Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHSDate of Visit: March 28, 2012

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site was not much of a visit, but at least I did get us National Park Passport stamps for it and the nearby Carter G. Woodson House NHS (not currently open to public).  I could not find any info on whether this was an accessible site or not, so we went fully knowing Mik might not be able to go in.

It turns out that there are two sets of steps up to it not to mention the tour probably is multiple floors.  Of course, I did not directly ask if there was wheelchair access, but there definitely was not a sign and a Park Ranger was buzzing to be let back in and I would think he would have said something if there was because he passed us on the street while we were still taking photos before I went up to the door.

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS
Anyways, it is a historic house and that's just the way it goes sometimes.  Neither of us actually toured the house (I sure was not going to leave Mik sitting out there by himself!), but we count it as visiting it towards out National Parks visited count as we did go right up to it.  Since we had low expectations, it was not a disappointment and in fact Mik still really enjoyed seeing the flowers in the yard.

Destination Info:
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site
1318 Vermont Ave NW
Washington, DC

Francis Scott Key Memorial Park

Francis Scott Key MemorialDate of Visit: March 27, 2012

The Francis Scott Key Memorial Park is located on the Georgetown end of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.  The park is on the site of the house he lived in as a lawyer in the early 1800s.  The memorial area is rather flat, but there is a rather scary steepness down to the canal and waterfront right next to the crosswalk you must use to get to the park from Georgetown.  The other side of the park is accessed directly from the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Francis Scott Key Park
Mik was not to into us stopping at the memorial, but only because it was cold and windy that day.  After we got over there, though, he did want me to read some of the informational signs to him.  I think the trees growing up the columns is pretty cool.

Destination Info:
Francis Scott Key Memorial Park
M Street between 34th and 35th Streets (next to bridge)
Washington, DC

Old Stone House

Old Stone HouseDate of Visit: March 27, 2012

The Old Stone House is located in the Georgetown area of DC and is part of the Rock Creek Park National Park Unit.  Georgetown is the least accessible area of town partially due to the Metro not having a stop actually in it, but also because it is more historic along with hilly like the Virginia side of the river.

We walked the little over a mile to the Old Stone House from our hotel near Rosslyn.  The Foggy Bottom Metro is slightly closer, but if you really want to mostly avoid the hilliness and uneveness of M Street there is a convenient Metro bus that you can take between the Metro stations with stops regularly along M Street.

Mik was not too into the outing to the Old Stone House, as it was so bumpy on the M Street sidewalks and they are slanted towards the street, so he had trouble sitting up straight.  I suspected it was not accessible, but I somehow got the idea that you can access the first floor.  You totally can, however, it is not exactly accessible.

Old Stone HouseThe front door is the one you are supposed to go through and once you get inside it does have a ramp down into the gift shop.  However, outside it is about a six inch tall threshold.  We started by going into the garden on the side before even looking at the front door, so when I went around to the front door and saw it was a big threshold I already knew that the one on the side did not look as bad.

I went in and asked if there was wheelchair access and the rangers looked confused (admittedly it was only one guy's second day) and said yes just this floor and I had to specifically ask if they could open the other door because it looked easier to get in using.  Basically, who would go if you cannot really see the whole house and Georgetown is not the best getting around in a wheelchair.  However, they were friendly and immediately were okay with letting us use the side door.  Only one room and a gift shop to see, but at least Mik could come inside while I got the 7 National Park Passport stamps they have here, which was our main purpose.

Overall the Old Stone House is not really a must see unless you are wandering around Georgetown in general, which is kind of interesting even if it is hilly.  By the way it is not far from the very popular DC Cupcakes featured in the TLC show.  M Street is not too bad, but boy do the hills leading north of M Street seem really really steep!!!  It was still cool to see the only house remaining in DC with its original pre-Revolution foundation and definitely worth it if you collect National Park Stamps.

Destination Info:
The Old Stone House
3051 M St NW
Washington, DC

Art of Video Games Exhibit at Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Art of Video GamesDate of Visit: March 26, 2012

Mik was excited to go see the Art of Video Games Exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (see our accessibility review and more general visit recap from last year here).  The exhibit was pretty interesting showing video footage of a variety of games to illustrate the way graphic art has changed in video games over time.  Mik especially liked the area that showed the different game console systems along with example footage from four different games per system.

Another cool part of the exhibit is that there are some giant screen gaming stations that you can play.  There are a few different games to play from different systems, although the only one I can remember off the top of my head is Pac-Man because we actually tried that one.  Mik could reach and use the controls fine, but he quickly tired of it because he stunk at it.

Overall an awesome exhibit and worth checking out even though we did not want to see anything else at the museum that day.  It was definitely a convenient stop on the way back to the hotel after Ford's Theater.

Destination Info:
Smithsonian American Art Museum (same building as National Portrait Gallery)
Between G St and F St and 7th and 8th St
Washington, DC

Ford's Theater National Historic Site

Ford's TheaterDate of Visit: March 26, 2012

This time of year we could have gotten day of tickets on the weekday without much trouble, as when we got there to pick up ours most tours had tickets available.  However, our noon tour was sold out and it is worth the convenience fee to have them reserved.  We choose to pick them up via will call because the other options cost extra.

We arrived at Ford's Theater about an hour early for our tour, since I knew I had to at least pick up the tickets.  It took us awhile to figure out that the door everyone lines up outside of for the tour is actually the one to go in for the box office.  Then it took about 15 minutes to pick up our tickets even though we were next to be served because the two ticket people were helping people buy show tickets.  We had purchased the audio tour tickets, but I did not realize we were supposed to then pick up our audio tour things before getting in the ticket entry line.

The walkthrough is self-guided and it is just timed entry.  Depending on the time you choose you get access to the museum and a theater walkthrough or just a visit to the theater for a ranger talk.  You also get access to Petersen House with all tickets, but I do not know how that works since I am pretty sure it is not accessible.  Additionally, you get access to the Center for Education and Leadership next to Petersen House, which I did not realize at the time, although it is accessible since it is new.

Booth's Gun
Overall we enjoyed the museum, although it was annoying that a school group gathered up waiting for everyone to meet at bottom of stair exit making it hard to view the end of the exhibit.  They did seem to try to be as out of the way as possible, but there just is not much room in the museum.  It would probably be best to hand back while the line comes down the stairs and join the back of the timed walkthrough group.  After the museum you take the elevator back up to the lobby and be confused by there being no sign of what to do next.

We wandered over to the ticket scanning spot and the person who escorted us earlier to the elevator was there and escorted us down the ramp to the theater.  From here you can see most of the theater, although the upper seating blocks the view of the boxes somewhat, although I image if you manage to not skip the balcony access you would get a decent view still.

Ford's Theater
After we were done looking at the theater, I was waiting at the bottom of the ramp to go back up when the security desk ranger came over and let us out the deliveries door right there.  The timing was right when a tour entry started and I just figured we would wait for the entry line to clear and head back up the ramp.  Going out the deliveries door was fine, although I guess we should have done the balcony before the main theater level.

By the way, I was not impressed with them for not being visitor friendly and informative since they did not tell us about picking up our audio tour first or that we could go to balcony or have a sign or say you might want to go check out the stuff across the street included with your ticket.  Not to mention the ranger in the theater was rather rude to the school group yelling at them to go only one way and not sit down when he could have politely informed them, as they really did seem like a well-mannered group and it would be my guess the signs are not obvious or helpful from the rest of our experience here.

It does not seem right to have to know yourself, especially since the wheelchair route through is not an obvious route.   I kind of get the audio tour thing, but no one ever said anything to us and I did not realize until we were down in the museum that we were supposed to get them up by will call.  Between the person at will call just handing us tickets and the person scanning them it would seem they would tell you, hey go over there to get your audio tour.

The other two things just mean having signs, which would also be helpful for knowing that you do not have to wait for the incoming line to clear for you to go back up the ramp from the theater, but can leave through the delivery entrance right by theater.  However, at the same time this means you do not end up going to the balcony, which you can do from the same elevator that goes down to museum.

Destination Info:
Ford's Theater
511 10th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center

US Navy Memorial Heritage CenterDate of Visit: March 26, 2012

We have been to the U.S. Navy Memorial several times, but somehow never noticed that there was a U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center next to it.  The only reason I knew to look for it this time was that there is supposedly a National Park Passport Stamp for the memorial at the Heritage Center Bookstore.  We did not find it, but then again we did not ask about it and the whole place seemed to be in a major overhaul mode.  It must be there, though, as the day after we visited it the last confirmation date for the stamp in the Park Stamps database.

On the level you enter the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center there is not much other than a ship model.  There is an elevator and stairs down to the exhibit space and bookstore/gift shop.  There was not really much to see, as they were taking stuff down and had ladders and such in a big part of the area.  The bookstore had the displays of items so close together that Mik could not get his wheelchair through most of it.

US Navy Memorial Heritage Center
Overall we wish we had skipped the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center.  Not that it does not have potential to be an interesting stop, but they were actively dismantling exhibits and there was clutter of coat racks in the elevator hallway and such.  The U.S. President's Room was interesting, but really it was not worth the visit at this time.  Now if there was not exhibit turnover going on it would be a great stop other than Mik did not like that the buttons to select the floor you wanted to go to where at about his eye level.

Destination Info:
U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center
701 Navy Memorial
Washington, D.C.

Netherlands Carillon and Iwo Jima Memorial

Iwo Jima MemorialDate of Visit: March 25, 2012

Mik wanted to make sure he saw the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial/Iwo Jima Memorial while we were in DC, since on the first day he bought a miniature of it for his miniature collection and we also got the National Park Passport stamp for it at Arlington National Cemetery.  Since after the MLK Jr Memorial we were closest to the Arlington National Cemetery Metro stop, which was one of the closest to the Memorial, we just decided to walk to it.  We then just walked back to our hotel, which was near Rosslyn, the other stop near the memorial.

Arlington Bridge
The walk was not bad, but it is hilly with a rather steep part as you approach the Netherlands Carillon before you get to the Iwo Jima Memorial when coming from Arlington National Cemetery.  The route between the Rosslyn Metro and the Memorial seems shorter and not as steep overall.

Netherlands Carillon
The Netherlands Carillon is not all that interesting to look at, but it does have interesting lion statues in front of it.  It would have been nice to hear it ring on the hour, but we were there right between the hours at 12:30 p.m. exactly and it was too cold and wet (just sprinkling) for Mik.  However, there were some great patches of tulips in bloom nearby.  Mik really loved seeing the tulips with his favorite being the orange ones.

Iwo Jima Memorial
Mik was ready to be back at the hotel by the time we got to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I did not insist we cross over to actually go up close to it because I have seen it before and understood he was cold and wanted to be indoors.  So we just took a picture from the path across the street and continued on to Rosslyn.

Note: Both memorials are part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway National Park Unit.

Destination Info:
Netherlands Carillon and Iwo Jima Memorial/U.S. Marine Corps Memorial
Northside of Arlington National Cemetery
Washington, DC

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Date of Visit: March 25, 2012

Last year the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial construction made going to the Tidal Basin memorials from the Lincoln Memorial confusing, but now that it is a memorial to walk through to get to the Tidal Basin path.  We came from the Washington Monument and entered between the two big rock shapes, which is the same way you would come from the Lincoln Memorial.  However, if you came from the Tidal Basin, such as from the FDR or Jefferson Memorials, than you would first see the Martin Luther King Jr. statue part of the memorial.
MLK Jr Memorial

The MLK Memorial includes walls stretching out on both sides from the rocks and center path.  The walls have quotes from speeches.  In the center of the Memorial is another giant stone.  It seems just like another stone from the way we came in, but as you get to the side of it you will see that on the other side is Martin Luther King Jr carved out of it.   On one side it says "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

MLK Jr Memorial
The MLK Memorial is now the newest of the many memorials worth seeing in the National Mall area, but the part Mik loved the most was the bookstore and restrooms building.  Like many of the bookstores and monument doors in the area, it does have button operated automatic doors.  The part that most impressed Mik, though, was that it was the first time he had seen the buttons used for the bathrooms.  Mik especially appreciated that there was a Family Restroom and even it had a button outside and inside, although it was a little on the small side and would have been somwewhat difficult to go in there with him in his power chair.  Still it is adequate and much better than the older facilities in the area.
MLK Jr memorial Family Bathroom

Also, in the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Bookstore we got 3 more National Park Passport stamps.  The first one we got was the Martin Luther King Jr MEM one, which filled up the last spot in our National Capital Region section of our 25th Anniversary Passports.  The way I do it we fit 40 stamps on the 5 pages with 13 of them being from last year's visit when we first bought them after forgetting our original passports at the hotel the day we did the memorials.  This time I did not forget those ones and the extra 2 at the MLK Jr Memorial (National Cherry Blossom Festival and National Mall & Memorial Parks ones) are the first ones in the National Capital region of those passports.
National Park Stamps

I was really excited about doing those stamps in mine because now my passport has a stamp in each region.  I started my original one in 2007 and after the ballpark trip in 2009 I had stamps in all regions except the National Capital region.  It was driving me nuts that I did not have any in that region, especially since I lived in the DC area between September 2007 and April 2008.  Not to mention I could have gotten some on the ballpark trip, but did not think of it at the time.  Mik only got his original in February 2011, so he only has one Western region and now 2 Capital region stamps in his original.  In the 25th Anniversary ones we do not yet have any from the North Atlantic or Southwest, although this summer we will hit some in the Southwest region.

Destination Info:
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
On Tidal Basin near intersection of Independence Ave and West Basin Drive
Washington, DC

Washington Monument Bookstore

Washington MonumentDate of Visit: March 25, 2012

The Washington Monument is currently closed from earthquake damage that occurred back in August 2011.  You can still go up pretty close to it, but if you cannot go up it, it is kind of better to just view it from afar.  There is a typical sloped path up the hill to it for those that do want to walk or roll up closer.  The main purpose for our visit, though, was to get all the National Park Passport stamps they keep at the Washington Monument Bookstore.

The Washington Monument Bookstore is located at the bottom of the hill on the east side of the monument (i.e. on 15th Street).  The bookstore is very small and barely has just enough room to fit the wheelchair through, but not so much with it being crowded with people.  I just left Mik right inside the store. There was still just enough room for others to walk around him while I went over to the stamping station, which is on a high counter that Mik would not have been able to see or use unless he enter with his powerchair in a standing position, but then again he probably would not have been able to manuever through the small store like that anyways.

Mik felt claustrophobic having to wait for me, but he did like the warmth of the store.  If the weather was nicer, he would have much preferred to stay outside.  For most National Park Passport stamping locations even waiting in a tiny store would not have been annoying for Mik, but he had to wait almost 10 minutes for me because there were 24 stamps to get, which means me stamping 48 times (once for each of our books).  At least there was not a line when I got to the stamping station, so I got done as quickly as possible, but there was several people waiting to use them by the time I finished.  Mik got concerned about where I was and he was stuck with people on all sides and could not go anywhere, but he also liked that we got a bunch of stamps and they are all places we have been to and many we had never got the stamp for before.

National Park StampsNational Park StampsNational Park StampsNational Park Stamps

After getting the stamps at the Washington Memorial Bookstore, we only had room for one more stamp in the National Capital Region of our 25th Anniversary Edition National Park Passports.  It was a good thing I brought our older regular National Park Passports because now we collected some in the National Capital Region of those instead of putting the extras in the Additional Cancellation pages, which I want to save until we fill a particular region pages in both books.

Destination Info:
Washington Monument Bookstore
East of Monument at bottom of hill
Washington, DC

White House Visitor Center

White House Visitor CenterDate of Visit: March 25, 2012

The last time we went to the White House Visitor Center was back in 2006.  It really has not seemed to changed much since then other than the video they show is at least partially updated with there being footage of the Obamas.  Interestingly, though, some areas still do not include them, such as the Presidential medals display not including Obama.  If it was 2009 or even 2010 that would be understandable, but seriously its 2012 and it seems ridiculously outdated.  Now if they just stopped doing the Presidential Medals, then it should at least say something about it.  However, I rather doubt the tradition has ended.

The Visitor Center was still worth a visit for us, though, as we got 2 stamps for our National Park Passports.  One is for the Star-Spangled Banner National Trail and the other is for President's Park - The White House.

National Park Passport Stamps

Overall the White House Visitor is still a nice stop, if you have not been there, yet.  They have a button operated automatic door.  The security check requires all bags and stuff in your pockets to be put through machine, but they did not do a pat down of Mik like at the airport.  However, they did ask for him to lean forward to make sure he was not hiding anything behind his back.  Also, if you walk through the metal detectors are on here, which is not always the case at the Smithsonian Museums where at least this time of year are usually just looking through bags.

White House
After the Visitor Center we were going to just head over to some memorials on the National Mall, but I realized Mik did not remember ever actually seen the White House in person.  He might have when he was little, but I am pretty sure even in 2006 we did not walk up to it.  We just went and saw it from the Ellipse side, which coming from the Visitor Center required a rather round about way of going the long way around a statue (Sherman?) due to the road blocks and steps by the quick way to walk in.  However, it is not a big deal and really it is better to walk further and view the White House from the Lafayette Square side, which provides a closer view and there are some good statues to look at in the square.  It was cold and we were trying to get the memorials done as much as possible before it began to rain, so Mik was only up for the viewing it from what was closest for us at the time.

Destination Info:
White House Visitor Center
Southeast corner of 15th and E Streets
Washington, D.C.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery

Eternal FlameDate of Visit: March 24, 2012

It was a rainy day, so we took Mik's manual wheelchair.  We planned to go all the way up to Arlington House (the actual National Park), but we only got as far as the President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Gravesite before the rain began to really come down and it got to be too hard to keep pushing Mik up the steepness.  This would have been much better with the power chair if only it had not been raining.

The cemetery's website notes on accessibility only mention that you can get a pass to drive your vehicle to the sites by showing your handicap placard at the visitor center.  They do have a tour bus option that you can pay for to take you to the main places, but not sure if they are easily wheelchair accessible because I did not want to pay the $8.75 per person even if it was.

To Eternal FlameTo get up to the JFK gravesite there is handicap ramp up to the right.  Once you get to the top there is another smaller ramped path up to the eternal flame.  There did not seem to be access to the area of the memorial with steps up to it at top of first ramp and before the stepped way up to the eternal flame.  However, it really started to rain when we got up here, so did not even go and see that part myself.

Eternal Flame
Overall the ramps to the gravesite and eternal flame are fine.  At least grade wise they are good.  The only problem was that as we came down the narrower one from the eternal flame it is not quite even with the main path.  Mik's front wheels do rather stink on his manual chair compared to past ones, so even this minor unevenness meant trouble.  Normally I can tilt the chair back and the little wheels off the ground, but due to the backpack and going down an incline there I had to turn the wheelchair around to get over the stupid little bump.  On a good weather day I probably would not have mattered, but when it was rainy and slippery it seemed like a big thing.

Even though we did not get up to the Tomb of the Unknown or Arlington House, it was worth just going to the Eternal Flame.  This was Mik's first time here and he was pretty impressed seeing a flame as we got up to the gravesite and it was raining.  Of course, at the time he only knew we were seeing JFK's grave or I did not tell him it was called the Eternal Flame.

Destination Info:
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Gravesite
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Center

Arlington National CemeteryDate of Visit: March 24, 2012

Our goal for the day was to see various things at Arlington National Cemetery.  Because of the rain, we took Mik in his manual wheelchair.  Because of the hills and the rain, we did not see quite as much as we planned, but we did at least get some National Park Passport Stamps, which was a top priority for us.

Visitor Center
We started with a stop at the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Center.  There are ramps up and automatic doors to enter on the far end.  Inside we grabbed a map to help guide us to the other places we wanted to go.  Mainly, though, we just headed to the bookstore.

National Park Passport Stamps

At the bookstore we got four stamps for our National Park Passports.  The stamps were for George Washington Memorial Parkway, Marine Corps War Memorial/Netherlands Carillon, Arlington House - Robert E. Lee Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery.

Destination Info:
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

First Adventure Travelling with Power Chair on Airplane

Mik got his awesome power chair that can put him in a standing position back in December 2011.  Yesterday was the first time we took it on an airplane.  We suspected it could be an adventure/misadventure, as there always seems to be a high probability of one every time we fly.

In Chicago as the boarding was finishing for our flight to DC, the gate agent came in and asked if the back can be taken off the wheelchair.  Since, we had just gate checked the manual wheelchair, I thought she was taking about it and told her there were release levers for it.  She came back a few minutes later and asked me to come show them.

I thought the manual chair was just outside the door and I would quickly help them.  Well, they then escorted me down the steps to below the plane and around to the cargo loading area.  It turned out they wanted to reduce the height of the power chair.  I do not know how they did in on the first flight, but here they were trying to not put it on its side and did not know how to make it flatter.

I have not done much playing with Mik's controls, but I knew if could lay flat since it can go laying to standing.  It took me about 5 minutes, but I figured out the recline mode and got it flat so it could go in the cargo area without being laid down.  It was then kind of funny to watch them roll it up on to the conveyor belt tilted down as they had to release the brakes to roll it up there and then of course with the brakes released it tried to roll backwards.

As usual our flight out of Chicago was delayed.  I am pretty sure it was pretty much entirely the power chair's fault, but it was nice that they cared about not putting it on its side if they could avoid it.  Now I know to lay it flat when we check it in, but I kind of liked getting the adventure of going below to see them load it.