Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Washington, Williamsburg and Wilmington. 10 days of driving, walking, and bike riding but most importantly 10 days of ingesting American history.

Washington was hot and crowded with tourists but historically entertaining. It is a planned city with vast tracts of land dedicated to the people of the United States. A stunning vista has been created along the corridor of the Mall providing an uninterrupted view from Capitol Hill all the way through to Lincoln Memorial. Due respect is paid to past great presidents whilst ongoing goverment business continues to be conducted in the corridors of power (sometimes underground). Whilst there are metal detectors and security guards everywhere there is still access to most buildings. One of the funny things we noticed was that most American families stopped by the tshirt vendors and purchased matching tie-dyed shirts and then proceeded to wear them around each day. Not a good fashion look and not a good safety procedure either as every single other family was doing the same thing!

We visited a lot of sites whilst in this capital city, that makes it protest so eloquently on its number plates by stating 'Taxation without representation', so let me categorise the sites so I don't go on too long.

Popular museums (Air & Space, Natural History, Botanic Gardens) - these sites were totally crowded, littered with garbage and somewhat dark (with the exception of the gardens). Lucy lost it in the Natural History museum as there were just too many people and it was extremely noisy. Dozens of tour buses line the mall dropping off school children and primarily Asian tourists for the obligatory visit to these museums. Unfortunately we didn't get to the Dulles site of the Air & Space and thus missed 'the Enterprise' but we did see the original 'Kitty Hawk' having seen a replica in Kitty Hawk. Go figure!

Ticketed museums (Capitol, White House, Bureau of Printing and Engraving) - these sites required a timed pass to visit and thus the number of tourists entering at one time was minimised. Our Capitol tour was a private tour in one sense as we were the only North Carolinian family visiting that day and thus the lovely intern from Senator Dole's office was our private tour guide. But it was not so private in that the other 49 states had tours going on at the same time! However we got to see the 2 NC statues, the Wright Brothers fresco and stand on the star in the centre of DC. The BEP was a truly awesome visit. Andrew headed over there and lined up at 8am for tickets snagging us a gig at 9:30am. We drank Starbucks(!) while we waited and saw how large $1M looks in $100 notes. The tour took us into the real facility for printing notes and we could smell the ink and hear the paper rushing through giant machines as we walked through. As you know we didn't make it into the White House but we did see a cool cavalcade of cars with ambulance and police in tow leave the grounds.

Outdoor attractions (Monuments, Arboreteum, Eastern Market) These three sites were amongst our favourties. We rode bike around the monuments and memorials with Lucy riding around in a burley. She thought is was great fun to sit back with her snacks and drinks and was sad to give the bikes back. Our tour guide explained the underlying history of the sites to us and we enjoyed learning about some of the early presidents as well as understanding more about the casualties of war. Lucy enjoyed running around the Korean war memorial and spelling out the letters on the wall "Freedom is not free". When I called her back to stop touching the letters and move out of peoples photos some of the other tourists said that she should stay at the wall as she actually 'made' the photo by representing the freedom that was fought for. Check out the video from last week to see those photos. The Arboreteum is on the outskirts of the city and features the National Herb Garden and National Bonsai Collection both worth a stroll around. We also saw the original Capitol columns now housed there. Eastern Market, Eastern Market, can you please move to Wilmington? The fruit, the crepes, the meat, the artwork all together make me rue living in a small town.

Quiet attractions (Library of Congress, Supreme Court, American Art museum and National Portrait Gallery) The Library of Congress is the world's biggest library, can be used by anyone over 16 and is free. It houses some of the original books donated by Jefferson to start the Library and there is a special exhibition with the original Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence documents. One of 3 existing perfect Gutenberg bibles in on display every day. What more can I say? Go there. And if you can't go there in person go to The Supreme Court building is impressive and the Art musuem holds some great paintings (focussing on US Presidents)

Not-so-crowded museums (Old Postal Pavilion, Postal Museum) These museums are great spots but not popular with the tour buses and thus great for us. The Pavilion provides an awesome view of the city and hardly anyone seems to know about it. The Postal museum was highly interactive and Lucy even got to buy a book about 'Clifford goes to Washington DC'. She drove the purple delivery truck, wrote a postcard to Grandma and we looked at lots of really old unique stamps (mostly with errors and thus very rare)

Expensive attractions (International Spy museum) At $18 each and no strollers allowed, Lucy slept whilst Andrew entered the murky world of espionage. Lots of cool gadgets and stories but none that I can tell you here, or I'd have to shoot you!

Child friendly (National Zoo, Smithsonian Castle carousel) The Zoo was okay but is undergoing major restructuring by building a large elephant area. Also most of the animals are asleep during the day so action at the panda station was fairly low. Lucy enjoyed the honking flamingos and seeing an elephant having a bath (or as she keeps telling me, he was technically having a shower). The carousel proved a big hit and we went there on two separate days for a ride.

Out of Washington (Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon, Annapolis) The cemetery is extremely large and it is eerie how many headstones can be seen. We saw the major sites along the bus tour route and can recommend going early before the hordes arrive. Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington and the only president not to live in the White House, was a very fun day trip. His house decorated in a stylish vivid green is a must see as is the stunning view of the river. A highlight here was eating at the Mount Vernon Inn where we encountered delicious peanut soup with chestnuts, pork pye and duck & sausage cassuolet. Annapolis, the original capitol is a cute red brick town. We dined very well along the river front and now we can say that we have stepped foot in Maryland (I think we are up to 12 states.

Eating (Bistro Bis, B.Smiths, Trader Joes, Ebenezers) We LOVED LOVED LOVED Bistro Bis and Ebenezers going back to both of them multiple times. Ebenezers is a church cafe ie a church owns the cafe and runs meetings there but apart from that it is a regular cafe and it was literally 3 houses down from our accommodation. We taught them to make babyccinos and we went there almost everyday! Bistro Bis is a well connected French restaurant with awesome food. The chef sent a message to me that he wasn't prepared to serve the duck consomme that I had ordered. Disappointed I accepted the vichyssoise he offered in replacement. Absolutely divine. I could eat that soup forever. Forget the sea scallops, the french onion soup or Lucy's 'mac and cheese' made with gruyere. The vichyssoise was to die for. We finally visited Teader Joes and had fun roving the aisles until we encountered a 150 person checkout queue (no exaggeration!) Thankfully 15 cashiers moved us along. B.Smiths was a little disappoitning. Advertised as southern food, the bread served was regular rolls rather than biscuits! We know our southern food by now and obviously this is catering for a northern audience.

I will leave you with one strong impression that I had during this trip and that is the American penchant for painting history in a different light. Changing the facts, well changing the appearance to make things look like you think they should. We encountered this several times. Firstly at Bentonville Battlefield. The original slave quarters were demolished. An old outbuilding was still standing and thus the National Parks decided to portray this building as the slave quarters. No matter that it was half the size of the original and no matter that it was in the wrong spot, it was given the okay because it "looked like what you expect a slave quarters to look like". In the Capitol building dome there is a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. All the signors are sitting in benches watching one of their number sign. No matter that the signing did not occur this way and each signor rocked up to DC when they could and signed the document alone. History looks better painted this way. This is dangerous people!

Ther eare many more details but all I can say is get ye to DC! (preferably in fall when school is back in session)

1 comment:

John & Teresa said...

we enjoyed reading your travel experiences