Washington.... meh

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Please take this blog with a huge pinch a salt. Our opinion of Washington was probably sealed from the moment we got on the Greyhound with a horribly rude driver. In short we had a bit of a pants time, a pants time we could laugh at, but pants nonetheless.  Given more time, having had better weather, or just with a better driver we might have loved it but it's fair to say we didn’t.

Getting on the bus at Philly was a chore, there were no signs to tell us where to go, the driver seemed to take huge exception to being asked questions. Matt asked if he had the correct bus and was pointed towards the back of the line. Having got to the front of the line (still none the wiser) he grunted it was, but didn’t want to tell us whether we would have a change or not " I tell you where you get off".  He didn’t seem overly equipped in manners or driving skills , as we were thrown into the back of the seats in front at the very first junction.

The ride was pretty uninteresting, except perhaps a drive past the very same Baltimore docks, as featured in The Wire Season 2 . ( Despite our obsession  with The Wire we’d decided it didn’t justify a stay in Baltimore, cos all it has in it is like crime and shooting and docks- maybe we don’t know).

After a 12 block walk from the Metro we get to our hostel- Duo Housing. We’ve just left the cleanest, friendliest most sociable hostel in Philadelphia, which was $5 less a night. We’re not that impressed. Before even being let in the door we’re made to take our shoes off and sign a disclaimer that pretty much says the hostel can charge us for most things and we can’t really do anything. We’re escorted round the building, which happily includes a much needed smoking deck and plonked into our 'bedroom’. Our ‘bedroom’ still has an ‘Employees Only’ sign on the door a shell of a desk and filling cabinets. It doesn’t have any windows but it does have six manky bunk beds, all 12 beds occupied. A We were allocated bunks furthest away from each other as possible, both top bunks. I’m not sure what was a nicer touch, the swaying of the beds at every turn or the fact that the top bunks were about ten inches from the polystyrene tiled ceiling. Susie was particularly lucky – she had a ceiling tile hanging down above her bed, she was also right under the shower  so got to listen to that all night, wondering if the leaky tiles were going to collapse, she also got the melody of the tumble dryers in the next room going all night. The room was hot and loud at night, after the mood we’d arrived in this was just what we needed.

Hating the room and desperate to get into one of the four showers before the other 100 guests we were up early the next day. We did get pancakes which were pretty good and the guy who cooked them for us, actually really nice, this is one of the good points about our trip to Washington (1-lets count them as we go along).  Another bum note was hit, however, when we looked out of the window to see snow bucketing down.

Still we were desperate to get out of the horrid hostel and with only one day in Washington had plenty to do, so at 8.15 we were out in the bucketing snow ready for some sightseeing and museums and hopeful that they would clear up.

Out into the blizzard we trekked, first stop the Whitehouse. A  20 -25 minute trek took us up to the gates. (2 – location was kind of a good point).  Naturally we couldn’t get too close but made our way to the fences to see the house, or not. The thing with the White House is it’s white, really white – which doesn’t work too well in the snow. We were  the only people there, only ones stupid enough to be out in the snow at this our, and as such Matt didn’t think it would be too much for Michelle to invite us in for a cup of tea, but was left disappointed.

Next stop was The Elipse. Normally you can see it for miles around but ,again, it’s white and non too visible in the snow. On finding our way across we found it was covered in part by scaffolding. Still not impressed yet.

So we made our way to the war memorials. Now here’s where the good points stack up. The memorials are stunning and moving and do an excellent job of provoking thought and honouring their forces. The pictures probably speak for themselves but we were particularly touched by the wall of stars, each one representing one hundred dead (3), the Vietnam Memorial with every killed American soldier’s name inscribed(4) and the Korean war memorial that had an eery quality in the snow (5).  You can’t walk away from the National Mall without seeing that the American’s certainly know how to honour their war dead, at the same time you can’t walk away without being saddened that there are so many of them.

Between the memorials is the Reflecting Pool, empty , leading up to the Lincoln Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial does get a point (6). Big Abe does look ever so grand in his chair, the museum is pretty weak but it guaranteed a point by being shelter from the snow.

A quick walk out to the Tidal Basin took us out (through some heavy sidewind and yes still snow) past the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and out to Martin Luther King’s Memorial. This huge carving is not white, but it does impress (7).

By now we’d been walking for some three or four hours and took ourselves back into the central part of town, passing through the cherry trees . The trees were equally unimpressed with the weather and had delayed their annual bloom by weeks, so we didn’t see that either.

After an attempt to dry off in Starbucks  where we tried a new trial breakfast wrap (it was pants) it was Museum time. Washington has a bucket load of museums (8) and most of them are free (9).

We headed first to the American Portrait Gallery, first stop a look at notable Americans. The pictures were fine, varying from abstract to classical oils. What was particularly interesting though was the selection of ‘notable Americans’.  Who knew Winston Churchill was an American, or Alfred Hitchock, Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein were American? We were getting cross.

Next stop was a new exhibition ‘American Cool’. The photographs were stunning and the exhibit moved from decade to decade nicely. Who knew though that about 90% of ‘cool’ Americans were men? Who knew there were so few females who could be cool? Susie was getting cross, Mattie was relatively unaffected, which made her even more cross.

A stop through the modern side of the gallery and the amazing piece Neon America made her feel a bit better (10).

We headed out and onto our next Museum, the American History Museum. There’s a whole lot of history in all fairness so they’ve got quite a job to do and they try and cover a lot, but seem to cover it pretty unevenly and without that much depth. Just as in New York , a vast majority of the exhibits are models, photos or videos, the information you’ll find is also so basic. You’ll read that ‘many people died’ not numbers, and ‘over a long time’ rather than dates or years. The nation at war exhibition also seemed more than a little imbalanced. Three rooms told the story of the American Revolution and big Abe freeing all the slaves (take a look at Memphis for a different perspective on that), one panel covered the use of the atom bomb, one room covered the Vietnam war and strangely made no mention of the use of Agent Orange at all. Mattie did enjoy the cars in the history of transport (11) but Susie was even more annoyed by a exhibit of the dresses of the First Ladies.

On we ploughed to the Aviation and Space museum, by this point we’d been out , in the snow and rain for about eight hours so can’t say it got our full attention but it was nice to see a space shuttle and walk around an old jet liner and play with physics related displays (12).

Needing some vegetables we headed off to Chinatown ( a whole street!) for some noodles and stir fry (pants but cheap) and eventually thoroughly exhausted stumbled back to the hostel grim genuinely looking forward to a 7am departure and the chance of getting a better sleep on the 24 hr train journey to Chi-town.

So that’s 12 points for Washington ! Although we’re pretty biased. More entertaining than most of Washington was Matt’s cursing the whole day through. He would erupt into outbursts about the weather, the hostel or any school child who got in his way every few minutes, always helpful to brighten the mood.

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Claude on

The Imperial Capital is not bad but distances add up for the walking visitor. I liked the Vietnam memorial, hated that stupid long shallow pool. Arlington cemetery across the Potomac is nice too (JFKs grave) but there is only so much you can do. We liked the smithsonian space museum too. There must be great views from the obelisk but there was a 2-3 h wait so did not bother.

Anna Lis on

Your pictures make me want to go to Washington

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