Sunday, August 24, 2014

Onward to DC!

Even with our 2 hour shopping spree in Delaware, we still made it to DC by lunchtime! Our hotel - Holiday Inn, again - was in the Georgetown area, and we had initially planned to go to the hotel, checkin and then head to the Mall area - but as we entered the DC area, Ajey came up with an idea, which made our day so very easy! First of all, we decided to head straight to the Mall - the plan was to park the car and then walk - easier said than done, of course!! We must have circled around quite a few times - but no luck! That's when Ajey had the best idea ever - taking inspiration from the Big Bus tours, Ajey decided to drop us off within walking distance of the monuments - he had been to DC before, and was quite happy to miss the touristy circuit!!

Starting at one end, we drove across the Potomac river to the Arlington National Cemetery - but the gates were as far as we got! Compared to the mild days we had had in NY, today the July sun was at its fiercest. Leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the car to walk in a cemetery wasn't very appealing - although I did want to see JFK's grave marker - decided to move that to the end of day, we would come back if we had enough time and energy. Next stop, Lincoln memorial - Ajey dropped us off, and drove off - Manasi and I would take pictures and come back in 20 minutes - totally, unapologetically touristy!!

Lincoln Memorial

Statue of Lincoln

Reflecting pool and Washington Monument

"In this temple, as in the hearts of the people, for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever" - reads the plaque carved over the 19-foot marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. Built to honor the sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, the stately, imposing Memorial resembles a Greek temple straight out of Athens! Names of 36 states and the date they joined the Union are carved over the columns at the entrance. Why 36? That's the number of states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death! From the steps of the Memorial is a beautiful view of the Reflecting Pool, Washington Memorial and even the Capitol building in the distance! More history here - it was from these very steps that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous 'I have a dream...' speech!! And I can't believe I missed the engraving on the exact spot where the great man was standing!!

From the Lincoln Memorial, we drove all the way across the National Mall to the US Capitol building. Got a kick out of parking in the Senator's parking lot - this is, of course, reserved parking - but since Ajey was going to stay in the car, and we were going to do our quick photo thing, figured it would be ok!! The Capitol is the seat of the Congress, the heart of the government - and it is fitting that the entire city is laid out with the Capitol at the center! There are tours available, but need to be booked ahead of time - our whole tour plan was so fluid, that it was impossible to make any bookings like these - so no tour for us!! But the exterior of the Capitol is no less impressive - the massive dome, gleaming in the sunlight, dominates the landscape! I especially liked the Ulysses Grant Memorial - an equestrian statue of General Grant, who led the Union forces during the Civil War flanked by castings of soldiers - frozen for ever in the struggles of the war!! The darkening sky was a perfect backdrop for the pictures - heightening the sense of drama beautifully!!

Like the Capitol, tours to the White House have to be booked in advance, too! Now this was one tour I was quite determined to make - I was quite willing to adjust everything else around this. However, ever since the 9/11 attacks, security at the White House is understandably off the charts! I found out, much too late, that I needed to apply 6 months ahead of time to get in - and not just that, I also needed an endorsement from a local Congressman, or in our case, a letter from the Indian Consulate in DC. Huge disappointment!! We did try to get as close as we possibly could - had to be satisfied with a picture from a distance! The Washington Monument obelisk - the tallest true obelisk in the world!! - is right across the street from the White House, few more pictures and we were ready to call it a day!

The White House

Washington Monument

Next day, we headed back to the Mall - this time by public transport, first a bus and then the DC metro. Didn't think we would run into any problems - after all, we have navigated the public transport systems in countries in which we didn't even speak the language, this should have been a piece of cake! Except - and I'm almost ashamed to admit this - the DC metro completely baffled us!! At the station, trying to buy tickets - seriously, what's with the manual systems, the entire world has digital ticket kiosks!! Walk up, select your destination on the interactive map, enter number of people, enter the amount the machine has calculated - and voila, you're done - well, not here! We had to look up our fare on a chart, and then after we calculated how much we needed, we bought 1 card with about $20 - just a couple of days before in NYC, 1 card could be swiped multiple times, as long as it had cash on it - well, once again, much to our dismay, not here!! One person, 1 card - and surprise, surprise, no refunds!! - not only did we have to but 2 more cards, but we also lost more than half the money on our first card!! What a relief it was to finally arrive at the Mall metro station!!

Today was a museum day - the National Mall is home to the Smithsonian Institution - it would take the better part of a month to visit all of the Smithsonian's museums - almost 20 of them, I believe! We  were hoping to do quick tours of the Air & Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. Walking along the Mall is exhausting - what trees there are offer scant relief from the unrelenting sun - and everything is so far (or maybe it only seemed far because of the heat?)!! A typical tour would mean walking from the Lincoln Memorial all the way down to the Capitol - the true enthusiasts will start from the Arlington Cemetery - ok, just thinking about that is enough to send me running to the nearest air-conditioned location!! So grateful that Ajey drove us around yesterday - I don't think I would have lasted too long otherwise!!

Federal tax dollars hard at work here - entrance to all the Smithsonian museums is free!! The Natural History Museum was a bit of a let-down - possible because we have been to so many similar museums in the past few years. I thought the Animal Kingdom displays were a bit dull and unimaginative,  all the stuffed animals just standing there - at the Shanghai museum, a magnificent tableau showcased the animals in their natural habitats, so much more appealing! Also, a big attraction, the dinosaur displays were closed for renovation. The Evolution of Homo Sapiens and Understanding DNA sections were quite good - but here too, lot of the interactive displays were not working properly. The highlight of the museum is, of course, the 'most famous diamond in the world' - the 45 carat Hope diamond!!

Hope diamond

The National Air and Space Museum, on the other hand, was like a treasure chest! Luckily, we were there just in time to join a guided tour - which took us to the highlights of the museum! All the way from Wright brothers to Space Exploration - this museum offers a fascinating view into the history of aviation! Not to forget the science - the interactive How Things Fly gallery, a great introduction to the basic principles of flight! The absolutely amazing thing, in my opinion, is that all the aircrafts and spacecrafts on display are originals - this is actually the largest collection of historic aircraft in the world!! The last existing plane built by the Wright brothers, the 'Spirit of St. Louis' - that took Charles Lindbergh from New York to Paris, the Voyager - first aircraft to fly around the world, the Bell X-1 - flown by Chuck Yeager, the first airplane to break the sound barrier - simply fantastic!


Spirit of St. Louis

Even better are the space exhibits - touch a real Moon rock right at the entrance, and then onto the Sputnik and Explorer satellites, to the space capsules - the Mercury Friendship 7 in which John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, the Gemini IV - Ed White, the first American to perform a 'spacewalk', and the incredible Apollo 11 Command module - that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon and back!!! Surreal to lay hands on something that has actually been to the moon!! The Apollo to the Moon exhibit is just as thrilling - actual spacesuits worn by Apollo astronauts, a Lunar Roving Vehicle, a timeline of the Apollo program and the astronauts involved!! Simply mind-blowing!!

Moon rock

Apollo 11 command module!

2 days in the nation's capital - barely enough to scratch the surface - well actually, just enough to do the whole touristy circuit! It's great to have both NY and DC off my list - yes, I do have a list! - but while I would love to go back to New York, DC didn't really hold the same appeal for me. Manasi was the perfect age for this whole vacation, and except for the whole 'Why do I have to learn, I'm on vacation' conversation in the museum, a good time was had by all! Can't wait for the next one!!

No comments:

Post a Comment