The Smithsonian Zoo — Tips & Tricks

The Smithsonian Zoo is a really cool part of DC to check out. If you’ve got time to make it up to Adam’s Morgan, you’ll really enjoy what this place has to offer. That being said, there are a few things you’ll want to know before going so you can make your experience as painless as possible!

When to go

You’ll want to check to see how long it is going to take you to get from your place to the zoo. There are two entrances to the zoo so one might be closer to the other. The first entrance is on Connecticut Drive, this is the major entrance that most people enter through (it can be very crowded in the summer). The next entrance (or exit) is near Beach Drive. You should check google maps and decide which entries will be easier for you. To give you an idea, it takes about 1 hour to get from Alexandria, Virginia to the Zoo entrance on Connecticut Drive if you’re taking the metro.

You should make sure to leave in the morning, earlier the better. We went around 1pm, and most of the animals were nowhere to be found. A lot of them will go to sleep in the mid-afternoon, so early morning, right after their breakfast is the best time to see them moving around (or so we’ve been told).

In terms of the time of year when you should visit the zoo… summer is always great because the walk around the park is much more enjoyable and more of the animals are out, but in the winter the panda’s come out to play in the snow so… that’s pretty adorable!

Getting There

I would recommend the metro, but I always recommend taking the metro! It’s just so much easier to hop on, hop off and not have to worry about driving amongst some pretty aggressive drivers. Plus, if you survive the drive, you then have to find parking in DC… and if you know anything about DC, good luck and $$$$$.

There is one metro stop that will get you close to the zoo — Woodley Park, it’s off of the red line and will get you close to both entrances. Head up Connecticut Avenue to go to the main entrance or head south along Connecticut, take a left down Calvert, then take another left on Beach. Keep taking Beach all the way to National Zoo Drive. This is a bit longer of a route, but you avoid the crowds at the front entrance. I love avoiding crowds — who doesn’t?!

What to do before you get there

When you come out of the metro at Woodley, you’ll see a Starbucks and a few restaurants… I would recommend getting something to eat outside the park … lines are less crazy and it’s cheaper to buy food and drinks. But, if you like food trucks, there are some great food trucks at the park!

Let’s say you decided to drive. It is probably easier to park outside of the park and walk in, rather than try to find parking at the Smithsonian. But there are parking lots at the Smithsonian if needed. If you’re looking for parking outside of the park, type “parking” into google maps around that area and it should show you a bunch of options around the Woodley metro stop and just north of the zoo.

What to see

Going on their site will show you a bunch of options, and it really depends on what animals you’re interested in. The Asia exhibit is really cool… cause Pandas! Unfortunately, when we were there this summer, we didn’t get to see any of the different Panda species, but that’s why I said to go in the morning when it’s a bit cooler.

The elephant exhibit is pretty awesome too. When they’re inside or at the watering holes, you can see them up close! Otherwise, they wander around their section and you can see them eating, sunbathing or trying to get a sneak peek at you!

The Ape exhibit was at the top of my list! Again, a lot of the primates weren’t visible when I went, but I did get to see an Orangutang, which was amazing!!

The reptile section was very crowded, but if lizards are your thing, you’d love the selection of species they have. They also have a pretty cool Amazonian exhibit. I didn’t fully check it out, but next time I try to go see the panda’s I’m going to discover how many exotic fish I can find!

My favorite section was the “Big Cats.” They had 2 Tigers and 2 lions, and they were absolutely beautiful! A lot of the times these creatures are sleeping or basking in the sun, but I’ve never been so excited for a cat to get up and walk around than I was when the tiger rolled over, stood up and majestically found a shaded patch of grass.

What to do afterward?

Once you’re done walking around the zoo, I would recommend checking out Adams Morgan. Leave the park via the South entrance (the one I mentioned was a little quieter). You’ll be walking towards it once you pass by the “Big Cats”, the “farm”, and the “Amazonian exhibit.” Wander your way through the neighborhood and walk down the bustling 18th street to find some great restaurants! Check out my the blog post “Places to Eat in Adam’s Morgan” to find some great restaurants!

To be honest, I prefer to see animals in the wild, but the Smithsonian takes very good care of their animals… animals which normally wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild on their own anyway. But if you really want to see Lions and Elephants… ethical safaris in Africa seem like a better, more natural, option.

Have you guys ever been to the Smithsonian Zoo? How many animals did you get to see? Did anyone get the opportunity to see the Panda’s playing in the snow?


Meal Planning For A Sane Person

Have you ever gone on Instagram or Pinterest and looked up meal planning? There are like these super fit models on their strict diets who have planned the SAME meal out in 12 different Tupperware containers, sprawled out in front of them… and they’re like “it only takes a few hours on a Sunday!”

Hahah right! Well, I have a few problems with this… (and it’s probably because I’m lazy), but they haven’t considered the amount of time actually planning what they’re going to eat, going out and buying groceries, then prepping the food, then cooking it, then letting it cool, then packing it away in Tupperware containers. That’s more than a few hours… or at least it didn’t take me 3 hours… it took me like… 5 hours on a Sunday. I’m sorry but I have better, lazier things to do on a Sunday! I have a stressful job, I’m learning languages, I try to work out as many times as I can and I run my business, so when I have time to just brain dump, I take it… Sundays are my lazy brain dump days.

Now let’s say you had the motivation to actually do ALL this one Sunday or even maybe pulled this off for a few months… You’ve now got the same meal or same 3 meals for the next 12 days…………… yikes. I don’t necessarily call myself a foodie, but I love food and I think if you’re going to eat, it shouldn’t be a chore. Eating is enjoyable for us homo sapiens and therefore I don’t think making it a chore is a healthy thing to do.

So here is what I decided to do after a few attempts at regimenting my meals… relax and stop stressing. I still wanted to be healthy, I still wanted (at the time) to minimize my calories, but I also wanted to spend some nights going out for drinks, or having a cookie or not spending 12 dollars on a salad across the street from work. I wanted to save money, eat well, and lose weight… how hard could that be right? Don’t get overwhelmed by Instagram and Pinterest, it’s actually quite doable and as a result, you also waste a lot less food!

Here’s the plan:

Make your plan! This is the most important step… and it should only take about 30 min. This step also needs tweaking depending on your needs (size of your family, how big are the meals, etc.). But for a couple who works all day and has restaurants nearby at night, this is what we tend to do.

Step 1: Find one or two Pinterest/ Instagram/ youtube or cookbook recipes that you want to try. Remember an old dinner you love? — pick that too! Now pick something easy like grilled cheese or spaghetti or whatever floats your boat. Then maybe (if you want), leave a Friday or a Saturday for fast food/ eating out/ or whatever. Essentially you should have 4-5 meal options for a 7 day week. If you’re doing a big soup or a huge pot of chili… that could count easily as 2 dinners and 2 lunches for a couple. If you have 5 kids… different story, as I said, this will take some tweaking.

Step 2: Create a list of ingredients, I use the app Listonic to put together my grocery list. In my grocery list, I tend to include some fruits for snacking, instant oatmeal in the morning, or whatever else I like to just nibble on.

Check out my post on how to snack and lose weight!

Boom! Saturday’s meal planning is over!

Go to the grocery store and pick up your ingredients. If you’re ambitious (and not lazy like me) you can create some healthy snacks that afternoon, and or just stick to making your first Sunday meal that night. Once the meal is cooked, and devoured, put the leftovers in Tupperware containers, cut up a few pieces of fruit and nuts, or some other snacks you may have bought, and pack them away for lunch tomorrow. Lunches don’t need to be huge, just pack enough to eat so that you’re not starving at work. Again this will take a few weeks to figure out. Once I packed way too little and had to go out and grab a breakfast sandwich by 10am… I figured out the next week that I’d pack a few more snacks. If you’re interested in knowing how to snack healthy at work: check out this blog post!

Monday night:
Now you’re home from a long day at work… there are two options you can do… eat your lazy meal (spaghetti or whatever) or put on a cooking show and start creating one of your exciting new Pinterest recipes. Get creative! Sometimes I’ll throw on an audiobook while cooking, throw on some traditional music of the country in which the dish came from, or I’ll get my husband to help and we’ll knock out the meal and clean up together. While I’m cooking Monday’s meal, I also sometimes prep Tuesday’s meal. That could mean cutting up veggies ahead of time, putting everything in the crockpot so all I have to do is plug it in Tuesday morning. There are all sorts of ways to make your life easier. Again when everything is done, enjoy and put the rest in Tupperware.

At this point, you may find you have more than a few lunches (depending on how many servings came with your recipe). This is where you can either take a break the next few days or keep repeating the same process and freezing extra lunches you don’t need.

Thursday Night:
By this point, you might be tired of cooking and just want to chill and watch Netflix. Hell, maybe even go out and have a drink… after all that your boss put you through… you probably deserve an old fashion by now. It’s Thirsty Thursday…. they can’t judge you for throwing some back! In this case, you can either order pizza (have a slice or two then put the rest away for lunches), make some Mac & cheese, go college kid style and make some ramen… you do you… but definitely, have a drink (or two)! Thursdays are a great reason to drink 😉 If you’re going to do a lazy meal this night, make sure to make enough that you have leftovers. Or have some great easy meals in the pantry you can just grab and go. Some of my favs are ramen packs, miso soup packs, and 90-second rice packs + some Bombay potatoes in those 60-second heat-up packs. Easy to just throw those in the microwave the night before, split the rice in two, split the toppings in two, plop in your Tupperware containers and bam… good to go! Another easy option is just to make a quick sandwich…. PB&J…. make it a classic!

At this point, there are probably a lot of leftovers in your fridge, so you can start scrounging, or maybe you planned a big Saturday night feast, or you want to go out to a restaurant… the weekend is your oyster! Plan for the week ahead and enjoy once again.

FYI: A flank steak is an easy slab of meat to cook, and if cut in 4, it’s a great meal + lunch option for 2 people.

How do you guys meal plan and does it change depending on your work schedule?

Visiting Petra, Jordan – Tips & Tricks

Driving through the Jordanian desert with my father, I was horribly ill after eating something I probably shouldn’t have, but on this day, this was one of the better days. As the majority of this trip was spent focusing on providing assistance to Syrian refugees in the north of Jordan, a little tourist excursion was a pleasant getaway. As we approached Petra, the excitement overtook the queasy stomach. When we arrived, we weren’t entirely prepared for the excursion, so we asked a few locals for tips, and were we glad we listened! Here are seven ways to make the most of your trip to Petra in the beautiful Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan!

Get there early!

My father and I arrived in Petra around 6:00am, which is right when the ticket booths open. You’ll want to arrive early in order to avoid the eventual crowds that arrive a couple hours later. As we were the first people to arrive (literally), acquiring tickets was painless, and we had Petra all to ourselves. As a tourist who is not a Jordanian citizen, you must pay more, but the fee for entry depends on how long you’ve been in the country. We were definitely there for more than three days, so our tickets cost us 60 Dinar (JOD) or roughly 84 dollars (USD). If you’ve only been in the country for two days it costs less, around 55 dinar, and if you’ve only been in the country for one day it costs only 50 dinar. When you arrived at the first monastery, there will be about six camels waiting for you — another reason to show up early — you don’t have to wait for one!

Don’t take the carriage ride!

At the ticket booth, they’ll ask you if you want a carriage ride. A local told us to not bother paying the extra 20-40 dinar — and he was right! First of all, this allows you to stroll through the mesmerizing gulches full of ancient art decorating the canyon walls — something you wouldn’t be able to witness if you flew by on a carriage. Another reason to avoid the carriage is that they are terribly bumpy — just imagine a rickety carriage flying over cobblestones and uneven rock…not my cup of tea. The only true benefit to the carriage ride is not having to constantly tell the Bedouin children you are not interested in their jewelry…unless of course, you are interested in a souvenir, then go ahead and splurge!

Side note: The longer I spent in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the more I realized how much of a ripoff a lot of the touristy places were. The guides have no problem lying to you about historical facts and offering you “historical” items, later requesting you pay for what they handed you. Of course none of these “artifacts” they offer you are actually real and the prices skyrocket once you enter these areas. In all honesty, prices skyrocket once they realize you’re a foreigner, even in local rural markets, it’s just something you have to accept. You still do have the option of attempting to negotiate prices–it is your money after all. Local rural markets offer a lot of the best stuff!

Ride the Camel

Once you get to the treasury (the first spectacular work of ancient architecture), you’ll see camels lying down and Bedouin men offering you a ride — TAKE IT! Spend the money and saunter (or run) through the lower half of Petra via camel, they’re a ton of fun to ride and the experience will make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time. The Bedouin men tend to hold the rope as they walk beside you, but if they feel you’re a competent rider, they’ll let you take control of the camel…which ultimately decides where you’re going.

Take the Donkey

As you wander, you’ll come to a cliff face and will have to make your next big decision — walk the rest of the way, or take the donkey? If you’re scared of heights, or the possibility of dying in a crevasse in the middle of Jordan — do not take the donkey — just choose to walk. Walking takes about four hours for the average person, or if you’re fit, maybe two hours (the “Bedouin” kids can do it in about 20 minutes). My father and I decided to take the donkey as per the local’s recommendation, but we had no idea the absolute terror we were about to endure. I would be lying if didn’t tell you that the daredevil in me was utterly thrilled at the idea of a 1 1/2 hour near-death experience. My father on the other hand — a man who I had never seen afraid of anything in my entire life — was now debating this donkey-decision with every precariously placed step of the donkey’s hoof. The Bedouin men had control of the donkeys when they needed to, but mostly let the donkey follow it’s own instincts.

Going up wasn’t even the worse part of the adventure…it was going down. The specific problem with going down was that the donkeys wanted to go fast. So here you are at deathly angles with your feet at the donkey ears, finding yourself holding on for dear life as this animal careens down the side of what seems to be an almost vertical cliff. The cliffs seem to get steeper and steeper the farther down you go, leaning to my unprecedented willingness to try to get killed in the Middle East. But I would not have had it any other way.

Explore at the top!

Petra’s upper Monastery

After passing many little stalls selling jewelry and trinkets and crossing over dangerous precipices, you’ll arrive at the top. Around the bend, you’ll see the monastery, grandiose and lonely in the morning light. I honestly wish I would have stayed longer and got some better pictures, but at the time of this adventure I wasn’t thinking about photography or blogging, but rather experiencing. Regardless, make sure to climb the nearby rocks and get a far away shot of this beautiful structure!

Be willing to Say “No”

You’ll find that people are trying to sell you a ton of things when you get to Petra (or anywhere in Jordan for that matter), but be wise. A lot of what they are trying to sell you is not what they claim. Chances are they are not selling actual silver or gold. Chances are those are not actually historical items but replicas. Chances are you’re getting a really bad price. If you really do want something, by all means, indulge and just accept you’ll never get the “locals” price. It’s something you just have to get used to in crowded touristy areas or markets, the art of saying, “no.” Sometimes the art of saying “no” is gentle and calm, and other times it will take a firm and abrupt “no” to get the job done. It will all depend on the situation, but don’t feel like you’re being rude if you don’t want to buy something that’s being thrust into your path. Also do not accept anything they try to put in your hands (this should apply for any country), because once it’s in your hand, they’ll require you to buy it or claim that you were trying to steal the item — so just be wary.

Have any other suggestions for a trip to Petra? Let us know by commenting below!