Visiting the Smithsonian: Part 1 Sunday, Jul 31 2011 

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. without it being primarily a business trip. Before going, I decided that I wanted to spend my four days there visiting as many of the museums and galleries as possible. I also wanted to visit a few other institutions that were either associated with the Smithsonian or not part of it.

Over the four days I was there, I visited the African Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, the American Indian Museum, the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Zoo, the Natural History Museum, the Renwick Gallery, the Sackler Gallery, the United States Botanic Garden, the National Gallery, and the Newseum. That’s an average of three institutions a day!

I’m happy to say that I had a great time visiting these museums, galleries, gardens, and zoo. It was a great way to spend a relaxing, fun vacation, and I learned a lot. As I walked around these institutions, I was really impressed with the fact that I live such an incredibly luxurious life. While I’m just an academic who heads up an honors college, I have the incredible luxury of spending the better part of week just touring museums and the like, not caring about anything taking the time off work or paying for my hotel and meals. I feel wonderfully lucky in life.

Rather than write about each museum in a separate post, I’ve decided to group the museums alphabetically into a few posts that will briefly summarize my thoughts on each institution I visited. In this post, I’ll write about my visits to the African Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum.

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RIP Amy Winehouse Saturday, Jul 23 2011 

Today the world wasn’t shocked to learn that Amy Winehouse had died. Her troubles with alcohol and drugs had been very public and publicized for the past few years. While I, like so many others, had hoped that she would conquer her addiction and return to recording, anyone who’d followed her public appearances in the past year or two could see that such hope was becoming less and less likely.

Back to Black is an amazing album, and Winehouse’s talent will be remembered. She might even become this generation’s Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix. But it’s a terrible tragedy that this happened.

Her talent shines through in this live video of my favorite of her songs, “Love Is a Losing Game,” as does her pain and sadness:

Rest in peace Amy.

SotW: Fade and then Return by William Fitzsimmons Wednesday, Jul 13 2011 

I love that one can find almost anything using Google. I recently heard a song in the background of an online video and really liked it. I only heard a few of the song’s lyrics, so I googled them. Sure enough, within 10 minutes I had fund the song and downloaded it from iTunes!

The song turned out to be William Fitzsimmons’ “Fade and the Return,” which is now one of my favorite songs. Here’s a live version I found on YouTube:

This song piqued my interest in Simmons’ other work, and after listening to snippets on iTunes I downloaded his most recent album, which is also great. I love the quiet beauty of “Fade and the Return.” The rest of the album is equally moody (in a good way) and contemplative. It’s quickly become one of the favorite albums of the year so far.

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SotW: So in Love by Jill Scott Thursday, Jul 7 2011 

Before leaving to go to Peru, I downloaded Jill Scott’s new album, The Light of the Sun. I LOVE her music, and this album is no exception. “So in Love” immediately became one of my favorite songs of the year:

Anthony Hamilton is also a great musician — I’ve long loved his song “Do You Feel Me?”, which was featured on the American Gangster soundtrack.

Another song from Scott’s new album that I immediately love is “Shame”:

Both songs are great examples of Scott’s empowerment message and fun groove. I think she’s one of — if not the — best singer/song writers working today.

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Visiting Peru, Part 2: Machu Picchu Tuesday, Jul 5 2011 

Since the whole point of our trip was to visit Machu Picchu, I thought I would write about it before moving on to other aspects of our trip. We arrived in Cusco last Monday, and stayed there until Wednesday morning, when we caught the train to Aguas Calientes, a small town nestled in the base of the mountains below Machu Picchu.

A veiw from our train to Aguas Calientes

The train trip was exciting, since the views were breathtaking: mountains, Inca terraces, and rivers illustrate a) just how difficult the terrain is and b) how impressive it is that the Inca were able to settle here.

We could also see a bit of the Inca Trail that hikers can take to get to Machu Picchu:

Part of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Almost as soon as our train arrived at Aguas Calientes, where our transit officer met us at the station and had us give our backpacks to the hotel porter, we met up with our tour guide and a small group of tourists and were on the bus up to Machu Picchu.

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Visiting Peru, Part 1: An Overview Monday, Jul 4 2011 

PJ and I spent last week in Peru. Our main goal in planning this vacation was to see Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas,” as Hiram Bingham famously called it. This also meant spent most of our week abroad in Cusco, the largest city near Machu Picchu. Before writing what I hope will be several posts about everything we did, I thought I would start with an overview of our trip. It was an amazing experience. We learned a lot, saw magnificent sites, and ate some delicious food. What more could you want from a vacation?!

It was our first time to travel to South America, so we were a little nervous about it. We’ve been to Europe several times now, so that doesn’t seem so difficult. But I, especially, don’t deal well with new things — they make me a nervous wreck. So, PJ had the foresight to book us for a pre-packaged tour through a travel agency, Best Peru Tours.

We purchased the 7-day “Deluxe Package” that included airfare from Lima to Cusco, a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the train trip to and from Machu Picchu, a city tour of Cusco, the hotels, and the flight from Cusco back to Lima for $999. One of the things that we loved about this package is that someone met us at each stage of the trip to make sure we got where we needed to go. Jorge, for example, met us at the airport when we landed in Lima and accompanied us (with a driver) to our hotel. Along the way, he explained what we’d be doing. The next morning Alonso (and a driver) picked us up from out hotel and took us back to the airport for our flight to Cusco. Gladys met us in Cusco and got us to the appropriate place several times. And another transit officer met us when we arrived in Aguas Calientes to get us to our tour of Machu Picchu.

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