Friday, 28 August 2009

Road Trip: Washington DC

We arrived in Washington by train, the Amtrak living up to the good things that I had heard about it before the journey (I had heard some bad things as well, about long queues, late trains and so on, but all of that proved unfounded; in nearly every way Amtrak was better than the best national rail journey I've had in the UK). Union Station was beautiful, and the taxi ride to our hotel in Arlington was short and sweet, taking us past the Pentagon and giving us glimpses of distant monuments that we knew from news stories and political thrillers.

I was still feeling ill at this point, so I took myself off for a few hours to an urgent care centre to get checked over, while Dave went off to explore the local streets and see how well connected we were to the capital. As it turned out, the Doubletree Hotel was just a few minutes from a metro station that took us straight into our first tourist stop the next day, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Dave and I were like kids at Christmas walking around there, just gawping in wonder at things that quite literally are incredible. I haven't been able to convey this to my family, who smile bemusedly at my proclamations: " we walk in and there, right there in front of us is the Apollo 11 capsule that brought Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins back from the Moon!!! Can you believe it??? And upstairs was the 1903 Wright Flyer!!! How cool is that???"

They didn't get it. But no matter, we were happy, and the whole morning passed by in a state of bliss looking at fabulous and wonderful things.

After lunch in the Smithsonian Food Court (brought to you by McDonald's!), we set off for our long walk around the Mall. Maybe it was a placebo effect, but I was already starting to feel better, and so the long trek wasn't too bad. We started outside the Capitol Building, looking down the Mall past the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial and the pool, all the way to the distant building of the Lincoln Memorial. It was a pleasant walk, really nice and really beautiful actually. The World War II Memorial gave us pause for thought on our way down, but the real breath-taker for the day was the Lincoln Memorial.

There is something incredibly powerful about the Lincoln Memorial; even before we went to the USA I knew that it was something that I was really looking forward to seeing, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Of course, the impact of Abraham Lincoln on history couldn't not have effected me in some way - but I'm just a 28 year old guy from the UK, born nearly 120 years after he was assassinated, so why should it matter all that much? Because the Lincoln Memorial is not just 'another place to tick off' on the list of tourist attractions... There is a power to it, the eyes of the statue follow you, stare at you and through you, and the wording above the monument is so beautiful:

"In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."

I still can't find the words to explain just what it is about the Lincoln Memorial that has put a pull on my heart and mind, but nor can I dismiss it. Maybe the simplest thing that I can do is to encourage you to go and see it for yourself if you have never seen it; I hope that it has the same impact on you that it had on me.

From there we moved on to the Vietnam Memorial, and then from there we made our way out to Arlington National Cemetery. This was also quite a powerful place to visit, especially the grave of John F. Kennedy; from there we went on to the Iwo Jima Memorial, which was awe-inspiring to look up at. The shadows were lengthening, and we were both feeling the length of the day on us, so it was time to head back to the Doubletree Hotel (which, by the way, I highly recommend to anyone with plans to visit Washington DC; just over in Arlington, superbly located for taxis from Union Station and easy to get to on the Metro as well, and which is just stunning inside - and was really, really good value) and a good night's sleep.

We would need it: the next day we would begin four weeks of driving.


1 comment:

Curate Karen said...

Great descriptions! I also have a great sense of awe at Abe Lincoln and hope to see the memorial one day. He and I share a birthday, too!