Our flight in Washington was incredibly quick and provided a great chance to have a nap. We landed at Regan airport and I was surprised how close it was to the main city. We checked into our hotel that was probably a little too nice, however the problem that we faced when we booked it was that if we went for somewhere else then we would be out in the suburbs and nowhere near any of the main DC attractions. We were walking distance to the Whitehouse, the Capitol Building, the Smithsonian museums and most of the other key attractions.
We enjoyed a relaxed first night and found some good Thai food right around the corner from our hotel, I was pretty happy because the quality of the food is quite good on this side of the Atlantic.
In the morning we decided to do a bike tour, and found one that was recommended to me whilst I was in New York. Our tour was a tiny group, Michelle and I, another Victorian Andrew and our guide Kaitlin, such a small group meant we got a much more intimate tour and had a better experience. We rode around DC seeing all of the key sites; first stop was the Whitehouse, home to the president of the United States. Formally known as the president’s mansion or executive mansion the Whitehouse got its current name after the war of 1812 when the British invaded and torched many of the key buildings in Washington DC including the president’s mansion and the Capitol Building. Instead of re-building the American government decided to paint the house completely white, although its new name took a while to properly stick.
|The Capitol Building|
|Steam Engine in the
Museum of American History
We rode along Pennsylvania Avenue past the old post office building that has a spire that is the third tallest building in DC. We saw the department of treasury, and continued on to the Capitol Building. This iconic dome is constructed entirely out of iron and weighs over 120 tonnes. The statue that sits atop the dome is lady freedom and stands 19 ½ ft or 6 metres high, and is the tallest statue in the capital. The American government wanted to ensure that their dome would survive if the British returned for a second time thus the iron construction. The government also wanted to ensure that Lady Freedom is the tallest statue – nothing can be more important than freedom, and it is therefore illegal to build a taller stature in DC.
|The Capitol Building|
Our tour continued down ‘The Mall’ of the Smithsonian Museums, in total there are 19 museums and zoos that come under the Smithsonian banner, with 7 appearing on The Mall. The remarkable thing about these museums is that they are all free. There is some of the best artwork in the world kept in these museums and they are not charging a dime to get in. We stopped to take a few shots of the famous Smithsonian Castle and headed for the Washington Monument. Another iconic American sight that commemorates the first president of the United States, George Washington. I was most interested to see that the monument is in fact two distinctive colours; this is because construction was halted during the American civil war.
|The Washington Monument|
The next stop was the Lincoln memorial, a tribute to the popular American president who is largely responsible for eliminating slavery in the USA. Inside were the inscriptions of his second inauguration speech as well as his famous Gettysburg address. This trip would teach us quite a lot about Abraham Lincoln, and although I remember studying a little American history in school it was quite fascinating to hear the colourful history of this still young country.
After spending some time at the Lincoln memorial we visited the memorials for the Korean and Vietnam wars. This was the conclusion of the tour and as we headed back to the start point to return our bikes we passed a statue of Albert Einstein. I was most interested to see how polished his nose was – apparently it is considered good luck to rub his nose before an exam or midterm.
After our tour we headed back to the Smithsonian Castle and had a quick look at some of the exhibits that were inside before heading to Americas most visited museum – the National Air and Space Museum. This was so cool. Inside is an amazing collection of history from space exploration as well as flying. The highlights of this museum include The Spirit of Saint Louis, the capsule that the crew from Apollo 11 returned in as well as a moon rock that we could touch! It was amazing to see all of the different exhibits and see real life things like the first ever plane built by the Wright brothers.
After spending the afternoon at the air and space museum we wandered out at closing time and took a few photos of the key monuments by night as we made our way back to our hotel. We got on some Mexican food for dinner and spent the evening trying to plan out the final parts of our trip that need planning – California just a few short days away.
On Friday we got up early because we had booked a tour of the US Capitol Building. This was pretty interesting to get a guided tour of the American house of parliament. We took in all of the statues, and all of the history that is represented inside. One of the other cool things about the Capitol Building was the phenomenon known as a whispering corridor. The whispering corridor is an architectural marvel that allowed us to hear the whispers of our tour guide from the other side of the room. This was amazing.
|Capitol by Night|
After our tour finished and we heard a little more about the famous presidents and some of their accomplishments we took the chance to go into the House of Congress and listen to a live session of parliament. Unfortunately this was about as interesting as it is at home, but it was an experience nonetheless.
After our tour of the capitol we headed to the Library of Congress, arguably one of the biggest and most extensive libraries in the world. It was interesting to see the amazing architecture and get some history of this remarkable building that has in fact fallen victim to fire on a couple of occasions. The basis of the library was one that I found extremely interesting. When the library was first established, by US President Jefferson, it consisted mainly of books about law and topics directly related to politics. When fire wiped out the library, Thomas Jefferson sold his extensive book collection to the library in circumstances that were quite controversial. The reason for this is because his personal collection had more than books on politics and law; it covered all manner of topics. Jefferson answered his critics by saying that he believed, that everyone in congress should know a little bit about everything, not just about politics and law. Eventually congress agreed and the library today continues under that same notion.
After breaking for lunch we headed into the National Archives of the US to see the most famous original documents in the United States – the Declaration of Independence, The American Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States. It was interesting to see these documents that helped forge an important chapter in American History. It was also interesting to browse the exhibit that the archives had about the Cuban missile crisis. It was eye opening to realise just how close the Americans and Russians came to war.
|Washington Monument by Night|
After the archives we decided to climb the post office tower – it was after all free, like most other attractions in Washington. Unfortunately the view from the top was not quite what we were expecting; it was not nearly as nice as some of the other towers that we have conquered. But at the same time it was free so we really couldn’t complain too much.
The next morning, despite our best plans we woke up a little late and went to check out the Washington DC Zoo (also free). This zoo had considerably more exhibits than the London Zoo but I did get the sense that the enclosures perhaps weren’t as stimulating for the animals as some of the other zoos in the world (particularly Australian Zoos). We did see Panda’s the Big Cats and baby Cheetah Cubs in the Zoo but the highlight was arguably the Bald Eagle that we saw perched in its enclosure, this majestic bird was very cool and certainly something that I’m glad we saw.
After checking out the zoo we headed to the Museum of American History just in time to get a tour from one of the guides who showed us some of the cooler exhibits. We saw a couple of remarkable locomotive displays as well as an car and truck exhibit and the storyline of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb, and founding of the company we know today as GE. Our guide also took us to the hall that houses the original ‘star spangled banner’ the inspiration for the American flag and we heard the story of the siege at the fort where the flag was flown during the war of 1812 with the British.
We saw some impressive steam engine locomotives and a car that had one particularly wealthy American (from back in the day) bet he could drive across America in less than 90 days. This is easy enough to do now with their extensive network of interstate freeways however back when the attempt was made, considerably more difficult. Needless to say they made it and the bet was collected.
The last stop for the day was the Museum of Natural History. We decided to hit only the key exhibits since we had seen most of the sister museum in New York. There were spectacular displays of dinosaur fossils and bones as well as asteroids and meteorites, an exhibit on tectonic plates and earthquakes and some spectacular gems and minerals, including the Hope Diamond (although I have seen bigger).
|Library of Congress – Main Reading Room
– Library of Congress
After an exhausting day sightseeing we retired to our hotel to recover before we headed out to an American style steakhouse – The Smoke and Barrel in popular college area Adams Morgan. On offer here was a great selection of beers, bourbons and food. We grabbed a sample plate which had all of their different meats plus a wide variety of sides. We enjoyed some wonderfully cooked smoked meats and a few beers which was the perfect way to end our time in Washington DC. Although we wanted to stay and have a few more beers in this popular nightlife area we were limited by an early pickup and flight to Sin City – Las Vegas.
|Photo of the Original Declaration of Independence –