Three days in DC

7 May

or how to wear out your feet and brain at the same time!

I was not sure what to expect of Washington DC, capital of the United States, other cities we have visited have been interesting to dip into but left me longing to get back to the quiet life. We had chosen to stay at College Park – Cherry Hill RV – an easy commute via bus and metro into the city. We were efficiently checked in, allotted a site and soon got settled. A talk at 4pm in the communal area would help us negotiate our way around the transit system, we were told, so thought it a good idea to attend. We did pick up a couple of tips like the best place to get off the metro and good places to eat also another little map- we had received a wad of leaflets with our check in and most contained a map of one sort or another for the attractions and tours.

We had booked a free tour of the Capitol building for 1.30pm Monday giving us time to get into DC,  have a look around and get some lunch. We were able to purchase our train tickets at the bus kiosk on the campground to avoid negotiating the vending machines on the station, $6.65 each for a round trip plus $1.70 each for a one way bus ride. The bus comes right into the campground – so convenient! We had been told the Archives/Navy Memorial metro station was a good place to get off as it only had one entrance and exit making it easy to negotiate. We came up the steps and on to Pennsylvania Avenue, promptly turned right to walk towards the Capitol building. The National Archives building was on our left, the FBI on our right, we were amazed at the huge square stone buildings,

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tall but not high rise however, very imposing. After a few blocks we consulted the map to discover we were almost at The White House, completely opposite end of the Mall to where we thought we were! No matter, we wanted to see both anyway …. off to The White House visitor centre first….

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The visitor centre gives an interesting insight into the interior of the White House with pictures and descriptions of the historic interior, changes which have been made by various Presidents and pictures from behind the scenes, family life running side by side with matters of state.IMG_0017 We crossed the road from the visitor centre and just a short walk away were able to view the building itself across the fountains and lawns. Who knows what was going on inside ……

 

 

It is a full two miles from The White House to the Capitol building and we began our walk along the Mall in warm sunshine, we passed the Washington  memorial with a long line of people waiting to climb to the top where they would get a great view of the city and surrounding area no doubt.

 

As we continued the Capitol grew more imposing, the sun glinted off it dome, the white stone walls gleaming.

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On either side we were passing the famous Smithsonian Museums, the newly reopened American History Museum, the Natural History Museum, African American Museum, the Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Castle, to name a few. All looked huge, we hope to visit as many as possible!

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First we had to do our Capitol tour. We were visiting DC on the day after Osama Bin Laden had been shot by US Navy Seals, the news had been full of the jubilant crowds who had been in the streets the night before and of how security was on high alert, we expected lots of people but surprisingly both crowds and security to us, seemed low key!

We entered the Capitol building and went through a security check much like an airport. We had done our homework and knew what we could and could not take in, we passed through relatively easily as usual Roberts belt buckle sounded the alarm and he risked indecency by having to remove it and hold up his trousers. We were directed to an area where we were split into groups and handed head sets, each group was set to a different frequency allowing the individual guides to talk to their group without interference from the conversation in the other. It worked very well.

I think we had another security check here somewhere too…. by the end of the day we had been through so many I forget where they all were, it became quite a normal thing to pop your belongings through the x ray machine before going through the bridge yourself (Robert seemed to set every one off with a different item… once, no item being found he was allowed to pass)

We passed through the outer rooms towards the Rotunda, told we could glance down the passage towards the area where the house members would gather. We passed a door way, slightly recessed from the corridor over the top was the name John Boehner  – Speaker of the House, we carried on into the Rotunda, a feast for the eyes, where to look first to take it all in!

 

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Around the sides of the room are statues of American Statesmen as I stood listening to our guide describing the elements of the room we were looking at, I turned to find I was stood right next to Martin Luther King Jnr.

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Quite un nerving to find him looking over my shoulder!

The building is magnificent wherever you look from mosaic floor to walls and fresco ceiling, gilded paintwork and grand statues. All this and so freely open and available to all, no charges, no queues, no red tape just the security we are now all so familiar with.

Our guide advised that if we would like to visit the Galleries (seating area above both chambers) we could do so by contacting our State Representative (advised US citizens where to go to do that) for those of us from other countries if we had our passports we could go to a desk and ask for a pass. We expected a form to fill and a procedure to be undertaken, as it was we showed our passports and were given passes which would allow us to enter both Galleries for the next 12 months. We were amazed.

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We refuelled at a Sweetgreens salad bar, just a block away before heading back to sit in the Galleries of both the House of Representative and the Senate. We again had several security checks to get in to the area but once there it was much like sitting in a theatre looking down on a round stage, unfortunately the performers were not properly in session so we saw little other than a few nominal people waiting for action, a bit like us really! (We may go back )

Day one coming to a close we made our way in beautiful sunshine back to the Metro, foot sore and brain full of images!

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The world was looking at historical images…. this was outside the Newseum (Museum of News) where every day the front page of every major US newspaper is displayed…. todays was one to remember.

DAY 2

We slept well and started our new day ready for more sight seeing. We had dressed a little more lightly, Day 1 had ended warm and we had carried shower coats, today was forecast to be warmer. Just after 9 we boarded the bus, the 25 minute ride allowed us to connect easily with the Greenbelt Metro. Today we came out of the station and walked in the correct direction to take us towards the Capitol building but we were hoping to visit the Library of Congress Jefferson Building which sits just behind the Capitol. Our aim was to take a tour of this building then move on to the air and space museum for the rest of the day.

Entering the building by the main doors we encountered the same security as previously but swiftly passed through and towards the information desk where we asked about tours. We were directed to a seating area where along with around 50 others we watched an orientation film. We were then split into groups and allocated a guide.

Following our guide we entered the Great Hall. If I had been bowled over by the Capitol building I was truly in awe of this one.

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The library was first housed in the Capitol building, however, we very bad English burned that down in the war of 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered his own personal library to the country to replace the books lost, this became the basis of the new library housed in the Capitol until completion of the new building in 1897.

The small cherubs in the marble freeze depict areas of ‘modern’ life, each carries a different tool depending on its trade, a sickle for the famer, a pallet for the painter and so on. From the illuminated high ceiling to the marble mosaic floor the whole room is a piece of art work, I felt humble to be standing in it.

Grand reading rooms were visible behind closed doors, books for reference are available to anyone who would like to read them on application, we were told however that the reading rooms are now very quiet as most research is carried out on the internet.  On the second floor in east corridor we were taken to where huge old German bibles dating from the 1400’s are kept in dimly lit glass cases, extremely rare and valuable these books are on display in three month slots before being rotated with others to rest them.

We later browsed the exhibitions on our own, and wandered through the beautiful building seeing Thomas Jefferson’s original library of books which has been recreated including  some of the original items.

This had all taken a surprisingly long time and it was now around 4.30, we still had not entered one of the museums and this should have been our last day. We decided we had to stay another night. We had expected the Air and Space Museum to close at 5.30 but for some reason that night is was open later, they must have known we needed more time. Having been to several NASA sites we were not so interested in the Space part of the museum but hoped to see the original of the Wright brothers flying machine.

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The airplane flown by Amelia Earhart was amongst the exhibition too, as was the Spirit of Saint Louis, the first airplane to cross the Atlantic. Other historical flights were commemorated like the Battle of Britain and firsts in commercial flight too.

Whilst I found this interesting I was not as fascinated as Robert and I am going to leave him to discuss it further in his blog www.roadvoyagers.wordpress.com . I am sure he will include more pictures too!

I was, I think, too tired to enjoy the museum to the full, when we got back that evening I was not sure which part of my anatomy ached most, I am just not used to being on my feet for this length of time any more, we had left at 9am and got back around 7.15pm!

Glorious sunshine on the previous two days was replaced with rain and grey sky’s for our third trip into DC. Out came the rain coats again! The aim today was to see the American History Museum and some of the Natural History Museum, the experience of the last two days had made us take stock of what we could actually achieve in one day.  We decided the best way for us both to see the things we were interested in was to split up, we rarely do this but we would never have covered the ground in the time we had if we didn’t.

I went to the second floor where I wanted to see the exhibition devoted to the First Ladies. Many old and beautiful gowns were on display here. The oldest were displayed in dim light to protect their colours, they were attracting lots of attention from visitors of all ages.

 

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The dresses worn by many of the more recent Presidents wives for the inauguration ceremony were displayed in a second room, it was interesting to see the change in style over the generations. The most recent was that worn by Michelle Obama 1n 2009 but I thought it had a marked similarity to the oldest gown on display. My favourite was a black gown the style of which I could quite easily see as a wedding gown if the fabrics were changed to white.

From here I looked in at the exhibition titled ‘Within these walls’ – a house had been reconstructed within the museum after being transported from Ipswich, Massachusetts, 200 years of history associated with the property have been explored and are presented in the form of snapshots into the lives of several families who lived in the house over the years. I found it fascinating. As was the exhibition The Diary of a Civil War Nurse.

Robert joined me to visit the 200 year old American flag which flew at the Civil War and inspired Frances Scott Key to write the poem which became the National Anthem – The Star Spangled Banner. We also viewed the America at war exhibition.

So much more to see…. so much we could learn….. by 3pm we were tired, foot sore and threw in the towel! On the way back to the Metro we stopped in at a lovely new bakery right by the station called Paul (part of an International chain which has many stores in London I discovered later) we bought lovely bread for tea which surprisingly survived the journey home without getting nibbled!

My overall impression of DC? A clean, comfortable, pleasant city, very green, obviously pretty at this time of year with new growth on the trees. Absolutely tons to see and do, I would find it hard to believe that you could not find something of interest in the Smithsonian for anyone. My lasting impression… the wonderful buildings of the Capitol and Jefferson Library of Congress. If I went again? I would definitely like to go into the Galleries to watch actual business taking place and the Natural History Museum is still to be visited…and so much more!

 

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3 Responses to “Three days in DC”

  1. Tammy May 7, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    Yes DC is a wonderful place to visit…and the buildings for the most part free. last time I went I visited The National Indian Museum and the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust one is not a national museum, so you have to pay, but it was well worth it…Most of the other buildings I have not seen since I went in the 8th grade…

    • elainethehill May 10, 2011 at 6:11 am #

      Thank – you! Added to the list of ‘to do’ IF we return. You would probably find a few changes since you last visited. I thought the head set commentary was such a good idea and not at all cumbersome or intrusive. We visited Harley Davidson in York PA yesterday and they did a similar thing, I am sure it is expensive to provide and maintain but so good for the visitor.

      • Susan May 11, 2011 at 11:39 am #

        great post, as usual! I think D.C. is one of those places that has an overwhelming amount of things to see and do, and requires multiple trips in order not to overload yourself. Sadly we won’t get there this time through, but as you know its because of exciting things going on in our lives.
        We will be in PA starting this coming Sunday, first in Apollo, slightly northwest of Pittsburgh, then slowly heading east. Not sure what route we’ll take, we are looking for hiking along the way. I’ll keep you posted, JUST in case we might be in the same place!!

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