In Search of History and Heritage

Getting Restarted

It has been about four months since I sent my last blog post and about four months since I moved to “the other Washington”. I am now fully engaged in my position as Program Director at NSF (National Science Foundation) and am enjoying the engaging and interesting collegial work and relationships.

Leila joined me six weeks ago when we moved into a two-bedroom, two-story loft near Chinatown.  We decided on an urban living experience.  We are 15 minutes from The National Mall, 15 minutes from downtown DC, 15 minutes to The Capitol and Union Station and a little more than 15 minutes from my son’s house.  We can see the Washington Monument, Old Post Office Tower and the Building Museum from our windows. We also get to see the roof of the GAO (Government Accountability Office).

Many friends and colleagues asked me to continue adding to the blog I wrote while in Australia (Snapshots from Oz).  The name of the blog is no longer appropriate, so I’ve decided to call it “Panoramas From DC”. That will allow me to continue using the blog as an excuse to take and share photographs.  For those new to the distribution list, you can reach the Australian posts by going to the archives link on the right side of the blog page.  I plan to send a post every six to eight weeks, depending on the availability of subject matter and time.

So where to start.  It could be the Washington DC Survival Guide I’ve started developing.  Or it could be the glorious views and weather during Cherry Blossom Festival.

Or it could be the many opportunities for unusual and fun experiences, such as being invited to be part of the Lawrence Hall of Science’s activities at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll where the following photo was taken.

It certainly won’t be the 90 degree heat and high humidity that we are now experiencing that makes you need a shower as soon as you step outside.  It also won’t be my opinions on education reform or policy as that would not be in keeping with my position at NSF.  We can have those kinds of conversations over a drink when you visit DC.

In Search of History and Heritage

Leila and I recently returned from two weeks in Poland and Lithuania, so I’ve decided to not start with DC, but with a visit to learn about science centers in Europe and a pilgrimage to explore the hometown (Pilvishok, Lithuania) of my paternal grandfather.

The first stop was Poland – both Warsaw and Krakow.  This is the home of Copernicus, an astrophysicist’s superhero, who introduced the world to the idea of a Sun-centered Solar System rather than an Earth-centered one.  Statues to him are everywhere, like this one on the Nowy Swiat (Royal Way) in Warsaw. 

We visited the Jagielloinian University in Krakow where he studied.  You couldn’t help but wonder if you walked on the same ground at Copernicus.

Warsaw is a city of contrast.  From the new, such as the Copernicus Science Center that opened last year (photo complements of Google Images) or the 3D billboard with a full-size Mini-Coupe on the side of a building.

To the Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, a concrete edifice to the Soviet dominance of the country after WWII  Ironically, the building now hosts a multi-plex movie theater on the main floor.

To the Old Town, which is not really old.  Warsaw was totally destroyed in WWII, but the government has meticulously reconstructed the Old Town to look like it did before the war — but probably with more outdoor eating establishments.

We also got to visit the 15th annual Science Picnic, sponsored by the Copernicus Science Centre and Polish Radio.  The event is billed as the biggest outdoor science event in Europe, with 250 participating scientific organizations from 24 countries housed in tents covering 400,000 square feet (about twice the total size of Pacific Science Center).  Now in its 15th year, it gets up to 100,000 visitors in one day.

We even enjoyed hot dogs from the wandering hot dog vender that meandered among the crowd.

Most unusual is that we got to see more of President Obama during our few days in Warsaw than our time in DC.  The President was in Warsaw for a meeting of the Presidents from Central European countries.  Twice our excursions in the city were delayed waiting for Obama’s motorcade.  A couple mile stretch of the Nowy Swiat was roped off and police stationed every 10 yards on both sides of the street.  The motorcade included at least 40 vehicles and motorcycles, including an ambulance. 

A number of the vehicles had US Government license plates, clearly flown in just for the event.  The presence of the Secret Service was obvious and made you wonder if you were suspicious looking even when you knew you weren’t

We finally got a close up view of his limousine as it exited from the Government House.  Of course I was madly trying to get a good picture.  The result, Leila got to see him waving at the crowd.  I only captured the front of his car.

His visit and the presence of the other Central European Presidents prompted a number of protests that we encountered.  A small group outside the Government House was calling for the US to release satellite photos related to the Russian plane crash in 2010 that killed a number of Polish leaders, including the President.

On our last day there a large crowd paraded down the Nowy Swiat to protest abortion laws, with most people carrying antiabortion balloons.

It was a busy, informative and fascinating four days in Warsaw.  We even found the Polish version of Starbucks – Coffee Heaven.  It was a regular stopping point once or twice a day during our visit.

I see that I have written more about Poland than I anticipated, so will leave the trip to Lithuania in search of heritage until the next post.

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2 Responses to In Search of History and Heritage

  1. Catherine McConnachie says:

    Thanks for the new post, Dennis! Loved it. Still looking for a picture of Leila in there…was that her hand holding the anti-abortion balloon???

  2. Lonnie Keown says:

    Glad to have you “back at the keys”, treating us to stories and pictures of places I probably won’t ever get to. Lonnie

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