier identification of the sea glass’ origins. It is not uncommon to find decorative, depression-era sea glass here. Unfortunately, removing any of the glass or pottery from this beach is illegal.

Homer, Alaska

Homer is a popular site with sea glass hunters. Be sure to look among the rocks for the sea glass, however, as most people find them there rather than on/in the sand. There are tales of people finding glass floats from Japanese fishing boats on Homer beaches. The floats are absolutely stunning.

looking for sea glass floats alaska beaches

Do you know of any good beaches for finding sea glass not listed here? Comment below and share your discovery!

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:

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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.

Connecticut’s Chocolate Trail

Connecticut’s Chocolate Trail

Connecticut may be small, but it has one thing that most states don’t:  a chocolate trail. You can indulge your sweet tooth from one end of the state to the other, visiting independent chocolatiers with uniquely tempting treats.

assorted chocolates

The stores on the chocolate trail are:

  1. Bridgewater Chocolate Factory & Factory Store in Brookfield and/or West Hartford.
  2. Chocolate Rain Shop in Norwalk. UPDATE 4/10/2017 This shop is now closed.
  3. Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shop in Ridgefield.
  4. Divine Treasures in Manchester.
  5. Fascia’s Chocolates in Waterbury.
  6. Grandma Josie’s in Monroe.
  7. Hillside Sweet Shoppe in East Haddam.
  8. Knipschildt Chocolatier/Cafe Chocopologie in Norwalk.
  9. Le Rouge Chocolates & Cakes by Aarti in Westport.
  10. Munson’s Chocolates in Bolton.
  11. Thompson Chocolates in Meriden.
  12. Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates in Goshen.
  13. Truffle Shots in Essex.
  14. Tschudin Chocolates & Confections in Middletown.

Is fourteen chocolate stores excessive?  Who am I to say?  I’m in the 12 Step Program for Chocoholics:

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For more information on the Connecticut Chocolate Trail, visit the CT tourism site here.

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

The Statue of Liberty has graced New York Harbor since 1886.  Most people know that it was a gift to the United States from the people of France.  Some (those who have seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, for instance) know that there is a smaller version of the same statue in France.  Some may know that the date July 4, 1776 is inscribed on the tablet she holds.  But here are some things that most people might not know at all:

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  1. The statue’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World.
  2. The female figure is Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
  3. To climb up into the crown on her head, you must ascend 354 stairs.
  4. Once there, you can look out at the harbor through 25 windows.
  5. Approximately 4 million people visit the statue each year.
  6. Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, also designed Liberty’s ‘spine’ – four iron columns supporting a metal framework.
  7. Three hundred different types of hammers were used to create the sculpture.  Not 300 hammers, mind you, but 300 types of hammers.
  8. Although you cannot see Lady Liberty’s feet clearly, she is in fact standing among a broken shackle and chains, with her right foot raised.  This is to depict forward movement away from oppression and slavery.
  9. The statue has been destroyed on the big screen in at least three movies – The Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow.
  10. Since 1984, the statue has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  11. In high winds (50 mph), the statue can sway up to three inches.  Her upraised arm can sway up to five inches.
  12. Several people have attempted suicide by jumping off the statue.  Two were successful.
  13. In 1944 the lights in the crown flashed “dot-dot-dot-dash” which in the Morse code means V, for Victory in Europe.
  14. In 1982, it was discovered that the head had been installed two feet off center.
  15. From the time it was installed until 1902, the statue also served as a lighthouse, with visibility up to 24 miles away.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is located on Liberty Island near New York City. Telephone 212-363-3200.  Liberty Island is open every day from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM, except December 25 (closed). Hours change seasonally.  To assist you in planning your visit, there is a free app for the Statue of Liberty & the nearby Ellis Island Museum of Immigration.

The Baltimore Museum of Art

The Baltimore Museum of Art

A lot of people might wonder, “Why bother going to an art museum in Baltimore when the Smithsonian has so many superb art museums just a little over an hour away?”  Those people would probably be surprised to learn that the Baltimore Museum of Art has quite a lot to offer.

The museum has an internationally renowned collection of over 90,000 pieces of art that spans centuries; from early Byzantine to current Contemporary.  That’s a far cry from its founding in 1914 when it had only one painting – Mischief by William-Sergeant Kendall. Part of those 90,000 items is the largest holding of works by Henri Matisse in the world.

When I visited, I was quite taken with the Antioch Mosaics. In the 1930s, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) joined the Musées Nationaux de France, Worcester Art Museum, and Princeton University during the excavations of the ancient city of Antioch (now known as Antakya in southeastern Turkey). During these excavations, 300 mosaic pavements dating from the 2nd to 6th centuries were found. The BMA received 34 of the finest mosaics from the excavation, most of which are on display.

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But as I stated above, the museum’s collections span many centuries.  There was also Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, which I loved:

Baltimore Museum of Art Little Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas.jpg

And, for the fan of modern art, you will enjoy the collection of work by Andy Warhol, including the massive Hearts:

Baltimore Museum of Art Hearts by Andy Warhol.jpg

The Baltimore Museum of Art is located at 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218. Telephone 443-573-1700.  Admission is free.  The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Hours vary by day for the remainder of the week, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

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Cape May Lighthouse, NJ

Cape May Lighthouse, NJ

The Cape May Lighthouse was built in 1859, but it was actually the third lighthouse to serve Cape May.  The previous two were the victims of an eroding shoreline and are now underwater.

This lighthouse became automated in 1946 and is still operational today.  It is over 157 feet tall, and has 199 steps that you must climb to reach the top.

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The lighthouse has two separate walls. The outside wall is cone-shaped, and is 3 feet 10 inches thick at the bottom, and 1 foot 6 inches thick at the top. The inside wall is a cylinder with 8.5-inch-thick  walls which support the spiral staircase. The walls were designed to withstand winds several times above hurricane force.

There weren’t many photo opportunities inside that staircase, but I did snap this picture as we got to the top… I think this is looking up into the area where the light is located, above the observation deck and off-limits to visitors.

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Once you climb those 199 steps and catch your breath, you might find that you are breathless once again, but this time for a much better reason.  The views from the top of the lighthouse are stunning, even on an overcast day like we had when I was there.

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The Cape May Lighthouse is located at 215 Lighthouse Avenue in Cape May, NJ, inside Cape May Point State Park.  Telephone 609-224-6066.  

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The Concrete Ship

The Concrete Ship

During and after the first World War, the Liberty Ship Company of Brunswick, Georgia, produced 12 ships made of concrete.  The second one was the SS Atlantus.

The Atlantus had a short but successful run of about two years, during which it  was used to transport American troops back home from Europe and also to transport coal in New England.  In 1920, it was retired to a salvage yard in Virginia.

Six years later, the Atlantus was purchased by Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld for use in the creation of a ferry dock out of her and two of her sister ships.  The plan was to dig a channel to the shore where the Atlantus would be placed, and the other two ships would be placed in a Y formation, creating a slip for a ferry to dock.

However, those plans didn’t last very long.  In June 1926, about three months after the Atlantus had been towed to Cape May NJ, a storm came up that caused the ship to break free of her moorings and run aground 150 feet off the coast.  And she’s been sitting there every since.

Digital StillCamera

However, time has not been kind to her.  there is very little still visible, so if you want to see a real life shipwreck and in you’re in the Cape May area, go check it out.

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The SS Atlantus  is located off of Sunset Beach, Sunset Blvd, Cape May, NJ 08204.

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

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Hands down, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is my favorite art museum in the world.  It houses more than 227,000 objects spanning 2000 years of world history.  There are amazing things to see in this museum.  Works by Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, Botticelli, Magritte, and so many other famous artists.

But my favorite aspect of the museum is how it re-creates entire rooms from different times and locations.  Instead of standing on the outside looking in, you are standing on the inside and looking around.  It is a phenomenal way to experience art, an the closest thing to time travel I’ve ever experienced.

There is a Venetian bedroom from the 15th century, a drawing room from New York City in the Roaring Twenties, a drawing room from an 18th century English home, etc.  My favorite is the 13th century French Cloister.  Here, you can listen to the gurgle of water in the stone fountain, gaze up at the dusk-colored ceiling, and look at the patterns of the tiled roof.  I could easily spend an hour or more there, just soaking up the atmosphere.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Medieval Cloisters

The museum also has a phenomenal collection of arms & armor, which Hubs and I both love because so much of it is from our favorite time period of the Renaissance.  Here are a few of the things we saw:

Philadelphia Museum of Art Swords

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There are ancient religious relics, too.  Pre-Renaissance, most art was done for churches.  One of my favorite pieces is a wood statue from 1500-1525 called Christ Mocked and Presented to the People, artist unknown. There was one point when I was in a room on the opposite side of the museum wing, and I looked through the doorway of the room I was in, and this statue was framed within the doorway of its room. It was breathtaking.

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One of my favorite things, though, was Gallery 161, exhibiting paintings by some of the world’s most favorite artists.  There were Monet and Manet, Renoir and van Gogh.  I got to stand right in front of them all, and it was awesome.

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Point of Trivia:  The 72 steps leading up to the museum entrance are known as “The Rocky Steps” because Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps in the Rocky movies.  You can even see a statue of Rocky at the base of the steps.

Climb up those steps, and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty amazing view of the City of Brotherly Love:

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BARGAIN ALERT:  On the first Sunday of the month and Wednesday evenings (5:00-8:45 pm), the admission is “Pay What You Wish.”  There is no set fee for admission.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130.  Telephone 215-763-8100.  Closed Mondays.  Opens at 10:00 am Tuesday-Sunday.  Closing times vary by day; check the web site or call when planning your trip.