Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 22: Washington, D.C., Day 1

August 17, 2011 - Today I woke up early to try to familiarize myself with Washington, D.C. Most of the places that Bruce and I were excited to see were grouped along the National Mall, a large park strip that ran through the main part of the capital.  Places that we wanted to see on the first day were the Capital building, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery.  I spent most of the morning pouring over maps trying to find a way to fit everything in as well as trying to come up with a plausible itinerary.

Welcome to the capital; Washington D.C.

It was going to be a busy day, so we started out as early as possible.

The Metro

The first thing I learned that morning was that the subway system is lovingly referred to as "The Metro" and it was very different from what I was used to back home; by quite a bit.

We took an overpriced taxi to the nearest Metro station and from there, made our way to our first destination, Capital Hill; the seat of the United States. I found the Metro to be exciting. Finding a way to get around Washington D.C was fun.  Basically, you hop from one line to a connecting line that takes you close to where you want to be. In all, I only made one mistake, but we ended up getting to where we needed to go without wasting a lot of time.

As a side note, the Metro is very clean and appears quite safe. It is unlawful to spit, smoke, or litter in any of the stations or the cars. Additionally, D.C. Police monitor the area and can be seen riding the cars or wandering the stations.  I wonder why I never thought that the police would be riding the subway system?

First Stop: The Library of Congress

We took a detour from our plans to enter the nearest Library of Congress. The first building we entered was exciting on the outside, but quite dull on the inside. This building, we later found out, was one of three buildings known collectively as The Library of Congress. The one we entered was used for research for members of Congress. We wandered around a bit before being directed to the most well known building of The Library, The Thomas Jefferson Building.

Decoration in the Main Reading Room.

The amazing Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The Thomas Jefferson Building can easily be described as amazing.  The oldest of the three buildings, this structure is well known for its classical facade and impressive interior. Inside, there were several different things to see including The Gutenberg Bible that was on display.

Later, when we got out of the Capital building, I took a photo of the outside of the Library.

Yeah, and another one too.

The Nation's Capital

Staying underground and following a series of pathways that ran under the streets, we found ourselves in Emancipation Hall, the Capital's visitor center.  This hall is located beneath the east front of the Capitol and the plaza.  Inside were several statues including the plaster cast of the Statue of Freedom, which adorns the top of the Capitol building and and a large statue of King Kamehameha.  From here, visitors can purchase mementos from two gift shops, look around at various statues, or purchase tour tickets of the single most important building in our country.

Bruce and I got tickets to take the tour.

After watching a movie about Congress and the Capitol Complex, we met up with our tour guide and proceeded to visit some notable places inside the Capitol including the Capitol Rotunda and Statuary Hall and the Captiol Crypt.

The Frieze of American History in the Rotunda; a trompe l'oeil masterpiece.

The statue that looks over the Statuary Hall; kind of redundant.

The tour was extremely informative, and the tour guide was amazing.  After the tour, Bruce talked with the tour guide and made the comment that we were from Alaska.  The tour guide excited to meet a couple of Alaskans and offered us tickets to see the House Chamber which very few visitors get to see.  Bruce was very excited about this and we went to go look at the room where our elected leaders does most of their work.  Sadly, we were forbidden to take photographs of the House Chamber.

Once outside in the open air again, Bruce and I took photos of the Capitol building.  From here, we would progress down The Mall of America through the rest of Washington D.C. that is visited by the majority of tourists.

A seldom photographed side of the Capitol Building.

A close up of the Capitol Dome.

The Ulysses S, Grant Memorial

Overlooking a very dirty pool at the bottom of Capitol Hill was the statue of General Grant.  This statue is the second largest equestrian statue in the United States.  The statue of Grant is flanked on both sides by bronze statues of Union artillery and calvary troops.  Additionally, four bronze lions flank the base of the statue; making a dramatic effect if it wasn't for the sad condition of the reflecting pool.

However, true to my enthusiasm, I managed to get a couple of good pictures of this memorial.

The statue is litterally dripping with patina; a sad state for this memorial.

A close up of the General; note his travelling companions.

The Mall

This wide strip of open-air national park is located in downtown Washington D.C.  The National Mall provides a setting for government structures, museums, memorials, and gardens that make up the popular visitor attractions.  On this strip of park, you can find the majority of the major destination points for the entire visit to the nations capitol; on both sides of this avenue.

A small portion of the National Mall in Washington D.C.

The mall is where things started to go wrong.  After a small argument between which side of the Mall to walk on, Bruce and I split up and walked on opposite sides of the park towards the Lincoln Memorial.  I blame the lack of sleep and stubbornness on both our parts, but it doesn't really matter anymore.

On my side of the Mall I was able to see a couple of museums that I thought that I would like to visit, including the National Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian Museum of American History, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

What works of art were displayed in the National Gallery?

What did the Smithsonian Natural History museum hold?

Sadly, there was too much to explore; the museums are huge and can literally take days to explore thouroughly.  Besides, I didn't have my battle buddy with me and wouldn't want him missing out on this opportunity to visit a major museum or two.  Firm in my belief that Bruce should be along for any museum, I continued on towards the Washington Monument, leaving the treasures of the Smithsonian behind.

The Washington Monument

Always in the distance you could see the monument, a 555 foot obelisk (easily the tallest obelisk in the world) that commemorates George Washington, the nations first President.  The Obelisk is made of granite, marble, and bluestone gneiss and is hollow on the inside.  However, the line of visitors waiting to climb the 897 steps up to the top was very long.

I decided to just take pictures of the outside.

The monument dominates this part of Washington D.C.

This close to the monument makes it hard to get it all in one photo.

From here I spotted Bruce and I followed him past the Washington Monument to go take a peak at the White House.  I had almost missed this part of the visit to our nation's capitol because I was intent on seeing the military memorials.

As soon as I figured out how to get across the barrier and up to the fence, I was able to get a few good photographs of this historic structure.

This is the photo everybody gets, lets see if I can get closer.

Security was really tight so I had to rely on the zoom lens.

Having gotten my obligatory picture of the White House, it was now time to head over to the military memorials between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.  It is in this area that some of the most impressive edifices to the fallen soldiers from all wars fought by Americans can be seen and appreciated.

Military Memorials

The first stop was the National World War Two memorial.  There are 56 granite pillars that stand 17 feet tall.  On the pillars are inscribed with the 48 states, the District of Columbia, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The National World War II Memorial.
An impressive and touching feature of the World War Two memorial is the Price of Freedom Wall which holds 4,048 bronze stars that represent the lives lost during this conflict.

Each star represents 100 soldiers who lost their lives during World War II.

Walking from the World War Two Memorial, I came to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  This memorial was something that Bruce wanted to see and I am glad that he had an opportunity to visit this emotional memorial.  The wall is made of a highly reflective stone so that, when a visitor looks upon the memorial, they can see their shadowy reflection behind the names of fallen soldiers.  This was done on purpose in an attempt to bring past and present together.

The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, commonly known as the Vietnam Wall.

The stone wall gives a ghostly reflection of the world.
The reflective effect is very powerful, and in my opinion, works well to attach the viewer in the present to those who lived and died during the Vietnam conflict.  This is, perhaps, my favorite memorial so far in the trip.

Unknown to many who visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall, there is a second part of the memorial.  The bronze statue, known as The Three Soldiers, appears to interact with the Vietnam Wall; as if the soldiers are looking on in solemn tribute to those who's names are inscribed upon the wall.

The Three Soldier's statue appears to be looking at the Vietnam Wall.

The Lincoln Memorial

A short walk away from the military memorials is the Lincoln Memorial.  The final monument on the National Mall.  This monument looks like a Greek doric temple, and the inside is lavishly decorated with interior murals representing the ideas and principles evident in Lincoln's life.  Additionally, the columns on the outside stand 44 feet tall making this memorial very large.

The Lincoln Memorial was larger than I thought it would be.

Everything is super sized in D.C., even Abraham Lincoln.

You might not believe it, but there was also a gift shop in the memorial; actually incorporated into the building itself.  There wasn't a lot to look at; mostly books and pictures, but I got a chuckle out of the fact that somebody had thought of this tourism strategy beforehand.

I waited for Bruce to finish up looking around; the steps leading up to the memorial made a nice rest stop from the long walk from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln memorial.  Once Bruce was finished, we made our way to Arlington; just across the river by way of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

Arlington Lost

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  There was so many things to take in on our first day at Washington D.C. that we had made it to Arlington National Cemetery after they had closed for the day.  I had originally planned for us to visit Arlington the very first thing in the morning; considering that it was the place that I most wanted to visit in the area.  However, plans were changed and our timing was really off.  I managed to get a picture of the reflecting pools which was a poor consilation prize for my ego.

The reflecting pool at Arlington National Cemetery

Armed with the operational hours of the Cemetery, Bruce and I headed back to see what type of nightlife there was in Washington D.C. at night.  Besides the magnificently illuminated Washington Monument there was nothing much.  Dejected, we headed back to The Metro and took it back towards home.  From the station we took another expensive cab ride back to the Andrews Air Force Base and started to prepare for our next day in Washington D.C.

Hopefully, we will be able to make it to Arlington when they are open tomorrow.


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