The Tip of an Iceberg in Washington DC!

Trip Start May 01, 2013
Trip End May 06, 2013

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Thursday, May 2, 2013

The fastest route from the Embassy Circle Guest House to the Library of Congress is via the metro.   Although fellow guests were recommending this route, when we learned that it is only about 2.5 miles and it's sunny and in the 60’s, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk-the-walk through our leafy Dupont Circle area toward the National Mall, past the Capitol and to the Library of Congress.  How long could it take?

Well for two hours, we had a grand time!  The neighborhood transitioned from the small intimate embassies and private residences to the monumental government buildings.  Along the way, the architecture continued to fascinate – at times we thought we were in Paris with the street lights, grand boulevards, and the bicycles along with the car traffic.  We would casually look down the street and in the distance we got our first view of the White House.  On another street, our first view of the Capitol building.  These world  famous architectural icons would be just be barely visible, but somehow it was so cool to catch a glimpse of them behind the traffic, trees and foreground buildings.  Yes, we are definitely in Washington DC. 

We had some other observations:

It’s best to really watch the signs for when it’s okay to cross the street.  But if you are going to cross when the walking light is red, make sure you do it with a group of people.  Safety is in numbers.

There are "important" people in town that we might not see or recognize, but their presence is felt.  Like in a corner of a park, there are four photographers shooting an interview with someone who we were trying to identify, but didn’t recognize.    Or the police cars and area around the Australian Embassy that was cordoned off – someone “important” must be there or arriving soon.  A little gawking slowed our pace.

While the Embassy Row area that we walked yesterday had so many flags from other countries, today was mostly all American flags.  Like the Old Post Office or the Justice Building.  One could almost believe it was the fourth of July, if one didn’t know you were in our nations capitol and this is the daily norm.   Sometime along this walk, Harvey starts humming America the Beautiful!

The entrance to the National Gallery of Art has a pyramid structure designed by I.M. Pei that has water flowing downward and appears to flow into the building itself.  Harvey peered down and thinks that it’s visible as a sort of waterfall if one is inside the building.    So very creative.  We make a mental note to check that out on another day.

Many of the buildings and the traffic circles have statues, pavements or words engraved with thoughts worth pondering.  Like “What is past is a prologue.  Study the past.”  One could probably take a good part of a day walking from our guesthouse to the Library of Congress slowly reading each of these wise sayings along the way!

There are a lot of tourists in Washington, so how is it that we saw two other couples from our guest house today?  How strange is that?

People are really friendly here in Washington – they may be fellow tourists or the people who work here.  Here’s a sampling of some of the kindnesses and conversations we had: 
  • We asked a fellow tourist to take our photo with the Capitol building as a background.  We chat and learn that he’s from Germany, he learned English working for an American company and that he’s leaving tomorrow for New York.
  • A man and woman are observing me pose for a photo with the Washington monument in the background.  I’ve got my arms up high and I’m sort of dancing and Harvey is taking my photo.  We learn that they are from the Teaching Company doing the background preparation for an upcoming photography course with a National Geographic photographer, Joe Sartori.  Nancy, the managing writer, and Tony the managing producer chat with us and we share how we love the audio and video courses from the Teaching Company.    And they share a bit about what it is they do.  Fun.
  •  Ray Fowler at the Library of Congress information desk gave great directions so we didn’t get lost among the long corridors of the Madison building and we found our way to the cafeteria.  Thanks to Ray we even found the underground tunnel connecting the Madison & Jefferson buildings of the Library of Congress.  He’s a former civil engineer who clearly enjoys helping visitors.  He gave us the tip about where and how to see the Stradivarius violins and old flute collection in the Jefferson building. 
  • The cashiers at the Madison building of the Library of Congress (LOC) cafeteria who asked Harvey if he works here.  Harvey quipped, “no, I just pay taxes”.  They both cracked up and had a good laugh.  LOC and Congress staff get a 20% discount.
Tip:  the cafeteria in the Madison building of the Library of Congress has a wide selection of lunch  options.  We chose freshly roasted turkey, steamed green beans and an udon noodle soup   with veggies.  Delicious and only $15.84!

And now for our destination for the day - The Library of Congress – we spent 4.5 hours here – and that was the tip of the iceberg!  Highlights:
  • In advance of our trip, we went on-line and filled out the information to register as a researcher.  When we arrived today, we filled out a bit more information, got our photo taken and was issued a reader’s card.  This gave us entry into the reading rooms.  Easy. Well worth the maybe 10 minutes of processing time! 
  • There are many reading rooms, but I chose the Geography and Map reading room.  I asked the research librarian if we could see old maps of New Zealand.  After about 10-15 minutes, she emerged and gave us portfolios with original maps form 1756,  1764, 1770, 1823, 1827, 1849.  As I touched these maps and we compared them, I realized how much I love maps – and what fun it was to see how much more knowledge was gained of the geography over time.  It was as if New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific islands were being discovered before our eyes – on one map, we even saw the pencil markings of the ship’s sailing route that was made during their voyage!
  • Harvey opened up a book that had photos of old maps.  On one map in particular that was exceptionally intricate in design and detailed, Harvey commented on how much time it must have taken to create this map – but he also said that in the mind of the person who did this, his sense of time was very different – that he probably was lost in the creation and absorbed by the process.  Something clicked for me.  Yes, that is exactly what I am longing for now – to photograph, write and create my handmade books with that level of absorption, intensity and focus.  To shift into another time dimension - almost of no time.  I make a mental note to talk about this later with Harvey.
  • The tour of the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress.  The docent was fantastic in explaining the iconography of the building elements and the statement that this building was making at the time of construction – okay world, we are the United States of America!  I got one snapshot of the main reading room before I was told that no photography is allowed!  At least I got that one!  I could write a lot here, gosh I took a lot of notes, but to put it simply, it is inspiring.

    And so, we used our readers card to gain entry into the main reading room.  No photography is allowed, so the memory is on the screen of my mind.  I took deep breaths and soaked in the beauty of the high ceiling, the light streaming in, the sculptures and words inscribed in the walls.    It was a dream of mine to be here, to sit here and here we are!    It is an inspiring place!
  • We found the meeting room called the Whitttal Pavilion and at the nearby information desk, the staff person walked in to see if it was not being used.  She invited us in and we saw the collection of Strativarius  violins, cello and viola as well as many old flutes that had been donated to the Library of Congress.
  • The George Gershwin collection on display had his original transcripts on display.  There were also some original film clips so we watched Fred Astaire, and Judy Garland and other greats perform to Gershwin’s songs.

    Today, we had got just a flavor of the treasures that the Library of Congress can reveal to its visitors.  And that was the discovery.  There is so much to discover!
We walked all the way back to the Embassy Circle Guest House, joined in the happy hour with other guests, went our for Thai and now we’re just hanging out in our lovely room. 

Just a great day!  We love Washington, DC!

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