When I say a step by step guide what I actually mean is our step-by-step guide to JWalking around Washington DC. We do tend do walk everywhere don’t we? I’ve always said that you don’t really get to know anywhere until you’ve wandered around for a while and got lost!
As Jo mentioned in a previous post there are just so many memorials in Washington that it’s really hard to take them all in properly unless you’re on a whistle-stop hop-on-hop-off type of trip. Not our style really so we pick and choose and try and visit the places that interest us the most. Two of those places were the State Capitol and the Air and Space Museum so we planned a JWalking hike accordingly around the eastern end of the National Mall.
Once again we’d planned a big walking day out when the weather was unbelievably hot. Washington DC is sub tropical and apparently built on swampland so the humidity is sky high for the whole summer. By the time we’d walked down to West Hyattsville station from our Airbnb, got the train, and walked to the US Capitol we were both sweating buckets (well I was, I understand that Jo was perspiring a little). No problem we thought, it’ll be air conditioned in there. This was our first mistake of the day.
Now there are a lot of police and security guards around Washington DC, a lot. In fact they’re everywhere, strutting around armed up to the teeth and trying to look tough. Power mad I reckon. Anyway, as we got to the US Capitol entrance we were stopped by a particularly jobsworth officer who immediately lectured us on what was and wasn’t allowed in ‘Our Nations Capitol Building’. Normal things obviously but no food or drink, including water. We had a packed lunch and a couple of bottles of water (it was pushing 100 degrees outside for goodness sake) so Jo asked where we could check in the bag. ‘Nowhere, you can’t bring that in’ replied Robocop. A polite discussion ensued where Jo asked what other people did who had water and food and she was told ‘they don’t come in Ma’am’. So we didn’t go in and turned away as the squad of 10 or 12 fearsome looking wannabe marines obsessively defended the Nations Capitol against terrifying tourists and their sandwiches. (part two of this story continues later).
Library of Congress
An amendment to our route took us across the road to the very impressive Library of Congress. Of course we didn’t just head there to get out of the sun and into an air conditioned cool building, we went to see the books.
This is the US National Library and is the second biggest collection in the world behind the British Library having been located here since 1800. It’s actually the Thomas Jefferson Building and once inside the Great Hall is absolutely stunning. It’s a fabulous recreation of Greek and Roman classical architecture. The ceilings are covered in the names of the worlds greatest writers and poets from history, it’s fascinating.
We wandered round Thomas Jeffersons Library and a wonderful map exhibition before finding ourselves in the basement next to a sign that said ‘US Capitol Tunnel’. After a quick word with a couple of library staff we discovered that you could check your bag into the cloakroom and then walk through the tunnel to the Capitol Building. What? Why hadn’t Robocop and his team of hired mercenaries told us that?
The US Capitol Building
Obviously we strutted through the tunnel, through multiple check-points and into the Capitol building as if we were crossing through Checkpoint Charlie in 1965. We’d beaten the system and were full of ourselves, even though absolutely no-one else knew or cared. An impressive building though with so much history and a fascinating museum on the history of US politics and detailed explanations of what the Senate and the House of Representatives were and what on earth they did.
Bizarrely, there were several shops and even a restaurant inside the building. A restaurant that sold food and drink! Now we understood why they banned picnics, it would affect their profits! They must have been the Marketing Police we’d fallen foul of, now it all made sense. Next stop the Botanical Gardens and our very suspicious ham rolls.
Air and Space Museum
We love a bit of space we do and this museum had the lot. The Space Shuttle, Gemini program, Sputnik, International Space Station, Hubble Telescope, and of course all of the Apollo missions. We could have stayed there for days as there was just so much to see and learn. The best sections were undoubtedly the original Wright Brothers plane and their story, and the classic Apollo 11 command module Columbia. If you don’t know the Apollo 11 story then you should, read all about it here. Jo got a little emotional as you can see ……
So a long long day with lots of walking in intense stifling heat, time to head home. Back on the Metro and hopefully back in time for a quiet relaxing evening. Didn’t quite work out again. As we left Prince George Plaza station for our 15 minute walk home the heavens opened and within seconds we were in the middle of a tropical storm. Torrential. Roads flooding in seconds. Strong winds and some of the heaviest rain we’ve ever experienced, and we were just in t shirts and shorts!
Soaked to the skin completely. But the more wet we got the funnier it seemed to be. So actually a great, much cooler end to a great day.
Domino and Hyattsville
Our Airbnb outside Washington DC was in a small suburb called Hyattsville and actually in the state of Maryland. Maggie and Matt were our terrific hosts and their house was nestled beneath huge trees in a beautiful quiet street. We had a fabulous room with everything we needed and perhaps the most comfortable bed we’ve slept in since we left over a year ago. I can’t decide if it is the most comfy but all I know is Jo never ever wanted to get up or out of it for our whole stay. And to top it all Maggie had a wonderful little dog called Domino that we completely fell for. We’re not dog lovers but in this case …..
Arlington National Cemetery
It might not sound like a normal place to go but Arlington Cemetery is one of the must-see sights if you visit Washington DC. Its the national military cemetery and contains the graves and monuments of American servicemen and women since the civil war. Over 400,000 graves are contained there, it truly is a massive place.
There were a massive number of tourists arriving in coaches and buses and they all streamed up to John F Kennedys grave for a bunch of selfies and then streamed back to the gift shop. Not very respectful we thought. If you took the time to read the plaques, Jo just can’t help herself, and walk around you could see the two Space Shuttle memorials plus the Unknown Soldier memorial and many many others.
We were so pleased that we visited and found it a touching, thoughtful place to be. Some of those selfie-tourists should have taken the time to look a bit further and leave the standard tourist trail. Their loss of course.
As I mentioned earlier there are so many memorials in the city and its almost impossible to see them all. So our walk from Arlington Cemetery took us down Memorial Avenue, over Arlington Memorial Bridge, past the Lincoln Memorial, down the banks of the Potomac River, across to the Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial, round to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and back up to the National Mall (full of more memorials).
It’s easy to get ‘memorialitus’ and just take a quick photo and stomp past but they are all incredibly interesting in their own rights if you take the time to look. We particularly liked the Jefferson Memorial as the exhibition was immense and gave you so much information on the man and his life that we just had no idea about.
So to summarise in a very sensible way. A fantastic couple of days learning all about Washington’s history and the famous people that helped to shape it. Fascinated by the library, annoyed by the police, soaked by the rain, humbled by the cemetery, obsessed by the space missions, infuriated by the other tourists, and completely won over by a little dog called Domino.
21.6 – 23.6.2016