Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of going to Washington DC. I thought of many other places to visit in America, like for me, San Francisco for the food scene, Napa Valley for the wine, New Orleans for some good ol’ fashioned Southern food and Chicago for the restaurant scene and to see Chicago Bulls play in their home court but I am so glad I went to the Capitol City.
So as you may have read, this is the next part of my U.S. trip, the next leg from New York City. I went to Washington to see my niece and nephew (and also my sister and brother in law). They wanted to go to Washington for the museums and to show the kids a little more about American history and boy, what great a place to learn – about anything!
I was in Washington for only four days so it had to be a really quick tour. We arrived by bus from New York which was a four hour trip costing us around $25 one way, a bargain I thought. The bus service goes from China Town NYC to China Town Washington DC, convenient really because China Town in Washington is right in the middle of town and near the Metro. We left at 8 in the morning from NYC and arrived around noon and upon arrival, my first impression was – “small” town! No high rise buildings here but I guess we weren’t really the business district. Our hotel was in Silver Springs, almost the end of the Metro on the Red Line, heaps far but for thirty bucks a night for a hotel, I wasn’t going to complain really! Our first day was quite exhausting so we took it easy in the hotel and went and had Ethiopian food after checking in Silver Springs. If you have never had it before, Ethiopian food reminds me of Indian curries. I don’t know much about Ethiopian food but they have a lot of spiced braises using chicken, lamb and beef and the sauce tastes so similar to Indian cuisine. What I love most about it is that they eat it with this fluffy bread called injera. Imagine a huge crumpet the size of a pizza, that is light and fluffy. The point is to rip a bit off and use it to mop the juice up, really nice way of eating, again similar to Indians with their naan bread and curries.
For those of you who didn’t know, Washington is full of museums. It is the home of the largest museum and research complex in the world, The Smithsonian with 19 individual museums and 9 research complexes. The area is just one huge museum all spread out in Washington DC area.
Think of the longest rectangular park, on one end, the Smithsonian divided in as many buildings lining on and around each side and on the other end are the huge monuments that are synonymous to DC starting with the Washington Monument and going right through to the other side ending at the iconic Lincoln Memorial. This is how it is set up and the beauty of it is, is that you can walk around and visit all you want to visit. The name of this rectangular, open area park is “National Mall”. We were fortunate enough to have sunny clear days which allowed us to see the place more comfortably on foot.
On the first day, we started on the museum end of the National Mall. There are many museums here, ranging from Natural History, American History right through to Air and Space Museum and the great thing about all the museums was that it was ALL for free. It all seemed a little unreal, something so fabulous, all for free!
We started at the Natural Museum. It took about 3 hours to get through and we got to see everything nature had to offer from prehistoric animals to prehistoric rocks, gems and minerals, even moon rocks. Quite fascinating really, what was even more fascinating was that is was jammed packed, a huge building totally full of people, especially kids. One thing we learnt early was, if you want to see exhibits, and some have a ticket quota each day like Holocaust Museum, you must get in early.
From here, we walked from the Washington Monument which would be in the middle of the National Mall. If you don’t know what that looks like, it resembles a huge four sided needle. This monument would mark the start of the memorials. From here you walk down the park to the War Memorial, then the Lincoln Reflecting Pool and then at the end, the huge Lincoln Memorial, all in one, long straight line.
We took our time around the war memorial. We walked around and really took note of the sacrifice that was made by these men and women. A great way to pay respects, especially for the young ones to help them understand the sacrifice these people made.
The Reflecting pool was unfortunately under going reconstruction when we were there. The whole entire pool was surrounded by fencing which did not even allow us to get near the pool, but it was nice to see where it was. As I was walking past there, I couldn’t help but think of the movie “Forrest Gump” when Forrest jumps into to the pool to hug Jenny! I was trying to figure out which part of the pool it all happened in.
Finally, after a long walk (over 600 meters from the War Memorial), we made to the Lincoln Memorial. Huge! I mean, I thought it was going to be huge but never that big. Below the memorial, was the actual museum bit, telling people about the history of this monument. It is where Dr Martin Luther King once stood and delivered the famous “I have a Dream” speech. The actual Lincoln statue was awesome. I don’t know what it was, I’m not American but it sure made you feel just a little bit of the American patriotism sitting there looking at the statue of a great man and reading the Gettysburg address behind him. From where Lincoln sits, he looks back down the long Reflecting Pool, into the War Memorial then onto the Washington Monument. You can literally sit there and enjoy the same view Lincoln has for such a long time. It is peaceful and beautiful.
From here, we walked around the lake to see the cherry blossoms. We were lucky enough to be visiting the Capitol City right in the middle of the cherry blossom season. Apparently these trees were a gift to the city from the Japanese and like the Japanese, they celebrated each year it blossoms with festivals and parades. Quite beautiful really, the lake lined with white, pinkish and purple blossoms. Such lucky timing to witness that!
The next monument to see was the presidential memorial of Thomas Jefferson. A huge bronze statue of America’s third president sits in the middle of a circular dome held up by marble columns. This memorial sits to the side of the National Mall but you can still see the Lincoln Memorial from here, just over a lake.
We were pretty beat by this time, so we headed back into town. Stopped by a Cuban bar for a few mojito’s made with Cuban rum; what a way to end a day. For dinner, we stopped at a 60 year old real American Diner called “Tastee Diner” back in Silver Springs. We had ribs and hot wings with Samual Adams beer, an awesome brew from Boston. I could have sat there all night eating those wings, by far the best American food experience so far. We downed about 30 hot wings, plate of ribs and several beers. That night was a high light of the trip, sitting there in that 24 hour American diner, enjoying my friends company, the food and American beer. Amazing how the simple things in life are often the best!
The next day was the Holocaust Museum. I saw a film when I was young called “White Rose” which was a documentary about the Holocaust. I would have been around 12 and to see that at that age was a little bit confusing and left me with a lot of questions.
If you want to visit this museum, you must line up early in the day, preferably at 8am. The tickets do go quickly and they only let in a certain number of people every day. This museum does tell the entire story and from many angles. I must warn you all though, emotions will be stirred up and some of the exhibits are very confronting and visually disturbing but to get the whole story, one must show all of what happened during that time. You will need a day for this, we did! We looked at everything and read everything it seemed but those questions I had as a kid were definitely answered that day.
For the remainder of the day, we went to the Air and Space Museum. Fricken amazing! I am sure that all boys at one stage wanted to fly and this museum seemed like it was purpose built for boys (and big boys who never grew up). Past, present and future on aeronautical achievements. From the first flight manned by a human right through to first landing on the moon. It is a every boys dream to go here I am sure. Very fascinating and very informative!
Another full day and we decided to go to the same diner we ate the night before. We repeated the night prior with wings and beer and it didn’t fall short of the previous nights experience.
The next day, we went to Georgetown. On our way, we visited the President at the White House, well stood outside of the White House any ways. It was smaller than I thought it would be. I was expecting this huge house but in reality, it was kind of small, I mean I don’t how long it went but the front looked small.
Georgetown is one hell of beautiful town. You knew where Georgetown started, the buildings were different, they were older. The streets were lined with trees and the architecture was superb. The homes were town house type homes which looked like well kept hundred year old houses made of red brick and wood. The main street or high street was much the same. There were no buildings here that looked out of place, meaning it seemed like there were no buildings here that were built in the modern architecture of straight lines of steel and glass, just red brick and wood – beautiful, makes you feel like you were in another time!
Lunch was at an all American BBQ house – excited! This place looked like a saloon from an old Western movie. Wooden floors, wooden bars, porcelain sinks in the middle of the restaurant, wood every where! All they needed was a spittoon and it would have completed the picture nicely! The food was sublime; my dream food. I thought we had already eaten the best soul food in Harlem but I think this place might have topped it. A mix of Southern food, Tex Mex and BBQ; heaven in one place; a smile from ear to ear for me. I had the sticky grilled chicken and sticky ribs and my friend had the grilled pork ribs and brisket, again with you had choice of sides, we went with the usual mac and cheese, collard greens and mashed potatoes. What was also good was the corn bread. My little nephew thought it was little cup cakes which was an honest mistake because they did look like cup cakes. Finally, some really good corn bread, better than any I’ve tasted any where including any where in the U.S. The table had all these different types of sauces, all very very good, all house made! I just wish I could have sat in the kitchen and watched them for a while, learn the secrets behind this amazing food. I now see how BBQ’s are so different to Aussie BBQ’s. The Aussie BBQ serves a purpose for us, but American BBQ’s or cookouts are just something else, it’s an art form that requires skill, attention and time to prepare– plenty of time!
That day we visited Arlington Cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery is a military cemetery established during the American Civil War. It is a picturesque place, well maintained and on well manicured, green land. It is a beautiful place for both the final resting place of these fine men and women and also to pay respects.
We were also fortunate enough to witness the changing of the guards ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just in front of the Arlington Amphitheater. From here the view is magnificent. It sits on top of a hill overlooking the entire DC area. Arlington is also the final resting place of John F Kennedy and wife Jacqueline Onasis.
After this we went to the Pentagon. Nothing much to report here, you can’t get any where near the building with out being questioned by soldiers so we went to meet my parents back in Washington, at Hooters. Yes my parents, my sister, my niece and nephew all went to Hooters. Great place, it really isn’t the seedy place people seem to think it is, plus the Buffalo wings here are simply the best along with their steins of beer served by some lovely ladies, what more you ask for in a family restaurant really?? Ahh yeah, those wings were hot and spicy and really good!!
So that’s Washington and most of its parts! I loved learning about America and this place is so rich with history, predominantly in American history but a lot about world history as well. I was glad I came to Washington, it was educational and certainly did stir up a few emotions with all the memorials. If you have children, you will not be disappointed in taking them here, they won’t be bored nor will you run out things to do.
stay tuned for the final part of my U.S. trip – Boston………………….