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

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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