Tuesday Tip: Native Foods Cafe

There are plenty of dining options in Washington, DC, but few that are fast, reasonably priced, and manage to be both healthy and delicious. Native Foods Cafe–locations at Navy Memorial, Farragut North, and Falls Church–miraculously hits that sweet spot.

The menu is entirely plant based, but with options ranging from Baja Blackened Tacos to Crispy Chicken, Bacon, and Avocado Club Sandwiches, you’d never know it. The DC locations also have a range of eco-friendly beers and wines from which to choose.

In addition to a plant-based and organic-when-possible menu, the restaurant itself also incorporates sustainable practices. Compostable packaging, repurposed fixtures and furniture, LEED-certified lighting…it feels good to eat here.

Of course, plenty of Washingtonians feel the same way, and the small space at Navy Memorial fills up very quickly during the weekday lunch rush. If it’s a nice day, get your meal to go and then dine on the nearby Memorial steps.

Native Foods Cafe started in Palm Springs, CA. It now has restaurants throughout California as well as in Colorado, Oregon, Chicago, and DC.

Update on Fossil

A few weeks ago I posted about Dinosaur Park, the most-important dinosaur fossil deposit east of the Mississippi. You can visit Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland, on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

When I visited, I found a fossilized tooth. Tempered speculation was that it was a crocodile tooth–a 100-million-year-old croc tooth, to be sure, but still a fairly unexciting discovery.

Picture of dinosaur tooth found at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland

Turns out, that tooth actually belonged to a nodosaur, a type of armored, herbivorous dinosaur.

Picture of dinosaur tooth found at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland

This is just so unbelievably cool.

Many, many years ago I found a trilobite fossil, but since then it’s just been plants and sea shells. This has completely reinvigorated my love of fossil hunting. Next stop: the Jurassic Coast!

Have you been fossil hunting? What have you found?

Mondays in Maryland: Exploring the Universe with NASA

“Houston, we have a problem.”

Thanks to classic films like Apollo 13, most people have heard of NASA’s space centers in Houston, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida. But not many know that NASA’s first space center is housed in a sleepy commuter town in central Maryland.

Goddard Space Flight Center was established in 1959 in Greenbelt, a suburb of Washington, DC. Why here? Economics and politics: the land was cheap and the location convenient to NASA’s DC headquarters.

Unlike its more-famous cousins, Goddard focuses on nonhuman space exploration. And in its 55-year-history, it has enormously contributed to our understanding of the universe. Its COBE mission confirmed the Big Bang theory through detailed measurement of cosmic radiation. The SWAS program discovered that water is prevalent throughout space. And its Hubble Space Telescope continues to provide us with achingly beautiful pictures of our universe.

Goddard itself is a sprawling campus locked down by road blocks and razor wire. More than 9,000 people work here, their daily life enhanced through perks like on-site restaurants, weekly farmers’ markets, and belly dancing lessons.

The public unfortunately doesn’t see this bustling mini-city. Instead, we plebs are directed to the visitor center, a welcoming building just outside Goddard’s fenced-in grounds.

Picture of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

The visitor center is interactive and entertaining for both children and adults. Touch-screen displays explain space phenomena like black holes and solar flares, while hands-on exhibits teach about magnetic fields and plasma.

Picture of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Climb into a life-size model of the Gemini capsule and marvel at 1960s ingenuity while fighting down a claustrophobia-induced panic attack.

Picture of inside of Gemini capsule at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

While at a model of the Webb telescope–the Hubble telescope’s successor, set for a 2018 launch–I wonder about other missions going forward. NASA’s budget is notoriously low for what they want to accomplish, and even though Goddard does important work, it’s not nearly as flashy as the manned programs overseen by other space flight centers.

That said, there is still some pizzazz to be found at Goddard. In addition to interactive exhibits and spacecraft models, genuine artifacts pepper the building. Spacecraft from the 1950s Vanguard program hang from the ceiling. A moon rock, brought back to Earth on Apollo 14, sits in a heavily alarmed display case.

Picture of moon rock display at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Picture of moon rock at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

It’s undeniably cool to see something that was once on another celestial body now just a few inches away.

Outside, a handful of large artifacts overlook the Goddard campus. Some, like the sounding rockets, have actually made their way into the heavens.

Picture of rocket at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Picture of launch vehicle at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Picture of launch vehicle at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Others, like the Apollo capsule, were used for testing and training purposes.

Picture of mock Apollo capsule at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

The visitor center packs an enormous amount of things to see into its relatively small footprint. The staff are knowledgeable and eager to answer additional questions. The only real disappointment is the gift shop, which is unapologetically sold out of “astronaut” cinnamon apple wedges.

When I arrived, my car was nearly alone in the parking lot. When I leave, the place is filled with families, gleeful boys and girls scurrying from exhibit to exhibit. It’s a welcomed sight in this time of NASA budget cutbacks–only public support will get NASA the funding it needs to continue its critical exploration.

If You Go
Goddard is located at 8800 Greenbelt Road in Greenbelt, MD. Ample signage directs cars to the nearby visitor center. The visitor center is also accessible by public transportation from DC.

The visitor center is free and open Tuesday-Sunday. Exact hours depend on the season; check their website for details.

In addition to regular hours, the visitor center is also open for special events. The model rocket launches, held the first Sunday of every month, are particularly popular.

Tuesday Tip: Gordon’s Wine Bar

Established in 1890, London’s oldest wine bar started life as a warehouse on the banks of the Thames. Today, Gordon’s is a quick walk from the Embankment tube stop and an enchanting spot for a relaxing drink.

A narrow, winding staircase leads you down to the wine bar as historic mementos plastered on the fading walls transport you through time. At the base of the stairs, an arched cellar is dimly visible through faint candlelight. A handful of wooden tables are up for grabs; act quick to secure one in the coveted vault off the main room.

The wine list is extensive and offers both glasses and bottles. Food is rather limited, but those visiting in the winter months can enjoy a special menu in the outside terrace.

Gordon’s fills up quickly, so get there early to ensure a seat. After you warm up on good drinks, consider visiting the Christmas Market across the Thames.

Mondays in Maryland: Body Snatching in Baltimore

Dissecting bodies was a risky endeavor in the 19th century. Schools relied on the technique to teach anatomy to budding doctors, but the public found human dissection to be barbaric. Not helping public relations was the regular practice of body snatching–stealing recently deceased corpses for public and private dissection.

Nevertheless, physicians continued to rely on dissection for anatomical knowledge. In 1807, Baltimore doctor John B. Davidge constructed a small building to house anatomy lessons. Only one week later, it was partially destroyed by a rioting mob.

The riot perhaps helped the Maryland General Assembly to recognize the need for a proper medical-training facility, as later that same year they charted the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Davidge Hall–by what the anatomy building would become known–was built in Baltimore in 1812. It is the oldest building in the US continuously used for medical education.

Picture of Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

Public dissections occurred in the aptly named Anatomical Hall, a small domed room on the third floor. This European-style anatomy theatre would have been filled to capacity as eager students listened to lectures and observed dissections. The large oculus and skylights would have filled the room with natural light; circular seating would have provided every student a prime view.

Picture of Anatomy Hall in Davidge Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

A plaque in the middle of the floor notes that it was on this spot that the Marquis de Lafayette received an honorary doctorate.

Picture of plaque in Anatomy Hall in Davidge Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

Today it is in a shockingly dilapidated state.

Picture of Anatomy Hall in Davidge Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

A fine dust of fallen plaster covers every seat, while parts of the walls have rotted away to reveal the wooden frame. The beautiful rosette patterns curling over the dome are black with water damage.

Picture of Anatomy Hall in Davidge Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

But the decay almost adds to the appeal of the room, even if I cannot fathom why I was permitted to walk around in it. This quiet, crumbling theatre seems like a natural spot for something a bit unseemly.

Picture of Anatomy Hall in Davidge Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

The really unseemly stuff, though, occurred in a room just outside the Anatomical Hall.

Picture of hallway around Anatomy Hall in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

Before dissection of unclaimed bodies was legalized, cadavers were brought to this room for dissection in secret.

The Hall janitor, Frank, would procure the bodies from nearby cemeteries and bring them up a back staircase.

Picture of staircase in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

Frank became so good as body snatching that his services were hired out to other medical universities along the Eastern Seaboard. The bodies would be smuggled out of state in barrels of whiskey.

Picture of room in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore, Body-Snatching Capital of America…who knew?

This area is as creepy as you would expect. A single light fixture illuminates the oddly shaped room, and a few historic photos on the walls depict medical students posing with skeletons. Another item, which I declined to photograph, completes the nightmare: an actual mummified corpse.

Picture of room in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

When rioters would inevitably appear at the front gates of Davidge Hall, faculty and students would escape down the same staircase by which cadavers were smuggled in.

Despite the Hall’s more-nefarious side, the education it provided was crucial to the understanding of human anatomy and medical procedures. Cases full of historic medical instruments line the narrow walkway around the Anatomy Hall.

Picture of artifacts in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

Picture of artifacts in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

Picture of artifacts in Davidge Hall in Baltimore, Maryland

The artifacts on display reportedly constitute one of the finest medical museums in the US.

The wonderful artifacts, creepy past, and historical importance make it such a terrible shame that Davidge Hall is not better maintained.

On my way out, I looked around for a donation jar. All I found was a bust of Davidge himself, jauntily decorated for the holidays.

Picture of bust of Dr Davidge in Davidge Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

200 years ago, Davidge Hall provided a cutting-edge medical education to students. Today it is now mostly used to house the alumni association, who provide the audio tours for public visitors. It is worth a visit for those in the medical field or those who, like me, have a soft spot for the macabre.

Tour the rooms, consider yourself lucky you will never be on the receiving end of those ancient medical instruments, and slip a five under the alumni door so they can get some repairs.

If You Go
Davidge Hall is located at 522 W Lombard Street in Baltimore. There is plenty of paid parking–both street and lot–nearby. The hall is open to the public Monday-Friday during regular business hours; to gain entrance, you must buzz up to the Alumni Association through the intercom at the main entrance. Audio tours are free, but you will need to leave an ID until you return the audio system.

Tuesday Tip: Freud Museum

His theories may not be held in high regard by modern-day practitioners, but Sigmund Freud is no doubt the most famous psychologist to have ever lived.

Freud and his family fled Nazi-controlled Austria for the safety of London in 1938, settling into a gorgeous home in northern Hampstead.

Freud only lived here for one year, as he succumbed to painful throat cancer in 1939. In his final months, he spent countless hours in the garden, tending to the plants and taking comfort in their beauty. “Flowers are restful to look at,” he said. “They have neither emotions nor conflicts.”

Freud’s house and beloved garden have been preserved for future generations as the Freud Museum. Here, you can see his famous psychoanalytic couch on which patients would recline as they shared their stories. You can tour the gardens that so enthralled him, enjoy the beauty of surrounding Hampstead, and purchase ridiculous mementos from the gift shop.

The Freud Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, 12-5 PM. Adult admission is £7. Scenic Hampstead Heath is less than a mile away; if you visit the Museum I encourage a stop to the Heath as well!

Mondays in Maryland: Finding Fossils in Suburbia

110 million years ago, dinosaurs ruled Maryland. And one of the best places to discover them is a small park midway between Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Located in Laurel, Dinosaur Park houses land that has been revealing fossils since 1858. It was here that the second-ever discovery of a dinosaur fossil in the United States took place, and more than 100 years later the land continues to expose ancient treasures.

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But it wasn’t until 2009 that the land became formally protected, and the recentness of its designation shows. The tiny site is within, of all things, a business park, with a steady line of grey warehouses serving as uninspiring breadcrumbs on the road to prehistory.

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There’s a steady drizzle when I arrive. The handful of interpretive signs and four-car parking lot are equally disappointing. This part of the park is open from dawn-dusk every day, but I can’t imagine anyone coming on a day the fossil area is closed to visit just it.

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Just off the path from the parking lot to the fenced-in fossil area, I spot a disembodied deer leg, the gnawed-on knee bone shimmering in the rain. This does not bode well, I think to myself.

The protected site stretches for 41 acres, but the public area is a tiny fraction of that: a shed, a small pavilion, and a giant mound of dirt.

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110 million years ago, that mound of dirt was a lake bed. Partially connected to a nearby river, the lake caught dead plants and animals as they floated downstream. In time, the lake and river disappeared, but the fossils remained.

And it is astounding how many fossils there are. Despite the park’s modest appearance, the site is considered the most-important dinosaur deposit east of the Mississippi. And they have found not only dinosaurs, but also early mammals, trees, flowering plants, sharks, crocodiles, and turtles.

Visitors are given a brief spiel on the history as well as an overview of the types of fossils typically found. The most common are ancient pine cones and lignite, the latter being so prevalent that staff refers to it with a hint of disdain.

Digging is not permitted. Rather, visitors are encouraged to walk around looking for fossils made visible by recent rains. Unfortunately, looking in the rain is less encouraged–I’m told that with everything wet, the glint of a fossil will just look like reflecting water.

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I set off anyway, and one of the guides takes me to the top of the dirt mound to escape the thickening mud at the bottom. Nobody is very optimistic that we’ll find anything as the drizzling rain steadily turns to a downpour.

But I do find something, glinting in the dim light. At first, I think it’s fossilized coral. But as I wipe the mud away I begin to realize it’s a tooth.

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I consider pocketing it. Instead, I do the right thing and give it over to the paleontologists.

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They’re not quite sure what it is. Probably the tooth from a Cretaceous-era crocodile. Possibly the tooth from a Cretaceous-era dinosaur. They package it up and prepare to send it to the Smithsonian for analysis.

And this is a really cool thing about Dinosaur Park: while you don’t get to keep what you find, your name is listed with your discovery on on-site displays and an online directory. You might even find your fossil showcased in the National Museum of Natural History!

The other cool thing is that you are working alongside actual paleontologists at Dinosaur Park. If I had found that tooth on my own, I never would have realized it dated from the Cretaceous, and I certainly wouldn’t have the Smithsonian at my disposal to tell me what it was.

I’ll find out in a few weeks just what it is I found. In the meantime, I’m planning my next trip back to Dinosaur Park. It may not be the prettiest place in Maryland, but it is certainly one of the most interesting.

If You Go
Dinosaur Park is located at 13291 Mid-Atlantic Boulevard in Laurel, MD. It’s a quick drive from either I-95 or I-295. The open house days are the only time the fossil area is open to the public–these days are free and are offered on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month from 12-4 PM.

The park is also available to rent for school and private groups.