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Published: June 25th 2017
Geo: 38.8921, -77.0241
It all started with The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert in a three day segment that he had gotten his portrait hung in the Smithsonian national portrait gallery. I've never been to Washington D.C. but have been especially interested since my 2005's world trip that took me to many overseas capital cities. As fortune would have it, I was even able to get tickets for $225/each for the following weekend and thus, Friday night after work my wife and I drove to the airport and headed east to our federal seat of government. We arrived fairly late at 11pm at Reagan National Airport. Fortunately that airport is connected to the subway system. We arrived at the International Youth Hostel of DC around midnight and got checked in. The staff seemed decent, although it seemed to take forever them to do something in the computer system. We had a 6 person room and everyone was just getting to bed so we did the same.
Bright and early Saturday morning, I went to get ready and remembered right away why it was that traveling wears you down. The airport security had made me throw out my liquids (shampoo), I forgot my
soap and toothbrush at home, and the water in the shower had only an inkling of warmth to it. Luckily this hostel had body wash soap dispensers in the showers themselves so that I got by using my wife's body wash puffball (I'm not sure of the word?). The front desk had a sample shampoo as well, so really things didn't start off all that badly. In any case every travel day gets better after the initial shower/dress routine is over and done with.
We didn't come to D.C. with any plan except to get our picture taken at Colbert's portrait, so we joined the morning tour. The Saturday tour was run by some database administrator that works somewhere in town. He seemed knowledgeable, yet he couldn't escape his slight oddness and often times would go off on a tangent about macroeconomics while talking about things. I like having a tour on the first day because it gets you acquainted with the city and the guide usually has at least some local insight into what you're going around seeing. The other reason I liked the tour is that just about everyone else on the tour was a foreigner and
I found it interesting to note what things they were interested in, what things were personal to them, and what things they didn't care about at all.
I could describe each little thing we saw, but I'll try to keep it interesting instead. We made our way down NY Avenue towards the White House. On the north side of the WH is the smallish Lafayette Park. Here we encountered what is probably the most amazing thing on the entire trip. Apparently since 1981 a protest has been sitting in front of the White House 24 hours a day 7 days a week protesting war and nuclear weapons. Even more amazing is that I've never heard of it. I was born in 1981, so its astounding to even consider that for the entire length of my life, during every experience I can remember, a handful of people have been sitting in a chair in front of the White House between two big yellow signs.
After a bit of wandering we came to the Washington Monument. What struck me immediately is that the bottom third is a different color than the rest. Apparently they ran out of money during early
construction and by the time they found some a different quarry was being used. Down around the reservoir was the Jefferson Memorial. The structure is a simple open-air rotunda with a giant statue of Jefferson, but there is kind of a majestic feeling as you stare up at him and read his writings on the inner walls. You might say he achieved immortality through his ideas.
Next on the loop was the FDR memorial. It was nice, but a little long and complex in my opinion. Newer memorials seem to try and capture every aspect of a leader's challenges instead of distilling them into a simple shrine. Jefferson's statue feels like its radiating freedom, while FDR's feels like a parade of abstract architecture.
Lincoln's memorial was in a league of its own. The expression on his face as look forever out at the Capitol is one of calm dominance. His right boot edges off the platform as though he just sat down. Nearby is his right hand flat and peaceful in contrast to his gnarled left fist, representing his dual roles as a wartime and peacetime president. The whole thing looked really realistic to me and I just
had this overwhelming sense that any moment he might stand up and begin a "freedom rampage" through the city.
The Vietnam Wall was an interesting short walk. The wall itself is actually in a large diamond shape with the side panels only having a few names and the middle panels being about ten feet in height. There were a few volunteers near the wall that would help people find names or reach the upper names for a rubbing. I listened in while a nearby visitor talked to a volunteer and they found they had been in the same platoon during the war.
The world war two memorial might be the least creative and least inspiring memorial I've ever seen. Considering its importance in history and the fact that it sits on prime memorial real estate, it sucks. All you get is a big stone circle with one pillar for each state and a cheesy wreath hanging next to it. I mean, what pops into everyone's head when you think of WW2...a list of the fifty states? (/facepalm). Granted the fountain wasn't running in January, but I don't think it would have really added a lot.
After departing our
economics tour guide, we walked over to the Air and Space Smithsonian and toured around a bit. I did learn a lot about the space programs of the 1960s and 1970s, but the real reason we stopped in was to see only piece of the American History Smithsonian available during that buildings renovation. The ENIAC (first computer) was there as well George Washington's uniform. I was pretty excited to see the exact Mickey Mouse calculator and Casio keyboard that I spent hours playing with as a child. Just down the hall was a GPS section with one of Garmin's (my employer) first hand held consumer GPS units.
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