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Published: January 26th 2016
Washington, DC -In the midst of Pope-mania
Arriving in Washington, DC we didn't know whether we were lucky or not. Pope Francis was arriving the following day to meet the president -roads were going to be closed, access to some of the sights were going to be limited. The whole event was kind of a big deal. We knew nothing about his DC visit until we were on the Megabus there. We are not Roman Catholic, so hearing of his visit we were more or less indifferent to it. We were coming to Washington to sightsee, get a glimpse of Barack and shamefully visit sights featured in the popular US TV show 'Scandal'.
Washington, DC is definitely a capital built with the intention of being a capital. The wide roads are in grid format; vertical avenues are named after states and the horizontal streets are more or less lettered, as in A street, B street etc. Buildings are grand with large columns, although the further you go out residential properties begin to line the streets. In the centre though everything has a purpose, the roundabouts have a nice greenery and sometimes a statue of one of the
countries forefathers. Walking around was pretty easy to navigate but we must have walked a double marathon during our time there or at least it felt like we had at the end.
On the bus there, we'd booked ourselves onto a night walking tour of the National Mall - A 3km stretch of park including popular sites such as the Lincoln memorial, the Capitol building and the white house itself. Arriving at the meeting point we joined a fairly large group for our "pay as you like" tour (same company we used in Boston). As the sun was setting, our guide led us to our first stop; The Washington Monument. At 169m tall it is the tallest freestanding stone structure in the world. Standing at the foot of it looking up at the monument commemorating the US's first president, you really do feel dwarfed by it. Following our guide as she effortlessly reeled off interesting facts for the various spots we passed as the day slowly turned to night. It was a welcome change to the normal tours we would do, as we get to see things from a different perspective whilst taking a nice evening guided stroll. Our
tour included the emotive WWII memorial and the Vietnam war memorial. Both were really moving, showing a representation of the loss suffered during both wars respectively.
WWII had a beautiful fountain and a wall of 100 stars; each star represents 4,000 soldiers lives lost. The Vietnam memorial not only included statues of men and women who served but also a huge wall listing the names of all the soldiers who died or whose body had not been returned to US soil. Both really got us thinking and our guide also explained how each war was differently received in terms of public opinions at the time of each war. The final stop was the highly recognisable Lincoln memorial. As it was dark by this point, it was all lit up. Looking in the direction that Lincoln is facing we could see the Washington memorial in the distance and its reflection in the aptly named 'Reflecting pool' in front of the Lincoln memorial. On the steps there is also a quote right at the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream speech".
The great thing about Washington is that all the museums are free...even the
zoo is free. With 19 free museums to choose from and with only a few days here, we had to choose wisely. From a recommendation we chose the National Museum of American History. One slight annoyance about museums in America is that they are generally freezing cold. It's like walking into a chiller section at the supermarket whilst outside the weather is gloriously hot. We almost regretted putting short sleeves and shorts on. Aside from the arctic conditions (slight over exaggeration) the museum was really informative, solidifying knowledge we gained in Boston as well as adding new information to our ever expanding knowledge of America's history.
Within the museum there was huge areas dedicated to WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War. All well depicted through images, quotes, artefacts and exhibits. We especially found the section on WWII captivating, illustrating how the states became an ally with France and the UK, the way they recruited men through the campaigns and posters, and the way it shaped America as it is today.
Further to this was a section on African American history detailing the slave trade and the civil rights movement. The fairly small exhibit was a snippet of the
soon to be completed 4 storey African American history museum being built not too far from the Washington memorial. Hopefully it'll be completed in 2016 and should be just as interactive and informative as the American history museum.
Walking around DC can be hungry work, on our first day here we stopped by a fast food place just around the corner from where we were staying. Upon hearing our accents the server welcomed us to DC and gave us free fries to go with our extremely large burgers. We also ordered milkshakes that were so thick we had to eat them with a spoon. They could've been a meal by themselves! Taking a seat we noticed on the restaurant tv that there was news coverage of the popes arrival to the city. We decided to watch the arrival whilst tucking into our burgers and discussing the event with staff and some other diners.
With our bellies swollen, we waddled out the restaurant and headed towards the white house. Due to the arrival of the pope we guess there was more security than normal and more limited areas. 15,000 people were estimated to be in town to
get a glimpse of the pope. Luckily the white house was still accessible. Following our map we got to Pennsylvania ave and were told we couldn't go down it by security, we asked when would it be accessible and he simply replied "later". Noticing secret service agents talking into their comms and a few people hovering about with cameras we thought we'd stick around. Before we even got our camera out, two black cars pulled out of Pennsylvania ave and we caught a glimpse of one of Barack's daughters in the back of the 2nd one.
However there was no Barack, Michelle or Pope Francis in sight. Seems she had things to attend to of her own. We were pretty impressed with this sight even if it was not Barrack himself. After the cars had been let through they opened up the road again allowing us to go down it. We never knew how close and accessible the white house was, or how small it looked. We'd always imagined it a lot bigger for some reason. We hung around for a bit taking pictures from the fence before walking around to view it from the other side. This side
was a lot further away from the house but still it was no match for our zoom camera. Still nothing was happening. After a while the police/secret service came yelling at people to clear the area. Obviously everybody wanted that one last photo, but the police were having none of it. They brutally split the crowd in half, ushering us away further back out of the area. One woman had no idea where her dad went. We assumed the president must've been arriving or something.
It must have been the hype surrounding the Popes arrival or even seeing one of the Obama daughters - we really wanted to see something now. We'd heard the fenced off areas opened up at 4am the following morning for people to meet the pope as he does his rounds in the pope-mobile. As much as we wanted to see the pope or the Obama's, 4am wake up was not an option. On our way home that evening we passed a few people with sleeping bags and fold away chairs. Seems some people were in it for the long haul.
One thing we were surprised about here were many anti-abortionists and their
method of raising awareness. They used really hard hitting images strewn across their vans depicting real life abortions and the removal of foetuses. You’ll be happy to know we did not take pictures. Their visit was purposely timed to coincide with the popes visits and they were certainly making their voices heard and creating somewhat of a shock reaction with the masses here.
In between sightseeing, we took time out to just relax and enjoy the beautiful weather. One afternoon we took a break on the grass by the Washington memorial and decided to get creative with our picture taking of the memorial. It was such a perfect day and we knew we could offer something more than the most obvious crude pictures. Worked pretty well if you ask us. We then decided to walk to the different monuments we visited the night before to get better pictures in day light.
One thing that stood out to us at the Vietnam War memorial was the ‘Honour Flight Veterans’ visiting this memorial. These are veterans who served and survived during the Vietnam war who cannot financially or physically make it to DC to view it and are funded
by ‘Honour flight’ to visit, often accompanied with a volunteer for the day. It was really moving to see them there and as we passed by we noticed many Americans greeting them with ‘Thank you for serving’.
The memorial itself has the names of every man and woman that did not make it back, differentiating those who were found dead and though who were never found.
We enjoyed lunch on the grassy area facing the Capitol building, people watching. There's plenty of food trucks parked here so we were spoilt for choice.
In the evening we went to a free comedy night at a place called the Big Hunt. It was also Wednesday which meant it was half price burgers. Burgers are beginning to become a staple of our diet in the US. Not good. The comedy night was fun although there were way too many comics with too short of sets. Each one trying out new jokes. Again, like the one in NY there was a large mix of talent.
Washington felt like such a safe city to walk at night too. Obviously you have to have your wits about you like anywhere
in the world, but we felt totally relaxed walking the streets in the evening.
On our last day we had a tour booked at the Capitol. The same building the pope delivered his speech to congress only hours earlier. Like we mentioned earlier, we are not Roman Catholic, but seeing the pope felt like it would be a once in a lifetime thing. Where else would we have the opportunity to see the pope? We were having a lazy morning that morning and only realised the pope was leaving the capitol as we were ready to leave out to do some laundry. We dropped our laundry bags and jogged a couple blocks towards the Capitol before coming to a crowd of people huddled near a street blocked off by police. Apparently the pope was on his way to a church just around the corner. Most people including ourselves had no idea what was going on. After a few anti-climactic moments, official word got around that he was already in the church. So much for that then. We returned to do our laundry.
Laundry took a little longer than we thought making us anxious about missing our
tour at the Capitol. Whilst waiting however we enjoyed people watching and had a few friendly chats with others doing their dirty laundry too. In order to avoid missing our tour we had to run all the way to the Capitol. It seems a short distance on the map but it took us 30mins; mixed running and walking. We managed to get there on time albeit a bit sweaty. We'd seen capitol so many times in films and TV. The iconic rotunda of Washington, the place where senators and representatives of house get the voice of the people heard. Unfortunately for us it's under much needed repairs, so the views were obscured by scaffolding. Even the jaw dropping inside of the dome area is all covered up, so we unfortunately couldn't see it in all its glory. Nevertheless, our tour guide led our group through the building, after watching a brief introduction video about Capitol, pointing out rooms, statues and paintings inside. Many statues are donated by states, the criteria is the person must be dead and only 2 statues per state. Our guide even pointed out the exact spot where the pope stood earlier that day when he canonised
St Junipero Serra, as well as where he addressed congress only a few hours prior. The tour gave us a very brief insight into how important decisions are made in the US but it all was over before we knew it. 30 minutes roughly. At least it was free!
Our impressions of DC was pretty much the same as the last 2 cities. We loved it and can’t wait to return.
September 21st 2015
Accommodation: Duo Hostel
Travel: NY to DC via megabus. 4.5hrs $10
Tot: 2.706s; Tpl: 0.08s; cc: 15; qc: 32; dbt: 0.0312s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.4mb