Trip Start Sep 01, 2008
Trip End Nov 19, 2008

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Washington is a very special city, you notice it immediately when you walk around there. Everything is very grand and well kept. It is crammed to bursting point with imposing buildings - ministries, embassies, museums and monuments. It is also a wonderfully walkable place, so walking is what we did.

Our best (and longest) day of walking was on the Monday (8 September). We left our hotel in Georgetown and walked along the river, all the way until we were standing behind the fine, white stone of the Lincoln memorial. We crossed the bridge there to walk up through the gates of Arlington National Cemetery. Generally speaking, tourists don't spend much time wandering around cemeteries, but Arlington is different. Over 320,000 servicemen and their family members are buried there - men and women who were fought in each of the wars that America has been involved in since the American civil war. While it is still a very active burial ground - roughly 27 new burials every weekday (!) - it is also a place where people come to learn about their history and reflect on the contribution that each of the soldiers has made to modern American life. We picked up a self-walking audio tour (we were the only people to do so, everyone else joined a little tourist train or walked around unguided) and spent 2 hours wandering between the most impressive sites in Arlington, letting our little I-Pods tell us all about them. We visited the grave of president Kennedy and of his brother Bobby; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; and many more sites. The cemetery itself is a very serene place, rolling hills, covered mainly in identical little white gravestones and the bright sunshine lit everything up beautifully. And the view from the top of the principal hill, out across the city, was well worth the climb. 

From Arlington we exited north in order to walk past the Iwo Jima memorial - the very well known sculpture of the soldiers raising an American flag on the hilltop of a Japanese island, a key moment in a key battle of World War II. It was much, much bigger than we expected it to be and was done in amazing detail.

Next we gave our feet a quick rest while we caught the subway to Farragut West, just round the corner from the White House. There we started the second half of our walk, first making a loop around the White House to see it from both front and back. Such a recognisable building, so all the more fun to see "live". And the perimeter fence was not as far away from the House as you might think, so you could get a very good look at it. We walked on, this time past the J. Edgar Hoover building: one of the ugliest buildings on the planet (and very out of place in Washington), but the one that houses the FBI so we didn't file a formal, hideous-building complaint. Located a block behind the FBI building is the Spy Museum, which was our next destination. It was a fabulous museum with far more displays and things to do than we could pack into the hour and a half that we had left to tour it before it closed. But we took in as much of it as we could, admiring all sorts of Spy equipment (like lipstick-guns, telephone-shoes and a James Bond style car) and reading about the role of spies during the cold war.

Finally, we walked from the Spy Museum down to the Mall, which is lined with Smithsonian museums and overlooked by Capitol Hill at one end and the Washington Memorial at the other. Again, we were lucky with the timing and as we wandered down past the mammoth obyslisk of the Washington Memorial and on to the fine marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the sun was setting and the lights were coming on. We greeted Lincoln, perched high on his chair, then sat on the steps in front of him and watched as the dusk colours bounced off the reflecting pool. Satisfied that we had seen enough for one day, we completed the loop by walking back to our Georgetown hotel (stopping to buy some "proper food" to cook since we were stayiing in a "suite" (i.e. we had a basic - if somewhat eclectic - selection of cooking equipment and a fridge that emitted many, many decibels of noise so had to be unplugged at night for a bit of peace and quiet).
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