Dusty giants rise up to meet the sky, their dark shadows looming overhead. You feel the warmth of the sun leave your skin as one of the beast’s silhouette consumes you, stepping into the belly of the beast you are welcomed by the cool breath of relief.
Everything in America is larger, including the prestigious Smithsonian Museum Institute. It is located in the hot and humid home of Capitol Hill, Lincoln Memorial and the White House. Washington DC is a city of immigrants, diversity and one of the most iconic capitals of the USA. The Smithsonian Institute has left a lasting impression during my short visit to the States. The Smithsonian Institute is a triple threat being the largest research, education and museum complex. It consists of 19 museums, galleries, the National Zoological Park and research centre. I have decided to only reveal two of my favourites: The Air and Space Museum and The Natural History Museum.
Now, imagine all those books you read as a child. Books of discovery, unseen worlds, wars, stars and spaceships… now imagine them coming to life! As you enter the security gate of the Air and Space Museum, you are met with a copper foil-like covered space craft. This space craft isn’t a duplicate or fake version, it’s the authentic equipment used for space exploration! It’s a labyrinth of past discoveries, where decades of information are made available to you in the flesh. Displays of aircrafts, spacesuits, space equipment, airplanes, solar systems, science experiments and scientific explanations are only a few things to mention.
The museum is divided into Space and Air (Aeroplanes, missiles, etc.). There are informative shows held at the Planetarium and IMAX theatre, displaying everything in high-quality 3D to make sure you see the smallest detail. There are various shows available for viewing covering various subject matter explored in the Museum. Downstairs, across from the aeroplane exhibit are simulators where a team of two are responsible for flying and shooting down enemy planes. I made the mistake of putting my teenage brother in the pilot seat, it felt like I was on the inside of a tumble dryer! Using my ponytail as an indicator for gravity, I realised we were travelling upside-down for most of the simulation. This didn’t put me off, I hit every single target! There are more family friendly simulators available in the form of a 4D ride. The Air and Space Museum really does cater for the whole family and entrance is free! Only additional costs would be for the museum shop, shows, rides and food.
Stepping into the Natural History Museum your mind is stunned by awe and wonder as you swim through the ocean exhibit from display to display. Your eyes transfixed by the creatures encasing you from the ceiling to the floor. A model of a humpback whale stretching the arch of its back as if rising to take a breath of air; octopi and jellyfish spread their tentacles over the information written on display. There are even a pair of Great White Shark jaws large enough to engulf a human! It honestly feels like you are submerged under the sea along with these mysterious beings.
Making your way back to dry land you enter the evolution of man. This exhibit includes archaeological interactive and informative games helping you to discover hidden bones fused to rocks. You see the various branches of hominids and how they lived and died. You even have the opportunity to install your own image into a de-evolutionary photo of an extinct hominid. All these activities are free of charge and hilarious if you ever want to see an altered photo of your mother with a prehistoric beard! Dinosaur fossils are not to be missed. Life-size displays of dinosaur models and fossils give a realistic feel of their size and strength, making it quite evident why humanity could survive and evolve only after a time without these colossal animals.
Moving from the largest to the smallest creatures to exist, we wriggle our way into the next exhibit. If you ‘A Bug’s Life’ fan, you’d be itching to visit this exhibit. Live insects, arachnids, worms and many more wait for you in their mini-ecosystem. There is a butterfly room where butterflies fly freely around you, many other enclosures allow visits to your favourite creepy-crawlies and staff members of the museum walk around with one or two on their shoulders or hands, offering a close-up view to this misunderstood underground animal kingdom.
Next we explore the better known animals of the modern world; each displayed in its natural habitat each in an individual pose most noted by its species. From bison to bears, flamingos to falcon, the animal kingdom in all its glory lays at your feet. Step by step you explore a new climate and new species, finally you reach familiar ground… a pride of lions looking over at a herd of gazelle, a hippo gazing next to a waterhole with an Oxpecker on its back and the clumsy-looking giraffe splitting its front legs (as well as any gymnast) to take a drink of water. A majestic African elephant guards the main entrance to the museum, trunk lifted as if to signal your arrival to the rest of the inhabitants.
The museum also has a small Ancient Egypt collection, a whole floor dedicated to minerals and precious gemstones, plant-life and a few others. As in the Air and Space museum, this museum is also fully equipped with an IMAX theatre, simulations, museum shops and a food court. If I was an educator I would take every chance to expose my students to the wonders of this world and perhaps even the world beyond that! Both museums bring childhood stories to life, feed inquisitive minds and ignite the dreams that have yet to be imagined. It reminds you of the magic that already exists in the world and magic in the world that is yet to be discovered.