Wednesday, June 30, 2010

National Building Museum

The National Building Museum is one of Washington, D.C.'s lesser known, under- appreciated museums. The building itself is striking, and the exhibits, focusing on the built environment, change frequently.

The best way to get to the National Building Museum is by Metro. I'm not suggesting this for the obvious benefits of avoiding traffic and limited (and expensive parking), but because as you ascend the escalator out of the Judiciary Square Station at the F St. NW exit, the six-story-tall, red-brick National Building Museum looms over you.
On today's visit to the National Building exhibits featured the layout of Washington, D.C., parking garages, solar houses, and New England house designs. 

As interesting as the exhibits are, the building itself is worth going to see. The 19th century structure originally built to house the Pension Bureau has many fascinating and distinguishing features. Wrapped around the exterior is a frieze featuring Civil War era soldiers. The centerpiece of the interior is the naturally-lit Great Hall featuring four-story, faux marble columns under the six-story roof, and a series of busts in individual alcoves at what would be the fifth story level. The Great Hall has a carpeted floor and a fountain in the middle. It's a great place for kids to run around. Indeed, the National Building Museum has provided some kid's toys in one corner of the hall. In the opposite corner are cafe tables, and a small cafe counter. The museum has a large shop with an extensive collection of books on architecture, a variety model kits, and various quirky items.

The National Building Museum is located at 401 F St. NW in Washington, D.C. The nearest Metro station is Judiciary Square on the Red Line (take the F St. NW exit). Admission to the museum is free, but they do ask for a donation. The museum is open seven days per week, Mon. through Thurs. 10 to 5, and Sun. 11 to 5.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Washington Union Station

Everyone who visits D.C. should arrive, at least for the first time, by train to greeted by Union Station's expansive main hall and the view of the Capitol as you exit the front of the station. Union Station serves as a kind of portal to federal Washington. When you arrive in D.C. by train, you don't ease into the city, you arrive greeted all at once by its grandeur.

The main hall with it's arched ceiling, is impressive both for its expansiveness, but also for the details: surrounding the hall at the second-floor level are Augustus Saint-Gaudens'
statues of soldiers holding their swords and shields. You can get an up close view of the soldiers by eating dinner in one of Union Station's restaurants. Indeed, you should eat a couple meals at Union Station; after you've viewed the statuary up close from America the Restaurant or Thunder Grill, eat at the upper-level of the station cafe in the center of the main hall to enjoy the experience of being surrounded by the main hall's arched ceiling, and enjoy watching people pass by below.

Union Station has many shops and restaurants. There is a food court at the basement level. Stores and restaurants are located along the perimeter of the main hall and the two wings. A second level has been built into the original concourse making space for shops on two levels. Amtrak's ticket counters are located on the ground floor of the original concourse. Departure gates are located in a new, architecturally unremarkable concourse behind the original. Amtrak's Club Acela is located in a pleasant, but windowless and also unremarkable, room in the new concourse.

Washington Union Station is served by Amtrak, MARC (Maryland commuter trains), VRE (Virginia commuter trains), and Metro by way of the Metro station of the same name located underneath Union Station. Metro buses, the Circulator, and various tour buses depart from the front of Union Station. Washington's intercity bus station is located just a couple blocks behind, and some buses depart from Union Station's parking garage.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Boston Back Bay Station

Just a few minutes from the terminus at the palatial South Station is Back Bay Station near Copley Square. The station, also serving the T Orange line and MBTA Commuter Rail, is concrete and brick, in the brutalist style of most T stations. At Back Bay the platforms are below ground level.

For travelers taking Amtrak from the northeast corridor to a destination on the Downeaster route (New Hampshire and Maine), Back Bay station would be the stop to disembark for the Orange Line for a single ride transfer to North Station. There is no direct rail connection between North and South Stations. The transfer from Amtrak and commuter rail to the Orange Line is merely a matter going up one level, walking a few yards, passing through the fare gates, before descending one level to the T platform.

Pictures of historical railroad stations from the region adorn the walls at Back Bay Station, as well as pictures and text about the railroads that served the station in the days before Amtrak and MBTA. There's also a placard with the story of a railroad porter.

There's a convenience store, and two Dunkin Donuts(!) in Back Bay Station.
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