Hello Mr President

Trip Start Aug 07, 2013
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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Washington DC is the first 'modern' capital I have been to. By that I mean a capital that was designed for the purpose of being a capital, for example Brasilia (Brazil) and Canberra (Australia).  It is a slightly strange feel to be in such a manufactured place especially being a European and being used to the many old and historic cities I have visited.  I have grown up in London very much in the same way as London has grown, organically.  This means London has many faults and foibles but it has many positives too.

Washington DC is not organic.  It was planned and planned well.  Charles Pierre L’Enfant was hired and after a plot of land on the Potomac River was chosen as the site for capital of the USA he came up with a master plan.  According to some his work was overseen and undertaken with the assistance of George Washington no less.  The city was called Washington, as you may of guessed, to honour the first President of the United States, George……err….what was his name….W Bush?  Oh no that’s right Washington!

Enough on the history, if you want to know more I am sure you know about Google! 

Well suffice to say that due to its planned nature the city does lack a certain X factor, lacking a certain reality.  There is a good reason for this, many of the main federal buildings or museums were built to look old.  The Pantheon and the Roman Forum at Nimes were major inspirations, now these buildings are over a thousand years old.  Washington was officially incorporated in 1790/91.  Ipso facto the buildings are built to a style common to the Roman era but are most definitely not that old.  The buildings are impressive and very well built, however when you go a few blocks away from the Mall you are immediately in any other US city.  This leads to a certain disconnect and makes the city feel a little like a Hollywood movie set.  All front and no back.

I really enjoyed my time in Washington DC but boy are we tired!  We have done so much and seen so many amazing things it feels like we need a holiday from our holiday!  We spent five full days in DC and there is still lots we didn’t see!

It started off well with a relaxing drink down by the river in a bar, where we were both asked for ID for the first time since arriving in the US.  We then spent our first full day wandering the streets of Washington, as there is so much to just see even without ever going indoors.  We were staying 5 blocks south of the Mall so we spent a lot of time walking around, no need to use the Metro.

Sunday morning and the Mall has a great feel.  It turns into a park with locals playing touch football or Frisbee or flying a kite.  The Mall always makes me think of the formal nature of the city, the planned layout, the seat of the massive power of the US Government and here I am surrounded by everyday people enjoying the freedom of the Mall to play sports.  It was a nice surprise and pleasant change of pace.

Heading west down the Mall we eventually arrived at the George Washington Monument.  It is the large obelisk / needle for those who have probably seen photos but don’t know its name.  The Monument is closed to visitors due to an earthquake in August 2011 which caused a huge crack through the whole brick structure around half way up!  The views from the top, when it’s open, provide the best views of DC.  In no small part, this is due to the fact that by federal law no building or structure in the city can be taller than the Washington Monument.  As if the honour of having a whole city named after you was not enough they built the monument as a little reminder! Haha.

So anyway from there we turned north for the classic view of the White House.  We walked around to see the other side of the White House and then eventually made it to the Lincoln Memorial.  This may sound or look close on TV but it is a considerable amount of walking.  The Lincoln Memorial is to Abraham Lincoln, one of the most written about presidents in history.  He was the one assassinated in the Ford Theatre in Washington.  The memorial has more current interest as it is the location where on 28th August 1963 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous "I have a dream" speech, the 50th Anniversary of which is this Wednesday and we are planning to attend to see no less than three presidents speak (Carter, Clinton and then Obama) as well as MLK’s son, sister and many other luminaries including Oprah!

From there we visited the memorials to Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt, & Thomas Jefferson before making it back to home.  A whole day of walking and we were ready for a rest.

The following morning was an early start for the 25 minute walk to the Capitol Building where Jenny had organised a tour.  It is an amazing building with a very interesting history.  To stand under the dome is inspiring for its sheer size, impressive paintings, statues and the fact that it is the centre of the city  (geographical & politically).  From there we visited one of the Library of Congress buildings, another amazing building with ornate decoration throughout and another impressive dome.  (See photos).

That evening we went to a free show at the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts.  It was a theatre group performing amusing ads found on CraigsList.  It was funny, weird in parts (intended), featured a fight scene and a sex scene!  I was not expecting that!  Thankfully it only involved going down to sports style underwear!  Our main motivation for going there was to see the Kennedy Centre and DC from its famous terrace, but also to see a bit of culture.  The theatre group closed with a sum up of life in DC which was good as a tourist and very amusing to the locals!

The following morning was an early start, well ok we left home at 0930, to the National Archives.  Made more famous in popular culture by the film National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage.  This is where in one impressive room the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights are all kept on display.  The early start was to avoid the queues (good research from Jenny again) and it was well worth it.  There was no queue so we had plenty of time to look at each document and read the interesting information about the documents accompanying the displays, for example the misspell on the Bill Of Rights of the word Pennsylvania, they put one too few n’s! You are not permitted to take photos inside so apologies to all there are none to see on the blog.

In an action packed day, from there we went to the Old Post Office Tower for a high up view of the city, swung by Ford Theatre, the National History Museum, the Holocaust Museum and the Air & Space Museum.  We saw a lot of amazing things and it was a very hot day so after that we were ready for a rest.

The following day was the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington at which MLK gave his “I have a dream speech”.  The plan was to wander down the Mall from our flat to the Washington Monument and on to the WWII Monument and enter the area down there to watch Barrack Obama speak as mentioned earlier in this post.

It was a wet and overcast day, which will be evident in the pictures due to the volume of umbrellas, so we wandered out around 1300 and found a good spot near the Washington Monument, outside the secure area (to which there were big queues) and we could see the Lincoln Memorial but not hear the speakers.  This problem was solved by standing next to people listening to the speeches via internet radio on their iphones.  The speeches were good, what we could hear and understand via the delay on the radio.  We ended up doing a lot of standing up and were quite jaded by the time Barrack finally came on stage and started speaking at 1500 for just over 30 minutes.  It was amazing to be there on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, protesting for civil rights for all, especially the African American people of the USA which was still a greatly divided country.  To stand there on the 50th anniversary and see not only the president speak, but a black president was inspiring.  I felt the occasional emotion in the presidents’ voice who as a two year old probably understood little of the speech given by MLK in 1963 but knew all about it as he and every child in America grew up.

From there we walked to a Metro station and caught the train to Arlington National Cemetery.  An amazing place for its size alone but also for the memorial to many historic moments in US history and to famous and illustrious Americans.  JFK (& Jackie), RFK and EMK (Kennedys) and Charles Pierre L’Enfant are all buried there along with countless soldiers of valour.  Memorials include the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana in 1898, the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters, PanAm 103 (Lockerbie) and of course the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  We timed it to perfection, by chance, to witness the changing of the guard.  This involves three soldiers, see photos for more.

Our final day in DC.  We had a lazy start and then a mad 35 minute walk across the Mall to the Old Ebbitt Grill, the nearest restaurant to the White House and a famous haunt for the occasional senator or congressman/woman.  We were not expecting to see any one of note, but it was more to experience the place, enjoy a nice meal and relax a bit.  The restaurant is very good, we both had a great meal (the best in US said Jenny) and it was not really any more expensive than a normal restaurant.  We had two cocktails and two mains for $50 USD.  One of the nice touches was that with the bill comes a print out of the latest news headlines!  Very power broker! Haha.

From there we took a long walk up Pennsylvania Avenue to Georgetown, the oldest part of the city and therefore not on the Metro network.  The area has a more European feel due to it being older with old brick houses, slightly narrower streets and older stop fronts.  It is the smart part of town, probably very expensive to rent/buy property.  JFK proposed to Jackie in a Georgetown bar and also lived there before becoming president.  One of our funnier moments was when a lady in a shoe shop asked Jenny and I if we were related!  Jenny said YES! (because she misheard) I said no, the lady was confused.  She said she asked as we both had such beautiful eyes!  How nice of her (Remind me to tell you the story of when I first spoke to Jenny, and she ignored me!  Seriously!)  Jenny confirmed we were boyfriend and girlfriend and most definitely not related! Haha.

A relaxed evening of packing ensued, once we got home via the Metro, for our early morning departures on Friday to Halifax.  My flight was at 0801 and Jenny’s at 0700 so we were both out the door and walking to the Metro station by 0510!  We decided to take separate flights as Jenny was able to use frequent flyer points to pay for hers, but it was much cheaper for me to book a different flight.  So although we left the flat at the same time, Jenny went south to DCA airport and I went north to Baltimore.  We next meet in Canada!!

Washington is a great town and well worth a visit.  Amazing museums, amazing sights, good bar scene (lots of students) and friendly people (e.g. lady on our first metro ride offered me her seat due to our large bags).

So I guess here is a good point to sum up our time in the US of A as we are leaving now to head to Canada.  I have had a great time, made greater by having my own personal tour guide (Jenny) although I did sack her a few times but she kept coming back! Haha.  Boston was our first port of call and it was both our first time to visit.  Jenny the tour guide came in handier on arrival in NYC and Washington (I knew I brought her for a reason!).

One of both our highlights was going to the crown of the Statue of Liberty.  It is a tight stair case up and then a small observation deck but this only adds to the occasion.  The vibrancy of NYC life was also a great thing to experience.  Visiting Amish country was amazing especially as we did it with locals (Jenny’s godmother Diane).  It really is an interesting way of life and amazing they manage to keep their culture and heritage intact in the modern age of globalisation.  The most relaxing evening we had was aboard a sunset cruise down the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty.  It was a beautiful boat, a beautiful evening, a beautiful sunset and beautiful company!  And bought for us by equally beautiful people!

I hope I have not waffled on too much but if you have made it this far I assume you found it of interest.  CANADA here we come!  Until the next post…
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