Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Well, here's the Washington DC post. You better get a cup of coffee because it is a monster! Have fun!

As luck would have it we arrived in Washington DC on a Sunday morning, which meant traffic was light (for Washington DC), and we drove smoothly around the city following the I-95 to end up about 20 miles south of downtown at the Regional Park's campground of Pohock Bay.


We'd booked a site for a week here, figuring this city would take us some time to fully explore, including a few days to recuperate in between. Well, rest .. and golf of course.
Since we'd arrived early and the Pohick Golf Course was right next door, we immediately set out to do just that :



The next day we set out early to catch the last VRE train of the morning into the city. It only runs during the morning and evening commute and leaves from Lorton, a small town just a couple of miles down the road from the park.
How convenient! Reasonably priced and no problem to park!

It was a 'double-decker' train with a very interesting 'open' design. You could look right up into the second level ..
We were lucky to snatch up the last two seats on top!

The train took about 35 minutes to arrive at L'Enfant station where we were very happy to find a Starbucks for a nice cup of coffee. 
It than took only a short 5 minute walk to find ourselves at the famous 'National Mall', smack in the middle of downtown DC!

The long, grassy National Mall (nicknamed “America’s front yard”) is home to iconic monuments including the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. 
At the eastern end is the domed U.S. Capitol, and the White House is to the north. It's also flanked by Smithsonian museums, and its lawns and pathways are used by walkers, joggers and cyclists besides the many tourists.
Seeing it it’s hard not to think of America’s history.
So many demonstrations, movements and celebrations have taken place here ...

I must say, I was a little overwhelmed to be there. Washington DC! Wow, who'd thought I would ever go there ..

Smithsonian Institute Building 'The Castle'

I was also amazed to not find the 6 lanes of busy traffic I'd somehow imagined, but a nice wide, pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard with two gravel walkways and many park benches to sit and take in the iconic surroundings.

In the entrance rotunda of the Natural history Museum you're welcomed by Henry, a 12-ton, 14-foot-tall African Elephant.

We were early so we had to wait a few minutes for the museums to open and we were among the first to enter the National Museum of Natural History.
Something I didn't know either is that 'the Smithsonian' are actually several museums, not just one, and they're all free! They're all housing different collections, and are all stunning for the buildings alone.

We picked a few 'must-sees' like the Gems and Minerals exhibition, mainly to see the beautiful Dom Pedro Aquamarine and the famous 45.552 carats, $200–$250 million dollars worth 'Hope Diamond'.

We also looked at the Mammals, the Dinosaurs, the Neanderthal reconstructions in Human Origins and the Ocean Hall ..

And after seeing the Tarantulas being fed in the Insect section, we walked through the Butterfly pavilion:

Before we entered the museum we'd hid our backpack with our lunch, which you're not allowed to bring in, at a construction area just outside the main entrance, and fortunately it was still there (and nobody had reported it as a 'suspicious' abandoned package) when we came out.
So we had a quick lunch in the sun, at one of the aforementioned park benches, and headed for the Capitol Building.

You can visit the historic areas of this amazing building through a (free) guided tour only, and we'd booked one on-line for 1 pm.

The tour lasted about 45 minutes and was worth every penny. (Which actually was none .. pennies, I mean, it's a free tour!)
You're first shown a very interesting and informing video, after which you're given a headset and are lined up for the tour. This headset connects you to the 'life' guide, which is an incredible way to let you hear all she's telling 'loud and clear'!

The paintings and statues inside are all really beautiful! What an incredible experience to be in such an historically important building!

This cupola is just beyond amazing!
Look, here's James, about to take the same stairs every new president walks down to be sworn in at a platform over the steps outside:

After the tour we took the tunnel you can walk through that takes you right to the Library of Congress.
Well, if you think the Capitol was beautiful you haven't seen anything yet! This National Library we liked even better, but than .. I'm partial to libraries ..

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. 
It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

The Library receives some 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 12,000 items to the collections daily.
The Thomas Jefferson Building (1897) is the original separate Library of Congress building. (The Library began in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol.). It houses the Thomas Jefferson's Library .. how awesome is that?

And the enormous, gorgeous main reading room which you can view from up above. 
Doesn't it look like a scene from Harry Potter?

Outside the library sort of blends into other surrounding buildings, but inside the building is really brilliant and exquisite.


We were so glad we went to so it, it's truly stunning!

After all this we were pretty done for the day, at least I was, and ready to go 'home'. 
On the way back to the railway station we did a quick in and out of the Botanical garden along the way ...



Just like all the other museums and buildings we've visited today, the garden is also free to the public!

This pretty vine was in bloom and I have no idea what it is ...

Our train ride back went just as smoothly as the way in, we could even sit despite the very busy train. It was good to be able to rest those tired feet.

We'd only seen about half of what we planned to see here in Washington so after a good night's rest we were ready to go back for more!
This time we took the subway from the L'Enfant railway station to the Arlington National Cemetery on the other side of the Potomac River.

Arlington National Cemetery, the most famous cemetery in the country, is the final resting place for many of the nation’s greatest heroes, including more than 300,000 veterans of every American conflict, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Before entering the cemetery through its main entrance, all pedestrians are screened by going through the cemetery's Welcome Center. 
The Welcome Center also contains exhibits and displays that tell the story of Arlington National Cemetery and its significance to the nation and there are maps and information services (including grave locations).

Among the most frequently visited sites in the cemetery is the grave of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who is buried nearby along with their son Patrick and their stillborn daughter Arabella.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stands on top of a hill overlooking Washington, D.C and has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937, by the U.S. Army.
There is a meticulous routine that the guard follows when watching over the graves. It's a very moving experience to witness this procedure that takes place in respectful silence ...


The flags in the cemetery are flown at half-staff from a half-hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day. 
These funerals, including interments and in-urnments, are normally conducted five days a week, averaging between 27–30 per day.
The Cemetery conducts approximately 6,900 burials each year!

We happened to come upon one, it was an impressive ceremony ..

Walking through and seeing these long rows of white tombstones is a frightening reminder of how much sacrifice has been made in the name of freedom.
We of course had seen this cemetery on TV many times, but were still blown away by how huge it really is. It is very well kept and beautiful and serene.
It certainly shows the care that the Veterans Administration puts into honoring those who served their country.

It's not a place you come away from very happy though ... 'so many young lives lost in wars of old men ..'

Afterward we walked back towards the Mall over the Arlington Memorial Bridge, (2,163 feet long) crossing the Potomac River  once again.

The northeastern entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge features The Arts of War sculptures.

At the other side you arrive at the western edge of the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial.
We had a quick lunch at a small kiosk, which happened to have THE best coffee I ever had, and walked up to the Memorials. 

"In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."   
Beneath these words, the 16th President of the United States sits immortalized in marble as an enduring symbol of unity, strength, and wisdom,
After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, just as the Civil War was ending, Congress incorporated the Lincoln Monument Association to build a memorial to the slain president.

It was build to to impress and inspire, and that it certainly does!

The entire monument is modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, with the idea that a memorial dedicated to a man who defended democracy should echo the birthplace of democracy.

In front of the Memorial lays the Reflection Pool. Lined by walking paths and shade trees on both sides, it dramatically reflects the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall's Elm trees, and/or the expansive sky.

The Washington Memorial
Though not completed in time for the memorials dedication in 1922, the reflecting pool has become one of the most recognizable and filmed sites in Washington, DC.
Purposely placed and strategically positioned, the memorials and monuments on the National Mall align along a great cross-axis first envisioned by Pierre L'Enfant in 1791.

I got a thrill out of walking alongside the pool to the Washington Monument and passing the spot where Forrest Gump and Jenny waded towards each other at the Vietnam War protest rally in the movie 'Forrest Gump' ... 

The World War II Memorial, at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, is a memorial of national significance dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II.

It's a pretty, fairly new monument for Washington DC, from 2004, and a nice work of 'fountain-art ...

OK, only two more items to go on our agenda! First up .. the White House!


Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. it's an easy stroll from the Washington monument so before we knew it we were standing right in front of it!
How awesome is that! Me, in front of the White House. Awesome! 

This is the closest you can get to the front/southern side, where you see the iconic semi-circular portico. It looks rather far away in the picture but in reality it is quite close by. 

We took some time to take it all in (see the secret service guys on the roof?) after which we walked around the building to the northern side where the columned portico faces Lafayette Square.

So cool to be here, another one of those places 'as seen on TV', where reporters are standing when reporting for the news!

You can tour the white house on the inside too, but you have to arrange an appointment for a tour weeks ahead of your visit through your Congressperson, who has to nominate you for a visit.
You also have to be a US National and a green card puts you at the bottom of the (long) waiting list.
So, instead, we visited the White House Visitor Center, just down the road.

It is a kind of a small museum but had a lot of information about the White House and the people who have lived there, with some displays of items used by ex presidents and a short movie about life in the White House, with many presidents and their family members sharing their experiences.

There's a very cool  model of the WH with interactive displays in the middle of the Center.


It allows you to see many of the official rooms on all floors and in all wings.
Pretty cool!

We didn't see much of the business or commercial end of the city, which we're never very interested in  anyways, but we came across a few nice old buildings in the area around the White House.

And that brings me to the last place we visited that day, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This museum is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. It provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history and although I've seen my share of Holocaust museums (being from Europe it's hard not to), I really wanted to see this one. 
I'd heard it was something else to see ..

And it sure was ...

There's a LOT of reading and information to get through, among which a couple of short movies. 
Spread out over 3 floors, you start with the Nazi rise to power, followed by the persecution of the Jews, ending with how the Nazis' were pushed back before arriving at the Remembrance Hall on the lower floor.

Hall of faces ..
The silence and solemnity as you walk around tells you the impact this memorial has on its visitors. It's a very moving experience.


This museum handles a very tough subject very well and when content may not be age appropriate warns you, some of the images are hard to stomach ..

A visit here makes for a very heavy day, but it's well worth your time. Especially in this day and age with everything going on. 
We must never forget. 

I was glad we'd saved this museum for last since we really weren't much in the mood to see anything else after this.
Time to get back to the ranch.

James tried for a little nap on the way back .. just resting his eyes ..

But if you think this was all for this beautiful city, you'd be wrong, because there was one more place we'd like to see while we were 'in the neighborhood' .. Mount Vernon, Washington's home in Alexandria.

Since we were only 11 miles from Mount Vernon, and we didn't have to go into the city, we decided to just take the truck and drive there ourselves the next day.
We'd made an on-line appointment  or 10 am, which is necessary to take a tour of the house. 
You can visit the rest of the grounds, all of the other smaller buildings and the museum, in your own time and schedule.


Mount Vernon was the plantation of George Washington, the first President, and his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. 
The estate is beautifully situated on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, near Alexandria.
The house is actually fairly modest, I mean for a president, but we're talking about the first one of course, and those days were basically still 'pioneer-times' ..

Photographing wasn't allowed in the main house but here are a few of the 'utility' rooms and buildings and of the slave quarters ..

Yes, this great man had slaves too .. but apparently he was very good to them .. ?
We were grateful for another beautiful sunny day, since most of the things to see are spread out over the extensive grounds, for which you do a lot of walking.

It's a really beautiful estate, and now I understand why Georges Washington and family wanted him to be buried here, and not at the Capitol. 

And that really concludes our visit to Washington DC! Been there, done that! 
Of course there's so much more to see in this incredible and beautiful city but I think we got a good 'feel' for it and who knows we might be back some time. 
We should leave something for than, shouldn't we?

Holy smokes, that really was a monster of a post! But hey, it's Washington DC, what can I say?

Three more 'travel' blogs to go. Making progress!