The American Rome

Trip Start Jun 24, 2012
Trip End Sep 21, 2012

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Sunday, September 9, 2012

(Seriously, one of D.C's nicknames, is apparently the 'American Rome' - huh).

This morning we got up after a good night's sleep, and dressed and headed to breakfast in the hostel. There was one of the hostel attendants in the way of the food and he wouldn't let anyone eat until they'd said 'good morning' to him in another language... so I gave him the old 'Guten Morgen' and grabbed some toast. 

We ate quickly as we had an incredibly busy day planned. First stop was to Ford's Theatre in order to pick up some tour tickets. Ford's theatre is the place where Abraham Lincoln was shot; it's still a working theatre, but they have the Presidential box sealed off in Lincoln's honour. We got tickets for 9am, and were surprised to find ourselves the youngest and only non-Americans of the tour group. The tour wasn't guided; instead we were sent down to a really cool museum with exhibits and videos about Lincoln, his assassin John Wilkes Booth, their histories and the reason for the assassination. There was also an excellent timeline of the day of the shooting running down a hallway - one side for Lincoln, one side for Booth - which led into the theatre itself. 

When we went inside there, everyone was hushed, and quite reverent really; Lincoln was a great man and one of America's hero presidents, and you could feel that there was a lot of respect for him whilst we were there. The theatre is quite small and steep, and there were people dressed up in period clothing answering questions; it was very nice. 

The ticket also allowed us into the second part of the tour, over the road at the Peterson House. This is where Lincoln was taken when he was shot in the back of the head; they weren't able to get him to a hospital so they took him to a house across the street from the theatre, where he died the next morning. This also had an excellent museum attached to it, which focused more on what happened after Lincoln died, and his legacy. There was a lot of Obama in here too, and an awesome pillar made out of all the books that have been written about Lincoln. The whole thing was actually loads more interesting than I thought it might be, and we were really glad we went. 

After spending a couple of hours in here, we left to go to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and the American Constitution. On the way, we passed a building that I thought looked really familiar, but couldn't place, until I saw the name of it. The J. Edgar Hoover Building....or the FBI building where Mulder and Scully worked in the X Files! I was v. impressed, needless to say.

We got to the National Archives, and were going through security when one of the guards pulled me to the side. I was immediately crapping myself, but all he wanted to say was that he recognised me from outside Ford's Theatre earlier in the morning when he'd walked past me on the way to work. I asked him how he recognised me and he said it was my hair and my shirt (I'm wearing the 3 internet-kitty moon one) - apparently I cut a distinctive figure in D.C!

The National Archives was really cool, but was seriously OTT with the security - the three main documents (Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution) were all together in a rotunda, with dimmed lights and climate control in order to protect them. Photography isn't permitted so we couldn't get any snaps of them, but the documents were all very lovely. We also saw one of the four surviving copies of the 1297 Magna Carta, which inspired the American Constitution and was donated to the US by Britain. 

There were a couple of exhibits in the National Archives that we looked through, mainly explaining what they do with data, and then we decided to carry on with out tour of Washington. We headed across the street and through the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art Sculpture Park, which was awesome. 

After spending some time in here, we found ourselves in the Smithsonian complex; a group of museums and research centres, including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History. The complex sits on the National Mall (so many 'Nationals'!), so Laura and I spent some time playing with perspective and taking photos. We then decided to go into the National Museum of Natural History to have a look around - these are my favourite type of museums ever, and although we've seen loads, I never get bored of them =) 

It was brilliant; the displays were really well done and it was more modern than others we've been in. We walked through the mammal halls, displays about the Ice Age and human evolution, and best of all..the dinosaurs! I think Laura was even quite impressed with this part, as she got to touch a real-live dinosaur fossil! There were also some really impressive fossilised dinosaur skin displays which I haven't seen before. We even got to see the famous Hope Diamond - bit tacky in my opinion =P We had lunch in the museum - chicken noodle soup and caesar salad, to make up for all the junk we've been eating - and then came back out and walked along the National Mall. There were about a bajillion squirrels frolicking in the park, and every person who wasn't a tourist was a jogger. 

We went to the Washington Monument, the tallest stone obelisk in the world, and the Capitol building, where Congress meets. It was here that we spotted a really interesting looking building with some posters outside of painted mustang horses, which obviously piqued Laura's interest, so we wandered over to have a look. It turned out to be the Museum of the American Indian, and it looked awesome, so we went inside. It is described as a living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions, and is designed to represent natural rock formations, such as those we saw in the desert earlier in our trip. 

The best part of this museum by far was the 'Horse Nation' exhibit, which was dedicated to the horses used by Native Americans and the impact they had on their culture. There were artworks inspired by the horses, decorated cloths and blankets worn by them, and various interactive videos playing where Native American people described their relationship with the horse. We spent a couple of hours in the museum, listening to talks by guides and exploring, and I would highly recommend anyone in D.C visiting it. 

By the time we came out of the museum it was getting late, and we were exhausted by our non-stop day. We decided to head back towards the hostel and try and grab some food along the way, but spotted a Starbucks nearby that was advertising the autumn flavours it had just gotten in, so sacrificed dinner for large pumpkin lattes and salted caramel cake pops....YUMMO!

Tomorrow we're heading out to Arlington National Cemetery, crossing over into Virginia....I've actually lost track of how many states we've been through now!

Deej x
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