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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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  1. 1 Staying outside DC
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Trip Report Quick Trip to DC - highlights only

As part of my stay-cation this week I zipped down to D.C. with a few specific destinations in mind.

First up, I visited the lion pride at the National Zoo. I'd been watching the seven cubs grow up via webcam since they were born late last summer. They are quite big now, but still cub-ish. It was funny seeing them after watching them so long, they were like celebrities for me! I also stopped to see Tian Tian, the male panda, sort of as a tease for my trip to China later this year. I got there early (9:00 or so) and had a near empty zoo for quite a while. I didn't realize that all but the shops/food stands open long before the "official" zoo opening time and the animals are most active earlier in the day. By noon most of the animals were asleep and the place was mobbed with school groups.

Next I headed to the National Gallery specifically for the Gabriel Metsu exhibit and I was not disappointed. This alone was worth the trip. Metsu is the lesser-known (at least here) contemporary of Johannes Vermeer, but by some accounts the better and more successful of the two. Vermeer fans will spot the similarities immediately, but in reading the exhibition guide, particularly the chapter comparing Vermeer and Metsu, even the staunchest Vermeer fan (me) will start to wonder who exactly influenced whom and who is the better painter of that time. One quote stuck with me: "Why buy a Vermeer if there is a Metsu available" and after three or four passes through this incredible exhibition, I wondered the same thing! Metsu's use of red is amazing. His detail work on dress trims and a pile of coins on the table will leave you breathless. This show runs through the end of July, I highly recommend a side trip for it.

Other notes from the NGA: The Capitoline Venus from the Capitoline Museum in Rome is on loan and situated off the main rotunda. It's there through early September. The rooms on the second floor that cover Impressionism through Modernism are closed. "Most" of that collection has been relocated downstairs next to the cafeteria as the "Chester Dale Collection" exhibition. I say "most" because I found some notable NGA highlights missing, like Manet's Dead Toreador and Monet's Woman with Parasol, both of which I love.

Finally, I stopped into the Natural History Museum to find the Butterfly Pavilion, which I'd just read about on the blog "Around the Mall". This ended up being the find of the day for me. It's fairly small but chock ablock with butterflies, the likes of which I've never seen up here in Boston. I got a discounted admission to that (it is an additional charge to enter, even though the museum is free) for being a Smithsonian Magazine subscriber. I spent about 20 minutes in here taking photos and being landed on by some of the most gorgeous creatures I've seen. This is probably not great for little kids, but middle school and up would appreciate and understand, especially the display of cocoons and the short lesson the staff gives on their life cycles.

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