American Adventure 2 - Monument, I mean, Washington DC

Published: August 11th 2007
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And the saga continues……

Day 5

Well, after our arrival the night before, the wonderful Ethiopian dinner at the restaurant down the street, & the large room we had been given at the B&B, we were loving Washington DC. We actually woke up to the sound of birds singing, & there were people out tending to their beautiful gardens, even in the early morning. Luckily the day didn’t seem quite as warm as it had when we had arrived (about 35 degrees & incredibly muggy). The sun was out, there was a nice breeze, & all seemed great with the DC. We headed on down to the White House for a look in the city area, finally making it to the outside of the building where we took a few photos. Apparently there are also tours inside the building, but only US Citizens are able to go, & they have to be approved 3-6 months in advance. So rude! After a short time we headed off towards the huge Washington Monument (a giant obelisk) which you could see from miles away. I hadn’t realised how much ground actually surrounds the White House - there was heaps of open space even though you are down in the city, as well as the grass area leading right through to the National Mall to Capitol Hill, & the giant Reflecting Pool, where Martin Luther King Jr made his famous “I have a dream” speech in front of hundreds of thousands of people (also where Forrest Gump addresses the people, if history isn’t your best subject). The sense of space was fantastic, although we did feel as if we were out under a hot African sun from time to time, crawling along at a snail’s pace, frying like a piece of bacon in a pan, things starting to look hazy…mmmm, bacon………...but I digress. We had wanted to go up in the elevator which took people to the top of the obelisk, but learned that because tickets were free, they were usually gone before 9am each morning. I found solace in the fact that there may not have actually even been an elevator inside the obelisk (I’m not sure where it could fit), so it may have just been a big conspiracy all along.

I then decided that I wanted to go on a city bus tour & Vaughan wanted to go to the Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institute (a large collection of museums - 19 in all I think - which are free to the public), so we split off in our separate directions. The bus tour was fantastic - it took about 3 ½ hours to go right back around to the start point, passing such sights as the Capitol Building/Capitol Hill, Union Station, the Ford Theatre (where President Lincoln was shot), Lincoln Memorial, Dupont Circle, Adams-Morgan (the area we were staying in, with all the restaurants), Arlington Cemetery, the Reflecting Pool, Embassy Row, Georgetown (a beautiful, vibrant university area) various other war monuments & important city buildings/theatres/hotels - in general, quite an introduction to the city! The tour was really interesting because you also got commentary, which meant that you were actually able to learn about the places you were visiting or passing by. Washington DC itself is on a small section of land, bordered on one side by the state of Maryland, & by the Potomac River (& Virginia) on the other side. Although Washington DC seems like a fairly large city, many parts of it actually overlap into neighbouring states. The city architecture was completely different to the modern towering glass skyscrapers of New York, & in fact, resembled ancient Greek architecture a great deal more. Think: the White House, with its huge white columns of stone. Most official buildings in DC are of a similar style, and I have never seen more official buildings anywhere than here. It was incredible - there seemed to be every kind of important building known to man (& then some), with Secret Service agents slowly observing even the most innocent-looking Grannies on the street, while motorcades (with sirens screaming) tore by on the street every hour or so (including decoy cars). Not to mention the giant Air Force helicopters buzzing around over the grass. It seemed like something out of an action movie, but this is how Washington DC is every day of the week. It was madness, it was exciting, it was……very American I guess, but very cool to see. I had not had much of a concept of Washington DC before our visit, but it’s a fantastic place!

After my round trip I got off the bus to meet up with Vaughan - unfortunately we had chosen the sunniest day to forget the sunscreen & I was already scarlet. I thought my nose was going to fall off - it was already blistering. Ouch! Despite looking like Rudolph, I enthusiastically listened to Vaughan’s stories about the Air & Space Museum, & kind of wish I had gone as well. At least I wouldn’t have been sunburnt! If art, museums, history, & quirky facts interest you at all, then there’s something for you at the Smithsonian Institute - there are so many buildings that make up this organisation, & it takes up quite a lot of the downtown area. And the best thing about it is that it’s all free! The sun outside was just so hot that Vaughan & I had to seek shade under a shelter near a souvenir/drinks kiosk, where we stayed for about 2 hours, talking to this lady from Arizona who was also sheltering from the extreme sun. She was quite interesting actually, & spoke freely of her political opinions (she wasn’t unpatriotic, but managed to see outside of the square she lived in quite well). Since she was interested in our ideas as well, it was a nice break just sitting there with her while we cooled down with some drinks.

Eventually it was time to venture back out into the sun & head back to the B&B as planned. Before that though, we decided to jump on the metro & head out to the Pentagon, to see what we could see - but it wasn’t much to look at. There was quite a lot of security around & you weren’t allowed to take photos. Being on the outside of course, you can’t really see the Pentagon shape that much because it generally just looks like big flat walls, but I guess it was kind of cool, in a big-flat-wall kind of way. We had seen a Mexican takeaway place that appealed to us the night before, so we headed off back to Adams-Morgan & picked up some cold beverages on the way. The Mexican food was wrapped in this special pastry stuff, & wasn’t like any other Mexican dish I had had before. We took everything back to the B&B & sat outside on the veranda just watching the world go by - it was exciting for us to see a few firebugs come out at dusk, lighting up the air like an ember for just a moment in time. Some people from Missouri (I think) came outside for a while & we all just chatted away, enjoying the cooling temperatures & the peaceful street. Apart from the giant fire station opposite, of course.

Day 6

Today was the last of our time in Washington DC, as we were moving on to Chicago by plane in the evening. I would have loved to have had more of a look around Georgetown especially, but in general, it was far more enjoyable in DC than I had anticipated. As my bus tour ticket was valid for two days, we headed back into town where Vaughan went to an art gallery of some variety (another Smithsonian thing), while I zipped around about half of the tour route, to meet up with him eventually at Arlington Cemetery. Some of you might remember this place from Forrest Gump, with all the thousands of white markers for fallen soldiers. We went up the hill (it was so hot, so of course there were hills!) to see JFK’s memorial site, with a beautiful view looking back towards the city & the Lincoln Memorial. From there we went further up the hill (I swear I must have been bad in a former life) to watch the Changing of the Guard, at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Even though I have been to many of these ceremonies now, I thought this one to be a more humbling experience, & I found myself with a lump in my throat at times, especially when we heard three symbolic gunshots through the silence of the guard ceremony, from just over the hill where a military funeral was being held for a young soldier. I always thought it was sad to see all the gravestones on TV & in movies, but it was quite overwhelming for me to see them in reality. However, Vaughan & I were both really glad that we went there, & we managed to photograph some cute squirrels sitting in the sun on some of the white stones. There was a brilliant photography display in the information building foyer, of the cemetery in all seasons - it just looked so amazing in the snow!

When we finished at the cemetery we headed back towards the B&B to pick up some more (but different) Mexican food, & then grab our bags & head for the airport. We managed to get everything sorted out in time, & took off over DC for Chicago. It was amazing to pass over the Pentagon immediately, & climb steeply above the city. It was a fairly uneventful flight (well, every flight is eventful for me since I hate flying & am always sure we are about to crash), & we made good time, jumping on the ‘L’ (‘elevated’ metro system) into the city & completing the short walk to the motel. It was so close to town, & opposite the largest McDonald’s in the USA (apparently). Being fairly late by this time, we had to try this place out for ourselves so we ventured across the road for a ‘snack’. Don’t forget that Vaughan still only has a temporary front tooth, so it limited what he could eat - he attempted to devour a Big Mac by pulling it into little pieces. Let me tell you, that was one messy experience, so all we could do was laugh like idiots, before heading back to watch some TV. Goodbye Washington DC (sadly), hello Chicago!

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