Monday, May 18, 2015

A Tour Of The White House Gardens: A Review and Tips

Did you know the President of the United States lives and works in a National Park? The White House grounds are called the President's Park and is approximately 82 acres.

White House view from the South Lawn

Touring the White House gardens and grounds only happens twice a year, one weekend in the spring and one weekend in the fall. I was just lucky enough to get tickets for the Spring Garden Tour at the White House.
White House Garden ticket example

This is what you need to know when visiting the White House Gardens

  • The White House makes the tour announcement 1-2 weeks prior to the event.
  • Tickets are free and they are handed out at the Ellipse visitor Pavilion each day of the tour starting at 9am. I highly suggest you arrive before 9am, the lines are huge and once the tickets are gone, they are gone. They are usually gone by 11am, if not sooner.
  • Your entire party should be there but you could get an extra ticket for anybody in your group that is running late.
  • Tickets are time stamped and they control the crowds inside the gardens by only allowing so many people per time window. We heard about 72,000 people visit the gardens per day.
  • If you are there early enough, once at the ticket window you can request a time slot that is convenient for you, if available, otherwise, you will get tickets for whatever time is open. I requested and got 11:00am.
Google maps location of the Ellipse Visitor Center
  • As your allotted time approaches, find out which line is your time slot line. There will be plenty of people waiting at different locations depending on the time in their ticket. There will be National Park helpers that can tell you which is your line.
  • While in line there are security dogs ensuring safety.
  • You will be going through a check point that is very thorough so you want to follow the guidelines as stated in the White House website announcement for what not to bring. No food or beverages (liquids) of ANY kind or size.
  • Regarding large backpacks and large purses, don't bring them, it just slows down the whole process but worse you may not be allowed in. They will not store it for you, so pack light.
  • By the checkpoint they will separate people into lines of those with large purses versus small purses, and you can guess which line goes faster.
  • Know that your cell phone will be scrutinized.
  • Make sure you do read the announcement for restrictions on what not to bring.
Close up view of the White House

Once Inside The White House Grounds

  • You start on the path toward the White House and along the way are easels displaying historical photos of the White House.
  • The first garden you see is the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and since you cannot go into it, you really cannot see it too well.
  • Then comes the White House which when you are up that close it is quite a beautiful sight. Notice the beautiful stairs, the balcony, the entrance at the lower level, and how white the White House really is. Everybody wants a photo in front of it so it gets crowded. After a while White House staff members will remind you to keep on going because there are many more people waiting in line to get in.
View of the White House and grounds
  • Turning around you notice the beautiful view of the South lawn, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln memorial in the distance. It is quite an awesome view.
View of the Washington memorial and Lincoln memorial from the White House
  • Next comes the Rose Garden but only the tulips were in bloom and how beautiful they were! The Rose Garden is used by the President to do media events, pardoning of the turkey among others, and what a nice spot that is.
View of the Rose Garden during the White House Spring Garden open house
  • Then you see the outside of the Oval Office which I could have missed, but I asked a security staff member as to what it was and I am glad I asked. There are large windows in the office although I wonder if the President ever gets the chance to look outside his windows.
Outside view of the Oval office at the White House
  • Right next to it, we noticed a kid's playground. The security guy said that President Obama had it installed for his daughters during his first term, so glad they could still be kids.
  • But of course, the funny thing is that opposite to the playground and the Oval Office there is a putting green. I asked if it ever gets used, I was told yes but it didn't sound to me like it is used often.
Putting green at the White House
  • After this you find yourself at the bottom of the hill, on the South lawn. Looking back you have a beautiful view of the White House and a photo opportunity. The other way is the view of the water fountain and the Washington Monument and Lincoln memorial.
View of the Washington monument from the White House fountain with red tulips in full bloom
  • During this tour, the Marines were playing traditional patriotic tunes which was quite a treat.
  • The White House fountain was surrounded by blooming red tulips which was a gorgeous sight.
White House fountain with red tulips in full bloom
  • Pass the fountain is the vegetable garden established by Mrs. Obama. The White House Kitchen garden is quite large and very well taken care of. I am sure Mrs. Obama gets quite a bit of help.
White House kitchen garden in the spring of 2015

  • After that you pass the Children's garden established by Lady Bird Johnson but it was not open for viewing.
  • The exit is shortly after that.

Interesting Facts about the White House Gardens and Grounds

Wanting to know more about the gardens after the tour, I did some reading on the web and here are some interesting facts.
  • John Adams was the first president to establish a vegetable garden although I think it was torn down along the way.
  • John Quincy Adams established the first flower garden and planted many ornamental trees.
  • There are 13 regular White House staff and 12 National Park Service staff taking care of the grounds and gardens. 
The Rose Garden has had quite an evolution through the years. To see historical photos visit this website but realize that it is not the official White House website.

To see a historical timeline of the White House gardens, visit the White House Historical Association.

What I learned from my visit and reading

  • Along the way, I learned about the war garden movement and Victory gardens that occurred during World War I & II. It was a government campaign promoting home gardens for Americans to grow their own fruits and vegetables so commercial crops could be used to feed the military overseas as well as people in the war zones where the farm fields had become battle zones. 
  • During World War II, in 1942, the United States introduced food rationing; Americans had great incentive to grow fruits and vegetables. During that time Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory garden in the White House lawn.
  • By 1944, about 20 million people had planted victory gardens producing the equivalent of 40% of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. That is amazing!
If those fruits and vegetables in the Victory gardens had been grown the hydroponics way, I can assure you the production would have been much higher. I have personal experience growing tomatoes the hydroponics way

View of the White House Rose Garden in the spring of 2015

I also learned the White House grounds are more beautiful seeing them in person than on TV. 

I will be in line for the fall garden tour, let's hope it is a nice sunny day.

If you have any questions, let me know. If traveling to Washington DC in the spring is in your future plans, you should read about our Kite Festival and the Cherry Blossom Festival.

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Wishing you Happy and Fabulous travels in your area

Monday, April 27, 2015

Spectacular Weekend for Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC

Spring in the Baltimore-Washington area starts when our snow bells bloom. However, it is the blossoms of the many varieties of cherry trees that signal spring has arrived.

Snow bells blooming in early spring

Washington Monument surrounded by Cherry Blossoms

The Tidal basin in Washington DC is a wonderful place to see cherry trees in bloom. The Cherry Blossom festival is a yearly event attended by approximately 1.5million people. Even I, a local, brave the crowds to enjoy the beauty of the location.

Photo of the Washington Monument from the Tidal Basin during Cherry Blossom

Lincoln Memorial during Cherry Blossom festival

This year the cherry blossom peak coincided with the peak of the magnolia trees in the garden behind the Smithsonian castle and with the Cherry Blossom Parade.

Cherry Blossom trees against the Smithsonian castle

Smithsonian Castle garden with Magnolia trees in full bloom

Magnolia trees in full bloom by the Smithsonian castle

To say that it seemed as if the entire world was at the National mall on Saturday, does not begin to describe the crowds and multitude of visitors. Yet, despite the crowds, people were civil, cordial, and amicable; taking turns when taking photos at favorite spots. The weather was beautiful and the views were amazing.

Fun photo- Looking as if holding the Washington Monument with one hand

For how to navigate the crowds and enjoy your time, read my earlier post Cherry Blossoms Everywhere in Washington DC. Wear comfortable shoes, preferably sneakers, I can assure you nobody will notice. Also, bring a light jacket, there is always a cold breeze by the tidal basin.

The Smithsonian castle garden during Cherry Blossom festival

Did you know?

  • The trees were a gift from Japan in 1912
  • 3020 trees were given
  • from 12 different varieties
  • The tidal basin cherry trees are all Yoshino trees
  • It took roughly 7 years to plant all the trees around the tidal basin

A bunch of Cherry Blossoms in a tree

If you get the opportunity to come to Washington DC, do so during the Cherry Blossom Festival. To see our Nation's Capital monuments such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial among others embellished by the natural beauty of the Cherry trees in bloom is something you should do at least once in your lifetime. You will have many photo opportunities to record and share your visit with friends when you get back home.

Photo of Magnolia trees in full bloom

Washington Monument surrounded by white cherry blossoms

Hope to see you next year. Wishing you all Happy Travels in your area.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Treasures at the New York Botanical Gardens Orchid Exhibit

While we wait for spring to arrive with all of its colors, orchids have been flowering everywhere.

Phalaenopsis orchids shown at the New York Botanical Gardens

Recently I visited the New York Botanical Gardens to see the orchid exhibit. The subway ride (4-line) from downtown Manhattan to the Bedford Park Blvd station in the Bronx was about 30 minutes long. Most of the ride was above ground which gave me an opportunity to see sections of New York I have not see for a long while such as the Yankee Stadium.

View of the Yankee Stadium from the subway train

The hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan gave way to normal living, with many apartment buildings and with people going about their daily lives.

Apartment building view from a subway station in NYC

The walk from the station to the Botanical Gardens while not long, felt long as it was a sunshiny day but bitterly cold and windy. The walk from the station to the Gardens entry is about 15-25 minutes.

The Botanical Gardens are huge, 250 acres, but unfortunately I had no time to explore it, just enough time to see the orchids in display in the conservatory.

NYC Botanical Gardens Conservatory

The NYC Botanical Gardens Facts

  • Founded in 1981
  • It is a National Historical Landmark.
  • It is 250 acres (Central Park in Manhattan is 843 acres).
  • A tram tour is available (additional fee) that covers the entire facility with many stops along the way.
  • Numerous classes are offered for children as well as adults.
  • Many outreach programs are offered for local schools and residents.
  • It carries out many research and conservation programs.
  • Within the Gardens there is the largest botanical library in the world. It is all about botany and anything relating to the plant world. I definitely have to see it next time I am there.
  • Becoming a member automatically gives you entry to many other gardens and arboreta nationwide, so this is a fabulous thing if you enjoy visiting gardens.

The orchid exhibition is held inside the Haupt Conservatory.

Front view of the NYC Botanical Gardens Conservatory

The Haupt Conservatory was first opened in 1902. Lord and Lady Britton of New York, both botanist, wanted to build something magnificent and beautiful for the city and I think they accomplished that. It is funded by a generous contribution and endowment from Enid Annenberg Haupt, a philanthropist who died in 2005.

The general information says the Conservatory has 11 pavilions that connected form a 512 foot long C-shaped area. I am sure it is all true but I must say that once I stepped inside, I was mesmerized by the beauty of it all. At the entry is the Palm pavillion with huge high ceilings and enormous tropical vegetation. And then you are bombarded by the beauty of the orchids on display. It is a feast to the eyes, a pleasure to the senses with a feel of paradise, heaven on earth.

Phalaenopsis arranged as chandeliers hanging at the NYC Botanical Gardens conservatory

Tiger like Phalaenopsis as seen at the NYC Botanical Gardens

Many of the orchids were arranged to be displayed while hanging for a chandelier effect and wow, they were beautiful and some were enormous! There were so many orchids that it was hard to cover the entire conservatory at a fast pace, you would not want to.

Big cluster of orchids arranged as a chandelier at the NYC Botanical Gardens

Cluster of orchids at the NYC Botanical Gardens

What I liked about the exhibition

  • The orchids looked fresh and healthy.
  • Most of the orchids were from the Phalaenopsis family but with so many different colors and all in beautiful arrangements, it did not matter.
  • The arrangement of orchids as chandeliers just made me wonder how long it must have taken to prepare for the exhibit and the many challenges the people involved must have had installing the large chandeliers without damaging the orchids in the process.
  • It was a WOW view.
  • I was very pleased to see a few miltoniopsis orchids, which are my current favorite that I am trying to grow myself.

Red Miltonias orchids

Pinkish Miltonias orchids

Below are several of the photos I took, I hope you enjoy them. I also hope you get a chance to visit the NYB Gardens, it is a beautiful place.

Orchids at the New York Botanical Gardens exhibition

As for me, I am so very glad I had the opportunity to see the orchid show at the NYB Gardens. This is a New York tourist attraction that should not be missed. I will be going back during warmer weather to see the rest of the gardens.

If you enjoyed this post, or the photos, please recommend it and subscribe to my blog. If you grow orchids which one is your favorite?

Wishing you all Happy Travels in your area.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let's Go Fly a Kite at The National Mall

If it is spring it is time for the Cherry Blossom Festival at the National Mall in Washington DC. This year the festivities started on March 20 (the first day of spring) and culminate with the Cherry Blossom parade.

Tidal Basin view during Cherry Blossom Festival in DC

For three weeks the National Mall, the Smithsonian area, is full of visitors and foreigners, estimates say 1.5 million people come  during this time. It is all true, it is hectic and crowded and yet even I who live nearby cannot stay away. I also look forward to the many festivities. One of my favorites is the Kite festival.

Kites at the Kite Festival in Washington DC

Washington Monument surrounded by kites during the Kite Festival

What I don't understand is why couldn't the festivities start with the Cherry Blossom parade in early spring and end with the Kite event? In essence moving the Cherry Blossom Festival a couple of weeks forward so that the weather is truly in spring mode. I say start the festival the first weekend in April and end it three weeks later.

This year, this is how welcomed spring: it snowed on March 20. Our spring blossoms are late and our daffodils are just getting ready to bloom.

Street view covered in Snow

The day of the Kite event, March 28, was awfully cold, it was barely above freezing in the morning with a breeze that made it feel even colder. But at least it did not rain, and it was not terribly windy, perfect for kite flying. Of course young kids as always did not seem to mind the cold weather; they came all bundled up and were running all over the grounds.

Happy child running trying to fly a kite at the National Mall

What to expect and what to do at the Kite festival

  • As in years past, there are areas helping young kids make their own kites and although the materials are provided, the kites are quite basic but they do fly!
  • They have a Kite clinic with "kite doctors" ready to help repair kites and assist young kite flying aficionados.
Group of people lined up at the Kite Clinic at the Kite festival at the National Mall

  • This year the festival was selling kites but the lines were quite long. You could buy one at the Air and Space museum but it is much easier to just bring one. Don't go crazy; just bring an average size kite to ensure it will fly.
  • The area is out in the open so be sure to bundle up, our weather is not very predictable and you want to enjoy your time.
  • Bring your camera, the views are wonderful.
View of the Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument during the Kite festival
Found the Kite eating tree

  • Upon arrival make your way to the main location (by the Washington Monument) and pick up a Kite festival schedule to learn when the competitions take place and how to sign up for any of them if you want to participate.
  • Find a spot and start flying your kite!

Kite Festival brochure at the National Mall

Kites flying during the Kite Festival at the National Mall

Kite in the shape of a dragon flying during the Kite Festival at the National Mall

When you are done, make your way to one of the many Smithsonian museums to warm up and to eat lunch.

Why I like going to the Kite festival

  • I enjoy flying a kite. The young kid in me still loves doing it.
  • I enjoy watching the young kids and the young at heart (which are many) having so much fun flying a kite.
  • I enjoy seeing the kites up in the air and the variety of designs, although this year there were not so many, probably due to the cold weather.
  • The Washington Monument area gives you great views of other historical monuments in the area.
  • I enjoy seeing the kite flying demonstrations and competitions. Some of those kites do take skill to fly; it is very neat to watch them.
Kites flying during the Kite Festival at the National Mall

I hope you get a chance to come to the Kite Festival in Washington DC in the future, you will enjoy it. I also hope next year's event has better weather!

Wishing you all Happy Travels in your area and a Fabulous spring!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why The Discovery Of FIRE Was Good For Humans

To say this winter has been cold is a gross understatement: it has been bitterly cold.

Branches covered in ice

Branches full of snow resembling ice cream cones

View of a frozen pond

While it could be worse, it is bad enough to make me wish I was on some beautiful island in the Caribbean. Yes, in the Caribbean where the sun is warm, the views are gorgeous, the beaches are beautiful, and the breeze is not from the North Pole.

A person walking on the snow after a snowstorm

All of this cold weather has me thinking about the human race from its beginning and has made me realize what a huge milestone it was in our development when primates discovered FIRE. I don't mean fire resulting from lighting but rather our ability to make FIRE.

We take for granted that fire has allowed the human race to live in areas where we probably would not survive without its benefits: heat and warmth. Winter is surely more bearable when we have shelter and a warm home.

Landscape view of trees full of snow after a snowstorm

View of wild grass covered in snow

5 Benefits resulting from the Discovery of FIRE;

  • Heat and Warmth

Our ancestors could now expand their territory and move on to other, less weather-friendly areas.

  • Socializing

Gathering around a fire helped pre-humans develop social skills, communication skills, and mental skills. Even today, notice how much friendlier a group gets when gathered around a fire. Recently we had a neighborhood party and the fire pit we built was the most popular spot with people sharing stories, comments, and singing.

  • Safety

Our ancestors were always concerned with being eaten by wild animals especially at night while sleeping. Fire allowed them to scare off predators and so get a better night sleep.

  • Longer Days

Fire brought light after the sun went down, and as humans developed, having a source of light gave them more time to develop tools, to create, to be more productive. Now we are really starting to differentiate from other animals.

  • The Discovery of Cooking!

It has been said this is the biggest benefit from our ability to make FIRE. Cooking is the one thing that allowed primates to become humans. It is the one thing done only by humans in the entire animal kingdom.

Goose on a frozen pond

A man walking two dogs in a snow path

How did the Discovery of FIRE led to COOKING and then to us, humans?

  • Cooking softens our foods

This means our digestive system get the nutrition from the food we eat faster and with less effort. Our ancestors had to spend much of their day grazing for food where their diet was eating raw meats, fruits and berries. This also meant we had more time on our hands since we did not have to spend most of the day looking for food to feed our bodies.

  • Physical body changes

Because our foods were softer and we could get more nutrition faster from it, we no longer needed big guts, nor strong, large jaws. Our bodies started to downsize.

  • Larger Brains

Cooking allowed for our brains to grow. Our brains became larger and more complex allowing us to process and store more information, this helped our ancestors survive and thrive. Cooking allowed us to feed ourselves properly for our growing brain.

      Some interesting facts about our brains:
  1. Our brain is 2% of our body mass but requires 20% of the nutrition we take in. 
  2. After birth, human brains continue to grow well into childhood. This is not the case of our closest relative the chimpanzee.
  3. Our brains have more connections between nerve cells allowing us to process more information and quickly. 
  4. The brain is the most complex object known.

  • The Beginning of the Division of Labor

Fire and the development of Cooking have been attributed with the concept of hearth and home in humans. It is possible this is when humans started to pair up for mating, and for the division of household roles.

View of a street and trees in intense fog and snow


We take for granted the benefits of the discovery of FIRE by our ancestors. I can assure you that on this wintery day, I am forever grateful to be in a nice warm house with a roaring fire in the fireplace.

A fireplace with a roaring fire

My husband has filled the bird feeder and set out extra seed on our porch. Watching the birds frantically feeding, the deer roaming in the backyard, and the fox looking for a meal under much snow, I am reminded of how glad I am to be human. How fortunate we developed a large brain, a mind and our senses to enjoy the beauty around us.

Let us toast to our ancestors, to the cooks in our world and to the discovery of FIRE.

Wishing you all Happy Travels in your Neighborhood.

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