Visit Interactive Museums for Some Cutting-Edge ‘Edutainment’
Just as schools are becoming more student-centered and less about long, boring lectures, museums are becoming more visitor-centered. There are a number of experiential, interactive museums that involve you in the exhibits—making the figurative connection between object and viewer into a literal one.
Interactive, multimedia museums are good for the young and old. Kids like to be active. Anyone who has had the pleasure of teaching young kids or remembers being one knows that they do not deal well with having to sit still for extended periods of time. At interactive museums, kids get be kinetic—which is their natural state. And even if, as adults, physical activity is not as compelling for us as it was when we were hyperactive kids, we still like for our brains to be active.
People really only have attention spans of ten or fifteen minutes. After that, we tire and lose focus. That is why it is helpful to change activities, or media, regularly. One of the main features of experiential, interactive museums is that they have a variety of physically and cerebrally interactive exhibit types.
Exploratorium: San Francisco, California
The Exploratorium does not make definitive, chiseled-in-stone statements like traditional museums do. The Exploratorium is all about asking questions—all about fostering critical thinking. There is one exhibit that seems particularly representative of the museum’s ethos: At the Exploratorium, you can participate in the famous 1999 “invisible gorilla” study, which demonstrates that our ability to focus on a single object or activity can cause us to miss events that would normally demand our full attention (a concept known as “inattentional blindness”). In Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris’ experiment, subjects were asked to watch a video of two groups of people bouncing basketballs—one in white shirts, the other in black shirts. The subjects were told to count the number of times the people in the white shirts dribbled their basketball and to ignore the dribbling of the people in the black shirts. Amid the bouncing of basketballs, someone in a gorilla suit walks across the screen beating his chest. When asked if they had noticed anything out of the ordinary in the video, half of the participants answered no. The “invisible gorilla” study teaches us that there is likely a lot going on around us that we are entirely unaware of. The exhibits at the Exploratorium are all about probing the world in order to find the things we are unaware of.
Newseum: Washington, D.C.
The Newseum is an interactive museum dedicated to the importance of the news and the First Amendment to the Constitution for the United States as a concept and as a reality. At the museum, you will learn (or, likely, relearn) some basics of the news—such as the “man bites dog” rule. The Newseum, though, will also put you in contact with the news as actual on-the-ground events. You will see historical objects—such as a piece of the Berlin Wall and a bullet-hole-riddled armored truck used by Time magazine photographers to cover the war in Bosnia. Additionally, the Newseum has a broad range of multimedia interactivity—from live panel discussions to computer games that take you deep into the museum’s exhibits. It is appropriate that a museum dedicated to the news is on the cutting edge of museum interactivity and making news itself.
After a day of learning about your world and yourself at an experiential, interactive museum, you’ll be ready to experience some relaxation. At Extended Stay America you get the relaxation of home with none of the burdensome chores.
It’s a Good Time To Visit Your Uncle Sam in Philadelphia
September 17th is Constitution Day in the USA. It commemorates the very last meeting of the Constitutional Convention—the meeting during which the Constitution was signed by the delegates, readying it to be voted on by the various states. This is a scene famously portrayed in Howard Chandler Christy’s painting Signing of the Constitution of the United States. This makes September the perfect time to visit Philadelphia, the home of the Constitutional Convention and the birthplace of our nation. Philly has a lot going for it—both timeworn historical sites and modern, high-tech attractions.
Betsy Ross House
The Betsy Ross House is the place where the symbol of our nation was born—a symbol that pays tribute to the country’s founding (the thirteen stripes symbolizing the thirteen colonies) and its present (the number of stars symbolizing the number of states in the union). At this museum, you tour Ross’ wonderfully maintained house and learn about how people lived during the late 18th century. The colonial-style brick house is only blocks away from Independence Hall—the building where both of our country’s central founding documents (the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence) were debated and signed. The audio tour takes you right back in time, as you learn about Ross’ challenging and inspiring life. Her first husband, John Ross, was killed in the Revolutionary War while protecting American munitions from the British. Betsy Ross pushed on, though, and she went on to live a very long and distinguished life.
The exhibit Flags to Riches is especially interesting. We don’t frequently talk about the large number of colonial Americans who stayed loyal to the British during the Revolution. This exhibit pairs two women—a loyalist and a revolutionary (Rebecca Franks and Betsy Ross). During the late 18th century, Franks (a socialite who was very wealthy and gave sumptuous parties) was by far the more famous of the two. Ross was a humble tradesperson—a Quaker of the middle class. She entered history without aiming to. And Franks, who was so well known in her day, is now only a footnote to a footnote.
Liberty 360 3D Show
PECO Theater, a state-of-the-art, 360-degree facility, is the perfect theater for the recreation of historic scenes. At the Liberty 3D show, you will be guided by the most charming of the Founding Fathers—Benjamin Franklin. In a 360-degree, 3D display that makes it seem like he is standing among the crowd, old Ben takes you through the important events in American history behind our beloved symbols. The viewer is told the story of the Statue of Liberty being given to America by France, of the cracking of the Liberty Bell, and of the Bald Eagle being chosen as our national bird.
After exploring America’s rich history, you’ll be ready for a rich future spent at a comfy hotel. The comfiest, most amenity-rich hotel (which also happens to be the most reasonably priced) is Extended Stay America. This hotel is so home-like that a lot of customers end up making their stays extended stays.
Cooking Up Your Own Farm-Fresh Food on the Road
Lately, many of us have begun eating a diet rich in fresh, locally produced food—and for very good reasons. Fresher means healthier for you, and locally produced means healthier for the environment. (And, of course, what’s is healthy for the environment is ultimately healthier for you—as you are very much connected to your environment.) When you’re out traveling this summer, you don’t need to part ways with your habit of preparing local, fresh food for yourself and your family. Simply stay in a hotel suite with a kitchen, and make sure there is a farmers’ market nearby. Since there are many more farmers’ markets nationwide than there used to be, this shouldn’t be a challenge at all. The challenge should be deciding what to buy at our country’s diverse farmers’ markets. Since every farmers’ market sells local produce, every different locale in the country is going to have a different flavor of farmers’ market.
Pike Place Market: Seattle, Washington
At Pike Place, you can find onions from Walla Walla, mushrooms from northwestern forests, and everything else local—from peppers to squash. Also, you will find the bounty of the sea represented. Seattle is a fishing port, and Pike Place is where you find fresh-off-the-boat seafood. You can also find, of course, fresh chicken, pork, and beef. Eating out is a wonderful thing to do while travelling. It is part of how you experience a new place. But exploring a local farmers’ market for food to cook up back at the hotel is another way to experience a new place. It is an earthier, more organic (no pun intended) way to meet people and get acquainted with a local food scene. Seattle has some of the country’s best restaurants (some of which are at Pike Place). We highly recommend checking them out. But you really don’t need to eat every meal out. Cooking for yourself is healthier, less expensive, and can give you an opportunity for cozy family time that eating in a restaurant simply doesn’t.
Farmers Market: Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles’ Farmers Market is the country’s original farmers’ market. In 1934, long before eating locally grown food became trendy (when it was what many people did out of necessity), LA-area farmers began selling their produce in a central location. Now, almost eighty years later, we have come full circle. We have tried out getting our sustenance from processed food loaded with preservatives, and we have seen the error in doing that. We have returned to the ways of our grandparents and great grandparents. What better way to do that than at a market they may have shopped at? This is not to say that the Farmers Market is anachronistic. Rather, it is an up-to-date connection to our past. Next door to wonderful, earthy produce, you will find trendy, foodie-friendly specialty stands—such as Èple and Little Spain Gourmet Market. And many of LA’s most interesting bands perform Thursdays and Fridays from 7-9 p.m. at the Farmers Market from May through September. Thursday is jazz night, and Friday is Latin, blues, and rock night. You will find the freshest food and the freshest music at LA’s Farmers Market!
Now all you’ve got to do is find a great hotel with a kitchen where you can cook all of this great food up. I suggest Extended Stay America, where you will get the best of home (a kitchen, free Wi-Fi, a flatscreen TV, and on-site laundry) at a price that won’t come close to breaking the bank.
The Country’s Hottest Vintage Shops
In order to have a truly well rounded wardrobe, you need to do some shopping in vintage clothing stores. Unless you employ a tailor, buying clothes secondhand is the only way to ensure that you are not wearing the same stuff that thousands of others are wearing. While some people like hearing, “Nice shirt, bro. Old Navy, right?” some of us really don’t. There’s a feeling of panache that you can only get from being the only one in the city wearing a particular dashing garment. The US, land of over-the-top consumption, has tons of full-to-the brim thrift stores. As with everything else, though, some thrift stores are better than others. If you’re going to be on the road this summer, you might as well hit up the some of the country’s best secondhand shops.
New Bohemia: Austin, Texas
If you love the looks of the ‘70s and ‘80s—the decades of David Bowie and Stevie Nicks—when clothes were meant to get attention, then New Bohemia is for you. If you want to look like a retro rock star without a rock star’s budget, this is the place you have been looking for. Whether you’re seeking Texas-wear (like cowboy boots and suede-fringed everything), form-fitting T-shirts (Kiss, Mickey Mouse, etc.), or fashionable high-waisted pants and shorts, you’re in luck. Also make sure to stop by New Bohemia’s sister store for the brothers, New BROhemia, where you can find a mind-blowing selection of western shirts, vintage jeans, and cowboy boots. New BROhemia has the most laid-back atmosphere ever. I’ve seen dudes in here walking around shirtless in order to easily try on a bunch of new shirts.
Cream Vintage: Austin, Texas
At Cream, you will come across finds as sweet as cream soda and as rocking as the band that goes by that name. It’s not for nothing that the shop shares a name with one of the best rock bands of all time. Cream regularly puts on rock shows during SXSW, and they’ve got a vintage record player for filling the store with the warm sounds of vinyl. Cream is a great place to shop for women’s bathing suits. You can easily get a reasonably priced, straight-out-of-the-‘60s, low-cut bikini. But Cream goes much further into the vault than that. They’ve got a wide selection of ‘40s-style bathing suits, as well. The bathing suit styles of the ‘40s are often overlooked for the Monroe glam of the ‘50s and the laid-back elegance of the ‘60s. The suits of the ‘40s, though, have a bit more in common with dresses than the skimpier ones that came after. Cream goes all the way back in time to get you the most unique look.
Fox and Fawn Vintage: Brooklyn, New York
If you love Diane Keaton’s rag-tag but sophisticated look in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, then Fox and Fawn is for you. With no trouble and not too much cost, you can put together the sorts of outfits that charm not just Woody Allen in the film, but also Paul Simon. It’s a timeless New York look from a timeless New York movie.
After spending the day buying the most fashionable clothes, you’ll be ready for a hotel that pays attention to old-fashioned values, like the importance of rest and relaxation. At Extended Stay America, you get top-notch R&R. Since every room has a kitchen, free Wi-Fi, and a flatscreen TV, once you check in, you won’t have to run out for anything.