Washington DC & LVC Orientation

Trip Start Aug 07, 2008
Trip End Aug 12, 2009

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Note: I wrote this entry about Washington DC while I was on the train from DC to Chicago, and I'm just now getting the chance to post it online...because the last couple of days since arriving in Chicago have been busy! But more about Chicago later. Just a warning, I had a lot of time on the train so this is kinda long...feel free to just look at the photos :)

My nonstop flight on Alaska from Seattle to DC turned out to be quite enjoyable after a brief delay. We took off to the south and turned east, which is something I don't experience too often since I fly to California most of the time. We passed the Cascades, which were absolutely beautiful from up above. I could see alpine lakes and snow capped peaks and I thought about how some of the places I was looking at have more than likely never seen humans. The landscape abruptly changed to eastern Washington flatness and farmland, and then came the Columbia. Scattered along the route were lots of wind turbines, which look like toothpicks or birthday candles stuck into the ground. Aside from looking out the window, I also tackled the packet of articles entitled Summer Reading that LVC mailed me earlier this summer, but for some reason I didn't have time to read until the actual flight to orientation. I got through most of them though...very interesting and all centered around the three LVC tenets of social justice, community, and simplicity/sustainability. As we headed further east, the sun started to set behind us and the colors were gorgeous. At one point, I think we passed the Mississippi, or maybe the Missouri, I don't know...I wish our pilot would've announced the rivers as we passed. But I definitely saw Chicago, even though it was pitch black by then, because it was the only big city all lit up like that. I saw Lake Michigan too, which was like a black hole.

My great uncle George picked me up from Reagan and we took the scenic route home, passing some monuments lit up at night. The last time I was in DC was for a 9th grade spring break trip with about 10 other students from my junior high (shout out to Ashley :) That was a whirlwind tour of all the monuments, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Mt. Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Smithsonian museums. Come to find out, there is life beyond the Smithsonian, as impressive as those all are. This time, I decided to go to focus on what I hadn't done last time.

My great uncles George and Michael were wonderful hosts, and I got to stay in their guest suite at their beautiful house in Arlington, which is just across the Potomac from DC. Every morning I made a peanut butter bagel to take with some grapes and string cheese for lunch, so I could do nonstop touring till dinnertime. I had everything kinda planned out beforehand, but what I found out is once you start talking to the uncles, they have all kinds of great suggestions! At one point, I asked if there is anything they don't recommend...but nope, they were stumped.

I am officially a huge fan of this city. I love how you can just be walking along, and turn the corner, and there's a fantastic view of like the Capitol. I love how you meet all kinds of people, especially traveling alone I ended up talking to pretty much everyone I met, from the volunteers at the zoo to the family from Texas I waited in line with at the National Monument. I love the diversity and the rich culture and the acute sense of history and pride you feel just walking along a street, much less in front of a grand monument. I love that everywhere you turn there's something new to learn or experience. It seems like people come to DC because they have a passion for something, whether that is politics on Capitol Hill or museum hopping or working at one of the many non-profits. I think that being in this city is kind of like being in college, but exponentially cooler. What I liked a lot about PLU-meeting people, learning, going to lectures and plays and concerts, having fun-you can do in DC a thousand times over. Museum exhibits are continually changing, and just walking around this place challenges you to think. I thought about our country, our history, our culture.

Even though I was only in DC for a little over a week, I managed to do a lot. And it's incredible, but nearly everything is free. I learned a lot too from hanging out with my uncles...for example, most people don't know that there's a canyon just outside of downtown, with a lovely park and trails and Rock Creek running through it. It was great to have a personal tour guide when we were driving through downtown...my Unc described nearly everything that we saw. A rather nondescript building turned out to be the Federal Reserve, and other places I randomly walked by included the American Dental Association (you know, they certify toothpaste?) and the McGraw Hill Publishing company.

A huge surprise of my time being a tourist in DC has been the amazing weather. I only experienced a tiny bit of the humidity this city is known for in August. The rest of the time, it's been sunny, hot-but-not-too-hot, glorious blue skies and puffy clouds weather. I can only attribute this to the forces that collide when I visit one Washington and am from the other Washington. Because that can get confusing...it seems that people in DC have not heard that there is another Washington besides "their" Washington. Meaning, I have learned to say I'm from Seattle.

I have also learned how to be a natural on the metro. When they say "underground subway," they really mean underground. Like super long escalators, and sometimes up to three sets of them...down, down, down. I figured out pretty quickly that there is an unwritten escalator code: if you want to stand still, stand on the right, so that people who want to walk up (or down) the escalator can do so on the left. I just love how the metro makes it so easy to get around the city, and fairly quickly too.

While wandering around, I have met the absolute nicest people so far. The best conversations come from everyone who I ask to take my picture, and everyone who I ask if I can take their picture, because I try to reciprocate. Or sometimes, if it looks like people are struggling, or one member of the family is clearly not in the picture, I just walk up to them and say "oh let me take that for you" and these people look at me like I just offered them a hundred dollar bill. For example there were four girls in front of the Capitol, trying to do the arm held out in front thing, and I relieved them of that. Turns out they were all from various places along the West Coast on a volleyball tour, and we chatted for a while about why the "West Coast is the best coast," as one of them put it.

The people that I go out of my way to meet are the ones I overhear speaking French. First I eavesdrop for a little while so I can get up the courage to finally ask "Vous êtes d'où?" which means Where are you from? which is a good conversation starter. There was a family at the zoo, two ladies while waiting for the Metro, a group of young people who randomly sat behind me while I was on the lawn in front of the Capitol, taking a break from walking. So I have had about a half dozen conversations in French, which is pretty good for not even having left the country! Apparently I've been missing out all these years living on the West Coast, because there are plenty of people from Quebec who vacation on the East Coast and are willing to parler français with une americaine.
Not to drag out the French thing too long, but there is one more thing I must note: Washington DC kinda feels European. I think it's the big boulevards, the random statues of historical people, the attention to detail, the huge roundabouts scattered throughout the city, and the stately old buildings. Whatever it is, I feel right at home and I think I could get used to living in this city. Except I'll be living in Chicago, but minor detail.

In addition to taking the Metro as much as possible, I did a LOT of walking. I am telling you, it doesn't look that far from the Capitol to the Lincoln, but it is a HIKE! Each morning Unc dropped me off at the Metro station, and I'd take the orange line to wherever I needed to go. Friday I went to the National Zoo, which seemed like a regular old park because it's free and you just wander right in. In fact, I saw several people on the main trail who were jogging by with their iPods, clearly just out for a run through the neighborhood. First I saw the pandas, which were sleeping in their exhibit, except for one who is pregnant so she was on "panda watch." You could go inside the research building and see the scientists monitoring her on their cameras, recording data. The zoo is actually under the Smithsonian umbrella, hence the scientists. The other animals I saw were more active, but that was also because I had the patience to stay at their exhibits until they started moving. I outlasted many a family who would just walk by, see the leopard or whatever just sitting there, and move on. But I saw the leopards climb a tree, the gorillas walk around and eat, the elephants play, and the hippo swim. I also went into the small mammals house, where I spent a lot of time in front of the meerkats and the golden lion tamarin monkeys, which had two babies. I was very impressed with the zoo...really good signage and beautiful landscaping, and there was a volunteer at each exhibit who was more than happy to answer questions and tell you all the animals' names. I made friends with quite a few of these nice people. One lady told me there's a free zoo in Chicago too.

After the zoo, I had some gelato to get enough energy to walk the half hour to the National Cathedral. I came up to the Cathedral on the backside, so I saw the sprawling grounds with green lawns and small brick buildings that house schools and a seminary of some kind I think. When I got around to the front side, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was, with the blue skies and puffy white clouds in the background. I went inside and took a group tour. There are over 200 stained glass windows throughout the Cathedral, and it took 300 million pounds of Indiana limestone to construct it. Absolutely everything decorative inside was done by hand-the woodwork, the ironwork, even the embroidered kneelers. Besides the rose windows, of which there are three, I liked the stained glass windows that portrayed Jesus' parables and miracles. At 5:30 they had an evening prayer service, which I went to with about half a dozen other people in a chapel on the side. My favorite chapel is the smallest one, called Good Shepard Chapel, and I stumbled onto it by accident. I wasn't paying attention when we went downstairs with the group, so when the tour ended and I tried to get back upstairs, I got kinda lost because the lower level is pretty intricate. So I went out this one door and found a tiny room tucked away, with four single seats, a small bench for an altar, and mini stained glass windows. Out on the grounds, I discovered the Bishop's Garden. I think that's where I got the first of my dozen bug bites over the course of the week. It was a lovely garden though, with stone paths and brick planters and a water fountain and lawn and lots of good smelling herbs.

Friday night we watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, which were spectacular. Beijing pretty much outdid themselves, is all I have to say. I haven't seen much of the actual games, except one night at our hotel (for LVC orientation), my roommates and I caught Michael Phelps' 7th gold medal race where he basically won by his fingertips. Or at least that's how it looked in NBC's frame-by-frame replay.

Saturday morning Unc took me to a newly-opened and refurbished cottage that Abraham Lincoln spent his summers at. It's up on the hill north of downtown, which before the days of air conditioning kept the Lincolns a little cooler than they would have been down in swampville. Because DC is actually built on a swamp. The cottage had an exhibit about his presidency, the Civil War, and his life, and then we took an hour-long tour, stopping in each room to hear about parts of Lincoln's life. It was very thorough and painted a good picture of his life beyond what he's really known for.

Next Unc dropped me off at the Library of Congress. I am already starting to think of things I "need" to research so that I can just go sit in that Grand Reading Room and touch one of their old books. I was very impressed by the library, not just the grandeur and the decorations, but also the exhibits, which were very well done. The upper level of the Grand Atrium has these interactive screens that explained everything in great detail. You just touched on the object or painting that you wanted to learn more about, and information popped up. I went to an exhibit on the founding fathers and the founding documents, explaining how the Constitution, Bill of Rights and more came about. Next was my favorite part, which was a recreation of Jefferson's original library. The Library of Congress was actually started when Jefferson offered his personal library for sale to the government. After much debate, they bought it, only to have two thirds of it burn in a fire a few years later. So over the last decades, the Library has been slowly trying to recreate the original library, and they've gotten pretty far. I couldn't take any pictures, and I also couldn't actually touch any of the books, which was really frustrating! I might have tried, but they were all behind Plexiglas, probably to ward off book geeks like me. It was still cool to read all the spines and see books like Plato's dialogues and tons of French books. I also watched a short video talking about all the different kinds of material the Library contains, aside from just books. It also talked about the conservation efforts they're taking, as well as the fact that there are now three buildings to contain everything, plus a storage area out in a suburb. But if you're researching and request a book that's out in the storage area, they'll have it trucked to you by the afternoon.

I could have spent all day there, but I peeled myself away. Next door the Supreme Court was undergoing construction of some kind, so I couldn't go in there. The Capitol, across the street, was also having some construction, so I went to the US Botanic Garden and Conservatory. There is a giant inside portion as well as gardens outside. It was like walking into a jungle...plants everywhere! And each area had a different theme...there were desert plants, and ancient plants like from the dinosaurs' era, and herb/medicinal plants, and a children's garden, and more. I also walked along the catwalk at the top of the grand atrium, which gives you a birds' eye view of the jungle below.

Sunday morning I stood in line at 8:30am to get a ticket for the National Monument. It's free to go up it, but you have to get a timed entry ticket. After that I walked over to the World War II monument, which I hadn't seen last time because it was just recently built. They did a wonderful job, with everything being very symbolic and meaningful. It was nice to sit and just listen to the fountains splash and look at the different elements-each state is represented, plus all the battles, and my favorite part were bronze relief panels that depicted various scenes from all different perspectives of the war. From there I walked along the reflecting pond (of MLK, Jr. "I have a Dream" speech fame) to the Lincoln Memorial. I climbed those steps to find Abe still sitting proudly and surveying the lay of the land. He probably has a good view of his old cottage up on the hill. Let me tell you, there is a lot of granite in Washington DC.
I was going to walk over to the Jefferson Memorial, but it looked a little too far away, plus I had a timed ticket for the Holocaust Memorial Museum at 11am. First I looked at their temporary exhibit on the Berlin 1936 Olympics. Did you know it was Hitler who came up with the idea to do a torch relay from Athens to Berlin? Apparently he was fond of hosting torchlight parades for propaganda purposes and extended that same torch aspect to the Olympics. Well needless to say it caught on. It was interesting though to see how countries thought about boycotting the Olympics back then, because word was definitely getting around that Hitler didn't like Jews and other groups and was excluding them from the German team. The US still ended up going, but individual athletes from around the world abstained from the games. That kinda parallels the more recent discussions about boycotting the Chinese games. After that I went through the permanent exhibit, which starts you on the fourth floor and takes you down through the whole story of the Holocaust. That time period has always fascinated me and I've read tons of books from all different perspectives, but I loved putting it all together by walking through the stages, from Hitler's insidious rise to power all the way through the Nuremberg trials. The parts that really got me were a boxcar that transported people to the concentration camps, the heaps of personal items like scissors, hairbrushes, and shoes, and the wall of stories of people who helped others in some way. I ended up spending over four hours there and could have stayed longer.

After that I needed some sunshine so I rode the metro to the Eastern Market, which is an open-air antiques/farmers market. I was just walking along an aisle, when I randomly spotted my friend Kristen, who has spent this past year in DC doing Lutheran Volunteer Corps. She told me it's not uncommon to run into people you know around the city. We wandered around and chatted, catching up on LVC and life at PLU. It's a small world! Sunday evening I went up the National Monument, which was fantastic. I love seeing a city from up above (such as the Space Needle or Eiffel Tower) and I could definitely see very clearly the design for the city that George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant laid out many years ago. There was a quick thunderstorm while I was up there, but fortunately no lightening or we would have had to evacuate.

Monday I devoted to the Newseum, which was the only place I had to pay, but for communication major me, it was so worth it. Plus I got a AAA discount. I knew I was going to like the place when I walked up to see a giant slab of granite on the side of the building, stretching up all six stories, with the first amendment engraved into it. Then I got closer and saw that along the sidewalk out front, they had the front page from a newspaper in every state in the country. Inside they had more from other cities and countries around the world. I spent most of my time on the level with the history of media, which started with a printing press from Gutenberg's time and ended with a recap of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies. Note that those happened Friday, August 8, and I was visiting the Newseum on Monday, August 11, and the display looked like it had always been there. This place is so technologically rigged, it's crazy. They have screens everywhere, and projections, and giant theaters, and windows to the control room where they program it all. Back to the history part, they had drawers with important newspaper headlines from over the years, and I opened nearly every one of them. It was like getting a lesson in pop culture and the creation of media as we know it today all at once. There was also a very well done section on 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and other events similar to those that impacted how those events are covered. I could have stayed there all day too, but I had to get to the place where I was supposed to check in for Lutheran Volunteer Corps orientation.

So later in the afternoon, I arrived to LVC orientation, which immediately kicked off a wonderful but overwhelming next few days. Everything was held at Luther Place Church, which is the Lutheran church that started LVC back in the day (LVC is affiliated with the ELCA, but it's kinda it's own organization too). We also had meals and did a few things across the street at the giant National Christian City Church. One of the first things I remember is meeting my four housemates, and I think it's going to be a great year. We all come from different places (Abby from Missouri, Nora from Minnesota, Kate from Ohio, Katie from California, and me from Washington), but they're all very down to earth and fun to be around. For orientation, we all stayed in a hotel room together in downtown DC, walking up to Luther Place each morning. Orientation consisted of some workshops and lots of good conversations, and meeting lots and lots of people. I spent the most time with the other LVC'ers who I will be seeing more in Chicago, because besides my apartment of five girls, there are two other apartments in other parts of the city with four people each. There are also nine people from PLU doing LVC (we're placed across the country though), so it was fun to see some familiar faces.

By the end of each day, we were all grateful for free time in the evenings. We also had one afternoon off, so I took the Metro down to the American Indian Museum because I had heard so many good things about it. It's fairly new, as far as museums on the Mall go, and very well done. It was different than I expected-I thought there would be like different sections for the various tribes, but actually it was grouped more by themes of Indian life. Tribes from all over the Americas were represented, from South America up to Alaska. After that I went to the American Portrait Gallery, which simply blew me away. You might think a bunch of portraits of people would be boring, but each painting had a very well-written story to go along with it, explaining more about the person's life or the artist and why he/she painted it. Some people were famous, some I'd never heard of, and they were from all different time periods. There's just something about a painting of a person that is so compelling, as compared to a photograph. Also interesting was the president's wing, with portraits of every president and some first ladies.

Training ended on Saturday with a commissioning service, and then everyone departed DC for his or her respective cities. I'm taking the train to Chicago and writing this as we go. We left at 4:00pm Saturday and will arrive in Chicago at 8:30am Sunday morning.

PS, sorry this entry is so long! If you got this far, you deserve some sort of prize.

PPS, more on Chicago later. Tomorrow is my first official day of work, so I need to get some sleep.

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getbackjojo on

I read it ALL??
I can't believe I just had the attention span to read your entire entry.
Thanks for the shout out. I hope you got a chance to visit Ethel. Haha.

The part where you mentioned the city feeling European i got really excited because one of the few things I learned [and still remember] from that 9th grade trip was that the city was planned by Monsieur L'Enfant. But then as I read on... I discovered you already knew that...
I bet he helped with the European feel to the design of the street and statues and whatnot.

The way you write.. I feel like I just toured DC with you. Amazing.
I can't wait to hear more about your adventures.. and hopefully, a visit!


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