The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Endings and new beginnings

As I write this, the last few hours of this year are ticking away and 2015 will be over – with all the good and bad things it brought with it. In some countries the new year has already dawned and soon it will be our turn to welcome 2016. It is a time for endings, for closing chapters, and for new beginnings. Ahead of us are  366 (yes, it's a leap year) of blank pages. What we write on each page is not always within our control because Life has a habit of throwing unexpected events at us. How we react is up to us. It may not always be easy. On the contrary, it may sometimes be overwhelmingly, gut-wrenchingly difficult but we cannot, should not,  let life bring us down. And before you all think that I am preaching to you, I will be the first to acknowledge that this peice of advice is primarily for myself. Because I do have a tendency to mope and make an earthquake out of the slighest tremor.
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Since you are all busy at this time, I will keep this short. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you that support this blog with your readership and your comments. If any of you have used Google Friend Connect to subscribe to this blog, Google has announced that it will no longer be supporting non-Google accounts so you will have to find some other way to subscribe (if you still want to, of course). I want to wish you lots of bubbly at midnight and heaps of magical memories throughout 2016.
Spring sunset (2)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The most wonderful time of the year

Short days, longs nights, mulled wine, twinkling lights, grey skies, fleece blankets, flannel pyjamas … the list goes on. But really, how can anyone not love this time of year? I have been patiently waiting for winter since the beginning of November and it looks like it’s finally here – and just in time too. I couldn’t imagine Christmas in any other season. I cannot comprehend how Australians spend Christmas at the beach and think it’s normal, which I suppose it is for them. This is the season for hail (I wish I could write snow but that’s a once-in-a-century possibility here), red noses and mittens.
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But it’s so much more than that. It’s the time to look inwards and accept the gift of eternal Light that was given to us freely. It has been a hard year, in many ways. Senseless acts of terrorism have made many of us lose confidence in our fellow men and women. There is a hopelessness in the world that is almost palpable. But I want to believe that we can overcome it. That together we can drive out the darkness and let in the light. Each one, in his or her own little way, can make a difference. One day at a time; one person at a time; if we persevere we will get there. And what better time to start than during the most wonderful time of the year?
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I know you are all busy so I will keep it short for today. Remember that Christmas is about Love and about Family. Everything else can wait. I would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas. May the peace that this season brings  fill your heart with a wonderful glow. May joy surround you and may love enfold you in its gentle wings.
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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Kitchen tales: Cranberry cake

I have a confession to make. I do not like to cook. But that’s probably a sweeping statement. I just don’t like to cook meals but I absolutely love to bake goodies. With me it’s all about the sweet stuff – or maybe I should say that it’s all about the chocolate stuff. Chocolate. Mint. Lemon. My favourite dessert flavours. I consider nearly all others to be a waste of calories. I have come to the realisation that I don’t have enough years left here to earth to bake all the wonderful desserts in some of my favourite recipe books or that I have pinned in my Cakes, Cupcakes, Cookies and Brownies board on Pinterest.
But, as usual, I digress. It has become something of a tradition that every time there is a holiday or a celebration of some sort, I always volunteer to make dessert: baking, it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. So every Thanksgiving (to mention just one of the holidays) my husband cooks the turkey (or the ham or the capon) and I take care of the dessert. And nearly every year we have a small argument. Well, not quite an argument, but you know what I mean. I find traditional Thanksgiving desserts to be too sweet and cloying – like they’ve been doused in syrup and I don’t find that appealing at all. I am also ‘banned’ from making anything with chocolate in it (because I make a chocolate-something for nearly ever other dessert during the year). Add that to the fact that I don’t really like anything with pumpkin in it (because pumpkin is a vegetable and, in my opinion, it shouldn’t qualify as a dessert in any way, shape or form) and I have quite a dilemma on my hands. My challenge is to find something special (sans chocolat) but without that over-the-top sweetness that will give everyone a sugar high that will last till sunrise.
This year I was about to despair because I couldn’t quite find anything special enough or that would be given the green light by my partner in kitchen escapades. And then, just two days before Thanksgiving, I found this recipe for Glazed Lemon Cranberry Cake on Annie’s Eats* (via Pinterest, of course). My  instinct told me it would be sheer perfection. And it was. The cake is easy to make, gorgeous to look at (even if mine had a slight, ahem,  accident while I was taking it out of the bundt pan) and it is the perfect combination of tangy and sweet. Above all it was given a thumbs up by The American and my dad and uncle had a second helping because it just makes you want to eat more instead of making you feel as stuffed as a turkey.
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Yes, I know, my food photography skills leave a lot to be desired.
With Thanksgiving done and dusted (I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks) I am now searching for the perfect Christmas dessert recipe.
*Annie credits the original recipe to Williams-Sonoma. I’ve linked to the original recipe below. I read both recipes and there is barely any difference between the two.
I have decided to started Kitchen Tales so that, every now and then. I will share a favourite recipe with you. And don’t worry, I am not turning this into a food blog. I am not exactly Ina Garten or Martha Stewart.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Books for boys

Every night, before going to sleep, I would read to my son. It was our special time, a time of bonding. And what better way to bond than over books? We read all sorts of stories, letting our imaginations soar above the clouds. But, as with everything in life, there were some books that became favourites and we returned to them again and again (sometimes two or three times in one evening). Here are some of them:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
This beloved book, which I am sure needs  no introduction, has lulled generations of children to sleep and is one of those classics whose appeal will never fade.
“Good night room
Goodnight moon
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon”
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
This is a cute book about a red-haired (friendly) witch and her cat, who ride a broom, lose a few things, make some new friends and scare off a monster – all in one night.
““Down!” cried the witch,
and they flew to the ground.
They searched for the hat
but no hat could be found.”
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
At the annual Jungle Dance all the animals are able to dance – except for Gerald the giraffe. But with the advice of a friendly cricket, Gerald finally finds his own sweet tune. There is a lesson that children can learn from this book – that we are all unique and in the end we will all find our special niche.
“With that, the cricket smiled
And picked up his violin.
Then Gerald felt his body
Do the most amazing thing.”
If You Take a Mouse To The Movies by Laura Numeroff
My son absolutely loves this book. Even now that he is almost ten, this book gets taken off the shelf every Christmas season and is re-read time and again. The book came with a mouse soft-toy in red dungarees. It was love at first sight. My Mischief Maker and the little mouse (who was named Cheddar) are inseparable to this day.
“If you take a mouse to the movies, he’ll ask you for some popcorn,
When you give him the popcorn, he’ll want to string it all together.”
Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman
This is the perfect book to make little boys giggle, especially since aliens end up on Earth for the sole purpose of stealing underwear.
“They like them red, they like them green,
Or orange like satsumas.
But best of all they love the sight
Of Granny’s spotted bloomers.”
How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
This is another well-loved tale that I am sure you are all familiar with. The Grinch ranks right up there with Scrooge when it comes to hating the Christmas season. But, like Scrooge, he also has a change of heart. This story, told in Dr. Seuss’ imitable style, is one that appeals to both the young and the young at heart. It is a book that we really enjoy and which we read with that  same sense of wonder year after year.
““Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!””

Monday, 16 November 2015

No words

I am  lost for words. In truth I am too angry to write what’s really on my mind. That we are standing with Paris, with Beirut, with all the people that are hurting, goes without saying. Yet I fear that more words are not going to make any of it better. So I will leave it at that and leave you with some quotes I found. I hope we can all derive some strength and solace from them.
(None of the quotes are mine. I could not find the source of all of them.)
Location: Paris, March 2009

Thursday, 5 November 2015

All Hallows’ eve

All Hallows’ eve: lightning, thunder, rain showers and a newly restored fortress – the perfect setting for this spookiest of nights. They say that the veil between the worlds is thin at this time of  year. Thin enough to reach out and touch – what? A solid wall, centuries-old, and beyond that, a vague notion of whispers, of shadows, of things that go bump in the night. The place is haunted, or so they say.
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I could feel shivers up and down my back. But it was probably the wind. Yes, it was most certainly the wind. It tends to get a bit chilly at this time of year and an old, draughty fortress is not exactly conducive to feelings of warmth.
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But it was Halloween, or Samhain as some call it, and the weather-scarred walls of the fort seemed to reverberate with their own strange energy. I lightly traced my fingers across the pitted stones, as I always do when a place has a story to tell. And this place, with foundations dating back to the thirteenth century, probably has more tales to recount than I could write down in a lifetime.
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On any other day I would have been inclined to linger and coax a story or two out of those towering walls – walls that had withstood the Ottoman siege and the might of the Luftwaffe. But today was Samhain, lost souls might wander from that world to this and I was not quite sure that I wanted to hear, that I wanted to see …
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Just for today, I would be content with the song of the wind, with long-silent cannons and the rusted bases of anti-aircraft guns. There was an odd normality about these things, a fleeting sense of security.
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But the sky was darkening fast and, again, I felt a shiver run down my  spine, a mysterious whisper in my ear. It was time to go; and as the heavy doors clanged shut behind me and the brooding ramparts rose like towers above my head, I knew that the fort behind my back was a keeper of secrets that would haunt my dreams for many  winter nights to come.
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Location: Fort St Angelo, Birgu, All Hallows Eve 2015

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A little something something

The clouds whirled and twirled above my head, the trees swayed drunkenly this way and that and the wind chime jangled a tuneless melody. It was that magical moment before the storm broke. And then the rain came – hard and heavy.
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For half an hour it poured down from the bloated clouds, pelting the windows in an erratic, staccato rhythm that ended in a burst of hail-stones the size of marbles. Then it was over and around half an hour later the sun tentatively showed its golden face amid the fragments of the storm and shooed the clouds away.
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That was last week. Saturday morning dawned with a perfect mixture of sunlight and brooding clouds and I felt that inexplicable urge to go out in search of something that I could not name, in the hope of discovering what I shall call that little something something, that missing fragment of the puzzle.
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So, without further ado, we set out and drove to a cove that we had frequented many times. But this time we did not take the easy path to the sea but took the trail to the path less travelled; the lonesome path beneath the cliffs. Soon, it was just us, the bleak garigue, the craggy rocks, the patchwork sea and the huge expanse of the infinite sky.
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It’s mostly barren here – the long hot summer and predominantly dry autumn have taken their toll on almost everything except for some hardy bushes that, in spite of the harsh conditions, cling to life. Everything seems dead, beyond any hope of redemption and the flowers of spring are but a distant memory, a few withered fragments at our feet.
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I had lost hope of finding new life or new growth but Nature is resilient in a way that I cannot quite comprehend. In spite of all the odds, life is renewed. Despite the excesses of the past season it still burst forth in an emerald explosion right where I least expected it.
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I had found life where no life should be. In the most secret places of my heart I smiled. This was the little something something that I had set out to discover. It was enough for now. The promise of regeneration is near at hand.
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Location: Ghar Lapsi, October 2015

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


Sometimes I dream of a place where the sun is kind and the air is as soft as rose petals. It is a place where fat clouds roll in from the ocean and weep gentle tears on the land. Wild flowers grow in abundance here and the grass seems to shimmer with its own particular shade of green. There are gentle streams and jagged cliffs and valleys that cascade into the sea.
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The silence is broken by the shrill cry of the gulls and, on some days, the mist envelopes the land in a ghostly embrace. There are pretty harbours and ruined castles and an abundance of history and legends. And I would be at peace there. My soul would soar to the heavens and fly with the birds. My wandering heart would have found its home.
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And I often wake up from these dreams, in the stillness and darkness of the night, with a yearning for I know not what. Because sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own land. Like an exile  from some other other place or some other time. Because the sun is unforgiving here and the land is dry as a bone. All summer long I have searched in vain for a blade of grass or something that will remind me of the beauty of spring. And when I don’t find it? Well, I wish myself away. Over the sea and far away. Because although  I am here physically, totally grounded, with the weight of responsibility anchoring me down, that other part of me (my spirit self?) soars to that other place; that other place where the sun is kind and the air is sweet and the mist embraces the land.
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Hiraeth: a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return,a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
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Don’t you just love Pinterest? It’s a great place for finding these weird and wonderful words that totally inspire me to create my own take on them. Hiraeth is a Welsh word (in Cornish it is hireth) so I won’t attempt to pronounce it, but you can hear how the Welsh say it here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

I seem to have lost myself over the summer. Words slipped through my fingers like sand and they were gone before I could capture them. I blame the heat. But maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe I’ve become jaded with this whole blogging thing. Maybe I have nothing left to say. I am fearful of making connections and losing them; of the transient nature of it all. I compare myself to this one or to that other and wonder whether the bar has been raised too high making me afraid that I will never reach it. My self-confidence is low. I confess that I have struggled with that all my life. Which is perhaps why I have never shared my blog with any of my close friends. I tend to find it easier to step out into the unknown and share my thoughts and words with people that I have never met. Strangely enough, I feel safer. Safe in the knowledge that I am not laying myself too bare to those that know me best. Which is, perhaps, another reason why I am not fond of summer. Bear with me, I will eventually get to the point.
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I have called myself a bundle of contradictions on many occasions. And I will do so again today. I am a very private person. I do not naturally share my strengths, sorrows, successes or failures with the world. And yet, I have a blog. Now if that isn’t a contradiction, I don’t know what is. But there are millions of blogs out there, and since mine has never drawn thousands of followers, it is safe to say that I am more or less anonymous except to the few who stop by and read. Which is why summers are a bit of an ordeal for me.
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Living through a Mediterranean summer is like constantly being on a stage. Everybody is out and about, windows and doors are thrown wide open, peace and serenity take a vacation and there is a cacophony in my head that just doesn’t let me think. So I become moody. I day-dream and my productivity falls to zero. Like a snail I tend to hide away in summer and wait for the first rain and cool breezes to nudge me out of my stupor. So with that confession done and dusted, it is time to make amends as I bid summer farewell and look to autumn for  new adventures.
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So what shall I do now that the days are relatively cooler and I have recovered my sanity? Well, I definitely plan on reading more books. The last book I read was while we were on vacation in the US. I think that joining a library would be a good option. Another resolution on my list is to write/ journal/ blog more often. Once I settle into a schedule, that should be a no-brainer. With that comes the overwhelming desire to take better photos. I am working hard on that one but it’s not easy to find interesting subjects indoors. So that brings me to the next ‘resolution’, which is hiking. We have a very bad habit of sticking to our own neck of the woods, even though no place on this island is more than an hour away (and that’s stretching it quite a bit). We have also developed a very sedentary lifestyle which is good for nobody. So we plan on putting our hiking boots back on (they haven’t had a work out in years) and exploring other areas. Hopefully these hikes and walks will give me the subject matter on which I can practise my photography - call it killing two birds with one stone. And since hiking is more fun with a treat or two in the back-pack, I think it’s time to put to good use the hundreds of recipes I have pinned on Pinterest by baking more goodies.
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It sounds like a plan to me. I will do my best to act on it but it’s all looking good and, hopefully, this autumn I will catch all those errant words that have slipped through my grasp and write a tale or two to share with you.
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Beneath the cliffs at Wied iz-Zurrieq, August 2015

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Waiting to exhale

Breathe in. Breathe out. It sounds easy enough. We don’t even think about it; it’s just something we do unconsciously, an inherent part of being alive. But sometimes I feel like I’ve breathed in too much and that I am drowning in air. That’s when I know that it’s time to stop and exhale.
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Summer is supposed to be the most relaxing time of the year: lazy days at the beach, balmy nights, afternoon siestas … it sounds like the formula for a perfect season. But the heat saps by strength, the sun gives me headaches and the beaches and public places are over-crowded and noisy. Yes, I am being a moaner, and if I were still at school, I am sure that one of the nuns would tell me to count my blessings, because there are so many people who have so much more to worry about than such petty nuisances. I guess empathy was not their strongest point. Or maybe that was their way of toughening us up and preparing us for the real world. Because it’s true. My grievances are barely noticeable compared to what some people are going through.
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And yet, aren’t we all just a little bit selfish and don’t we all think of ourselves and our close circle of family and friends before all others? Isn’t that the only way to keep sane in this world where we are constantly bombarded with horrific images of human suffering in all shapes and forms?
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I really have no answers. I know that this blog and the ones I read on a regular basis help me escape to a whimsical world. They take me on flights of fancy to magical places. They help me stop and exhale. And, strangely enough, they give me the strength to face all the ugliness out there. Because if we had to focus on that all the time, we would surely go mad. But these online friends I have made have shown me that there is still beauty in this world. There is still kindness and compassion. Above all, they have taught me that there is hope. In this cruel, crazy world, there is still hope. Because, in spite of everything, or, maybe, because of it, hope is always the last to die.
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My father in law’s beautiful roses (Canton, MO, July 2015)

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Ten things to do in and around Washington DC

1. Learn about the ancient inhabitants of America at the National Museum of the American Indian. I must admit that I have always been both moved and fascinated by the tragic history of the Native American tribes. This  Museum is the perfect place to learn about America before ‘white man’ came and destroyed so much of this ancient culture and way of life.
Museum of the American Indian
National Museum of the American Indian, 4th St & Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
2. Admire the Space Shuttle ‘Discovery’ at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center. Now I am not usually the type of person who loves to be around planes, trains and anything mechanical, but the Space Shuttle was a different story. I couldn’t help  but gaze in awe at this behemoth that had been to outer space on a total of 39 missions. I had seen it on TV so many times and now it was almost within arm’s reach. Of course, there’s more than the Space Shuttle to keep boys of all ages interested for hours at a time. Enola Gay, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and a Concorde were just a few of the other marvels that were eagerly pointed out to me and that I can still remember.
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Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, 14390 Air & Space Museum Parkway,  Chantilly, Virginia 20151
3. Learn about the history of flight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space  Museum. This museum is located in downtown Washington and it is an interesting journey through the  history of flight and space exploration. The 1903 Wright flyer, the Spirit of St Louis, the Space Lab and the Apollo 11 Command Module are amongst hundreds of other objects that are on display. And since boys will be boys, my husband and son could not miss a ride in the the flight simulators. I gave this particular attraction a miss but I was told it was worth it. If rotating upside down and doing barrel rolls sounds like your idea of fun, then go for it. I thought the souvenir shops were a safer option.
National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
4. Take a photo with the most famous residence in America. Well, one has to do at least one absolutely touristy thing while travelling, don’t you agree?
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The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500
5. Take a guided tour through the US Capitol. If you’re fond of history, this is a must. You do have to book in advance and the tour is quite fast, but very informative. Even if you’re not particularly interested in history, the architecture is worth the visit. The dome is currently being restored both from the exterior and the interior, so we didn’t visit at the best of times because it didn’t look very photogenic. Our entrance pass also allowed us to sit in on a session of Congress.
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6. Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery. One of the first things I learnt at Arlington is that 400 000 men and women are buried in the grounds of what  used to be General Robert E. Lee’s home and plantation.  Arlington is the biggest cemetery that I have ever visited and I would advise taking a guided trolley ride. You can hop on and hop off at any of the stops on the tour but I would definitely recommend the John F. Kennedy Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns and Arlington House.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA 22211
7. Visit the Monuments. Well, you can’t say that you’ve visited Washington if you don’t pay at least a fleeting visit to the iconic monuments dedicated to presidents Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. The Washington Monument is difficult to miss as it towers over the city. We made it to the Washington and Lincoln monuments but were too tired and  jet-lagged on our first day there, and too busy after that, to make it to the Jefferson Memorial – although I did zoom in to it on our way to the White House. Maybe next time we’ll get up close and personal …
8. Take a ride in a pedicab. After a day spent walking around the Air and Space and the Natural History museums and then the Washington and Lincoln monuments (we must have walked miles in just  one day), the Mischief Maker and I rebelled and vowed we could not walk one more step. So we took a pedicab from the Lincoln Monument to our Metro station. Our driver, Barry, was very friendly and knowledgeable and it was a very agreeable way of seeing the city without acquiring any more blisters on our toes. The 20 minute (or so) ride cost $15 for three people and was totally worth it. It was either that or spending the night with Lincoln.
9. Forget your diet and eat lunch or supper at Ray’s Hell Burger. What can I say? It was ‘just’ a burger but a pretty darn good one. I do not think I left a single crumb on my plate and I was too busy eating to even take a single  photo.
Ray’s Hell Burger, 1650 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22209
10. And because you’re in Washington and it’s the capital of the US, you just have to go take a peek at the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives. Are they worth the long lines? Well, the writing is faded, the lighting is dim and no photos are allowed but, for all true Americans, these documents are the essence of what constitutes the nation. As for me, I am more of a monarchist at heart - but that’s a tale for another day as this post if way too long already.
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The National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408


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