WASHINGTON – Tourists are flocking to the Nation's Capital to bask in the District's mild temperatures,as they do every spring,indulging in its free Smithsonian museums and admiring its iconic monuments.
In 2005,15.4 million people visited Washington,according to the Washington,DC Convention & Tourism Corp. – 28 times the number of people who live here. And,on par with the city's reputation for intellectualism and intrigue,those visitors come bearing questions.
What are the best activities for children? Are tours available? What's the best way to travel around the city? Where's a bathroom? Are the Smithsonian museums really free?
To make your trip more like a vacation and less like a Supreme Court questioning,we asked monument and museum volunteers and employees to divulge tourists' most frequently asked questions and provide the answers for a crash-course guide to some of the District's most visited destinations.
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
A: Entering from the National Mall,the bathroom is behind the elephant's tail,in the adjacent hallway. Cafés are located on the first floor and the ground floor. The Hope Diamond is on the second floor,in the geology,gems and minerals exhibit.
Q: Where's the whale?
A: The giant cast model whale previously featured in the museum's Life in the Sea exhibit was taken down eight years ago. It was anatomically incorrect and came down when the mammal room was refurbished. The museum will have a North Atlantic right whale on view when the new ocean hall opens in September.
Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum
Q: What's the best thing for kids to do? according to Kori Chisham of the museum's welcome center.
A: Our interactive gallery,How Things Fly,has hands-on activities.
Q: What's the best route for exploring the museum?
A: Entering from the National Mall,the museum is split into space artifacts on one side and aviation on the other. But when you go upstairs,it's opposite.
Q: Where are the exhibits from the National Museum of American History? (The museum is temporarily displaying Treasures of American History objects while the American history museum is closed for renovations.)
A: Go up the escalator to the second floor,it's the last gallery on the right. It's usually where the line is.
The United States Botanic Garden
Q: Do you have a Venus flytrap,and do you have a stinky plant?,otherwise known as the giant,blossoming titan arum,according to Christine Flanagan,a volunteer.
A: Yes,for both. But the titan arum blooms maybe once every two years. We keep it off site until then.
Q: We get a lot of people asking,Where's the bathroom? I think they come from the Capitol tour,waiting in the line. We're the nearest pit stop.
A: Straight through the jungle.
National Gallery of Art
Q: Where is Leonardo da Vinci's “Ginerva de' Benci?” according to Alicia Tisnado,an art information volunteer.
A: Entering from the National Mall,make a left,and it's the third door on the right. Walk through a hallway to the exhibit.
A: When did the museum open?
Q: March 17,1941.
Q: Why can't I get into the theater? according to Scott Shultz,National Park Service ranger and historian.
A: Most people don't know that it's still a working theater,which means the building could be closed on the days of a show or a rehearsal. Schedules change day to day,so it's best to call at (202) 426-6924.
Q: Are tours available?
A: Yes,we run six programs each day when the theater is not working. Tour times: 9:15,10:15,11:15,2:00,3:00,4:15.
Q: Why did Booth shoot Lincoln?
A: Booth was a strong Southern sympathizer and patriot. He was very pro-slavery,and basically he didn't like the president's war policy or proposed peace policies.
Q: How old is the building?
A: It was built in 1863.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Q: How many names are on the wall? according to Mark Thomson,a volunteer at the information kiosk at the memorial.
A: Right now,there are 58,253. On Memorial Day there will be 58,255. They keep adding names every year,not necessarily because of clerical errors,but because some of the soldiers die from wounds they received during the war.
Q: What is the order of the names?
A: They start and end at the vertex. 1959 starts at the top right and progresses eastward,toward the Washington Monument until it reaches May 1968. Then it picks up from that date on the other side of the monument and ends at 1975,again in the middle.
A: You need a ticket,but they're extremely hard to get if you wait until the last minute. Assure your spot at the top of the monument by reserving tickets at least two weeks in advance for a small service fee. Or call (800) 967-2283. You can obtain free tickets for same-day visits from the kiosk at the bottom of the hill from the monument at 15th Street and Jefferson Drive SW. The kiosk is opens from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,distributing tickets on a first-come,first-serve basis.
Q: What is the monument made out of?
A: Marble,from a quarry near Baltimore.
Q: Where's the word that is misspelled? according to Shirley Smith,an employee of the memorial's gift shop.
A: On the right side of the monument,on the left side of the wall,16th line from the bottom. It's “Euture.” They tried to repair it,but you can still see it. It was supposed to read “Future.”
Q: What is the significance of Abraham Lincoln's hands?
A: One of his hands is an open palm,and that means relaxed. The other is closed and means strength and determination.
Q: Is it true you can see Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the back of Lincoln's head?
A: No,that's a fallacy.
Metro Center Metrorail station
Q: How do I get to the National Mall and the museums? According to Robert Wormley,Metro station manager,at the 12th Street entrance.
A: Take any train downstairs to the left.
Q: How do I get a ticket?
A: It's easy – just three steps: select which farecard you want,insert your money and pick up the ticket when it comes out of the machine.