Tuesday, September 2, 2014
My son and his family planned a vacation to Washington DC. They asked if I would like to tag along and of course I said yes.
My son asked a relative to plan the trip because she is a travel agent. She was to book the hotel. It should have a pool because the kids like to swim when they stay in a hotel. She was also to make reservations for tours of the city for us. We would be there a week.
Whenever we travel we always share one room. It is cheaper and we get along just fine so there are usually no problems.
We drove and even with several rest stops we arrived a little bit early. The hotel would not let us check into our room. Fine. We would park in the garage and wander for a little while.
We were quite surprised to find that there was not enough room in the structure for each room of the hotel. What? They had a meager parking area that was completely outside. The hotel was not responsible for any damage to the cars outside the parking structure. My son checked every day and as soon as he could he pulled into the structure. We were not driving anywhere so it sat until we were ready to go home.
The hotel was right next door to some embassy. I made a mental note at the time to remember which country but I cannot remember it now. It was for a smaller country. Fences were high all around it with a huge wrought iron gate in front. It seemed a little run down from my vantage point. I never saw anyone coming or going.
Across the street was a church. The architecture was gorgeous. We could see it from the window of our room.
There was nothing spectacular about the room. One hotel is much the same as the next but we had no complaints. Except when the kids wanted to go swimming. The hotel had no pool. Guests at the hotel could use the pool at a hotel two blocks away.
The kids and their parents dressed for swimming and trekked to the other hotel. It was cloudy and we had no plans until the following day. I remained at our room to recuperate from the trip.
In no time at all the whole troop were back. The pool at the other hotel was on the roof. It had begun to rain and they had to close the pool. Poor kids.
The following morning was our first tour. The bus picked us up at the hotel and we were on our way to Arlington National Cemetery. I had seen it once from the road outside and was in awe then. I was really looking forward to this.
Arlington National Cemetery is located across the Potomac River from Washington DC. It is on land that was confiscated from Robert E Lee and his wife Mary Custis, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Their home Arlington House is still on the grounds.
Just to stand at any spot in the cemetery and see all the headstones for as far as you can see is an awe inspiring sight. Many military personnel are buried there. Sometimes their families were also buried there so it is not all soldier's graves. I cannot begin to tell you how I felt standing there looking at all those headstones and I will not try. But if you have the opportunity experience it for yourself.
We saw the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers. One representative from each war from World War One until the Viet Nam War was interred there. They are called unknown because officials had not been able to identify the remains. The soldier from Viet Nam was identified using DNA testing. His family claimed the remains. That tomb remains empty but the honor is still there.
The changing of the guard at the Tombs of the Unknowns is a solemn and ceremonial thing to see. Even children remained quiet with no prompting from parents.
Nearby is the burial place of John F Kennedy with its eternal flame. Another fine thing to see.
Back on the bus we were taken to the Washington National Cathedral. This church was originally an Episcopal church but it welcomes any and all religions and denominations. The grounds are spacious and pristine. A good place to walk in quiet reflection.
As you step into the church you are met with beauty. Again I have never seen such a beautiful building in my life. The main chapel is the one you most often see on television. It is very large with a wide center aisle. The ceiling is a couple of stories high. On either side the walls contain magnificent stained glass windows. They line the walls and there are two levels of windows.
The lower windows are all traditional religious scenes. The upper windows are more modern. One even commemorates man walking on the moon and moon rocks are incorporated in with the stained glass.
The altar is all carved wood. The artistry is breath-taking. They told us all about it but by that time my brain was on overload.
The thing is that is not the only chapel. There are almost a dozen all together. One of the lowest ones has a rock floor that is worn smooth with time and traffic. Each has its own unique charm and function.
Several notable people are entombed within the church. I will not list them because I want you to be able to have the full experience when you visit. If you are unable to visit you can check the internet.
That was the end of our day. We had a free day the next day and wanted to tour the White House. We were told that you had to be issued a ticket the day of your visit and be there early because they give out a limited number.
We got up and walked to the White House area at about 5:00 in the morning. It was only a couple of blocks from the hotel. We crossed the park being careful not to step on the people sleeping there. As we neared the White House we saw a long line. We were late for the ticket line and might not be able to get tickets.
As luck would have it they were giving out more tickets than usual that day and we got our tickets. They are free. You must be a certain age to receive them and you are limited to four tickets. There were five of us.
We had met a tour guide who wished to get tickets for some of his customers but he got there too late. If we would get enough tickets for them he would give us a free guided tour to whatever we wanted to see. It was cheating but we got the seven extra tickets.
The White House tour is very structured and very rushed. At the same time it was wonderful to see the most important building in our country. I am so fulfilled when I can actually feel history.
That afternoon we had a tour to go see the monuments. We drove by the Lincoln Memorial, Washington's Tomb, Watergate Hotel, and so many others. Then we went to where the Viet Nam Wall is.
It was the one memorial I really wanted to see. My brother's name is there. We had been told that there were people who would help us to get etchings of the names from the Wall but there was no one, absolutely no one, so inclined. The veterans give out papers and pencils to do the etchings but that is all.
My brother's name is high up on the Wall. My granddaughter climbed up onto my son's shoulders to get etchings for us and it was still a stretch. On top of that is was a scorchingly hot day. Cement and stone was all around us and we were all ready to wilt. With a lot of effort she was able to get the etchings for us and we moved on.
The Korean War Memorial is also impressive. It consists of 19 military figures. They are life sized and weigh about half a ton each. They look like a combat unit creeping through Korean landscape. The figures are reflected in a mirrored wall to make 38 to represent the 38th parallel which is the border between North Korea and South Korea.
World War I has a memorial in Washington DC. It is lovely and must be surrounded by cherry blossoms in the spring. It looks like a spacious gazebo.
The Iwo Jima Memorial shows the six servicemen who raised the second flag on Mount Suribachi during World War II. They were beginning construction of a World War II Monument while we were there so we have not seen it.
That day we were so happy to be back at the air conditioned hotel. August is unbelievably hot in Washington DC. Showers and a good rest made us ready for our next adventures.
The following day the tour guide we met kept his word and picked us up at the hotel. He had no one else in his tour so he said we could see whatever we wanted to. We left it up to him. He showed us the narrowest house in the city. There are many historical homes in the area. They are lived in but the people who own them must keep them in historical condition. Any repairs or decorating has to be submitted for approval.
This guide also told us how to get around in the subway beneath Washington DC. I think it may be closed right now. Anyway if we took a certain subway to a certain terminal we would end up in one of the congress buildings. That has definitely been closed. I do not think people in the building were too happy to see us step off the subway.
We went to the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, The Senate House, The House Of Representatives, and so many other places. He was a good guide.
We went to see the Smithsonian. There are so many buildings of Smithsonian. We went to the Museum Of Natural History to see dinosaurs and other prehistoric beings. There was a diorama of a caveman funeral. My granddaughter was fascinated because she thought the live cavemen were beating the deceased to death. She loved it.
The Museum of Flight had every form of flying machine you could imagine. Then there was the museum where we saw the Hope Diamond, Fonzie's jacket, and so many other iconic bits. Each building had learning centers for children. Things to do and things to touch. They even had a paper airplane construction seminar. Then a paper airplane race.
We ran out of time before we were able to see even half the museums. I would love to return and spend a day in each one.
We spent a day going to Mount Vernon where George Washington lived. The tourist part of the farm is huge. There are all the usual outbuildings many still in use for the sake of tourism. There are even a couple of burial spots.
The house itself is a mansion. Most rooms are small by today's standards. There are formal entertaining rooms that are much larger. The old-fashioned dangerously narrow stairs are there. Bedrooms are unbelievably small. If I were wealthy my bedroom would be as large as a parlor with a spacious room for my bed and privacy.
Anyway bedrooms must have been used for nothing more than sleeping because there was no room for anything else. People were not as large as they are today and the beds reflect that. The bed that George and Martha shared was shorter and only slightly wider than a twin sized bed of today.
What I liked the most was the porch. It was as long as the whole house and looked out over the Potomac River. It is lined with rocking chairs maybe twenty of them. I sat in one and rocked. I could have relaxed there forever.
There were so many other things we saw on our vacation. We packed so much into that little week. I would very much like to return with a little more time.
One thing that disappointed me was the homeless people. I feel bad for anyone who has no place to stay. That being said I was appalled to see every available doorway, park table and bench, and any other spare space being occupied. While visiting the Smithsonian there were people lounging on the grass and they obviously were there to stay. Some were even quite lewd in their lounging.
I asked a tour guide why they were allowed to stay there when signs prohibit being on the grass. He told me the authorities are told they have no right to chase them away.
It is sad that the capitol of my country looks like a flop house. Surely something could be done.
Other than that I recommend a visit to Washington DC. There is so much to see. I have not even scratched the surface.