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Published: July 20th 2015
Protector of the Union
Abraham Lincoln gazing out over the reflection pool and Washington Monument.
This is a somewhat belated post as we had a busy time travelling in May when my Mum and Dad visited and we haven’t really caught up yet. In classic Ian style, Dad decided to book flights to come and visit before we’d completely settled in which result in them flying in the day before I had to fly out to Washington DC for an admin week at the Embassy. So we decided to view this as an opportunity rather than a problem and turned it into a holiday. I headed off to the embassy for a few days to have Fiona, the boys and Mum and Dad join me mid week for some sight seeing.
The few days up at the embassy were a little tedious, but it was great to catch up with a few familiar faces (including Jamo) that just happened to also be posted to the US. The first night was a great catch up with Chris Kinsey, a US Marine who had attended staff college in Australia and become a close friend – it was a great opportunity to catch up with him and have a few (too many) beers. Needless to say,
Iwo Jima Flag
The original flag raised on Iwo Jima after one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.
the following day of seemingly endless lectures was endured with a moderate hangover making them all the more painful. The social activities of the evening were cut a little short in favour of catching up on some missing sleep.
The following day was thoroughly enjoyable starting with a visit to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). If the Marines are good at one thing, it’s doing drill, and if they are good at another, it’s propaganda, and as you would expect the museum was outstanding. All jokes aside, the Marines have a proud fighting history, and it was all prominently displayed at what is an outstanding museum. Highlights included meeting a WWII veteran who was part of the landing force at Iwo Jima (amongst other battles) and was also in several of the photos on display in the museum. That specific exhibit also had the flag that was raised over Iwo Jima in the infamous video footage which is synonymous with the USMC. What was also interesting was the number of weapons in the exhibits which I had been trained on – including a significant proportion in the WWI, and WWII exhibits, and a lot in the
Vietnam displays……either I’m really old, or the modernization of our Army was long overdue!
After the visit to the museum we headed to Arlington Cemetery for a really interesting guided tour. The cemetery is home to approximately 450,000 people and is maintained to an amazing standard. Arlington was originally in the family of the wife of Robert E. Lee, the commander of Confederate (southern) forces in the Civil War. The US Government started burying soldiers on his property as a bit of an ‘F-You’ to the man who refused command of the Union forces and chosen to fight on the side of the South. We were given a behind the scenes tour of the famous Changing of the Guard, and also visited the site of the only Australian buried their, an Airforce Officer killed in the Second World War.
That completed the formalities with the Embassy, so I checked out of the hotel to head out to the hotel to meet up with Fiona, the boys and Mum and Dad at the hotel. The Ballston area was a relatively high-density suburb and as a result enjoyed a great variety of restaurants, so we enjoyed
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Paddy and I enjoying the view from the open deck of the tourist bus.
a wonderful dinner of Thai food. After dinner, Mum and Dad took the kids back to the hotel and Fiona and I picked up the food for the week. This turned into an exercise of endurance as we got a little bit excited and purchased a bit too much, so lugging the groceries home was a tough challenge!
The next morning we decided to head into the National Mall and meet the Jamieson’s at the Air and Space Smithsonian. We travelled everywhere on the DC metro which is a top-notch public transport system with really clean trains that appear regularly, and the boys really enjoyed riding on the trains. The Smithsonian Institution must surely be one of the most amazing in the world – it was actually established by a Brit who left a hefty sum of money for the benefit and education of the American people, and from this donation the Smithsonian Institution was borne. Equally, the Air and Space Museum must surely be one of the best singular museums in the world. It has a vast array of incredible displays from the original Wright Brother’s Plane to Chuck Yeager’s record-breaking aircraft, to a number of
Ian and Sandy getting photo bombed by Paddy on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
the Apollo Mission command modules and the more Luna Landers. I’ve included a number of photos of the sights in the museum, but needless to say, we filled the entire day and probably could have spent plenty more hours there.
The next day we decided to play tourist and join the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ bus tour of DC. We tend to use these quite a bit when travelling in the US as they are a great way to orient yourself to the city and see all the highlights. Fortunately we had an absolutely cracker of a day and sat in the open top of the bus. The informative, yet cheesy commentary was broken with repetitious marching band music which the kids found incredibly enjoyable whilst it annoyed the crap out of the adults. The bus allowed us to hit all the ‘must-see’ highlights of DC including the Capitol building (which was unfortunately covered in scaffolding), the Washington and Jefferson Monuments, but it also allowed us to get a good feel for the city and it’s architecture. Washington DC draws upon classical European architecture for much of it’s inspiration, and nearly every government building in the city
One of the rare opportunities of getting us all together. I was expecting the guy to tell us to stand in the reflection pool and then run of with the camera 'European Vacation' style.
is a grand structure adorned with Greek style columns and ancient style carvings. It presents a very deliberate and obvious link between Greece as the first democracy, and the United States as the first modern democracy. But much of the city also draws upon more contemporary European architecture with a number of the suburbs clearly very influenced by renaissance French architecture. It really adds to the charm of the city and makes it a very enjoyable place to drive around and soak in the sights and atmosphere.
We enjoyed a long stop at the Lincoln Memorial and explored the war monuments within this part of the National Mall. The Second World War, Korean and Vietnam War monuments are all very different in their design, but are all remarkable monuments and expressions of remembrance within their own right. (Now, I obviously haven’t mentioned WWI in there because that national monument is located in Kansas City and was where we held our ANZAC Day remembrance ceremony this year.) After waiting a ridiculous period of time for the next bus we decided to finish up with the White House. Patrick in particular was really impressed to see where the President
The Big House
Almost all of us in front of the Grand Poo-bah's house
lived, and it was impressive to look through the ‘super zoom’ of the camera to see the Secret Service agents on the roof of the White House looking right back at your through the scope of a sniper rifle! Nicky on the other hand wanted to know where we could buy the tickets from to get in!
Coincidently it happened to be Fiona’s Birthday this day, so we decided to go out for a nice birthday dinner. We found a nice Mexican place that was perfect only to arrive and find there was a wait in excess of an hour, so we found our way into a lovely Asian fusion place and enjoyed a fantastic alfresco meal complete with a number of ‘Temple Woo’ cocktails!
The next day we continued to play ‘classic tourist’ by a visit to Madame Tussaude’s Wax Museum, which is something that I have been very deliberately avoiding, but was included in the ticket on the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ bus. It pains me to admit it, but it was actually a whole lot of fun to visit the museum – some of the wax models were amazingly life-like. There
Little soldiers paying their respects to Ike (in wax form).
was certainly more life in the eyes of the wax George W.Bush than his real life counterpart. The kids had an absolute blast running through the museum and learning about those people deemed important enough to be preserved in wax. I enjoyed it because it gave me the chance to both feel up Beyoncé and punch Justin Beiber in the face……yes, take a number people!
For the afternoon we headed to the oldest part of DC – Georgetown for a river cruise. Georgetown is an incredibly attractive town, which is one of the most affluent areas of the city and still has historical charm in buckets. The bus took us through the centre of old town and down to the old port on the Potomac River where we boarded our complimentary river cruises. Once again, a river cruise is not something I would have been jumping out of my skin to do, but it turned out to be an excellent way to see another side of the city. On a hot day, it was thoroughly gratifying to sip on a cold beer and enjoy the cool breeze off the Potomac whilst seeing the city from the river.
The following day was a very special day as our good friends Chris and Cassie gave us a guided tour of the Pentagon. The Pentagon is a hugely impressive building despite a rather drab and boring interior. The design is incredibly impressive as it allows staff working in the building to easily navigate the halls and corridors to be at any other point in the building within a matter of minutes. To put this in context, there are more people working in the Pentagon than there are in the entire Australian Army…..it is massive, yet can be easily navigated. The place is also like a museum – the walls are lined with the history of all services of the US military, and there was even a corridor dedicated to the ANZUS alliance and the achievements of the Australian and Kiwi military forces over the years. Couldn’t see us doing that in Australia!!
After touring the Pentagon we decided it was time to split up – the girls went shopping to the outlets with Cassie, and Chris escorted the boys to the extension of the Air and Space Smithsonian about 30 miles to the northwest
Blue Steel - Colbert Style
Very very proud of my little men right now.....
of the city near Dulles Airport. Visiting this museum was absolutely one of the highlights of my time in DC and that was for one reason: the SR-71 Blackbird. Despite the museum having a number of amazing aircraft including the Enola Gay which dropped one of the atomic bombs in the Second World War, a Concord, and The Space Shuttle Discovery, it just didn’t compare to viewing the Blackbird up close. This machine is incredible – it is essentially a flying wing with two ginormous rockets and a cockpit. Looking at it from the front it looks like a blade designed to slice it’s way through the air, and it’s all late 1950’s technology. The aircraft on display was built in the mid 1960’s and on it’s final flight flew from LA to Washington DC in 1 hour and 4 minutes, averaging over 3,300 kmph….incredible!
On the way back to Chris’ place, we stopped and paid our respects at the USMC monument which borders Arlington Cemetery. It is a thoroughly impressive statue in both its scale and positioning, with sweeping views across the city towards the Washington Monument and the Capital Building. That evening Chris and Cassie
Space Shuttle Discovery
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre out at Dulles Airport was home to an amazing array of aviation 'landmarks' (pun intended).
hosted us for an amazing American dinner and it was great to catch up with Jason Peppin, another graduate of Australian Staff College and all round good guys.
The next day was to be our last in DC so we decided to spend the time perusing some of the Smithsonian museums. First off the rank was the Museum of Natural History which had some amazing displays which included the Hope Diamond, a preserved Giant Squid, a number of Egyptian mummies (which included a mummified Bull), and numerous dinosaur skeletons. We all found this museum fascinating and were really astounded at the scope and variety of the collection of amazing natural history all under a single roof.
In the afternoon we headed to the museum of American History which proudly displayed great exhibits from America’s history. We saw Bill Clinton’s saxophone, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dorothy’s shoes (which had special significance for us living in Kansas), but probably the most impressive was the original ‘Star Spangled Banner’ which flew above Fort McHenry during the war of 1812, and was the inspiration for the US National Anthem. Despite getting yelled at by the security guard for
This was one of the most awesome things I've ever seen. Such a unique aircraft - the best way to describe it is a flying blade.
trying to take a photo, it was impressive to see how massive the flag was, and the reverence with which the American people held it.
That evening we headed to the airport, completely unaware that we were about to endure our worst flying experience……ever. We were schedule to depart at 7:30 pm, and after enduring a number of delays we finally boarded at 11:00pm only to sit on the tarmac due to bad weather for over an hour. Shortly after midnight it was announced that the flight was cancelled and we would all be rescheduled on a flight the next morning. We collected our luggage and rang around the local hotels to find only one room available for the bargain price of $690 a night…..with no-where to go, I called Chris to ask if we could crash on the floor at his place, and in true form, it was not a problem. We rolled into Chris’s places shortly after 2am and caught about 4 hours sleep before we had to get up to make it to the airport for our flight. Needless to say, we were all pretty tired and the kids were pretty cranky little buggars
Marine Corps Monument
Capturing the famous scene at Iwo Jima with a spectacular back drop. The immensity of the monument is quite striking.
for the next two days. Not the most ideal way to end the holiday!
Despite such a rubbish flying experience we had an absolute blast at DC – it is such a fabulous city, one of my favourites in the world. We spent just under a week there and visited heaps of different sights, museums and walked the city yet only scratched the surface. There is so much to see and do, and the subway makes it extremely easy to get around – it really is a world-class city!
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