Preparing for the Pope

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington, DC, in 2008, I was working near the National Mall and had virtually no interest in religion. But I learned he was going to be cruising down Pennsylvania Avenue in his Popemobile, and really, how often do you see that?

So I took a long lunch and ran through thick, sweaty throngs of devoted Catholics, Protestant protesters, official PopeGear© hawkers, and looky-loos like me to watch a little foreign man sitting behind Plexiglass. He rode by at 10 miles an hour, waving to the crowd in a halty, mechanical motion, and then he was off to his next papal adventure.

Pope Francis’ US visit later this month will draw enormous crowds. If you can go, by all means see him! Go for the history, go for the amusing anecdote. Just don’t go for spiritual fulfillment, because, when you’re shoved into a space with thousands of other bodies and you’re hot and tired and hungry, a two-second glimpse of a man in a car is not going to cut it.

If you want spiritual fulfillment, try these places instead:

1. The Baltimore Basilica

DSC_7007

America’s first cathedral was built in the early 19th century in Baltimore, Maryland. Today it is a hodgepodge of neoclassical design, modern renovations, and a spectacularly spooky underbelly. Though open to the public 7 days a week, John Paul II was the last papal visitor.

2. Cathedral of St. Matthew

Picture of the Inside of the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, DC

Located in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, many Washingtonians walk by this historic landmark every day without ever giving it more than a glance. Its plain exterior is deceptive, though, for inside boasts soaring ceilings, intricate, shimmering mosaics, and the largest pipe organ you’re likely to ever see. The Cathedral of St. Matthew is where part of JFK’s state funeral was held, and it is also a favorite for visiting popes–Pope Francis is meeting with bishops for a midday prayer here.

3. The National Gallery of Art

Picture of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

Though DC’s National Gallery of Art isn’t bursting with papal visits, it is bursting with Catholic imagery. With everything from coinage to Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, the galleries are the ideal place for quiet, spiritual reflection.

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Back in Business

Well, I came back from London and, about two weeks later, moved to southern Virginia! The cats and I are settling into our new home and I’m still unpacking, so apologies for the delay in posts.

There are so many exciting destinations in this part of the country—Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown are all right down the road. There’s the Battleship Wisconsin and fossil-hunting grounds. Wineries, breweries, and strawberry-picking farms. And the beach!

This means I’m retiring Mondays in Maryland, or at least won’t post to it weekly. Instead, I’m looking forward to sharing with you my adventures in my new home state and beyond!

Mondays in Maryland: Taking a Peek at the NSA

“RESTRICTED ENTRANCE.”

The National Security Agency’s DC-area headquarters is an open secret. Motorists pass its clearly delineated exit on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway every day, the exit ramp limply barricaded with orange traffic cones and a sign admonishing visitors. You get the sense you’re on camera for those few seconds as you speed past, your license plate scanned, tallied, analyzed.

In this area, you’re bound to run into the NSA eventually. I once went looking for an abandoned asylum, only to be rebuffed by a security guard who gleefully told me the NSA was buying up land around the area. “At night, they fly weird-looking aircraft overhead.” Then, an afterthought–“I probably shouldn’t talk about this.”

You hear whispers of the organization when out for a walk, at a party, meandering around town. We don’t tell ghost stories around the campfire, we gossip about the NSA. It’s our dreaded boogeyman, lurking in the shadows to tape our phone calls and read our email.

So it’s a bit odd to willingly go to the NSA on a snowy Saturday morning, but that’s just what I did this past weekend.

Picture the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, USA

The National Cryptologic Museum is as close as most of us will get to the NSA. Open to the public since 1993, the museum is dedicated to the history of cryptology.

And there’s so much to see. Code-breaking machines from WWI and WWII, rare 16th-century cryptography books, a hallway dedicated to African Americans and women who contributed to American cryptology.

Picture of an exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, USA

Picture of an exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, USA

Picture of an exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, USA

The exhibits are enthralling and full of interesting information. There are ingenious spy tactics, like invisible ink used during the US Revolutionary War. And there are occasions the US got burned, like how it took seven years to discover a gift given to the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union was fitted with a hidden microphone.

Picture of an exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, USA

The museum is also great for families. Most of the exhibits are interactive, and free activity books teach kids about simple codes and ciphers.

I was expecting something a little unwelcoming, and I instead found an engaging museum loaded with fascinating tidbits. The docents were friendly and knowledgable, the exhibits modern and fun. And I didn’t once feel like I was being secretly recorded!

If You Go
The National Cryptologic Museum is -not- at the restricted entrance exit off of 295. Please don’t take that exit unless you work at the NSA. Everyone else should follow the directions here. The museum is about 20 miles from either Baltimore or DC and is not easily reached by public transportation. Hours are 9AM-4PM Monday-Friday and 10AM-2PM on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Admission is free.

There is also an adjacent Vigilance Park that houses real spy planes. I didn’t make it to the park as I had inadvertently stumbled into a blizzard. The planes looked pretty impressive as I drove past, but to be honest I was mostly just trying to keep my car on the road.

Mondays in Maryland: Civil War Roundup

From the Underground Railroad to the battle that saved Washington, Maryland is awash with Civil War history.

There are an astounding number of sites waiting to be explored, and I’ve covered many of them in previous posts. These are my favorites:

1. Antietam
Sharpsburg, MD

Picture of Burnsides Bridge at Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, USA

On September 17, 1862, this peaceful-looking bridge was at the epicenter of the bloodiest day of fighting in American military history. The US Civil War had been raging for nearly 18 months, and the Confederate Army was moving north through Maryland. Union forces met the invaders at Sharpsburg. After 12 hours of fighting, more than 17,000 soldiers were dead, the above creek running red with their blood.

It is difficult to picture such horror when visiting Antietam today. Instead, it is a peaceful place that begs for quiet contemplation of the nature of war and solemn recognition of lives lost too soon.

If You Go
The Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center is at 5831 Dunker Church Road in Sharpsburg, Maryland, and is open daily, 9AM-5PM. Antietam must be driven to and is about 70 miles from either Baltimore or Washington, DC. Single adult admission is $4; families are $6. The visitor center’s introductory film is fairly long but does a good job of explaining the battle. It is shown every 30 minutes.

2. Monocacy
Frederick, MD

Picture of the Best Farm at Monocacy battlefield in Maryland

Though few people have heard of it, Monocacy was the battle that saved Washington, DC. And it’s likely that even those few wouldn’t have heard of Monocacy at all, if not for the battle’s impression on a young boy who watched the fighting unfold from his basement.

When I first blogged about Monocacy, I was a bit dismissive, writing that it had been difficult to connect with a site about which I had previously known nothing. But, in the months since, I find myself thinking of that little boy from time to time. It’s far easier to comprehend the horrors seen by one child than it is to comprehend Antietam’s staggering casualties.

If You Go
The Monocacy National Battlefield Visitor Center is at 5201 Urbana Pike in Frederick, Maryland, and is open daily from 8:30AM-5PM. It is about 50 miles from either Baltimore or DC. Monocacy is a bit more public-transporation-friendly than is nearby Antietam, but the battlefield is very spread out and works best for tours by car. Admission is free.

I recommend reading up on Monocacy before you go and also swinging by Glory Doughnuts (storefront opening in April) on your way home.

3. Fell’s Point
Baltimore, MD

Picture of Fell's Point in Baltimore, Maryland

The Baltimore neighborhood of Fell’s Point has seen numerous historical events since its establishment in 1763, from the death of Edgar Allan Poe to shipbuilding during the War of 1812. It also played a pivotal role in one of the Civil War’s most-famous institutions, the Underground Railroad.

For 12 years, Frederick Douglass worked as a slave on the Fell’s Point docks. Harriet Tubman, too, passed through this neighborhood, and she met her first passengers on the Fell’s Point waterfront. The neighborhood’s 18th-century buildings and cobblestone streets quickly transport visitors to the Civil War era, and it is impactful to just walk around the area imagining Douglass’ and Tubman’s daily life. But for a more robust approach, stop at Fell’s Point’s Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park.

If You Go
Fell’s Point is easy to reach either by car or by public transportation. The Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park is located at 1417 Thames Street and is open from 10AM-4PM Monday-Friday and 12PM-4PM Saturday-Sunday. Adult admission is $5.

There are endless food and drink options around Fell’s Point; I recommend V-NO for a casual glass of wine.

Mondays in Maryland: Farmhouse Cidery

With the vast number of wineries and breweries dotting the Eastern Seaboard, it is no wonder that purveyors of alcohol are looking to branch out into other markets. Enter hard cider (or just “cider,” if you live outside the US). This fermented drink–most commonly made from apples–is gaining popularity stateside, and one of the best places to sample it is a small cidery in Monkton, Maryland.

MillStone Cellars has been producing the drink since 2011. Using Old World techniques, heirloom apples are fermented in used barrels–repurposed from the wine and spirit industries–and then blended to create unique combinations of aromas and flavors.

Picture of MillStone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland, USA

Like wine, this cider changes as it ages and also varies from year to year. But, like craftbrewers, the folks at MillStone are constantly experimenting with their product. They make both cider and mead of all possible combinations–when I visit, they are attempting to blend kombucha with fermented honey.

Picture of kombucha mead at MillStone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland, USA

Those unfamiliar with hard cider should note that this is not like the sweet stuff you can buy by the jug at the grocery store. This cider is acidic, tart, and decidedly adult. It is also surprisingly complex–Spicebush, a mead made with blueberry honey and the titular bush’s berry, tastes strongly of black pepper and finishes with a soft, nutty flavor.

Picture of tasteroom at MillStone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland, USA

Perhaps just as interesting as the cider and mead is the location itself, an 18th-century mill that is available for tours.

Picture of MillStone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland, USA

Picture of MillStone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland, USA

The mill’s character is enchanting, and staff seem just as passionate about the old building as they are about the drinks it helps produce.

MillStone is an inventive place that feels at once both Old Word and New Age. It’s perfect for those looking to expand their palate, soak up some local history, or simply waste away a Saturday in the most delicious manner possible.

But, a quick word of caution–the only bathroom is in the dilapidated-looking farmhouse next door.

If You Go
MillStone Cellars’ old farmhouse and tasting room is at 2029 Monkton Road in Monkton, Maryland. They are open on weekends, Saturdays from 12-6 and Sundays 12-5. Shockingly, both tastings and tours are free–visit early on a Sunday to beat the crowd.

Vegans should note that, while the majority of MillStone’s offerings contain honey, a few are completely free of all animal products. There is also some tasty raw vegan chocolate available for sale–I can personally vouch for the orange-infused raspberry and brazilnut flavor!

Signs of Life at Goddard

On Monday I attended the “State of NASA” NASA Social event at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. These are some of the signs, people, and samples I saw.

Picture of sign in Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

In the Satellite Testing and Integration Facility

Picture of Jill McGuire, Robotic Refueling Mission Project Manager at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Jill McGuire, Robotic Refueling Mission Project Manager

Picture of amino acids found inside at comet at  Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Amino acids (the fuzzy strands inside the glass) found in a comet

Picture of sign in Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Inside the high-capacity centrifuge chambers (a storage room when not in use)

Picture of sign in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory

Picture of door sign at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Picture of Cynthia Simmons, ATLAS Instrument Project Manager at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Cynthia Simmons, Instrument Project Manager for ATLAS

Picture of sign at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Screens alerting scientists to dangerously high winds outside

Picture of tool case at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

In the Satellite Testing and Integration Facility

Picture of sign in Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Inside the high-capacity centrifuge chambers (a storage room when not in use)

Picture of Dr. Jamie Elsila Cook, astrochemistry research scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Dr. Jamie Elsila Cook, astrochemistry research scientist and the person who discovered the amino acids pictured above

Picture of a meteorite piece at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

Meteorite piece–“the oldest thing you’ll ever touch”

Be sure to also visit yesterday’s post on Goddard’s Labs and Machines.