Travels in America: Washington DC

My husband Joe and I have undertaken three trips to the United States, and have loved our travels there.? In the keeping with the holiday spirit as we all take a well earned break, I have brushed the dust off our blog written at the time (October 2014), removed excessive cussing and tidied up the grammar for Whaleoil readers.

Day 1:

The Auckland -> San Francisco -> Washington leg.

We leave for the airport in plenty of time, there has been a fire at a substation and there are approx 80,000 homes without power, which also means all the traffic lights in the area are out as well.? Thankfully there are no issues, drivers are being sensible and traffic is light, most unusual for Auckland & we arrive with plenty of time to spare.? We board on time and are pleasantly surprised to find the aisle seat next to us remains empty, so we have extra space to spread out.? The flight is smooth and uneventful, just how we like it.? A few crying babies do their thing to hamper our chances of sleeping, but I manage to get a few hours kip and try not to fidget the rest of the time.? We arrive early in SFO, no issues getting through Immigration, getting finger-printed or getting our luggage, though we snigger at Carousel 2 just in from Tokyo, so jammed with trollies and anxious travellers 6 deep that no one can actually GET to the carousel to pick up their bags!

We hike across to Terminal 2 to check in for our next flight, it?s hot and sunny and we stink like pole cats, so buy two new t-shirts to stop the dogs from following us.

Plenty of time to grab some lunch while we wait for out flight to Washington.? We board on time but some kind of auxiliary power unit is not working so that means they have to start one of the engines while we are at the gate, and for some reason that causes quite a long delay.? We are 45 minutes late taking off.? Sigh.? Another uneventful flight, this time on Virgin America, which is budget and you have to pay for everything, including checked luggage, food and movies.? Tea Coffee and water is free, and the coffee is much nicer than the swill Air New Zealand had the nerve to call coffee.? But the late departure means that it?s 1am by the time we collect our bags, wait for the shuttle and get dropped to our apartment for the night.? We are staying at Washington Circle in an apartment we rented off Airbnb.? It?s a quaint old Georgian brick house, very quirky, but the one disadvantage of booking something like this is it?s not as easy to find and let yourself into at 1 am.? Thankfully the instructions were pretty thorough and we had no issues once we found the place.

We shared the shuttle with a native American, who was in Washington to be admitted to the bar.? For clarity, as a lawyer, not as a drunk.? He noticed our accents, asked where we were from, and then went on to talk about Maori in New Zealand.? Apparently, he has studied indigenous cultures in depth, and in his opinion, Maori have fared better than most other indigenous people during colonisation.? Not perfect, but not as bad as some other aboriginals.? You meet the darnedest people in the darnedest places.? It was also a salutary lesson in not judging a book by its cover, as he was enormously overweight, barely able to walk, and I had made unfair judgements about him before he spoke to us.

Day 2

We slept pretty well in our apartment, woke about 7 am and started the day with a coffee (no milk !) in our room.? Then we showered and headed out, and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House.? Watched a big motorcade of about a thousand cops escort someone important into the building next door to the White House, argued for a bit about whether it really WAS the White House or not (it was but the back side, not the front, hence the reason it didn?t look familiar to me, and besides which it’s actually really small) .? We walked to the front side of the White House (which I DID recognise) and then wandered to the Washington Monument.? It was way taller than it seems in photos and on TV.? We carried on to the National World War II memorial which was very impressive, and then on to the Lincoln Memorial.? Quite a stunning building made of marble with an over-sized statue of Lincoln, also made of marble.

Lincoln Memorial

We stopped for a quick bite of lunch, then went to the Vietnam Memorial.? Wow, the American?s sure know how to honour their fallen soldiers.? A very sobering memorial, the names of all 55,000 that were killed during the conflict carved in chronological order into the marble along a stretch of wall roughly 40 metres long.? One end of the wall points to the Lincoln Memorial, the other to the Jefferson monument.

Vietnam War Memorial

There is a statue of three soldiers overlooking the wall, with white African American and Latino soldiers depicted.

Then it was on to the Korean war memorial, this was one of my favourites.? Oversized statues of men set amongst scrub, all wearing rain hoods and carrying their gear.? Next to the statues is a marble wall, and on it there are faces etched, so it appears that the faces are looking at the soldiers.? Very hard to photograph as the faces are best seen from a slight angle and the wall is shiny black marble and very reflective, but really impressive to see it in person.

Korean Memorial

We wandered home after this to drop off a heavy book Joe had bought on the American Civil War, and for me to change my shoes ? sore feet ? sigh.? Headed off again to Arlington Cemetery, this time using the Metro system, which is pretty easy and efficient once you understand how to buy tickets.? Arlington is enormous, just acres and acres of land which must have thousands of servicemen buried here.? Visited John F Kennedy?s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.? Then we walked all the way back through the other side to the US Marine Corps Memorial, Iwo Jima.? This was really impressive and Joe was forgiven the long hike to get there, it?s a huge monument and well worth the visit.

Iwo Jima

The Cemetery closes at 5 so it was time to head home again, with tired feet and sunbaked necks & faces.? It was quite warm here today, 22 degrees and very sunny, we were expecting it to be a bit cooler.? Dinner at the local burger bar, update the blog on what we did today and pick some photos that summarise the day.

Day 3

We?re feeling the effects of the change of time zone plus lack of sleep today, I have felt like I?m moving through treacle all day.? We are 19 hours behind NZ, so 7 pm at night here is midday NZ time.? We had a rude awakening this morning when the workmen downstairs started banging and sawing.? The owners of the apartment are doing up the other units in the building so there were workmen here until at least 7 last night when we went out for dinner.? When we got home again, we had no power.?? We were able to phone the owner and his partner came to our rescue, the painter had turned off the mains by mistake.? Sigh.? The downside of using Airbnb rather than a motel, redeemed by the fact the owners live nearby and were able to fix it quickly.

So we had a later start to the day, the first stop was to buy a camera to replace the piece of junk Sony that has died for the second time.? It was replaced under warranty last year, the replacement fell ill not long after that but we were able to revive it, but now it has died completely.? We will not be buying another sony !!!? A replacement was purchased and we headed off to the Captol, and went to the Library of Congress.? Wow, what a stunning building.? We spent ages in here, it is a beautifully ornate building with painted ceilings, mosaic floors, marble columns and leadlight roof domes.

Library of Congress

Then we went across to the Capitol building and had a bite of lunch.? After the amazingness of the Library building, we weren?t bothered about waiting for a tour of this building, so once we?d finished our eats we caught the metro back to the Smithsonian, and walked to the Air and Space Museum.? Joe was like a kid in a candy store.? I thought the space stuff was pretty cool, I got the see the actual waistcoat worn by Gene Kranz.? If you?ve ever seen Apollo 13, he was the Chief of NASA?s flight Control Division and there is a scene in the movie where his waistcoat, handmade by his wife especially for each mission, is delivered just before launch.

The Kranz vest from Apollo 13

They also had the original Wright Brothers ?Wright Flyer?, the first aeroplane to successfully undertake sustained controlled flight.? The wing fabric has been replaced but the rest is original.? Amazing to be able to see up close the craft that was the beginning of it all.

Wright Flyer

We had some niggly issues with our credit cards being declined which was most annoying.? Westpac tell us it?s a CVV issue and we should either use ATMs? or a different merchant.? Not helpful !!!? The eftpos terminals here are pretty old, mostly swipe based rather than chip and even have a panel for you to sign on so your signature can be captured ? no PIN entry here !!

We were feeling pretty tired by this point, feet aching, legs heavy, but the Pentagon was on the same train line as we had to catch back to Foggy Bottom where we are staying, so we decided to head out there for a look see.? Yes Foggy Bottom is a real place, and yes, I chose to stay there just because of the name.? I really am that shallow.

We went to the Memorial for those killed in the September 11 attack where the plane was flown into the Pentagon.? It?s a great memorial, really simple but well thought out.? There is a seat in the park for each of the victims, with their name inscribed on the end of the seat.? For the victims that were working in the Pentagon at the time, the view of their name has the Pentagon building in the background.? For the victims on American Airlines Flight 77, when viewing their names, the visitor sees the victim?s name and the direction of the plane?s approach in the same view.? Each seat has a pool of flowing water beneath it to reflect the sky and light.? There are maple trees planted throughout the area which will grow tall to provide shade to over the Memorial in years to come.

911 Memorial at the Pentagon

Security is very noticeable around the Pentagon and I was asked to delete a photo I had taken of the side of the building as it also had included some check points plus cars in the car park.? You are allowed take photos from within the Memorial grounds where all you can see is the outside wall of the building, but not the entrances/exits where the security checks etc are done.? Seemed a bit farcical to me, if I was wanting to gather intelligence on the building I wouldn?t be wearing a bright pink t-shirt and looking obviously like a tourist, but he was armed so I wasn?t going to argue the finer points of Homeland Security.

Then it was time to head home, eat and rest our weary pins for the night.

Day 4

Woken again by the workmen renovating the building at 7.30am.? Mutter mutter.? Have posted some feedback to the owner saying it really shouldn?t be rented out with this level of construction work, as we also came home to a fine layer of dust over EVERYTHING as it has sneaked into our apartment under the rather large gap in the door.? If we?d known we would be living in a building site we would have paid extra for a motel.? Anyway, that forced another early start to the day, so we wandered into Georgetown which is a rather quaint and historic area of Washington.? Thankfully the shops weren?t open yet, it looked to have some interesting stuff in the windows.? Then we made our way to the Second Storey Bookshop that Joe had found (Joe?s rule of travel is there is ALWAYS a 2nd hand bookshop nearby) and then caught the metro into the Smithsonian.

This time we went to the natural History section, which was all in all rather disappointing I thought.? Much smaller than I was led to believe, and with less exhibits than I was expecting.? Went to the butterfly pavilion where you can walk amongst the butterflies, which was pretty cool, though again they had less variety/numbers than I expected.? Maybe I?m getting to hard to please in my old age.? I just thought that the Smithsonian was the museum to top all museums, and while they have a few cool one-of-a-kind things, all in all, it?s not as impressive as I expected.? Maybe I have already been spoiled by what I have seen elsewhere.

After lunch, we dragged our weary feet to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial down by the Potomac, and on the way back stopped at the United States Holocaust Museum.? It was a pretty comprehensive exhibition which followed the rise of Hitler and the advent of ?The final Solution?.? An interesting new fact for me was that only 51 Danish Jews were killed in the Holocaust, as the Danish government went to extensive lengths to ensure their safety.? Including building boats to ship them to Sweden which was a neutral country, and paying the equivalent of $600 per person for safe passage.

Then I left Joe to have another foray into the Air & Space museum, while I made my way home to our building site.? We are staying on Washington circle, which as the name suggests is a circle of road like a giant roundabout which has 8 other roads/streets feeding into or out of it.? Almost directly across from us is the George Washington University Hospital Emergency Department, so that accounts for the seemingly endless sirens.? Tonight the traffic outside is bedlam, it?s been jammed solid since I got home just after 5pm and the horns have been honking constantly.

Random observations about Washington, people drive using their horns A LOT, lots of black and latino workers in the construction/service industry, and a very efficient and easy to use underground train system.? There is also a very large and noticeable Police presence here, I guess to be expected given it?s the seat of Government.

Tune in the same time tomorrow as we travel to Fallingwater in Pennsylvania and Gettysburg.