The Trip to ?>
D.C. is a surprisingly short distance from
I found a gas station and a place to eat but did not see the train station. This happened to be one of the exits for Jack Kent Cooke stadium (the home of the Washington Redskins) so I got a look at that while searching for additional signs for the train station. I did put fuel in the car and then headed over Applebee’s for lunch. This turned out not to be such a good idea as I waited for a server. And waited. And waited some more. Appeals to the person up front were fruitless. After thirty minutes I got up and left, more upset with the amount of time lost than not getting served.
A little further south on I-95 I saw an exit sign for
After a few more attempts to find a parking space I headed toward the National Zoo in the hope that there would be some sort of tourist information there. Along the way I traveled up the Rock Creek and
I asked a parking attendant at the Zoo (“This is a stupid tourist question, but...”) where I could park and catch the train and he told me that in this part of the city parking was problematical at best. I had already noticed that getting a space on the street required a dispensation from God so I turned my attention to finding a drugstore (to get a map) and a place to eat. After wandering around a bit more I stumbled onto the western section of the Adams Morgan district and found that
I had noticed a few things about the city of
After lunch I went back to the car and perused the map. I noticed that I was not far from the National Cathedral and headed in that direction.
The National Cathedral is located atop a hill and is, in a word, stunning. The only other cathedral I had seen was St. Patrick’s in
No matter what one’s religious convictions this building inspires feelings of awe and reverence. Everyone whispers amid the sheer scale and beauty of the structure. Most impressive to me were the stained glass and stonework. Everything in this building is hand worked, from the stone carvings to the Main Choir to the leaded glass. There are no castings, plastic, or prefabricated parts in the structure. Like the great cathedrals of
After the visit to the cathedral it was time to figure out how to get out of D.C. and find a hotel room. I had figured that I would head some ways out of the city in the hope of finding an inexpensive hotel room and then drive back the next day for a full schedule of touristing. Getting out of the city was relatively easy once I managed to get onto the right road. D.C. is full of one-way streets and it is not always a simple thing to turn around. Little did I know that I was about to embark on the three most frustrating hours of many a trip.
Most places you can count on heading up a State road and finding several mom-and-pop hotels in the business district of some small town. Not in
I went as far as I could and asked directions again. By the fourth iteration I had gotten to within four blocks of the intended street. After finally finding the (nearly) mythical street I found that there just aren’t that many hotels in this part of the country. I stopped at an EconoLodge and the price was almost right so I took it. At 2030 I wasn’t going to press the point too much. After checking in I went to another Applebee’s for dinner and was pleasantly surprised. My order was taken promptly and the food arrived with gratifying speed. I donated a dollar to the cook beer fund and left to look forward to another day in D.C.
Waking up on Sunday morning it was wet and grey. I checked out and headed South on I-270 toward D.C. I-270 South turns into I-495 South so I just followed the signs. Presently I saw the signs for I-395 North which is the spur into the city. Following this road I was soon back into downtown D.C. As the road deposited me in the downtown area I set about looking for a place that sold film and a place to eat. I finally found a place to park on the street (!) and went out to hunt and gather. After securing the desired items I took a look at the map to plan my tour of the city. I considered leaving the car where it was since I was close to the tourist areas but, mindful of my experience in
The first stop was the White House. Here I stopped at the iron fence that everyone stops at on
The Reflecting Pool was actually overrunning it’s banks from the rain and the grey skies did not allow it to show off it’s beauty but it is not hard to imagine how this area would look on a sunny day when the weather is warm and there are leaves on the trees. One advantage to coming here in the middle of winter is that there aren’t too many people around so there is plenty of time and space to enjoy the scenery.
After a photo stop at the eastern end of the Pool I headed off down the tree-lined walkway along the bank and made my way to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. The memorial is at once both a simple and very moving place. The polished slabs of black granite set into an embankment with the names of the dead and missing from that war evoke a sense of loss and reverence. No-one talks loudly here and there are flowers and other mementos laid at the base of the monument. Perhaps the most moving element is the statue of the three soldiers set a short distance away and oriented so that they look toward the Wall and the names of the comrades who will never return.
Not far from here is the Lincoln Memorial and I could not help but think that President Lincoln would be embarrassed at the scale of this structure. Everything about this building is monumental. I’m pretty sure that some Roman gods didn’t get temples this grand. While Mr. Lincoln’s contributions are indisputable the entire building feels a bit overdone. The interior contains the familiar statue of Mr. Lincoln sitting on a throne (this seems incongruous with stated American ideals) and the text of the Gettysburg Address on one wall and the Second Inaugural Address on the other. One aspect of the experience that I hadn’t expected was the constant stream of people having their pictures taken in front of Mr. Lincoln’s statue. This action seemed to me to miss the point of the experience, that is to say, the purpose of the monument is not to provide a backdrop for a vacation picture, but to call attention to the man and the ideals that he represented.
The next stop was the Korean War Memorial. This memorial is unusual in that it is a static display with a dynamic presence. The memorial consists of nineteen men in ponchos (one of the rare instances where the statues were dressed for the weather) arranged in a vee and trudging toward a single spot. From the expressions on the faces of the statues and from the arrangement of the memorial the overall feeling was one of melancholy and despair. Here again the visitors spoke only in hushed tones.
After visiting here I walked along the Reflecting Pool and stopped at the marble gazebo that commemorates the war dead from the
Across the street is the
A little further along is the Jefferson Memorial. This memorial seems a bit less imposing than the Lincoln Memorial but is suitably impressive. The building sits directly across from the White House across the Tidal Basin and there is a large bronze statue of Mr. Jefferson standing in the middle of the rotunda and there are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and one other quote that I did not recognize inscribed on the interior walls. The interior is large and airy and the lighting is such that the marble does not feel cold. The overall design is based on that of
I talked to one of the park rangers about the monument and the disposition of mementos left at the various war memorials and about the other sights in the city. The ranger told me that winter was a good time to visit as in the summer the city is overrun with tourists. By way of example he pointed out that there were often several hundred people in the Jefferson Memorial at any one time during the height of the tourist season as opposed to the seven or eight that were there when I visited. A couple of hundred people in that building would amount to a seething mass of humanity and picture taking would be pretty much impossible.
After the visit at this monument it was time to consult the map and find out what else was in the neighborhood. It was getting late enough in the day that I had to make some choices. I could visit one of the Smithsonian museums or I could walk down to the Capitol. I elected to walk to the Capitol and look in the windows of the Air & Space museum on the way. Along the way to the National Mall I passed the Holocaust museum. The entrance was blocked by construction barriers and I began to get the impression that winter is when the Public Works department in
The National Mall is one long piece of real estate that extends for well over a mile from
Eventually I came up to the Capitol and noticed that it is suitably impressive. I suppose that it should be impressive since the quadrant divisions of the city are grounded on this spot. There is a reflecting pool directly in front of the building that probably gives a good view of the Capitol on a sunny day but this was not one of those days. I did notice that there was a fair amount of seagull effluent on the walls of the pool. There were also some signs that warned against skating on the pool but these seemed incongruous given the relatively mild temperatures at the time.
I have always noticed on TV and in the movies that the steps to the Capitol appear to be numerous and steep. This is in fact true. There are a lot of steps. While walking up these steps I could not help but think that “Mr. Ivey goes to
The visitor entrance is unremarkable except for three things. First, the doors are surprisingly heavy. They take two men and a boy to hold open. Second, there is an airport-style metal detection gateway inside the door, and third, there are no less than three armed guards to defend against terrorism. On this day one of the guards looked like he ate nails for breakfast and I ended up going through the detector three times before being allowed in the building.
Once inside I tried to find out where anything was because there are no signs directing people to the various tourist venues. Since this is a working building I did not expect any locational signs but I did expect something along the lines of the directories that most office buildings are equipped with. No such luck. I didn’t want to appear too ignorant since I didn’t want Mr. Nail Eater to ask me what the heck I was doing. Eventually I just walked up the nearest staircase and hoped for the best.
I did find the museum located in the building where the various designs of the Capitol are rendered in architectural models. There are also actual column header pieces from the original building on display. After looking around here for a while I attempted to find the space under the rotunda. At first I ended up in one of the wings but after looking out of the window and getting my bearings it was easy enough to get to the central part of the building.
The rotunda area is more impressive than I had expected. There are a number of well-done paintings on the walls of the room that depict various events in American history. The roof of the rotunda is 180 feet above the floor and there is a painting located there that depicts the accession of Gen.
The atmosphere in this place is one of respect (well, by the adults, anyway) and I felt uncomfortable with a camera in my hand. I noticed that I wasn’t the only person who felt this way. I did take some pictures and when the motor drive kicked in people turned around and looked. I noticed that a few people looked at the guard to see if he would bust me. When he didn’t I saw a few more cameras come out. This is not a real good commentary on the state of our nation. I was always taught that everything is permitted if it is not expressly forbidden.
Leaving the rotunda I came upon one of the impressive chandeliers in the stairwells and then I wandered over to the old Supreme Court chamber but it was closed for the weekend. In fact, Sunday is the only day that it is closed. So much for timing.
Exiting the Capitol I saw a pro-Clinton demonstrator having her picture taken with her placard in front of the Capitol. There were a few older women who looked askance at this but I thought that it was great that anyone could display their political views in the seat of American government.
Perusing the map again I saw that Union station was pretty much right across the street so I walked over there to catch the subway back to the parking garage. At this point I was pretty darn tired of walking and was looking forward to some motorized transportation.
Union station is impressive from the outside and is a hub of rail travel in this part of the country. Amtrak has installed all of the latest travel aids and the interior of the station feels like an airport. Actually it feels like a shopping mall located at a train station. The station has been fully restored but this restoration comes at the price of commercial support. There are a number of signs pointing to the various trains and it wasn’t too hard to find the correct Metro train. The ticketing works exactly like the BART in
Now I had a new problem. I knew about where the car was located but I had failed to write down the exact street address. Since there were only three parking garages in the area I started to check them all out. The second one was the charm and after stowing supplies I headed out onto the streets of D.C. and back toward
I headed down
Two hundred fifty miles later it was back to