We had done a couple of day trips to Washington, catching the commuter bus from Kent Island at 6.30 in the morning. However, we found this pretty frustrating – you’d really only be able to see one attraction, and be left with a sense of all the wonderful things you couldn’t get to. So we decided to give it a full week – hence the 200 mile side excursion up the Potomac on our journey south.
Well the first thing to say is that Washington is a tremendous contrast to New York. It’s all very stately, dignified and imposing, full of important institutions, marble monuments and civic pride. The streets are broad and just about everywhere you look is a View – typically of the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial which line up along the vast Mall. Law courts, the White House, the State Department, FBI Headquarters, the National Archives and of course the various wonderful museums of the Smithsonian are all here. It doesn’t have New York’s vitality and extravagance, but there is a different kind of energy here that has to do with political power and social change. It’s an amazing feeling to stand in the shadow of the huge white marble statue of Abraham Lincoln, to read the words of the Gettysburg Address inscribed on the walls, then to realise you are standing right where Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech to the multitudes assembled below.
Here are some of our Washington highlights:
The huge National Gallery of Art, especially its collection of antiquities and the beautiful Degas exhibition.
The National Portrait Gallery, as much for the stories as for the art. All the presidents are there, of course, and there is an excellent special exhibition on Ronald Reagan called ‘One Life’ which showcases his careers as commentator, actor, governor and President as well as his battle with Alzheimers. Along with all the well-known public figures, entertainers, scientists and sports stars, I really enjoyed learning about people I had never heard of, but who have made a huge difference to our everyday lives. For example, Charles Drew, an African American doctor who pioneered the Blood Bank – and resigned in protest when they attempted to segregate blood supplies by race. Or Virginia Apgar who was responsible for the ‘Apgar Rating’ used to monitor the health of virtually every newborn in the Western world…
Riding the excellent Metro system – about $30 for a whole week’s travelling anywhere in DC very quickly and comfortably.
Beautiful Botanical Gardens near the Capitol building, full of orchids at the moment.
The Museum of American History, especially for some of the quirky things in its collection, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers and the original muppet puppets.
A wonderful Indian meal, tour of Georgetown and catch-up with our lovely friends Cara and Jay from I-Dock back at Mears Point Marina.
A walk through Alexandria, where patriots gathered to plan revolution. The Torpedo Factory Art Centre is a highlight here, with about 80 studios let to working artists – you can watch them at work as well as viewing and purchasing artworks.
Arlington National Cemetery, across the river on the Virginia shore. The property originally belonged to General Robert E. Lee, but was taken over by Union forces and used a s a burial ground during the Civil War. The home still stands there, with a commanding view over the city of Washington. Lee’s is quite a poignant story – he personally believed in the union and was against slavery, but he resigned from the army when his beloved state of Virginia seceded. He commanded the Confederate forces against many of his former friends and peers from West Point Academy. Visiting Arlington is a profoundly moving experience – the acres and acres of white crosses for those who served in conflicts over two centuries stretch out over rolling green hills sheltered by huge old trees, now in autumn colour. John F Kennedy is buried here by the eternal flame, along with Jacquie and their infant children. The Tomb of the Unknowns with its honour guard. The Vietnam Memorial, thousands of young men’s names inscribed in black marble.