Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. is the political playground of the United States, home to more memorials, epitaphs, tombs and monuments than I’ve seen anywhere else. D.C is small and can be covered in a few days tops, that is unless you’re a huge museum geek, in which case you may need a few extra days. I feel the beauty of DC lies in it’s layout. It’s simple and to the point. You can easily walk from sight to sight with ease.

I had decided to go to D.C. because it was within easy reach of NYC. I had already done Boston on my previous trip to the USA so I decided to head in the other direction. A friend of mine had recommended that I go to Washington as he loved it and wanted to see what my opinion of it would be. After visiting I’d say that it is an interesting city and that there’s plenty to see. It’s not like other cities; certainly it doesn’t have the fast paced vibe of New York, the culture of Kathmandu or the eclectic mix of old and new that London throws at you, but it is special in it’s own right. It’s a city that is the capital of a proud nation and Washington D.C. represents all of that and more. The DC stands for the District of Columbia, I guess so it doesn’t get confused with Washington State, but also as I understand it, to have the political powerhouse outside the influence of any one of the 50 States of America. I suppose this is so the interests of that state don’t intersect with federal law. Effectively DC is a small state of it’s own, though not classified as one of the 50.

We had arrived in DC from NYC and it’s reasonably cheap and accessible to do so. It’s around a 4 hour drive and cost in the region of $20-30 for the return on Megabus. If you’re going to go I’d recommend having at least one night in DC, just so you’ve got some time to chill. We had two nights there and stayed at One Washington Circle, which for the area (close to the White House) was well priced. Especially considering we got an apartment with two double beds, a kitchenette and a balcony. The area itself was good as it’s on the border of the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom (everyone has a good giggle at the name) so I incidentally got to explore yet another American university. If you want to stop by and enjoy some sports, with a beer and some pretty decent grub then I’d heartily recommend going to the Froggy Bottom Pub located at 2021 K St NW, Washington, DC 20006. It’s still got that collegiate feel but it’s not quite as dive bar as you might expect. In fact when I had heard it was a student bar I was surprised at how classy it was! If pub food isn’t your thing then there are other establishments. Burger Shake and Tap on Washington Circle is a good eat and the shakes are (as always in America) superb. Word of caution though. If you are thinking of heading to Washington DC then try to make it a weekday, simply because we found on the Sunday we were there, everything was closed and even cafes didn’t open until pretty late, we didn’t get breakfast until around 11!

Like always I travelled by foot to most places. You can start by seeing the White House, front and back before heading over to the Washington Monument with it’s huge array of Star Spangled Banners surrounding it. Like Bunker Hill in Boston, it is possible to go up but you need to book well in advance (like weeks) so bare that in mind if you want to head to the tip of Washington DC. From there you can walk along the length of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, made famous in many films such as Dirty Harry and Forrest Gump. Do make sure you check out the National WWII Memorial located at the beginning of the pool. When we were there it was early January and the pool was frozen over, the ice being so thick that people were able to walk on it.

When you reach the end of the pool (it’s longer than it looks) pay respect to the sitting Lincoln and make sure to read his famous Gettysburg speech engraved upon the walls. From there you can either head North back to Constitution Avenue NW and see the Vietnam memorials and gardens or head South towards Independence Avenue SW and pay homage to the great Martin Luther King Jr. This is one of the most impressive memorials to any person I’ve seen, if you read the text engraved on the stone and look behind him it becomes more obvious what it means. You almost walk behind him and though his shoes following him, a leader and a voice for the people.

Continue walking around the lake which is strangely named ‘Tidal Basin’ and you will come to the Franklin Delano Memorial. This was an interesting place and I’d thoroughly recommend you take some time to visit it. It is a collective group of metal and stone statues, blocks and walls, with quotes engraved onto them, it is like some strange maze that when you come out the other end you are left slightly unnerved at the folly of war. It was potentially to do with the fact that there was melting snow and ice stuck in the engravings that was creating an eerie atmosphere, but nonetheless it’s worth a look. Continue round and cross the bridge while admiring the low flying planes coming into the Ronald Reagan Airport to find yourself at the Jefferson Memorial. Which when standing on the top steps affords some spectacular views across the city. Continuing round will take you past the Federal Mint and the United States Holocaust Museum back to the Washington Monument. By all means head onto the Capitol Building, we decided not too just because it was covered in scaffolding. If you are heading the US Capitol then be sure to check out the free museums on the National Mall. Most if not all are free to enter and are pretty excellent. We were running out of time so only got to see the Natural History, which had a really interesting exhibit on the evolution of humankind.

Something that is a must to do when you’re in DC is to take the metro across to Virgina and get off at Rosslyn (Blue, Orange and Silver lines) and walk south down N Meade Street towards Arlington. On the way you’ll pass the very famous statue of the soldiers erecting the flag officially called the US Marine Corps War Memorial, but also known as the Iwo Jima. From there continue south towards the quirky Netherlands Carillon (bell or instrument housed in a tower) before continuing onto the cemetery. If you see a large gate and guard house then chances are you’ve got the wrong way and are heading towards Fort Myer. I found the guard to be helpful at directing me to the right place and it seems that it is possibly a common mistake. I make no secret of the fact that I enjoy cemeteries. I find them very peaceful and they fill me with a sense of respect. I love reading names and dates and wondering who they were and what they did in their lives. Arlington is the largest military cemetery in the US and purportedly houses the graves of over 300,000 individuals; including the late John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline and two of their children. There is a permanent memorial and an ‘eternal’ flame that burns there in memory of them. What struck me was that every single grave had a wreath laid by it. It was a sea of white tombstones and red wreaths stretching as far as the eye can see. I’m not sure if it was for Remembrance Sunday (if America holds witness to an event like this) or for Christmas. Either way it had me in awe. I’d have stayed much much longer if it wasn’t for the incessant rain. I should add that I don’t tend to take photos of graveyards so sadly there are no images of Arlington I can add. You’ll have to go and see how spectacular it is for yourself! When you’re ready to go catch the metro from Arlington Cemetery (Blue line) and head back to DC while getting a cheeky view of the World Famous Pentagon. By all means head to Arlington Cemetery station first. I only suggest Rosslyn as there are more lines and you get to see the Iwo Jima also. As for the metro this was one of my favourite metro systems yet. The stations were reminiscent of something of a nuclear bunker from the 1960’s with a modern space age twist. Lights running along the platform that flash faster as a train approaches. The system also uses mezzanines for ticket offices so you can look out over the platforms while booking your ticket. Beware though all the stations look the same so don’t get confused! My only complaint is that the tickets can be a bit flimsy, try not to get them wet (not easy in heavy rain) and don’t place them next to anything magnetic (bank cards and the like) as this can effectively zero the credit on them. As I found out.

Although I was not in Washington DC long and of the places I’ve been in the US it’s not my favourite – I did find it a bit bland. It reminded me of being in the financial districts of London or New York; it lacks personality basically, which is not entirely surprising it is a Governmental District littered with memorials. That said it’s well worth visiting and perhaps with an extra day or two I could have explored more museums. I don’t think the weather helped, the second day was particularly heavy with rain. I think it’s possible that I may head back if I’m ever nearby again, but it’s not a destination that I would potentially seek to go to without it being apart of a larger trip (such as NYC for example). If you want to know anymore details about Washington D.C. then feel free to ask me in the comments below. Until next time.

Jon

Cover Photo: Across the basin to the Jefferson Memorial.

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