Roses on the Ascension

20 May

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The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America has beautiful gardens and I’d have to say the crowning jewels are the roses.

This morning I decided to attend Mass at the monastery and snap some shots before the roses fade away for the season. When I found myself at the Ascension Chapel, a praying visitor reminded me that it was the chapel’s feast day, the fortieth day after Easter which commemorates Christ’s ascension to heaven.

Climbing on the portico walls to find good lighting and healthy flowers, I was accompanied by huge bumblebees. While they were buzzing around, their determination was so focused that I didn’t need to worry about them bothering me. It was fun to just watch them do their late springtime thing.


Embassy Days Part 2: Shortcut to Europe

12 May

After last week’s awesome meanderings around the world, I couldn’t wait for this weekend’s adventure: Europe. We started early and on the outskirts so we beat the crowds. Our itinerary centered around food and dogs – the two most important things in life


Egg artists

At our first stop we were greeted with tiny cups of delicious food and wine. At first we were leery of the sauerkraut, potatoes and bacon but it was perfect. As we pined for more, we wandered around the airy rooms admiring the tables of glossy travel brochures and displays of traditional costumes and modern art.

I really enjoyed looking at the decorated eggs. One woman used a technique, which my family had actually tried at Easter this year, where she used a razor to etch a continuous design around the egg. The woman said she had learned from her parents and practiced for years (seven?).


Austria was chosen because the promotional materials promised apple strudel demonstration. We didn’t see the demonstration by sampled some nice flaky pastry and juice from an Austrian fruit that I can’t remember – Red Bull and coffee were also available.

Live musicians played and little girls in dresses twirled around the room. Keeping with the food theme of the day, we tasted cold-pressed pumpkin seed oil.

Sugared and caffeinated, we boarded a shuttle and traveled to our next country.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic had the most extensive and detailed presentation,  all centered around the theme of movie. Apparently, many films —including big Hollywood blockbusters such as the “Bourne Identity” and “Mission Impossible”— have been filmed in the Czech Republic. I was excited to recognize “Closely Watched Trains,” a film from my European cinema class, on a poster.

As we walked up to the embassy, a youth choir was singing (some of them had been on the Metro with us). Then, a comedic Renaissance stage combat team demonstrated different types of fighting including swordsmanship.

And, of course, I must tell you about the food we sampled: The Bohemian spa wafers reminded me of a flat, fancy sugar ice cream cone (but in a good way – there were flavors like hazelnut). We also tried kolaches, traditional Czech pastries, from Bistro Bohem, the only Czech restaurant in DC. Mine was kind of like a pudding, but again, in a good way.


Cute summary of embassy days: younger generations carrying on traditions and teaching others

So my favorite stop of the day was of course Hungary because of the kutya – dogs! I was so excited that as soon as I chomped my way through a pretzel-type thing and made my way through security, I strode determinedly through to the embassy and didn’t stop until I found a dog.

In a room across the patio, I man had a friendly long-haired dachshund and I asked if I could pet it. Content, though slightly disappointed that that was the extent of the dog experience,  I continued down the steps and out into the embassy’s backyard and saw the most glorious sight: dogs, several of them, running around. Before I had asked a random guest to pet his dog but now I had found the real deal.

I had seen vizslas , the Hungarian hunting dog, on Animal Planet but never in person.  Their playful energy and rust-golden coat and matching eyes hooked me instantly. One super friendly sweetie covered my face in wet-tongue kisses and then tried to sit in my lap.

Talking to the dog’s owner, she told me the butt-to-owner position is a common stance for vizslas. She thought it was unique to her dog but at an event with other vizslas she saw dozens of other dogs doing it as well. They like to see what’s going on around them while staying close to you.

In addition to the vizsla, Hungary is known for the puli, a herding breed that bears a remarkable resemblance to a mop (or, as you might remember from the beer commercial, a head full of dreadlocks).


After I had fulfilled my doggie needs, my friends and I headed down to the most concentrated cluster of embassies in DC. We wanted to go to Belgium for the chocolate, but the line was too long. We wanted to go to Finland, but the line was too long. All of the embassies had lines that rivaled those of popular Disney rides during peak tourist season.

At that point, I gave up. My feet were tired and it was hot. There’s always next year.

Embassy Days Part 1: Island Hopping

5 May

The typical tourist highlights of DC are monuments to American leaders, and museums about American art and history,and institutions of American government. And while the National Mall is a great place to visit, so is Embassy Row.

The annual Around the World Embassy Tour invites guests to visit the embassies from Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Americas. On this one day, the doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the embassies host special exhibits and performances. The free tour is part of Passport DC, a yearly month-long celebration of international cultural awareness hosted by Cultural Tourism DC.

More than 40 embassies were participating today, but my friends and I only made it to five. Had we started earlier and not stopped for Cinco de Mayo margaritas, we maybe could have made it to more. However, some of the embassies had long lines and were not necessarily very close to each other.

At the end of the day as we enjoyed our Cinco de Mayo suishi, our group of 10 realized that  we only visited island nations.

The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesian embassy

Indonesia had the most beautiful embassy. Since my visit, I have learned that it is in the Beaux-Arts style and was a private residence. When you walk in, your eyes follow the cherry staircase up to a stained glass ceiling. In the back, in the Garuda Room, there’s a massive Baroque wood organ next to the golden eagle of the Indonesian coat of arms.

When we arrived, they were doing trivia and were preparing for a performance of child dancers. But because it was a bit stuffy and crowded, we worked our way outside to watch the martial arts demonstration. I was surprised to see that they used scarves when fighting. I was even more surprised to see that scarves could be an effective combat tool. Other than putting the opponent in a choke-hold, the scarves seemed to be more effective as a defensive tool by grabbing and redirecting an opponent’s fist, knife or foot.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas reminded me the most of my childhood Global Day experiences when each elementary school class would represent a country and other students would come to visit and learn (though in second grade we weren’t a country…. we were space. Leave it to the gifted kids.) At this embassy, we never stopped moving. We snaked through some rooms with displays of handmade crafts and posters talking about the history and industries of the islands.

As we followed the queue outside, we heard music and were handed samples of delicious, moist rum cake. Some of my friends won key chains as we moved past a table where they asked trivia questions such as how many islands make up The Bahamas? (Answer: 700) The next thing we knew were back on the street, looking for a new embassy to explore.

I don’t even have photos of the embassy because it all happened so fast.


The end of the earthquake number

We followed the crowd at the Haitian embassy up the stairs to a large empty room where we were told to sit. A man in jeans introduced himself as the Haitian ambassador and then handed the floor over to a dance group and drummer. The dancers had three numbers: an attention-grabbing an opener, an emotional interpretive dance about the January 2010 earthquake and then a big party number complete with umbrellas and Haitian flags.

After some deft leaps and twirls, one of the dancers in a butterfly mask fluttered on the perimeter of the audience and offered me her hand: She was inviting me to come up and dance. I gave her an incredulous look and shook my head, gesturing to the purse and camera on my laugh, “I have all this stuff!” She wasn’t taking no for an answer so I looked at my friend Jamie who told me to go for it.

So I handed my stuff off and followed the dancer to the center of the room where thankfully other audience members were also jamming out. At a certain point my dancer left to drag in a little girl and give her a flag to wave. I danced aimlessly around by myself until it the music subsided and I found my way back to my seat. I danced in the Haitian embassy; not many people can say that.

Dancing at the Haitian embassy (I’m on the right in turquoise)

On our way out, I grabbed a paper cup of punch to quench my growing thirst.


The only photo I took at the Australian embassy: The photo-op aboriginal packing up at the end of the day

Australia was the only embassy where we were able to try both food and drink. As we made our way through the metal detectors, men in cute straw hats and striped shirts handed us tickets for wine – my sweet, bubbly pink stuff was certainly tasty. Women walked around with big trays of Vegemite on toast and I felt a little apprehension as I slowly put it in my mouth. I had heard awful things about Vegemite. Turns out, it’s not that bad.

While at the embassy, I accompanied my friend as an Australian daughter of a serviceman gave my friend a temporary tattoo of the Australian flag. We had started to walk into the auditorium to see the aquarium exhibit but we turned right around when we saw the big yellow snake.

Trinidad and Tobago

We headed to the embassy of Trinidad and Tobago because one of the girls in our group had a friend from there, but the festive street-party-like atmosphere pulled us all in. The ringing of steel island drums competed with the sound of Andean pipes drifting from the neighboring Embassy of Peru. Men walked around operating massive puppets that danced. It was an upbeat way to end the day.

It’s kind of cool because it looked the massive puppet was sitting on the operator’s shoulders. Their feet were connected and the operator could control the arms with sticks.

The humid, up-hill hike walk around Massachusetts Avenue  today was one of my favorite experiences in DC. Where else can you wander from country to country in one afternoon? Not even EPCOT can compare. Next weekend I get to do it all again with the European Union member embassies during “Shortcut to Europe.”

I highly recommend planning your next trip to the capital around the Passport DC events.

Fire + slow shutter speed = art

2 May

While the s’mores were good, my roommate and I had more fun drawing with the flames after tonight’s bond fire.

Cherry Blossoms

19 Mar

I’ve waited all winter for this: the famous DC cherry blossoms. As a Floridian, I shivered my way through all three snow flurries and slipped on my first patch of ice. I shivered in my bed at night and walked to work with chattering teeth and a frozen nose.

But over night the cold disappeared and the city blossomed. Yards are decked with perky bright daffodils and tulips of yellow, pink, orange, red and purple. Yet all these little flowers are nothing in comparison to the majesty of the cherry blossoms down by the Tidal Basin.

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They’re truly an enchanting sight.  Walking around the water, it felt like I was in Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Strolling along, little petals float off the trees and swirl around

The blossoms were surprisingly…white. I definitely expected them to be pinker. My roommate and I found about five solidly pink trees. Perhaps the trees get pinker with time?

One million tourists visit the capital every spring to see the trees, and this year is the 100th  anniversary of the gift of the blossoms from Japan.

Since February the city had been tracking the progress of the blossoms.  Reports say that they’re supposed to peak this week, starting tomorrow.

January bonfire

8 Jan

Last night was a fairly mild for January, so my roommates and I decided to make the most of it by making a fire in our backyard. This was my first excursion to the backside of our property.

Cathleen headed up the construction of the fire, selecting the best branches from the yard and arranging them just so. She was our resident expert having built so many fires at her family’s camp in central Pennsylvania.

I gathered what I would call “urban kindling” – dryer lint and junk mail. Admittedly, our clothes smelled a little funny from all the weird stuff we burned.

The other roommates made a run for s’more supplies. I had been craving their chocolatey toasty goodness forever so the treats definitely hit the spot – even though we had to use gluten-free marshmallows because our closest grocery is a health food store.

The change of scenery (and the brisk air) made for a refreshing Saturday night. We often spend our downtime watching movies, so it was nice to hang around the campfire. Without leaving DC, I was transported back to  my Girl Scout camping trips and college retreats. There’s some kind of quiet nostalgia about watching the flames flicker as you get comfortable in your sweatshirt.

U.S. Botanical Gardens

7 Jan

The weather was so beautiful today that I decided that I had to get out of the house. My roommate Rachel agreed to make a trip with me to the U.S. Botanical Gardens.

On the way to and from the gardens, we stopped by the reflection pond outside of the Capitol.

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My favorite part of the gardens was the orchid room – so many colors! So many shapes and sizes!

There was also a cool room about  the uses and associations of plants. In addition to the quotes and poems there were interactive features that allowed you to smell herbs and spices, test your knowledge of plants or explore the associations people have with certain plants (ie: red roses for love, evergreens with Christmas, tulips with Holland).

Ending the day on a sweet note, we stopped at a crepe stand in Chinatown for strawberry and Nutella French goodness. One of the many reasons I love Chinatown.