We have grown to enjoy the demands of a travelling day. Even though our bookings have been done a long while ago, there is always some last minute research about stations, bus routes, arrival times, etc. Our transfer from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington DC was one of the journeys with most connections we have ever done. Being:- bus, train, train, bus, plane, metro and taxi. All between 7am and 4pm. Apart from a 30 minute delay to our American Airlines flight due to “bad weather out west” it all went seamlessly and we arrived at our next Airbnb in the state of Maryland. Just a 20 minute Metro ride to DC.
The American Rome
This is one of the unofficial nicknames of Washington DC and from our first visit to the capital it is an appropriate name. We have heard it more often referred to as “our Nation’s capital”. Before visiting, I don’t think we appreciated how strange having a federal district is. The location was selected by George Washington and land was donated by the bordering states of Maryland and Virginia. The District is around 68 square miles and has around 700,000 residents who basically have no representation in the House of Representatives or Senate (apart from one delegate to the House of Representatives who can vote on procedural matters). Crazy! Residents that live where the founding fathers championed democracy and equality with no representation. They seriously need a tea party!
The memorials and buildings certainly have a real Roman influence. There is even a very strange statue of George Washington wearing some sort of toga. Bizarre.
After visiting other cities, there is a noticeable lack of skyscrapers here, even in the business district. Curiosity got the better of me so I did a bit of research and discovered that the Height of Buildings Act (1899 and 1910) restricted building heights so that no building could be more than 20 feet taller than the width of the street it faces. The exception is Pennsylvania Avenue which is zoned in some places to allow taller buildings. This resulted in a light and airy feeling – no wind tunnels created and great views of the impressive buildings and monuments. One of those exceptions is the former Post Office which was built prior to the Act. It has a huge clock-tower attached and the hoardings around it said “Coming in 2016 Trump Hotel”. So win or lose he has a foothold in DC!
White House Visitor Centre
We did a short walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and housed in a building block or two from the White House was it’s Visitor Centre. Thankfully the sandwiches and drinks were undetected by the security staff and we spent an hour or so looking at treasures from the White House. The exhibition very much pushed the point home that the house belonged to the people and it was very much a home to each President and their families. There were some brilliant photos of the children of former Presidents charging around in some sort of make-believe game, as children do. Before we moved outside to actually see the house itself, we saw a display about the building we were in. It was formerly a patents library where researchers and inventors would spend hours scouring through thousands of existing patents to see if they had something unique to file for.
The White House itself was smaller than we expected but we could get fairly close and see the familiar balcony outside the Oval Office. We wondered if Mr O was at home and found out later that, as it was Father’s Day, he spent most of the day there with his family. I had hoped to see someone with a placard or chaining themselves to the fence. No luck – a quiet day for the patrolling Secret Service.
Yes there is a Mall here and it is not for shopping. The broad, mostly grassed, strip of land that runs east from the Potomac River to the United States Capitol Building is called The Mall and the whole area is classed as a National Park.
Centrally along it’s length are the Lincoln Monument, the Reflecting Pool, the WWII Memorial, the Washington Monument (obelisk), Capitol Building and the Library of Congress. Along the sides or adjacent are the White House, the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial, a variety of Smithsonian and other museums, the Botanical Gardens, and a whole host of other memorials and impressive buildings.
The weather was very hot and humid – something else we didn’t realise is that Washington DC has a sub-tropical climate. So even in early summer here the humidity is intense. This resulted in me doing a bit of tree hugging along the reflecting pool to keep in the shade whereas Jon walked along the edge to get a close up view of ducks trying to murder each other in a fight over a duckling.
This was our orientation visit so we visited the outdoor memorials along the Mall which were impressive and beautifully kept. We have 11 days in Washington so we should get to see quite a lot of the sights and museums but in some ways we will only scratch the surface.
We have a constant reminder of the high security profile of this area. Apart from the drone of helicopters, whizzing over the city, a couple of times on our way to the Metro, roads have been closed off by the police to give convoys of blacked out vehicles a clear path through the traffic. Just like the movies – or maybe we are in a movie! What is that I hear, oh only another couple of helicopters.
17.6 – 20.6.2016