Category Archives: History

Fun facts about Washington D.C.

Do you know what the hardest part is about coming back from an amazing two-week vacation to the Mid Atlantic states? Well, it’s coming back. Out of the many times I’ve visited that region, I’ve never been there during the tree blooming season. This year, we managed to be in the area right during peak bloom, and I can only thank our school district’s vacation schedule for this coincidence. The week before we arrived, only a few trees were blooming, and the week after we left, the blossoms were being blown away by high winds and rain. We had 90% blooms during our stay. That’s what I call pure luck.

Coming from an area of the country where flowers and blooms are rare and sparse, this was a welcome sight – burst after burst of colors everywhere we looked. Oh, did I hear you say allergies? Well, knowing that my kids and I are allergic to tons of things in the San Diego air (dust, tree pollen, weeds, you name it, we’re allergic to it) and miserable all year round, I figured it wouldn’t be worse on the East Coast. Actually it was 100% better. As in, we had NO allergies the whole time. Of course, 10 minutes after getting out of San Diego airport, we were already sneezing. Nice.

We got to spend the first five days of our trip touring Washington D.C., the following weekend visiting my friend in Delaware, and the next few days in Virginia. My kids got to see the famous national monuments for the first time, visit the best museums in the country for free, stare in awe at the REAL spangled star banner (it’s HUGE!), walk around the Tidal Basin with another million tourists, see robins, cardinals and other critters, visit George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s estate at Monticello, admire the beauty and size of the Luray caverns, see many local animals at the Virginia Living Museum (first time my kids saw raccoons and beavers), and enjoy walking in real grass under real trees.

I’ll showcase a lot of the photos I took of these places and animals on my photography website over the next few weeks, but today I wanted to share a few fun facts we learned while touring Washington D.C.

Spring break is the busiest season of the year for the capital. About 600,000 people reside within the city limits. At spring break, 1.2 million people buzz around the streets of D.C. Honestly, we’ve been to the San Diego Zoo in the summer enough times to be ready to conquer any crowds, so this didn’t scare us.

With so many people, traffic can be a problem in Washington D.C. I drove in it and can tell you it’s not worse than driving in Paris. Except those drivers from Maryland. Watch out for them, they’ll run you off the road if they can! Oh, and watch where you park. The city manages to collect $92 million in parking tickets every year. We saw lots and lots of parking police officers hard at work…

Washington D.C. is one of the greenest cities you’ll ever see in the U.S., and that’s probably because a law passed a long time ago says that for every tree cut, two more have to be planted. That makes D.C. a beautiful city to walk and look at.

Talking about trees, the original cherry trees donated by Japan to the U.S. feature white blossoms. Most of the cherry trees that were planted later on display pink blossoms. Honestly, I don’t care what color they are, they’re beautiful either way, especially when they’re all blooming at once.

White cherry blossoms in Washington DC

White cherry blossoms in Washington DC

Some botanist got the brilliant idea years ago to cross a pink cherry tree with a weeping willow. The result is called a cherry weeping willow, or a weeping cherry tree, and there are lots of them in and around D.C. and many of them are very large (20 to 30 feet tall). All I can say is, wow!

Pink cherry willow blossoms in Washington DC

Pink cherry willow blossoms in Washington DC

And talking about pink, how about those pink magnolias? Double wow! Also called “tulip trees” because of the shape of their flowers, they’re everywhere in the city. You can guess I took many, many photos of those.

Pink magnolia blooms - tulip tree blossoms in Washington DC

Pink magnolia blooms – tulip tree blossoms in Washington DC

Let’s talk about the Washington Monument for a minute. It was still under renovation while we visited and is supposed to reopen in a few days. I thought it was closed because of remodeling purposes, but it was damaged in the August 2011 earthquake, the one with a magnitude of 5.8 in Virginia, less than 100 miles from downtown D.C.

Washington monument in Washington DC

Washington monument in Washington DC

By the way, did you ever notice the two different hues of marble on the Washington monument? A light hue for the bottom part and a darker one above? That’s because the monument construction stopped for several years, when people were arguing if it should be built at all. Once the argument was settled, the quarry had run out of marble in that specific location, so they had to extract marble a little further away, which explains the difference in color. One more funny fact: the Washington monument is made of “Texas granite marble” and of course it comes from… Maryland!

Alright, one very last funny fact about the Washington monument: when the elevator was originally installed, only men could use it. That’s because it was considered a safety issue and people thought women and children were safer taking the stairs. Right… It would take the original elevator 17 minutes to go up and down the monument, so maybe the elevator wasn’t much faster than the stairs anyway.

Other monuments in D.C. were damaged in the 2011 earthquake, including the Washington National Cathedral. You can actually see the stones and gargoyles that fell off during the earthquake, as they’re piled up by the entrance of the church. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be close to it when it happened. By the way, if you want to see the inside of the cathedral, plan to shell out $20/person. No need to say, we didn’t bother going in. How do you like my postcard picture?

National Cathedral in Washington DC

National Cathedral in Washington DC

Finally, if you’ve ever being to D.C., you’ve probably noticed the many statues of military men on horses. It seems that every military general, or even officer, that fought in the American Revolution or the Civil War has his own statue in the city. One funny fact about these horse statues: they all face the White House. So if you’re ever lost in the city and are looking for the White House, look for a horse statue and you’re all set!

Military man and horse statue in Washington DC

Military man and horse statue in Washington DC

Do you know other fun facts about the Washington D.C. you’d like to share?

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Nelson Mandela: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The
brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~
Nelson Mandela

It always seems impossible Nelson MandelaThis is one of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela, which I found when I was reading his book Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela several years ago. Like many people of my generation, I have a great admiration and I have found tremendous inspiration from this “simple” (he herded goats as a kid), yet so powerful man. While serving his life sentence in a high-security prison on an island with a similar setting as Alcatraz, he became THE symbol of political oppression, not just for South Africa, but for all the oppressed people in the world. His fortitude and resilience are what kept him alive, and his belief that peaceful, yet continuous attrition was the way to defeat Apartheid led to his liberation in 1990. I remember watching Nelson Mandela coming out from behind those prison walls, walking down the long road alone, as a symbol of his strength. After so many years of foreign pressure to free him, it seemed surreal to see him walking in the sunlight as a free man.

What’s even more inspiring about Mandela is how much he accomplished after he obtained his freedom. Already in his seventies, he worked with De Klerk to eliminate Apartheid once and for all, which led the two men to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, something inconceivable just a few years earlier.

Mandela quote - leave hatred behind

There are many books and movies about this amazing person, but my favorite has to be Invictus. It portrays Mandela’s first year as president, and his insistence on leading towards reconciliation, not revenge, as a way to unite his divided country as soon as possible. And one surprising way he did that was by insisting that the South African rugby team manages to win the Rugby World Cup, which was scheduled to take place in South Africa the next year. At the time, it seemed an impossible challenge, as that team happened to be the worst team of all world teams. You HAVE to see this movie to believe what Mandela was able to pull through. Don’t forget your box of tissues.

Mandela and the South African rugby team

Mandela and the South African rugby team

Nelson Mandela is the type of leader many country presidents aspire to be but will never become. That’s how you realize what a truly amazing Mandela was. One in a million. Today I am very sad to hear of Mandela’s passing, but I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to witness first hand this part of history. And one day I can tell my kids about it.

Invictus is a poem by William Ernest Henley. Mandela explained in the movie Invictus that reading this poem often while in prison was one way for him to keep his head high and follow his beliefs. When you read these words, you’ll understand how appropriate they are for him..

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.