02.10.14Lions and Tigers and [Panda] Bears, Oh My!

DSC_1948One of the best things about Charlottesville is that I’m only a day trip away from my sister and Washington, D.C. So last Saturday I drove up Route 29 to Stephanie’s house, and off we went to the National Zoo! I had been wanting to go see the new baby panda cub, Bao Bao, who is now five months old. I’ve gotten lots of glimpses of her on the Smithsonian’s Panda Cam, but I just had to see her in person.

This was my first visit to the National Zoo, and I was amazed that it was completely free to visit and that there was no security or even turnstiles. You can even park on free street parking if you’re up for a 5 minute walk to the zoo entrance. Otherwise, their close-up parking is $16 for the first three hours. Also, many locals run through the zoo’s main pathway as part of their jogging route. Not a bad route!

We made a bee line for the panda habitat, which typically has extremely long lines for the opportunity to view the pandas. However, we got lucky since it was a very cold February day — no lines at all! In fact, there were very few people in the entire zoo. Perfect for us! First we got to see the papa panda, who was perfectly content in his outdoor habitat munching (gnawing) on bamboo shoot after bamboo shoot. Then we winded around to the indoor habitat and got to see the mama panda and her sleeping baby cub! We were so lucky that Bao Bao woke up for us – she stretched and rolled around and tumbled a bit. As a cub, she’s awake for an average of four hours a day, so we were so excited to see her cute face! Her mom even groomed her a bit as we watched. How cool!

From there, we also checked out the elephants, apes, lions, and tigers. All the animals were especially active for us, which made for the best zoo experience.

No trip to D.C. is complete without a visit to Georgetown Cupcake, so we picked up our pre-ordered cupcakes (always pre-order online to skip the line that winds up the hill) and indulged in a couple cupcakes that Stephanie had them decorate to commemorate our day at the zoo. I tried their new flavor, strawberry cheesecake, and Stephanie had her favorite, key lime pie. The rest we took “to-go.” Such a fun treat!

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Our next stop took us across town to the neighboring town of Alexandria, which is just a couple miles down the Potomac from DC. I had been desperately wanting to take a tour of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which is a major location in one of my favorite books that I’m currently re-reading: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is a Masonic building and memorial, dedicated to the memory of George Washington to honor his legacy as a Mason.

The guided tour showed us a replica room of the Masonic room that Washington once used down the street at City Hall in Alexandria and gave us some history and information on the rituals of Freemasonry. For example, to become a Mason, you need to have a personal code of ethics that you abide by and you also need to believe in a higher power/Supreme Being. Additionally, the strange architectural shape of the memorial is based off the lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We got to up to the ninth level’s observation deck and look down King Street straight to the harbor of Alexandria, and on the other side you could see the monuments and Capitol building of the National Mall. Gorgeous views!

I just love Old Town Alexandria. It’s so quaint and picturesque, with beautiful cobblestone streets, multi-colored town homes, white lights wrapped around all the trees lining the streets, and an abundance of great shopping and fine dining. We shopped for a bit in some fun stores before meeting Steph’s friends at Virtue Feed & Grain for dinner. Oh, it was delicious! I had a fantastic red wine paired with a lamb burger topped with onion, lettuce, feta cheese, and tzatziki. It was the perfect way to end the day before heading home to Charlottesville!

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