Nearly every woman loves jewelry, so if you want to see some serious "bling" on display, you'll want to visit the Gem Gallery in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The most anticipated item that I wanted to see was the Hope Diamond, the gorgeous 45.52 carat, walnut-sized, incredibly-rare, blue diamond. The mysterious history of this famous piece of jewelry includes 17th-century French royalty, 19th-century English royalty, Mr. Henry Phillip Hope (after whom the diamond is now named), jeweler Pierre Cartier, mining heiress and socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and finally jeweler Harry Winston, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1958.

Then there is the Hall sapphire and diamond necklace. Can you just imagine wearing this around your neck? Designed by Harry Winston, the necklace features 36 cushion-cut, sky-blue sapphires totaling 195 carats set in platinum. The sapphires are surrounded with 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling another 83.75 carats. The necklace was donated to the museum by Mrs. Evelyn Annenberg Hall in 1979.
Like sapphires and diamonds? Well, how about the Bismarck sapphire necklace! The magnificent 98.57 carat Burmese sapphire is surrounded by baguette and round brilliant-cut diamonds and is accented with eight square-cut smaller sapphires. The sapphire hangs on a necklace with more diamonds that give the necklace a total of 312 diamonds. The necklace is named after Countess Mona von Bismarck, an American socialite who married German Count Eduard von Bismarck. She donated the necklace to the museum in 1967.

And we're not done with the incredible sapphires...and they just keep getting bigger. This 423 carat Logan Sapphire is about the size of an egg, making it the largest mounted gem in the museum! In its silver and gold brooch setting, the sapphire is surrounded by 20 round brilliant-cut diamonds totaling nearly 20 carats. The sapphire was cut from a crystal mined in Sri Lanka and is one of the world's largest faceted blue sapphires. Historically, some of the finest gems in the world have been mined in Sri Lanka (nicknamed the Gem Island) and Burma, as shown by this piece and the one shown above. The jewelry piece was donated to the museum in 1960 by Washington socialite, Mrs. John Logan.

Diamonds are a girl's best friend, and the necklace below was certainly a wonderful gift to Marie-Louise from her husband, Napoleon Bonaparte in 1811. The necklace consists of 234 total diamonds: 28 "old mine-cut" diamonds (old mine-cut was the precursor to the brilliant-cut) with a fringe of 9 pendeloques (five pear-shaped alternating with four oval-shaped stones) and 10 briolettes (elongated pear-shaped stones). Above each pear shape is mounted a small brilliant-cut diamond, while the four ovals are attached to motifs decorated with 23 smaller diamonds. Each of the 10 briolette mountings is set with 12 rose-cut diamonds. The necklace's total weight is estimated at 263 carats. After being handed down to several family members, the necklace was eventually sold to Harry Winston. Purchased by Marjorie Merriweather Post, she donated it to the museum in 1962.

Now I am not a fan of colored diamonds. I only like a normal, clear, white diamonds. However, you can help but drool over this Victoria-Transvaal Diamond Necklace. Discovered in a mine in Transvaal, South Africa, the 67.89 carat, champagne-colored, pear-shaped diamond has 116 facets. The yellow-gold necklace consists of 66 round brilliant-cut diamonds, fringed with 10 drop motifs in an angel-like design, each made from two marquise-cut diamonds (wings), a pear-shaped diamond (body) and a small round brilliant-cut diamond (head). Total weight of the 106 diamonds in the necklace is approximately 45 carats. It was donated to the museum in 1977 by Leonard and Victoria Wilkinson.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress, also donated this art-deco designed emerald necklace to the museum. Made by Cartier in the 1920s from the finest Colombian emeralds, it features 24 baroque-cut emerald drops, each surmounted by a smaller emerald bead. The platinum necklace is set with pavé diamonds. 

Another spectacular piece is this emerald brooch. The 75.47 carat Colombian emerald was once the property of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who according to legend, wore it in his belt buckle. Purchased by Tiffany in 1911, and set into a tiara, it was eventually set into its current brooch setting in 1950. The beveled square-cut emerald is surrounded by 109 round brilliant-cut and 20 baguette-cut diamonds, totaling 13 carats. After purchasing it from Tiffany, Mrs. Janet Annenberg Hooker donated it to the museum in 1977.

This ruby and diamond bracelet contains 31 antique-cut Burmese rubies, totaling 60 carats. The rubies in this bracelet were taken from another piece of jewelry and reset by Harry Winston in 1950. The additional 107 pear, marquise and round brilliant-cut diamonds total 27 carats. The bracelet was donated anonymously in 1961.

The National Museum of Natural History is located on the National Mall at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue. It is directly across the mall from the Smithsonian Castle. The closest Metro stop is the Smithsonian stop.
  • Admission is always FREE.
  • Some exhibitions may have admission fees.
  • Open daily:10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
  • Closed on December 25.
For more information, click here.

All photos in this blog post were taken by my husband and me during our visit in September, 2013.



On our last day in Washington DC, we spent the morning walking through the Enid A. Haupt Garden which is located directly behind the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall...AND surprisingly on top of two Smithsonian museums: The National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art. 

Once we exited the Smithsonian Metro stop, we walked around to the front of the Freer Gallery of Art building...
and over to the entrance to the garden. Enid Annenburg Haupt's fortune was made in publishing (TV Guide and Seventeen Magazine), but her passion was gardens, and she became the foremost horticultural philanthropist with her monetary gifts to build, restore and maintain gardens in America and around the world.
And how she aided in the creation of this new garden with a gift of over $3,000,000! In the late 1980s, the area behind the Smithsonian Castle, known as the "Quadrangle", was redeveloped with the building of the two museums, the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art (strangely built mostly underground). With her generous gift, Mrs. Haupt insured the gardens would remain a beautiful, quiet haven in the middle of the craziness of the nation's capitol.

The beautiful parterre...the centerpiece of the garden. 
The Moongate Garden was inspired by architectural and symbolic elements found in the Temple of Heaven, a masterpiece of Chinese architecture and landscape design, built in Beijing during the Ming Dynasty. The circular structures represent Heaven while the square foundations and axes symbolize earth. The forms of circle and square are evident throughout the Moongate Garden. At the center an island of granite is surrounded by a black granite pool.

A version of the circle and square motif is also repeated in the nine-foot tall pink granite moongates and the granite seating areas that define the corners of the garden.
Near the entrance of the Museum of African Art is the Fountain Garden. Modeled after the Court of the Lions at Alhambra, the 13th-century Moorish palace and fortress in Granada, Spain, it is geometrically symmetrical and as with most Islamic gardens, includes a central fountain. A veil of cascading water streams down the back stone wall.

A view of the Fountain Garden from inside the Museum of African Art...

Of course, it is a garden so there were beautiful flowers abloom everywhere...

The easiest way to get to the garden is the Metro. Exiting the Smithsonian Metro stop will put you just steps from the National Mall and the garden entrance. 

The Smithsonian Gardens are located around museums throughout the National Mall. They are open year-round, seven days a week. The Enid A. Haupt Garden is the only gated garden and opens daily from dawn to dusk.

For more information, click here.

All photos in this blog post were taken by my husband and me during our visit in September, 2013.



We ended the day at Arlington National Cemetery, our nation's most hallowed ground. If you have ever visited here, you know it is huge: over 600 acres. You need to be in great physical shape if you plan to walk through it. Note the cemetery is located on very hilly terrain so if you decide to walk, beware of walking uphill and downhill a lot.

I knew we would not be able to walk through the cemetery so I booked two tickets for the bus tour of the cemetery through ANC Tours. The tour is a hop-on, hop-off tour and makes stops at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Kennedy graves and Arlington House. Tickets are $9.00, worth the price for all the area covered.

Our first stop was the Kennedy graves...of course, there is the grave of President Kennedy...
and Jackie Kennedy. The graves of their children, 2-day-old Patrick and an unnamed stillborn daughter, are on either side of their parents.
Down a sidewalk, several yards to the left are the graves of Robert Kennedy...


Edward Kennedy...(that is Arlington House at the top of the hill which is the Robert E. Lee Memorial.)

and Joseph Kennedy, Jr., a navy pilot and elder brother of President Kennedy, who died during a secret WWII mission.
Our next stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier...
How moving to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony...we got there five minutes before it began. You can see my video of the ceremony by clicking here. The ceremony takes place on the half hour between April and September, once an hour the remainder of the year.

You also get a spectacular view of the monuments across the river...you can see the Capitol Building and the Jefferson Memorial in the distance.
We had the special opportunity to see two members of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the volunteer sentinels who guard the tomb, walking down the sidewalk holding a folded American flag. I wondered where they had just come from...


Of course there are many notable people buried in Arlington Cemetery besides presidents and senators...

Joe Louis may have been a famous boxer, but many people don't realize he was a Sergeant in the Army...


There are many memorials to astronauts...Colonel Roosa was the pilot of the Apollo 14 moon mission.


The remains of the seven astronauts who died aboard the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster are buried here...


And there is a memorial to the astronauts who died aboard the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster...


Arlington National Cemetery is huge...it is amazing, and beautiful in a way, to see the rows of white gravestones in perfect straight lines, covering the rolling hills.
Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of too many who gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the United States, all the way back to the Civil War. Remember silence and respect while you are there.

The easiest way to get to Arlington National Cemetery is with the Metro. Exiting the Arlington Cemetery Metro stop will put you just steps from the entrance.

Arlington Cemetery is open every day:
April 1 through October 30:  8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Nov. 1 through March 31:     8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

For more information, click here.

All photos in this blog post were taken by my husband and me during our visit in September, 2013.



My favorite memorial we visited was the Korean War Veterans Memorial. 

The design is a triangle-intersecting-a-circle. As you approach the triangle section, you see the group of 19 stainless-steel statues of soldiers depicted on patrol...

Strips of granite and scrubby juniper bushes suggest the rugged Korean terrain...
while windblown ponchos recall the harsh weather...


The patrol represents all branches of the military: Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy, and the men portrayed are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds...

On the south side of the triangle area is a black granite wall. The polished surface mirrors the statues, but also shows etchings of real unidentified American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines...those who provided support to the ground troops.
The circle part of the memorial is the Pool of Remembrance. An inner and outer row of linden trees encircle the pool, open only where the triangle intersects the circle to allow the sun to shine on the memorial.
Numbers of those killed, wounded, missing in action and held prisoner are etched in stone...
At the apex of the triangle is another granite wall bearing the message that would apply to all wars:
The memorial is free and open 24 hours a day. Park Rangers are on duty daily except December 25 to answer questions.

All photos in this blog post were taken by my husband and me during our visit in September, 2013.