Santa Claus

I checked out the annual ZooLights that’s held during the Winter holiday season at the National Zoo for the first time back in 2012 (at a time when I was reeling from Christmas Eve when my estranged husband sent a divorce petition in a .pdf format that was attached to an email that he sent on Christmas Eve just four days before the one-year anniversary of the day that my husband left me). I enjoyed myself at the time even though I was exhausted by the time I left.

I hadn’t made any return trips since mainly because I got distracted with doing other things. I finally got the idea that I should go back to the National Zoo during the Christmas season when I was taking the Metro to the recent Dr. Sketchy’s event at the Bier Baron in Dupont Circle. (Link is definitely NSFW.) The Greenbelt Metro station had this cute panda bear display hyping the ZooLights.

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I finally decided to go to the zoo on the day before New Year’s Eve because I figured that it would be less crowded than on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day (especially since those two dates were the last nights that the ZooLights would be on display). On that day it was very bitter cold outside (I think the temperature was barely above freezing) but I still decided to brave the cold weather.

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Once again I tried to arrive while it was still daylight because I wanted to see the animals. The only bad thing is that I saw signs saying that many of the animals (especially those who come from warmer climates) tend to stay inside where it’s warm so I was treated to views of empty animal pens after empty animal pens. I managed to get this neat shot of a canopy of bamboo forming an archway along the Asia Trail.

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After seeing empty animal pens I finally hit pay dirt when I came to the giant panda area. One of the panda bears was sitting outside eating bamboo. (Even though the panda was seated so far away that I had to use the zoom feature on my smartphone, I could hear loud crunching as the panda was chowing down on the bamboo.)

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I saw one other giant panda but that one was inside the Panda House. I didn’t take that panda’s picture because it was sleeping and it had curled up into a tight ball and was facing the wall so all I saw was the animal’s back.

Then I walked over to the red panda area and I lucked out again as I saw this little critter hanging around outside.

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I saw some more animals when I went inside the Elephant House where I saw some elephants feeding.

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By the time I finished visiting the elephants most of the buildings were in the process of closing. (They tend to close at 4 p.m. in the winter.) I managed to take a couple of outdoor photos, including one with a couple of animals that were among the few that were still outside.

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The Small Mammal House was one of the few buildings that stayed open later to accommodate those who were checking out the ZooLights. So I took the rest of the animal photos in that building.

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During my time at the National Zoo I also encountered technical problems with my smartphone camera. My problems actually began a couple of days before Christmas when I had problems with getting the camera software to actually load. Sometimes it would load as usual and I could take pictures but other times it either wouldn’t load or it would load but refuse to take pictures or it would load only to get an error message telling me to restart the camera software.

Basically my smartphone camera started to act more erratic. It finally came to a head when it refused to cooperate after I visited the Small Mammal House. Finally I had to do a Google search on my smartphone and did all kinds of troubleshooting on the camera software while dealing with the increasing plummeting temperature at sunset. Finally I managed to get my camera software working after I cleared its data cache. Unfortunately by the time I solved that problem, I didn’t have much battery power left so I didn’t take as many pictures of the ZooLights as I wanted. But I managed to take a few before my camera stopped working due to low battery.

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The silver lining is that many of the lights that were on display were way similar to what I shot in 2012 so I suggest going to that blog post to get an idea of what its like to see the ZooLights.

The one thing I managed to do what I wasn’t able to do back in 2012 is to check out this train ride. When I was there in 2012 I saw this huge line and I didn’t feel like standing in it. But I still wanted to take that ride because I thought it did a tour of the entire ZooLights. One of the reasons I made every effort to show up at the Zoo during daytime is because I wanted to be among the early birds to get on the train. I managed to get my $3 ticket just minutes after it went on sale and I stood in a very short line so I could be among the first people to ride the train.

I discovered that this train doesn’t go through the entire zoo. All it does is go around the Great Cats area where you saw a couple of light displays (shaped mainly like cows and corn stalks) that you could only see on that ride and it lasted no more than two or three minutes. I saw a lion on a rock while I was on the train but the lion was too far away, it had grown dark outside, and the train was traveling too fast for me to get a decent picture. I also wasn’t able to get a decent photo of the train ride-exclusive light displays but that was no big deal since they were of cows and corn stalks. I personally wouldn’t take that train ride again unless I was with a very young child. When I got off the train I saw a longer line of people waiting to take that train and I can only imagine how aggravating an adult who waited in a long ride to take a very short train ride would feel after the ride ended.

I didn’t stay too late after the train ride because the really cold weather got to me. I think the weather outside was way colder that night than when I last went in 2012 because even trying to rest on a bench got pretty trying because I would get cold very fast when I wasn’t moving. I managed to leave the zoo and get to the nearest Metro station as soon as I could even though I felt major fatigue starting to kick in.

I had thought about eating dinner in a local restaurant before taking the Metro but everything was pretty pricey. I ended up taking the Metro to Union Station where I did something off-beat.

Here’s some background. On Christmas Eve I went to Union Station (along with the Smithsonian National Postal Museum that’s located next door) where I discovered that half of the local level is now being taken up by Walgreen’s. This particular Union Station Walgreen’s have one thing that other Walgreen’s in my area doesn’t: a sushi bar where fresh sushi is made daily.

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The only reason why I hadn’t tried eating there on Christmas Eve was because I had eaten a mediocre lunch at a Chinese stand before I discovered that Walgreen’s had a sushi stand. When I couldn’t find a restaurant near the National Zoo that was within my price range I decided to take the Metro to Union Station (since I had to travel on the Red Line anyway) and try some Walgreen’s sushi just so I can say that I actually did it once.

By the time I got to Walgreen’s I saw that the sushi chefs had left for the day (I took the above photograph during my Christmas Eve visit) but there were a few fresh sushi packages left. I bought the spicy tuna roll and I found it to be quite good. If I had the chance to do it again, I would definitely eat the Walgreen’s sushi because it was good and the prices were on par with similar sushi at Wegmans.

After dinner I got back on the Metro and headed home. I was incredibly sore from doing all that walking in freezing cold weather. I was so sore that I spent most of New Year’s Eve resting at home. But it was worth it because I had forgotten how much I love seeing the animals at the National Zoo. I should make an effort to go back when the weather gets warmer. For added measure, I should pack a lunch and some drawing materials and make a full day of it. I could leave the house after eating breakfast then spend the entire day either photographing or drawing the animals I see. I would definitely do it when the weather started getting warmer (in March or April) so I could rest on the outside benches.

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