Washington, D.C. #2: The National Mall and the Tidal Basin

Published: February 23rd 2018
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It was an early start as I had a walking tour booked for the morning. I was doing a four hour walking tour covered all the sights of the National Mall and the Tidal Basin. After a quick breakfast, I took the metro to Federal Square and from there walked to the meeting point. Once again, there were two tour guides as the tour was very popular. We started just across from the Washington Monument, so we headed over there first. The monument was built in 1884 and was at that time the world's tallest building. It commemorates the USA's first president. The structure is impressive. We got to get a bit closer and I loved taking photos of the monument with the sun in sky. We could also see the White House across the road. I tried to get a photo, but we were just too far away. The tour wouldn't be visiting the White House up close, so I would have to head there at a later date.

The National Mall was designed by Pierre L'Enfant to be the cultural centre of the city, however it didn't quite go as planned and it took a lot longer for the city to turn out as planned. In 1900,the 100 year anniversary of the founding of Washington saw calls for Mall to be redesigned according to L'Enfant's plan. The park was designed after touring cities in Europe and became beautifully grand. Some of the monuments were built at the time or before the park was fully designed and the park highlighted these. Others were added after major events and wars. The National Mall is a gathering place for the nation's major protests and inaugural events. It is especially important for the civil rights movement and is where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech.

We continued down to the National Mall and came to the World War II Memorial, which opened to the public on 29th April, 2004. We had some free time here to wander around. The memorial is pretty big and it took a while to walk around it all, taking in all the images and quotes. The memorial pays homage to the 16 million US soldiers that served, and 400,000 who died, in WWII. The memorial is truly beautiful. Surrounding the pool in the middle there are columns decorated with wreaths that display each of the states that make up the United State of America and other territories. In the middle of each side of these columns, there are small triumphal arches inscribed with Pacific and Atlantic, for the battles won in these areas. The pictures on bas relief at the start of the memorial, depicted life for the men going off to war. I really liked the picture of the soldiers back after battle, living life to full and enjoying themselves. The quotes were also very poignant. Behind the pool of water, there is the Freedom Wall. It is a wall covered with 4,048 gold stars, each star represents 100 American that died in the war. Our guide showed us a small engraving on the back of the memorial, it said 'Kilroy was here'. This symbol was used by American soldiers, they put it in places there were, during WWII to represent their presence and protection.

We walked along by the Reflecting Pool and saw the Lincoln Monument in the distance. We would be heading there later, but first we headed to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The memorial wall was designed by Maya Lin and was erected in 1982. The memorial wall is made up of two parts with 144 panels, inscribed with the names of the servicemen being honoured. There are 58, 318 names on the panels on the memorial wall. These people were 'declared dead', as either Killed in Action or Missing in Action. Before heading to the memorial wall, I headed first to the Vietnam Women's Memorial. It is dedicated to the women of the United States, most of whom were nurses, that served in the Vietnam War. It depicts three women in uniform, one caring for a wounded soldier. It is nice to see the role of women in the conflict being remembered. The memorial was designed by Glenda Goodacre and was dedicated on 11th November, 1993. I headed to the Memorial Wall, seeing all those names there, showed the enormity of how many lives were lost during the war. While reading the names on the wall, one can see their own reflection, the architect designed it such, so that past and present can be symbolically brought together. I then headed over to the bronze statue of The Three Servicemen. This statue was added to the memorial to add a more traditional component to the memorial wall, which caused controversy when the design was unveiled. The statue depicts three servicemen, who are soldiers and a marine. The statue also portrays the major ethnic groups that served in Vietnam, with men identifiable as African American, European American, and Latino American.

Next, we headed up to the Lincoln Memorial. This was very grand and very busy. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America and this memorial is too honour him. The hall is very impressive and looks like a Greek temple with all the columns. From the steps of the monument, you can see the Washington Memorial and the reflecting pool, which reflects the Washington Monument. The view was gorgeous. I headed into the memorial. Inside, there is a giant statue of a seated Lincoln, looking very imposing. There were some quotes on the wall, so I spent some time reading them, before heading back outside to take in the magnificent view again.

The tour then headed over to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Having just left Korea (probably for good), I felt strongly attached to this memorial. If it hadn't been for the Korean War and its outcome, would the country I lived in, have ever existed? It was something to mull over. The Korean War Veterans Memorial was dedicated on the 27th July, 1995, on the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war. We first came to the statues representing soldiers fighting in the conflict. There are nineteen statues representing a platoon on patrol and displays each branch of the armed forces. The statues are dressed in full combat gear and they seem to have a haunted look on their faces. There were some plaques with quotes written on them. I found the one with 'freedom is not free' to ring true. I also liked the quote about how US military service personnel replied to the call to help others, that they had never met, but gave so much to help them. Some paying the ultimate price. The mural wall was really beautiful. It depicts those involved in the war, a beautiful sea of faces.

We over to the Tidal Basin and to the Mather Luther King Jr. Memorial. The memorial was designed by Lei Yixin and was opened to the public in 2011. The memorial is inspired by his 'I have a dream' speech. Martin Luther King Jr. was a clergyman, activist and civil rights leader. He advocated the use of nonviolent resistance and his infamous 'I have a dream' speech, promoted a world free from racial inequalities. Martin Luther King Jr. was, in 1964, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace prize for his work to end racial discrimination and segregation through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. The memorial contains the 'Stone of Hope', which has a carving of Martin Luther King Jr. on it. The statue appears unfinished as from the waist down, he fades away into the rock. This symbolises he was taken too soon, before he could finish his work as he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

We moved over to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial next. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States of America. I really liked this memorial as there was a lot to see, read, and take in. The memorial begins with a statue of Roosevelt seated in his wheelchair. I enjoyed reading through the quotes on the memorial as a lot of them resonated with me. There were some sculptures depicting the Great Depression, which happened during Roosevelt's presidency. There was a small waterfall/water feature and, another statue of Roosevelt, showing him with his dog, Fala. There was also a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, this is the only memorial that honours a First Lady,too.

We walked around the edge of the Tidal Basin to reach our final stop on the tour, the Jefferson Memorial. Our guide explained a bit about the memorial and then left us, so that we could wander around it freely. The memorial was designed in the neoclassical style by the architect John Russell Pope. The memorial building took four years to complete as construction started in 1939 and was not completed until 1943. In 1947, the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson was added. Thomas Jefferson was on one of the most important founding fathers of the United States and was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence. I had a wander around the museum in the basement of the memorial before heading up to look at the statue of Thomas Jefferson. It was quite amusing to see birds flying into the memorial and sitting on Jefferson's head.

The tour had been pretty hardcore and I needed a rest. Despite applying and reapplying sun cream I got a little but burnt. I headed back to the hostel for a couple of hours to have lunch and rest up. Feeling restored, I headed back out. I really wanted to go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but as I found out you have to book tickets months in advance to get into the exhibits. I still went to the museum and looked around the parts that were open to everyone. At least, I have a good reason to return to Washington, D.C. I headed over to Smithsonian museums. There were so many to choose from. I really wanted to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, but the museum wasn't finished yet. This gives me another reason to return. Third time lucky, I headed to the National Museum of American History.

The National Museum of American History is huge and I spent the whole afternoon there, going around all the different exhibits that are spread out across the museum. The museum was very informative and I learned a lot about America there. I enjoyed learning about the different presidents. However I did feel that the exhibits about he First Ladies were a little demeaning. There was information about the good deeds that they had done, but the main things seemed to be outfits that the First Ladies wore and the china that they picked for the White House. It made me feel like we were back in the 1950s, and that was all that women were good for. After the museum, I headed back to the hostel to chill for the evening.

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