Category Archives: travel

Day 10 (Friday) in Washington DC

The weather cooled somewhat. I arrived at George Washington University by Circulator bus, then spent the morning in two GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sessions, listening to presentations on a collaboration with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and a panel with various national GLAM project coordinators. I also met the editor who put up the first QRpedia code in Australia.

For a change from GLAM, the post-lunch session I chose to attend was about anther area of interest if mine, mobile access to Wikipedia, where I learned that Wikipedia’a Android app is already fully translated in Welsh, and the mobile website just a handful of phrases away from being so. My Welsh-speaking colleagues back home have already agreed to my suggestion that they close that gap. That will be important for our Geovation bid and other projects using the Welsh language.

My final conference session of the day was about mapping, including OpenStreetMap. Earlier, I’d added some features of the Congressional Cemetery (including the “restroom”!) to that project, and a mapping party on Sunday should finish the job.

A walk to historic Georgetown followed, for a fringe event, the Wiki in Education meetup, generously hosted by the Saylar Foundation, who fed and watered the unexpectedly large crowd at their riverside premises. It was great to meet so many people, including a lot of professors and other educators, who are passionate about using Wikipedia and sister projects in their teaching. I picked up a lot of tips for my plans to liaise with language educators in the UK, to get Wikipedia article translations set as homework for their students.

On leaving Georgetown, a screaming flock of (Chaetura pelagica) flew over us. Though I’d already seen individuals, this was the first time I’d heard them. They’re very different to the Swifts we get in the UK, being smaller and paler.

A group if us took the Circulator back across town to 6th Street for a couple of beers at the “Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar“, a pop-up venue created as part of a fringe festival. I enjoyed a Doggie Style (!) Classic Pale Ale by Flying Dog and a Pitch Black IPA by Widmer Brothers. For the first time here, I saw moths flitting about, but wasn’t able to get close enough to any to recognise, or photograph them. We also saw a couple of historic buildings, jacked up in mid-air, on Jenga-like piles of wood, as the area around them is redeveloped.

Day 9 (Thursday) in Washington DC

Thursday was the first day of Wikimania proper, and I arrived at George Washington University by bike. The day began with keynote speeches. Sad to say, while Jimmy Wales is clearly a confident and proficient speaker, the content of his talk was quite uninspiring. The talk on increasing Wikipedia’s diversity, and in particular attracting more female contributors was far more interesting and thought-provoking. We all have a duty to do more in this regard.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into either of the first two sessions I wanted to, at first, as both rooms were packed to overflowing. Clearly, larger rooms should have been available. However, as the crowds thinned, I did manage to hear the end of the first GLAM session.

I was then interviewed on camera, for a Wikimedia promotional video. Though only seconds are likely to be used, I was questioned under bright lights for over half an hour, after first being subject to a makeup session, “to cover up blemishes”. Cheek — I don’t have any!

I then found two of my female friends, both upset that only male-fit T-shirts were left available to them, due to under-ordering. So much for doing more to increase diversity!

After lunch, I took my seat for a set of GLAM presentations, only to be asked to facilitate the session, with just a couple of minutes notice. The non-arrival of one speaker and technical issues with another’s laptop left me having to fill time, so I took the opportunity to again proselytise about QRpedia (thankfully, the audience were mostly different to that I’d spoken to on the previous day).

A brief rest at a fellow delegates’ neighbouring hotel was followed by a Metro ride to the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism, for another reception, where I had an interesting chat about our comparative health care systems, with American doctor, Roy Poses, President of the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine, one of the session panelists, and chatted to a high-school student from Pennsylvania, who was attending Wikimania, chaperoned by her non-Wikipedian mother. Truly, a fascinating spectrum of people were attending, and made welcome.

Day 8 (Wednesday) in Washington DC

I started yesterday by joining a guided walk around . The hostel I’m staying at offers regular tours to various venues and areas, led by local volunteers. A short Metro hop took us under the Potomac River and into Virginia, the state from which the cemetery overlooks Washington. In fact, from the top of the hill there, you can see three states, the third being Maryland.

Arlington is as sombre and as impressive as you would imagine, and impeccably maintained. As well as its famous military burials, dating back to the civil war, it has the graves of John F Kennedy and wife Jackie, and his brother Edward. There’s also a monument to those lost in the Lockerbie bombing and a tomb for unknown soldiers from various conflicts. Before leaving, I was lucky enough to see a very smart, male (Spizella passerina).

My next call was George Washington University, venue for the Wikimania conference. After a great lunch and yet more catching up with friends, I attended a “Wiki Loves Libraries” event, to which librarians from other institutions had been invited. I gave a lightning talk on QRpedia, and had some useful discussions about Authority Control and Wikidata.

Then it was time to turn to the hostel, which I did by bike, to freshen and smarten up, before travelling to the Library of Congress for the formal reception event kindly sponsored by Google. Fine food and free beer certainly helped the mood, and I caught up with more people I’d met in Amsterdam, and met the official Archivist of the United States.

I particularly enjoyed viewing a display of significant American books including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which was written in my home town, Birmingham, England!

The view of the sunset behind the Capitol building was breathtaking. A courtesy bus took us to Dupont Circle, where a group of Brits and one German-Namibian found a bar for more refreshments (I enjoyed the best beer I’ve had here so far, an oatmeal porter), and put the World, or at least Wikipedia, to rights. There are some very interesting issues for Wikipedians in Namibia, where internet connectivity is patchy, and where source material is often not readily available. Work is underway to provide a self-contained, offline version of Wikipedia for schools there. We also enjoyed some pretty loud rock music, including the sublime ‘Freebird‘. The 18-year-old me who bought that on a 12″ single, would never have dreamed he’d one day listen to it in an American dive bar.

Day 7 (Tuesday) in Washington DC

I started today by cycling east, up (and I emphasise up!) Capitol Hill, and to The Capitol Building or, rather, past it, as there is oddly no stand for hire bikes near that building. I found one a couple of blocks beyond The Capitol, where the streets are filled with picturesque residential buildings, of greater age than the anodyne office blocks in much of central Washington. It felt a bit like finding Notting Hill where Whitehall should be. I walked back to the Capitol for the first Wikimania activity — a guided tour of that building. We visited the interior of its vast rotunda, and its crypt, as well as a hall full of statues which was once where the House of Representatives met. The audio-visual presentation and museum-type displays in the new, underground, visitor centre gave me a much better understanding of the history and working processes of the US democratic system than I’d previously held. We also saw a real live congressman (I have no idea which).

Afterwards, I walked a couple of bocks to the north-east, to Union Station, to take a look at some real American trains (I’d only so far seen those on the metro).

On leaving, I asked a passer-by for directions to my bus stop, and he offered to walk with me as he was going that way. He turned out to be US government attorney and professor of law, and we had an interesting conversation about the pleasures of travel, and the use of Wikipedia in education.

I used the Circulator, a bus which runs across town, and costs only a dollar per trip, allowing one to hop on and off as often as desired within two hours. As it passed my hostel, I nipped in for a wash and brush up, and stopped at a roadside farm produce stall to buy a peach, picked in nearby Loudon County, Virginia, just three days ago. It was without doubt the best peach, and possibly the best piece of fruit, I have ever eaten.

I hopped back on the Circulator to George Washington University, to register and and pick up my delegate pack and speakers’ badge for Wikimania, the conference I’m attending. I had intended to depart again immediately, and walk around Georgetown for an hour or two, but more of the UK contingent had arrived, as well as some more of my friends from last December’s GLAMseterdam, and I finally met the delightful Lori Phillips, the Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, with whom I’m co-presenting on Saturday, so I lingered to chat, instead. The provision of free muffins and bagels, and drinks, did not influence my decision, at all.

At 5pm, a bunch of Wikipedians met up and took the Metro to the impressively maintained (and vandalism free, unlike many in the UK) , where I was pleased to see an extensive deployment of QRpedia, by , whom I had been happy to advise remotely. It was great to meet him too. We had a guided tour of the cemetery from its Program Director, Rebecca Boggs Roberts, during which we observed monuments to, and the burial places of, many notable characters, including J. Edgar Hoover and composer John Philip Sousa. There were plenty of birds (no new ones) and a new Swallowtail butterfly, and I finally managed to find one of the big and noisy cicada-type insects which one hears here every evening.

We returned by Metro, timing our trip perfectly, as it started to rain just as we entered the station. When we came to leave at the other end, it was coming down like a tropical monsoon, and we were forced to shelter in the station entrance. While we did so, two metal manhole covers were noisily blown out of their seating by the air pressure inside the drains.

Eventually, the rain subsided and we made a dash for the hostel, thankfully arriving without a soaking.

Day 6 (Monday) in Washington DC

Sunday continued

Yesterday evening, I followed the instructions, sorry, advice of fellow Pink Floyd fan , and ate a burger at a branch of Five Guys. Wow. Forget McD*n*lds, which is a pale impersonator. This was a tower of succulent meat, pickles and relishes, served with a sackload of fries, cut from real potatoes, not processed mash. And the flavours..! Absolutely delicious.

After that, I did something I’d always wanted to do. I walked, alone into a proper, American bar, “RFD – Love the Beer“, took a stool at the counter, ordered a beer (Founders American Ale, a really good porter from Michigan), and struck up a conversation with the locals. One was a young African-American woman, recently graduated, who was enjoying a Belgian ale. She was very interested to hear about “Beer Beauty“ — perhaps a DC franchise is in order?


I gave a talk this morning, about Wikipedia and QRpedia, to a bunch of staff from the US National Art Gallery, plus guests from the Smithsonian Institute and other bodies. A daunting audience and this was in a proper auditorium, lights dimmed, and all. I’m pleased to say I acquitted myself well, and received very favourable feedback.

As I was in the gallery, I spent a couple of hours (days would be needed to do it proper justice) viewing the highlights (the only DaVinci painting in the US, works by Rembrant etc.) and the impressionists, including a pair of Monet’s paintings of the Cathedral at Rouen.

The rest of the day was spent riding bikes and waking, taking in the sights, window shopping, and acquiring a new hat; a poor substitute for the one I lost yesterday, which has yet to reappear. I finally saw and at the same time heard an (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and heard a (Corvus ossifragus).

This evening, several of my fellow Wikimedians, from the UK and elsewhere, arrived. I’ve been catching up with old friends, including some from Germany and Holland, who I met and saw for the last time in Amsterdam last December. Monmouthpedia founder and I had a stroll to nearby Chinatown, and a remarkably cheap and filling Chinese meal. Then another beer, a “Fat Tire” amber ale, at RFD.

And then I wrote this. And now I’m going to bed.

Day 5 (Sunday) in Washington DC

More from Saturday

Yesterday evening, a few folk from the hostel where I’m staying were going on a bar crawl around the Dupont Circle area, and invited me to join them. On entering the first bar, I was challenged to prove that I was old enough to drink alcohol, for the first time in about 30 years. We were turned away, because another member of the party had no such ID, even though she has a son in his twenties. Madness.

Sadly, though that bar had an interesting beer list, the next two served mass produced keg lagers and ales. I had a Samuel Adams Summer ale and a Sierra Pale ale, and I’d rather have drunk water than either. They were very poor. After my second drink I made my excuses and left, with a couple of the others, but a few hardy souls carried on, and only retuned from their nightclub visit at 3am, apparently!


Yesterday, while we were out birding, encouraged me to try Washington’s “City Bikes” (they’re the same as London’s bike share scheme, known colloquially as “Boris Bikes”). I’m glad she did. I used them several times today, to go down to the Washington Monument, to the Jefferson Memorial (where I saw my first (Larus delawarensis)), over the Arlington Memorial Bridge (and so across the state line into Virginia, briefly), to the Martin Luther King Memorial, and back to the Washington Monument. I even managed to cope with riding on the right, and the other differences between the US traffic system and ours.

As I returned over Arlington Memorial Bridge, a large helicopter flew past at low height —  (or the same under another call-sign). En route, I passed a recreation ground where turf had been recently laid and seep hoses and sprinklers were in use to keep it alive. Taking advantage of the water were big flocks of birds. Nothing new, but I got very good close views of some I’d only seen fleetingly, including another Mocking Bird.

I also saw a fantastic, huge yellow Swallowtail-type butterfly, but it was too fast for me to get a picture. I then had close views of a crow, but it was unhelpfully silent — DC has two species, which are hard to differentiate unless they call.

On my return to the Washington Monument, I lay on the grass to rest a while, and noticed distant spec very high overhead. I grabbed my binoculars, and discovered it to be a large bird, probably a Turkey Vulture. I tried, but couldn’t, to make it a Bald Eagle, but the shape was wrong.

I had a stroll though a “Folklife” festival on the Mall, where various organisations have pitched Marquees to exhibit on various topic related to the environment, and cultural projects. From an outlet from Florida, I had an “Arnold Palmer“, a very refreshing mix of equal parts of lemonade and iced tea. I also had some chicken from the same place, with delicious ““, a type of green cabbage, but much less bitter than those we have at home.

I ended up at the Natural History Museum, where the collection of stuffed birds was very useful in helping to reinforce my recognition of what I’d seen in the flesh. I also saw the Hope Diamond (sorry, Mom, it wasn’t for sale), and a really impressive and well-displayed collection of animal skeletons.

However, either at the museum or just before entering it from the Mall, I lost my beloved Tilley Endurables hat (or it was stolen). I’ve reported it missing, to the museums security office, and it has my business card in a pocket in the inside, so I hope it will turn up. I’ll have to get a cheapo substitute, tomorrow, to keep the sun off.

Also while I was in the museum, one of my trainers split from end-to-end (luckily I brought a spare pair) and it started to rain heavily as I was leaving. I guess that place is a jinx!


I can’t believe I forgot to mention one of the highlights of my trip so far, during Friday’s visit to the National Air and Space Museum — I got to touch the moon! Well, a small piece of it, brought back on an Apollo mission. But still…

Looks like it’s brighting up, now 😉

Day 3 and 4 in Washington DC

Continuing notes on my US visit…


I’m enjoying walking in DC, apart from the heat. The grid system has North-South roads lettered ascendingly, moving away from the river, and east-west roads numbered. That’s not very imaginative, but it makes it very hard to get lost. The central area is also very compact, and thankfully, flat.

I spent most of the day National Air and Space Museum, the whose collection includes aircraft of mind-blowing significance: The Wright Flyer, Liberty Bell, the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound, the first space capsule used for a US spacewalk, the Apollo 11 command capsule, the highest-flying aircraft ever, and so on. It was well worth the time I spent there, and I hope to visit their annexe, with larger aircraft, before I leave.

Then, in the evening, I went to a concert at the Austrian Embassy, who had kindly invited people in town for Wikimania, the conference I’m attending next week. A duo of classical pianist and violinist, both very proficient, performed arrangements of popular tunes, but the drum track made it a bit too James Last for my taste.


Today has been the highlight of my trip so far. , with whom I’ve corresponded on line for a couple of years or so, and who is content director for The Encyclopedia of Life , kindly responded to my appeal for a local birder to show me the ropes, and acted above and beyond the call of duty. She picked me up in her car, drove us to Jug Bay Wetlands nature reserve in Maryland and helped me to find and identify a number of species of birds, almost all new to me (the exceptions being Osprey and Barn Swallow), plus some fantastic butterflies and other “critters”, not least a Beaver. Lindsay Hollister at the reserve’s visitor centre was a welcoming and cordial host.

The 21 new bird species I saw were:

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Pied Grebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Gray Catbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird

We then had lunch at a rural, roadside “Mom and Pop” diner, where I enjoyed my first ever root beer.

And now I’m off in search of a bar…

[Pictures to be added later]

My second day in Washington DC

Following on from yesterdays post, in which I forgot to mention that I saw a clear though distant view of New York from the aeroplane on the way in…

Yesterday morning, I had a bit of a wander this found a lovely butterfly garden next to the Natural History Museum, but with only two species. I photographed both, so might be able to identify them later.

Next to that was an interesting sculpture garden, where I heard and saw a (aptly, Melospiza melodia). I then made a quick pop into the National Portrait Gallery & Museum of American Art, which deserved a longer stay. At least they had air conditioning and a faucet (I’m learning the language, see) from which I could top up my water bottle. Yesterday was again ridiculously hot — I drank more water in a day then I ever have before.

I covetously examined a Scottevest jacket in the nearby Spy Museum Shop, but I’m still deciding whether the use I’d get from one justifies the cost.

After that, I was off to the Smithsonian National Zoo. On the way there, an elderly local woman on the Metro — did I mention Washington’s efficient Metro? — enquired about my accent “Oh”, she said, “I from Birmingham too. Until the mid 1960s, when I married an American, I used to live off the Coventry Road at Small Heath”. So did I, in the mid 1960s.

Like all of the Smithsonian venues here, entrance to the zoo is free, which is excellent. I had time for a quick look at my first (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) — which was luckily, quite active — and to watch the wild Night Herons being fed. A (Buteo lineatus; a cousin of the buzzard I see at home) flew through to steal one of the dead mice they’re given. Wild Chipmunks (exact species not yet determined) were running about on the footpaths.

I then had a meeting with staff from the zoo, including a director, who seemed very keen to hear about .

Another Metro ride took me back to central Washington, from where walked to The White House, to see if President Bartlet was about. He wasn’t, but a very confiding (Turdus migratorius; actually not a Robin but a relative of our Blackbird) was entertaining. It was also interesting to see (Sciurus carolinensis) in their natural habitat, rather than as the feral pests which they are at home. Another walk brought me back to the hostel, stopping only for ice-cream.

After a rest and catching up on email and Twitter, I joined a group of people from my hostel for a bus ride to historic Georgetown, with a guided walk. Georgetown is the Handsworth Wood or Notting Hill of Washington, with fantastic private houses, including the one where John F Kennedy and Jackie lived and had their children immediately prior to his election as President. We wandered around Georgetown University, which could easily double for Hogwarts. It was frustrating to see swifts and martins hawking for insects, but not to be able to identify them. Afterwards, we walked down the steps which feature in the closing scene of the Exorcist. The evening ended with an obligatory bar stop and a bus ride home.

[Pictures to be added later]

A few quick thoughts on arrival in Washington DC

I’m making my first visit to Washington DC, and to the United States of America.

  • It’s 10.15pm here as I start writing; 3.15am back home. I’ve been up for 22 hours.
  • America is big. We were flying over it for longer than I’ve flown over any other country, and still only skimmed the tiniest North-Eastern corner.
  • Americans are more welcoming than I’d been led to expect, including the immigration and customs guys. I was determined to be deadpan, but they cracked jokes with me.
  • The first conversational thing anyone here said to me, apart from the above, or when answering my request for directions or selling me something, was “I love your accent”. No word of a lie.
  • The first bird I saw was, I’m sure, a , Quiscalus quiscula, (a lifer). The second was a feral House Sparrow, whose ancestors were imported… from England.
  • The second thing a local said to me was “My step dads’s from Birmingham, he’s a Villa fan”.
  • It’s hot — mid-30s at 10pm. This is hotter than anywhere I’ve ever been, in my life. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
  • Any Brit here on 4th July can expect to be teased about losing the colony. And our tea being sent for a swim.

I’m off to the Smithsonian National Zoo tomorrow; not least to talk with their Director of Exhibits about QRpedia. And to watch the Night Herons being fed.