Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Birchmere: Charles Esten and N'est Pas

Date of Visit: December 26, 2017

This year has been kind of disappointing in terms of there haven't been any artists playing in the D.C. area that we were even tempted to go see. Thus, we were glad Chip continues the tradition of playing The Birchmere when he's home for the holidays and with two shows again this year.

Mik didn't particularly like the opening band, which was also Chip, but in his college band. Not that he didn't like the music, but it went long and thus the concert seemed to last longer than Mik expected. He also just found it weird that Chip basically opened for himself.

Mik's favorite part was when Chip did the walk through the room thing. Since Mik can't really turn his body to see, he lost track of where Chip was and when Chip touched his shoulder from behind I thought Mik was going to be like I’m never coming again because usually he hates when things cause him to jerk and start to tip his chair back, but instead he was smiling and like that was awesome.

The Birchmere continues to be our favorite venue and we particularly like how when they repaved their parking lot they made it so it's ramped up to the sidewalk along the side of the building so the line up before it opens really is accessible now. However, they seem to have an official policy to let wheelchairs in first and a line number isn't really needed and I'm not so sure I agree with that policy.

Hopefully next year there's more than Chip that we want to see there. (The Oak Ridge Boys are playing in March, but unfortunately it was announced after I went through the hassle of getting Blake Shelton tickets in Baltimore that night and as much as Mik has been wanting to see Blake we so would've rather got tickets for The Oak Ridge Boys here and tried to see Blake at pretty much any other venue.)

Destination Info:
The Birchmere
3701 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22305

Monday, November 27, 2017

U.S. Botanic Garden: Season's Greenings 2017 - Roadside Attractions

Date of Visit: November 27, 2017

This year's theme seemed like a good one and overall it was, but as Dad had warned us it wasn't one of the better years. It really was probably the least enjoyable and part of it is that they are making a new exhibit or something in the West Gallery so there isn't the big Christmas tree that is always one of our favorite things to see. Also, it just didn't seem like there was a much to see as normal or it really could just be that last year was our favorite.

Mik's favorite part was Lucy the Elephant.

He was yet again disappointed by the little tunnel that is too short for him to roll under, especially since that is where the Cadillac Ranch model was located.

The Jolly Green Giant, though, was quite impressive and my favorite part.

We also liked the new addition of the National Museum of African American History to the National Mall landmarks in the Garden Court.

Destination Info:
United States Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20001

Monday, November 20, 2017

Museum of the Bible

Date of Visit: November 20, 2017

I had reserved our tickets for the Museum of the Bible as soon as they opened reservations and ended up with 8am tickets. Apparently, the museum doesn't open to the general public until 10am and the system shouldn't have let us, but they honored the tickets for the few of us that had ended up with the tickets as they do open at 8am for members (and sounds like also groups, but there were no groups). It ended up being a great way to enjoy the museum almost entirely to ourselves, which makes us think that museum membership is potentially worthwhile even if you only visit once.

The start of the museum is a little awkward because at least at this point I don't think anyone is showing up without tickets yet you are directed to the ticket counters to get started. I don't get why they don't just have people standing inside the door after security to scan your ticket like they do at the ballpark, for example. With there being less than ten people there at 8am it wasn't a big deal, but when we were leaving at 11:30am the line was backed up to security because there really isn't space for a line for the ticket counter. It just doesn't make sense other than they just really want to have you go to the ticket counter so they can try to get you to donate and do the paid attractions.

We started our visit on Floor 2 with the Bible in America exhibit. Mik had fun with the interactive Bible on the Map display. We kind of rushed through it, though, and also never got back around to the Bible in the World exhibit because we had 8:45am tickets for the Hebrew Bible on Floor 3.

On Floor 3, we ended up only checking out The World of Jesus of Nazareth exhibit because the Hebrew Bible was currently not working. The World of Jesus of Nazareth was an interesting exhibit designed to be an immersive experience that reminds me of visiting historic sites that have reenactors as there were a few people there acting as villagers that you could interact with. While it was kind of a small exhibit, it was probably our favorite because it was well done with there even being sound effects such as water splashing in the ritual bath area.

Our other favorite part of the museum was the elevators. The ones to the Mezzaine level are sort of interesting with the walls having script on it, but the ones between the main floors are really cool as they have video screens showing scenes on them. Also, the buttons are big and nicely labeled with what's on the floor rather than being just numbers.

The exhibit we spent most of our time in, though, was the History of the Bible. Here it was interesting to see not just the various Bibles, but the evolution of writing and printing in general as the some of the examples texts on display were cuneiform on clay, Torah scrolls, and illuminated Bibles. It was also interesting that it focused on how the texts became translated into more and more languages.

After the History of the Bible exhibit, it was around 10:30am and Mik was hungry. All along we had planned to try out the Manna Restaurant on the top floor, but they ended up not being open yet. Thus, instead, we checked out the Milk & Honey Cafe, which is worth visiting even if you don't get anything as there's a small display about the history of the building on one wall. In particular, it was interesting to learn that they took out every other floor in the building as part of converting it into the Museum of the Bible and it explains why the cafe level has such low ceilings as they preserved the original floor height in this area.

Overall we enjoyed the Museum of the Bible, although having it almost to ourselves probably significantly contributed to our ability to really enjoy what we did get around to seeing. We still plan to visit again to see the Hebrew Bible attraction and what we missed on Floor 2 and the temporary exhibits on Floor 5, but we'll probably have to become members because it really was nice to be able to start at 8am other than we were then done too early to check out the Manna Restaurant.

Destination Info:
Museum of the Bible
400 4th St SW
Washington DC 20024

Monday, September 11, 2017

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Date of Visit: September 11, 2017

Since we ended up having to cancel our WDW trip that was supposed to start yesterday, Mik and I decided it's about time we go to the Sackler Gallery. Well, that didn't happen as seems to always happen when we plan to go. This time it's because it's closed until the new temporary exhibits open next month. Thus, we decided to visit the National Museum of African Art, which is another Smithsonian that we have never visited (even I hadn't!).

The National Museum of African Art building is located in the Enid A. Haupt garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. The entrance has a button to activate the automatic door (and also serves as the accessible exit). It is a set of two doors and the button for the first door worked going in and out, but we couldn't get the next door to open either way. Both doors work, but there's only one button in the area between them. I'm not sure if there is a trick of like being patient enough for the first to close and then hit it to open the second or what, but it sure was quicker to just open the door manually.

We spent most of our visit in the main permanent exhibit called "African Mosaics." It seemed to contain mostly masks, but there was still a decent amount of variety to the art on display, especially considering it's not that big.

Visiting the African Art Museum for the first turned out to perhaps not be the best choice currently as at least half of its temporary exhibit space was currently in transition and even the supposedly indefinite Disney-Tishman Collection was closed. Also, for us, the only temporary exhibits open were not of much interest because they were video art. We did enjoy the permanent collection exhibits open ("African Mosaics" and "Currents: Water in African Art"), but found it ended up feeling more like when we go to a museum just to see a new temporary exhibit since there wasn't much to see here. Definitely, a museum that should probably be visited when you can connect over to the Sackler or at least the second sub-floor temporary exhibit space has something in it.

Destination Info:
National Museum of African Art
950 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20560

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hampton Inn & Suites Nashville @ Opryland

Date of Visit: July 15-16, 2017

As we only decided at the last minute to swing through Nashville to see a show at the Opry, our choices for lodging were limited. Hilton is usually the last place I look for a hotel even though Mom has plenty of points to use for free nights because I hate their website (and if I plan to pay for a room it seems more worthwhile to earn at Hyatt or Best Western). In the end, though, this worked out great as we used points to stay free and even managed to book AND get an accessible room.

The room was very spacious. The bathroom was also a good size. There was also a seat for the tub in the closet.

Destination Info:
Hampton Inn & Suites Nashville @ Opryland
230 Rudy Circle
Nashville, TN 37214

Monday, July 17, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

Date of Visit: July 15, 2017

We started our visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic with the movie in the Visitor Center. The theater is set up with areas in the back row as well as in the middle of the front row for wheelchairs. Upfront seemed too close, so we sat in back, although that then kind of seems too far as the size of the screen is somewhat small for the size of the room. It was still a very worthwhile movie to see, though.

After the movie, we headed up to the Birth Home, which was being done as an open house from 10am to 11:45am during our visit. When we got near the house we saw a sign pointing to an accessible entrance by the house next door. It turned out that was the access to the gift shop, which has a ramp up into it on the backside.

From the gift shop, they directed us over to the house from the backyard as that’s where the accessible entrance is to the house. They made it clear it was somewhat difficult that way, so it wasn’t unexpected that we had to go through the grass and there was a step up onto the paver sidewalk into the Birth Home backyard.

Once we were in the backyard, it isn’t clear what to do because the tour starts in front. Thus, we went down the path to the front, which is an easy access path and really the way to access the Birth Home. Once in front, there was a line down the sidewalk waiting for their turns. It was impossible to get to the back of the line and half the line ends up going up steps before you even get to the park rangers. Mom cut through the line to get up to the porch and ask the park rangers what to do. They didn’t exactly seem to have a protocol other than obviously the wheelchair enters through the back. Mom just suggested she’d wait in line and then they could let us in from the back when she got to the front.

Overall this concept worked except the park ranger let us in from the back and we just assumed they were letting us in because Mom was on the next tour. She was supposed to be, but the ranger letting the group in said they only had room for one more person and Mom thought she couldn’t join because she was saving space for us to join. No big deal as she just ended up one tour behind us and it’s not a long tour, but it kind of added to the house tour not really being all that worthwhile.

The Birth Home tour wasn’t bad, but they sure pack you in and it really felt rushed through without much information given. Also, it was only the first floor because the second floor was closed, which to some extent we knew could be the case because the lift to it might be out. However, it was unexpected that the second floor was off limits to all tours due to structural problems and there isn’t a notice about that on the website.

On the way back to the car from the Birth Home, we walked through the King Center outdoor area with the reflecting pool, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tomb, and an eternal flame. There are stairs to access the area from the street, but there is also a ramp on both ends and one end actually had the stairs closed off and only the ramp access was open.

Destination Info:
450 Auburn Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30312

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Embassy Suites Atlanta - Galleria

Date of Visit: July 14-15, 2017

When I booked the Embassy Suites Atlanta - Galleria using Mom’s points, I really thought I had selected a mobility accessible room, but the reservation email didn’t mention it. When checking in we asked if it was an accessible room and it wasn’t, but they checked what they had available. They didn’t have a roll-in shower (of which we learned they only have 1), but had other ones, which was fine with us except when we got up to the room we discovered it just meant it was only with the hearing accessibility features.

While it is slightly inconvenient to not have the larger bathroom, the rest of the suite was plenty spacious that we didn’t bother to try to change it, especially since we were just staying the night. Also, the bathroom was pretty typical hotel size and not small like when you end up at places with the sinks outside the bathroom such as most Best Western and Hyatt Place non-accessible rooms we’ve experienced.

Mik really enjoyed the living room area as even when the sofa bed was out there was still plenty of floor space. Not that he had any need to use it this trip, but he also liked he could reach and use the microwave, which was about the only thing that made it seem like potentially an actual mobility accessible room.

Overall this hotel was a good pick for this trip as it was very convenient to go to the ball game at SunTrust Park. We drove to the ballpark, but they do offer a shuttle as well. I would just be more particular next time about making sure I’m getting a room with accessible bathroom.

Destination Info:
Embassy Suites Atlanta - Galleria
2815 Akers Mill Road SE
Atlanta, Georgia, 30339

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Best Western Travelers Rest/Greenville

Date of Visit: July 13-14, 2017

As we were booking on the road, we were not surprised to not be able to find an accessible room. In fact, we had a hard enough time booking anything without getting closer to Atlanta than we really wanted for the day, especially considering Mik ended up wanting to go to the Zentrum and we backtracked to it in the morning before continuing on to Atlanta.

We ended up with a room with 2 double beds. Overall it wasn’t bad, but the beds were extremely high and the double size seems even smaller so high up. Also, the bathroom was quite small, but not too different than we get stuck with the non-accessible rooms at Hyatt Places. The only real problem with the room was that the shower was confusing/broken. It was hard to figure out how to get hot water and then when you did it got stuck too hot.

The breakfast area was also problematic. There is not really enough room to roll into it much less through it. Partly it was due to all the tables being occupied, but even if it was empty with all the chairs pushed in it seems like it would of been hard. Another problem is half the seating is a high table. Luckily, one group noticed those were the only available seats when we were trying to find a place to sit and offered to move so we could sit at a regular table. The food was as expected, though, and Mik enjoyed having a waffle.

Destination Info:

Best Western Travelers Rest/Greenville
110 Hawkins Road
Travelers Rest, SC 29690

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Zentrum BMW Visitors Center

Date of Visit: July 14, 2017

As we were almost to where we had decided to stop for the night on the way to Atlanta, I pointed out the BMW Visitor Center sign as we went past the exit. Mik actually expressed interest in visiting and at first we were going to do it on the way home, but it is only open on weekdays. Thus, we decided we could backtrack to it and move visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. NHS to Saturday.

There isn’t a whole lot to see at the BMW Zentrum, but we still found it a worthwhile detour, especially since it is free. Mik really enjoyed seeing the old BMWs, but he also liked checking out the current models.

Destination Info:
BMW Zentrum
1400 SC-101
Greer, SC 29651

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

Date of Visit: July 13, 2017

We spent most of our visit to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in the Visitor Center. Mom saw the movie, but Mik again wasn’t interested. Instead, we enjoyed the exhibit area.

We found the exhibit to be a good size in that it has a lot of information about the site and events along with artifacts while still being not that large of an exhibit overall.

One of the most interesting parts of the exhibit was the wall of windows that look outside to where they have put up some silhouette soldiers kind of as if the battle was going on.

We also walked some of the trails near the visitor center. The trails seem to be mostly paved paths and we certainly would’ve done a lot more of it including the other stops on the driving tour if it hadn’t been so hot and humid.

Monument Row behind the visitor center was the main part of the trail we checked out.

Mik also liked when we went into the woods behind the parking lot while waiting for Mom to finish checking out at the store. The trail didn’t have anything specific to see as far as we went (first sign, which really wasn’t far at all), but we liked that it did have information signs to read like when we did the Henry Hill Loop Trail at Manassas.

Destination Info:
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
2332 New Garden Road
Greensboro, NC 27410

Booker T. Washington National Monument

Date of Visit: July 13, 2017

When we were taking pictures outside the visitor center, they were starting the movie. Mik wasn’t really interested, but Mom and Dad went in and saw it. We saw the end of it when we went in and found it was being done in the bookstore instead of their normal theater because that area was under construction.

After the movie, we did part of the trail down to the plantation. The trail down to the reconstructed slave cabin is paved without much of a grade.

The cabin is not accessible to go into, but you can see most of from the doorway.

The smokehouse is nearby and the grass isn’t hard to go through to go look into it (visitors aren’t allowed inside). Past here you can go down to the tobacco barn, but it was hot and humid and Mik wasn’t interested in a grassy/wooded area trail excursion.

We did, however, go down the part of the trail that is paved for the horse barn and chicken and duck lot area. This part of the trail does have quite a steep hill and really there isn’t much to see except Mik did enjoy seeing the turkey in the chicken and duck lot.

Overall our visit to Booker T. Washington National Monument was somewhat of a disappointment. Partly it’s just hard to really enjoy outdoor sites with the humidity. It was also hard to enjoy the trail when there were no signs even just labeling what building we were looking at. The main thing, though, was that the visitor center was under construction and the exhibit area wasn’t available.

Destination Info:
Booker T. Washington National Monument
12130 Booker T Washington Hwy
Hardy, VA 24101

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Manassas National Battlefield Park: Stone Bridge Trail

Date of Visit: June 18, 2017

The Stone Bridge Trail is one of the accessible trails (or at least partly accessible) at Manassas National Battlefield Park. It is also one of the stops on the driving tour, so it has a parking lot next to it.

The Stone Bridge Trail is a rather short trail that is mostly a paved path that goes up to the Stone Bridge. The trail is only considered accessible up to the bridge.

Right before the bridge there is a bump to go over and the bridge is not technically accessible due to the slope, but it's not that difficult to go across the bridge. The trails on the other side of the bridge are where it really is no longer accessible partly due to it being a stepped trail down. While not much of a trail, Mik still found it interesting to be able to check out the bridge.

Destination Info:
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas, VA