Sunday, September 25, 2011

My friend and I cashed in on another Groupon to take a discounted tour of Washington D.C. on a segway.  We had seen and laughed at these ridiculous tours for the past few years, so why not make ourselves the butt of the joke, and maybe learn something new along the way.  These tours tend to be spendy at over $70 per person, so the Groupon gave us a great excuse to make our segway dreams come true. 

My goal for the tour was to have fun and hopefully learn one new thing about the city.  We had a brief safety instructional video and ten minutes to practice zooming around the park across the street -- impressing every single one of the many homeless people, let me tell you, with my mad segway skills.  Since segways are essentially Wii Fit boards on wheels, I was a professional the moment I hopped on!

First stop was Lafayette Park and the White House.  That photo on Pennsylvania Avenue does not adequately demonstrate just how dorky we all looked as a group!  It was on this stop that I fulfilled my goal to learn about one new thing:  The Blair House and Winston Churchill's occupancy there during his frequent visits to FDR.

Next, we headed to the National Mall to check all the boxes on the best monument photo stop list, finishing this tour segment at the U.S. Capitol.

We returned to the start of the tour via Pennsylvania Avenue.  Overall, I was very glad that we had not paid full price for the tour because the content and commentary was severely lacking.  There were so many missed opportunities for the guides to take the group to interesting sites, not even off the beaten track sites but major must-see places -- Fords Theater, FDR Memorial, etc.  Along the stretches going from Point A to Point B, there was very little commentary on what we were seeing.  So while I accomplished my goal -- learn something new while being a dork on a segway -- I was really disappointed with this outing.  Maybe it was the tour company - Capital Segway.  There are two other segway tour providers in the DC area that I am aware of - Segs in the City and City Segway Tours - so you may want to consider those as alternative options. Hopefully some of the walking tours I'm planning on taking in the near future will fill my need for more interesting trivia on DC.


Posted on Sunday, September 25, 2011 by Julie


On Saturday, the Washington Nationals hosted a fantastic Kids Day event - furry kids that is - Pups in the Park!  Surprisingly, I did not hear the dog anthem, "Who Let the Dogs Out," once during the entire game.  What a missed opportunity.

Webster was a very attentive fan, giving his support to the Nats, of course!

He was literally on the edge of his seat during some plays.

And like a typical kid, begged me for ballpark junk food.   

Posted on Sunday, September 25, 2011 by Julie

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What better way to express your creativity than with a painting class where (1) you can be as messy as you want and you don't have to clean up after yourself; (2) you are encouraged to bring a bottle(s) of wine with you; and (3) you have your close friend by your side encouraging not let the curse words fly when you can't get a straight line to save your life!!!

For Friday Night Fun Night this week, we braved the traffic jams characteristic of Georgetown on a weekend evening to head to Blush 'N' Brush. Tonight's challenge: New Orleans French Quarter

Sample from website calendar

First, we started with our base layers of blue, red, and black, adding the shading and the 2nd floor railing.

Next, came the detail work...and associated expletives that come only when you're using a giant brush to do highlights the width of a toothpick!!  A little inventiveness on my friend's painting when there wasn't room for the lamppost - a sconce.  Well done, J!

And after only 3 1/2 hours....VOILA!!  Please note my artistic license with the mardi gras beads on the ground and caught in the railings.  It couldn't be a NoLa street scene without them!  Not bad, right?  I changed the green color to more of a lime - just my preference.  I'm most pleased by the lamppost.

So if you're looking for something to do with your friends to change up the evening activity selection, definitely consider finding a fun painting class.  Blush 'N' Brush offers approximately 20 different classes each month, and the calendars change all the time.  Sign up early for the popular paintings, like Starry Night!  Next month's calendar is usually posted mid-month.  This was my third class, and I will be returning -- maybe even have a private party for my birthday???  I am also considering a foundational course from The Art League located at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria, VA.  Community colleges are other potential resources for courses for the aspiring casual painter or hobbyist.  Whatever the class, wherever the location, the point is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new!  It's art and it's fun.  It's also a great way to balance out a stressful work day/week.

Result of Blush 'N' Brush Painting Class #1:  Starry Night DC Cherry Blossoms

Result of Blush 'N' Brush Painting Class #2: Abstract Poppies

Posted on Sunday, September 25, 2011 by Julie

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Monday, September 12, 2011

This weekend was a mini adventure with my good friend to Annapolis, Maryland to catch a late summer glimpse of the sailboats and take a photography walking tour that was a refresher course for me on DSLR basics, composition, and photographic storytelling.  It was also a great opportunity to take my new toy out for a spin - the new Nikkor 40mm f2.8 macro lens!

The tour we joined was another Groupon deal through Phototour DC.  If you're looking for a group photography excursion in the DC area, this is a good way to go, or I've also participated in two tours given by Washington Photo Safari.  Penn Camera also organizes tours and classes.  Before you take any of those tours, though, I HIGHLY recommend you take a course from Okello Dunkley through DSLR Workshops. He has now expanded to all over the east coast and sometimes schedules dates in other parts of the country and international locations.  Check his calendar for details.  I have taken his Take Your Camera Off Program Mode Part 1 and Part 2, and I have sat in on private tutorials he gave my mom when she visited a few years ago.  Fantastic teacher!  Great person!

On the tour of Annapolis, we had four stops:

1. Annapolis Market Square and wharf

2. A Historical Street

3. Maryland State House Hill

4. Annapolis Yacht Club

But the prize winning photo of the day, entitled "You've Got Something on Your Face!," was.....

He was such a trooper!!! 

Posted on Monday, September 12, 2011 by Julie

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Tonight, I spent an hour and a half learning about the composition of beer, the chemistry of beer, the varietals of barley and hops, and the brewing process all for one purpose:  to finally figure out what my "go-to" beer is when I go to restaurants!  I always struggle with beer menus, and I always end up ordering something that is ok, but - I'm going to say it - isn't my refreshing preferred bottle of Bud Light!!  Oh wow, I just heard you wince!!  I know, this is pathetic to have the McDonalds of beers as my "go-to," especially with my 20+ years in Portland, Oregon, where there are more craft breweries per capita than anywhere else in the US.

On the tasting menu tonight was one lager and three ales:
  • Kona Brewing Company Longboard Lager (Hawaii)
  • Widmer Brother X-114 IPA (Oregon)
  • Abita Brewing Company Turbodog Brown Ale (Louisiana)
  • Ale #3 whose name is escaping me (senior moment)
First, we learned about the composition of beer: water, malt (usually barley), sugar, hops, and yeast.  Pretty simple, right?  Next, we had the opportunity to smell and taste three different types of malt.  The first was a traditional light barley that tasted like grape nuts.  The second, a medium color, was called crystal malt and tasted more bitter.  If you're really into sucking of espresso grinds, then the chocolate malt is for you, as it was super bitter.

After a review of the different stages of the beer making process, it was time to taste!  What I found interesting is that, just like wine, beer connoiseurs look for clarity and color, beer head (creamy or rocky), smell (I caught some espresso, tropical fruits, honey, and straw in some of mine), and taste - both front taste and after taste.

At the end of the day, I walked away from the class knowing more about beer.  I liked the brown ale the best of the four we tried tonight.  I also learned that the best glass to drink a beer is a large tulip class - both for maintaining the flavor and for presentation.  Unfortunately, I'm still going to have to continue my quest for my perfect "go-to" beer.

If you're interested in taking an Introduction to Beer course as well, check out the Washington Wine Academy's DC School of Beer.  The cost of the class is $38 plus $10 for the tasting.

Posted on Friday, September 09, 2011 by Julie


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Part 1 of a whirlwind two week tour of three SE Asian countries was a brief, two day adventure in and around Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.  This customized tour was organized through a fantastic tour operator: Exotissimo, based out of Thailand and an expert travel agency for SE Asia destinations.  At first, I wondered why an Asian travel company would have an Italian name, and I had my suspicions because the quote I got was so reasonable.  It had to be a con, right?  I was wrong!  Every part of this trip was perfect - hotels, private guides, private drivers, food, sightseeing, flexibility in the tour itnerary, customer service, etc.  Everything could not have gone smoother!  The guides were very knowledgeable - one pursuing a masters in tourism (Vietnam), one had a graduate degree in art history (Thailand), and one was a former Buddhist monk (Cambodia) - and tremendously accommodating to my travel style.

I digress...back to Vietnam! 

I think it's important for Americans to visit Vietnam now, especially people in my generation, in order to appreciate the choices that our parents had to face in the 1960s with regards to the war in Vietnam, as well as the long-term impact of the war has had on the country and its people.  To be honest, I've read several books on the war, and I still do not claim to fully comprehend the political motivations behind the decision to send our military to the region, nor the complications that prevented us from leaving earlier.  What I do recognize is that the 1960s were a different time, and I concede that I probably will never get all the answers I desire due to the sensitivity to the subject felt on both sides.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is now a densely populated city where mopeds and bicycle tuk tuks seem to be the preferred mode of transportation.  I saw a family of four one morning on a tiny little moped, taking the kids to school.  Crazy!

My guide on our tuk tuk rides
 After the long flight from the US, it was important to stay awake in order to combat the inevitable jetlag.  My guide was waiting for me at the airport to drive me into the city.  First stop was a popular HCMC Chinese market, Cholon, where we wandered the stalls for a bit looking for souvenirs.

Next, we toured around the city by car to view some of the french colonial architecture and historical sites associated with the war and the fall of Saigon in April 1975.

Old Post Office
City Hall
Rex Hotel - home for many war correspondents during the war
Hotel Continental - another preferred hotel by reporters
Reunification Palace, formerly Independence Palace
Gates of Reunification Palace
North Vietnamese T-94 Tank Crashing Through Gates of Independence Palace in 1975
 Our final stops included a visit to the War Remnants Museum, originally called the "House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government (of South Vietnam)" and later renamed to the Museum of American War Crimes or Museum of American Atrocities.  Needless to say, the displays were not the easiest to view as an American.  The last stop on the city tour was to Thien Hau Pagoda, a Chinese meditation temple.

After a long, jetlag induced sleep, my guide picked me up in the morning to head out to explore more of the Tay Ninh Province.  Specifically, I had requested a trip to experience the Cu Chi tunnels.  These tunnels are miles of underground tunnels and rooms that provided shelter for the villagers of Cu Chi, and became the base for the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive.  American soldiers hated these tunnels because the entries were very small and hidden, providing an advantage to the VC when attacking patrols by surprise.  Just look at my tour guide at Cu Chi coming out of one entry hole!

During the tour, we had the opportunity to "walk" through about 30 yards of the tunnel system, and it was a very slow process!  Most of the time the height of the tunnel would be no more than 3 feet, and at times I would have to turn to the side to get through.  The sad thing is that, since the reopening of Vietnam for general tourism, the operators of the Cu Chi site have widened the tunnels to accommodate the larger size of the average tourist, especially from America.

After Cu Chi and stop for lunch, we arrived at a fantastic site: a large Cao Dai temple.  If Disney were to be a religion, this is the kind of temple I would imagine people would build to worship Mickey Mouse! 

 Cao Dai is a derivative of Buddhist teachings that also makes reference to the Hindu idea of opposite forces: one entity splitting itself to create a God and a Goddess, or a yin and a yang, in order to maintain balance.  

On our return to Ho Chi Minh City, we stopped at a lacquer handicraft factory that employs artisans who are all suffering from various Agent Orange related handicaps.  Fantastic lacquer pieces, and I, of course, bought all my Vietnam souvenirs there!  That evening, after my quick two day stay was over, I said goodbye to my guide and driver at the airport to continue the journey in Cambodia!

Posted on Wednesday, September 07, 2011 by Julie