Yesterday was a touristy sort of day.
When James first got his job with State, and we were here a couple of years ago for his initial training, a lot of State folks we knew hit the International Spy Museum:
Back then, we were torn. The price is INSANE, the boys were a bit younger, and there was so much free stuff out there that we just couldn't justify paying $70 for the four of us to hit the Spy Museum when DC was stuffed full to overflowing with amazing, free attractions. (I can hear David (EF'M) reminding me that NOTHING is FREE; that it is all supported by our tax dollars, which is true, but saying something is free-except-for-our-tax-dollars-of-course is really long.)
So we passed on the Spy Museum back then.
This trip, our boys are a bit older (ages 16 and 11), and we've since hit a lot of the wonderful offerings that are either entrance-fee-free or very, very reasonable. We figured: it's time. So we went yesterday.
You can't take pictures inside, so these outside shots are all I have to offer you until we get to the part about our visiting the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery (which is, quite literally, right across the street from the Spy Museum), but I will do my best to tell you about it so that you, Dear Reader, can decide for yourself whether shelling out wicked sums of money is something you would like to do, also. (In addition to the $70 entrance fees, we paid $10 each way on the Metro for our whole family to travel downtown.)
Okay, the Spy Museum. Where to start?
First of all, I am sincerely grateful that we did not go two years ago. This is NOT a young-person-friendly museum. AT. ALL. There is nothing hands-on, and you are packed like sardines inside the building with nowhere to go but to follow the traffic flow. I would imagine that younger children - and when I say younger children, I'm saying that my 11 year old (Zachary) was just at the right age to continue to be interested in everything the museum had to offer - would last through the first few rooms, but that's it.
You get into the museum, you pay your money, and you take an elevator up to the top of the building, where the walk-through, self-guided tour begins with an interesting movie (perhaps 8 minutes long?) about how there are spies everywhere (Washington DC is full of them?) and you might make a good spy if you memorize phone numbers quickly and easily (which I don't, not that I would ever have wanted to "be a spy," or whatever).
It's an interesting little movie, and when you walk out of the theater, you start a self-guided tour through tons of different-themed rooms. Lining the rooms are blown-up photographs of spy equipment, or replicas of spy equipment, or little blurbish biographies of spies and how their cover was blown or what have you. Interesting stuff, if (once again), your children are old enough to continue to be self-engaged in reading stuff on the walls... for a couple of hours.
Some nifty stuff I really liked included:
~ A 3 or 4 minute movie about how locks are picked.
~ A 3 to 4 minute movie about bugging rooms/different kinds of bugs (Bottom line: if someone wants to bug a room and have you not know they did it, they'll totally be able to pull that off without your even knowing that the bug is there).
~ And, on that same vein, did you know that Russia successfully bugged a Main State room with a sophisticated bug in 1999? Yeppers. And the Russian spy that kept retrieving the messages was caught and PNG'd back to Russia.
~ A whole room devoted to spy pigeons. Yes, as in the bird with wings. One spy pigeon could carry thousands of messages (because the messages were so small) on its leg, and the pigeons' missions were 95% successful.
~ Biographies of different people who decided to become spies and why they did so. One of my favorites: a young wife whose husband was killed in a war (WWII, I think?) who then became a sharpshooter and was dropped behind enemy lines so she could exact her revenge. She picked off 50 something people before getting captured. She was tortured (and then killed), but never revealed any information. What an awesome woman.
Anyway... Bottom Line: interesting place, sort of like reading a history book, wouldn't have worked for us (or been worth the money) if our boys had been younger.
After the Spy Museum, we were delighted to see that the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery was right across the street! (Okay, *I* was delighted. James and Matthew were mildly interested. Zachary was horrified.)
When we went downtown, we weren't thinking of going there, but its proximity made it irresistible.
What a great place!
There were, of course, portraits, such as this one of Juliette Gordon Law, the founderess of the Girl Scouts:
And of other ladies, such as this next one whom everyone who reads my blog shall surely recognize:
There was a lovely mother-daughter pair (such a sweet painting)...
And George Washington:
Some (but not all) of the sculptures or larger pieces of art had lines drawn around them on the floor that one was not supposed to cross...or even step upon.
One line took Zachary by surprise, and he set off an alarm:
The line itself was so far away from the sculpture that my camera literally couldn't get both the line AND the sculpture into the same 35mm frame. None of us had seen it on the floor. When he backed up, off the line (he had stepped onto the line but not across it), it chirped for another second or two and then was silent, thank goodness. The guards didn't even walk into our area. I figure Zachary wasn't the first one to be surprised by this line!
There were many floors:
And we hit them all!
...interspersed with other art, such as a driftwood horse...
... the suffering Virgin Mary...
...Sculptures made out of pieces of metal and light...
... and artwork that Made. No. Sense:
This was a painting that was entirely white with two big black stripes. And that's it.
What also made No. Sense. were the different pieces of modern art that were... well... I don't know how to put it other than Icky, Gross Nudity Pieces.
I know that "art" often means "nude." I totally get that. You walk through the Portrait Gallery and, of course, you're going to see tons of this sort of thing:
It's some goddess and Pan as a baby or whatever. Fine.
This sort of thing is NOT what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is creepy, nude-for-shock-value, in-your-face-scary-nude stuff that I did NOT take pictures of and will NOT be putting on my blog. There was even a softcore porn tv-showish wall thing that had the warning, "Some content may not be suitable for children." We hurried past that wall, but even while hurrying by I saw enough of the tv-show-thing to be revolted.
WTHeck, Free DC Art Museum Place? On one floor, you have these gorgeous stained-glass windows:
And then, on another floor, you have creepy, nude, in-your-face weirdness. Truly bizarre.
Anyway, our evening continued with a quick trip to the Metro by way of Chinatown:
This is the "Friendship Archway" in Washington DC. When built, it was a $1 million piece of public artwork, and is the largest single-span archway in the world.
And it was erected because - get this - Washington DC's "sister city" is Beijing, China. I had totally never heard this before!
But Chinatown is all nifty. Check it out:
I'm thinking that HAS to be Chinese. I'll let you know in about a year. One hopes that I'll be able to read even a little bit of it by then. Maybe?
As it was a portrait sort of day, I snapped one of my child (11 year old Zachary) on the Metro:
My eyes. My nose. My personality, unfortunately for him.