Trip Start Jul 29, 2010
34Trip End Feb 04, 2011
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Where I stayed
The next day is a "chores" day and I do laundry and other exciting things but in the even I join one of the activities heading to the White House Christmas Tree and carols. It's f-f-f-f-freezing. The tree is enormous and completely covered in lights so you can't be entirely sure there is a real tree under there. Then I remember reading somewhere that this tree has in fact got its own twitter account and has been updating the world on its progress. Bah, Americans! Seeing the White House is really cool though. I get talking to a couple of people and quickly make friends with an English guy called James and an Australian girl called Rhiannon (we bond over being burdened with unspellable Welsh names). We decide we've frozen enough and head back to the hostel, via the Indian across the street for very yummy curry, and warm up in the TV room before calling it a night.
Thursday, I have put aside the morning to do my winter shopping and get myself a decent winter coat and boots...and it's rather good timing as it begins to snow heavily as I step out the front door of the hostel. Armed with advice from my Canadian family I get myself some waterproof boots and a particularly fetching down jacket. I feel like the Michelin man. However, it is warm and it is designer (Tommy Hilfiger...get me!) and, even better, it's better than half price
I make my way back to the hostel as I have signed up for Taco Night and a bar crawl around Georgetown. I join Rhiannon and James and we are surprised by the number of other English people are part of the 20 strong dinner group.We make friends with a couple called Jemma and Adam who are on a world tour. It's decided to forego the Georgetown tour but head out ourselves with another German guy and we end up in an Irish Pub in Chinatown (as you do). While I can get to grips with table services in an American Bar it still feels wrong in somewhere to be British/Irish. It seems to be instinct to want to order and pay for my drink at the bar and the Yanks just won't let me! We have a fun evening (the two bottles of wine Rhiannon and I share may have helped), full of laughs and general good company
James and Jemma and Adam leave the next day so it's just Rhiannon and I who join the hostel tour to the Capitol. We head first to Union Station and then to the Capitol buildings themselves. They are iconic, certainly, but also very impressive and particularly picturesque in the snow. We also go into the Library of Congress which is A-MAZ-ING...and would have been more so if the snotty tour guide had actually let us passed them into the viewing gallery. This may be the first piece of genuine rudeness I have seen in America and I am not impressed as it was completely unnecessary. The tour then winds up as we've run out of time but Rhiannon and I carry on together going into the Supreme Court and trying to get into the Capitol. It's here I begin to experience the excessive security measures here in DC and again later in New York. I can understand the security checks here, don't get me wrong...there are some very powerful people working in this building but we are not allowed in with our water bottles. We are not allowed in with empty water bottles nor are there any lockers whereby we may but them out if the way. As my water bottle is decent and a souvenir from the museum in Drumheller I am unwilling to just through it away to go see 100 American politicians having a discussion. However, Rhiannon is still keen and leaves her things with me and I head to the food court in one of the museums further down the mall to have lunch while she has a quick look
Anyway...the Freer. This building is dedicated to Asian art and also to a number of works by Whistler including the absolutely awesome (English sense) Peacock Room. I spent a good 20 minutes just sat there and absorbing the wonderfully atmosphere brought out by the dark teal colours, gold paint work and the blue and white china porcelain. Heavenly. I could so have a dining room like this!
I meet Rhiannon again that evening and we head out to enjoy the Washington monuments in the dark (and snow). This was such a great idea. They look so different and some where even more moving/evocative in the reduced light. The Lincoln memorial shines out like the beacon it is. You can even just about make out Lincoln himself from as far away as the Washington Monument. Rhiannon and I were lucky enough to catch one of the talks given by the Park Rangers and it was just us two. Hearing about Lincoln's achievements, for all that he was glorified after his assassination, you begin to understand why this one is one of the most beloved by the US people. There is a reason why The March on Washington concluded here and Dr Martin Luther King Jr made his speech here. They have even replaced one of the flagstone where he stood to commemorate the speech. Something that most visitors miss, I have to say. However, while Rhiannon and I are there there is a group of school kids each standing on the step and doing their own "I have a dream" speech
The next day I head to the Museum of Air and Space. It is enormous and for good reason...there are entire aircraft in here, including bits of space shuttle. This place is really interesting but it's also hard because it is just so huge. It's really cool to see models of the first satellites and items from the first moon landing and even from the first space flight (although as Yuri Gagarin was Russian not sure what it is doing in an American museum). There were several bits I just skipped though but the ones that stuck out included a collection of photographs of the solar system that were amazing. Seeing pictures of the sun, the planets as well as the Earth from space is something else...starts you thinking about what's out there and you're insignificance etc. The other exhibit that was really interesting looked at just how busy American airspace is on any one day. It's nuts. It's a screen with a little green plane for each one in the air and after about 9am it's just a sea of green and doesn't calm down until about 10pm. Then they show the same simulation for September 11th 2001 and seeing just how quickly those little green planes disappear after the attacks is spooky
It's Sunday and it's a day for more museums. This time is Art and head to the the National Galleries. There first is the "old stuff" up to about 1930ish (there's an Edward Hopper). The gallery hold a huge amount of work, the majority of it European. As such, it's difficult to see everything you want without seeing everything. As it is I end up running around pretty much every room, including the art I don't particularly enjoy to make sure I see the Vermeers and the Da Vinci. There is a very good exhibit on the collection of Chester Dale who donated all his art to the Smithsonian. It included some major works by Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh so it was very much to my taste. More unusual but just as interesting was a section on Pre-Raphaelite photography. I knew some of the works by Millais and so forth but early photography is always interesting. In the afternoon, I headed across the road to the second building which houses the Modern Art. Almost as soon as I am through the door I get very excited. I recognise instantly some work by Andy Goldsworthy. My mother is a fan and uses his art in her teaching and so I have been buying art books on him for my Mum's Christmas present for several years...and here is a real one right in front of me...how cool! I gallop though the exhibits quiet quickly (it's significantly smaller than the Old Art building) and there is some good stuff by Rothko and Calder
That evening I join another Hostel tour and we head to the Kennedy Centre for a free Christmas concert. The Kennedy Centre is kinda cool, the entrance halls are nicely set out and it seems a decent arts centre with a number of performance spaces...it would have been good to see them. However, the little Christmas Concert turns out to be a folky group that includes a couple of Englishmen. I rather enjoy it, although I seem to be the only one out of the Hostel group that does. I meet up with an Aussie girl called Lauren and a rather good-looking Argentinian guy called Pablo while waiting for the bus back to the subway and they were not impressed. We head back together and bump into some other Aussies and decide to head for dinner and some beer. The beer is good and I have a rather good pulled pork sandwich. Lauren seems quite taken with chance to talk to her compatriots so Pablo and I have a good chat while we eat. He's an interesting guy. We head home earlyish but I am rather tired after all these museums.
The next day I decide to the Monuments by daylight and fortunately it is sunny. It's a long walk to see them all but very enjoyable. I decide not to go up the Washington Monument (this involves queuing for a ticket at 8am, no thanks) but it's cool to stand by it (particularly in the lee of the wind) and take photos...I have a feeling this day will be all about the photos
Tuesday is more museums
Next was The Natural History Museum
The next day is a quiet one for me, all about planning and packing. I get myself pretty much sorted all the way to my flight home which I consider a job well done. That evening is the last hostel event I do, a Christmas Party! I'm rather excited. It's good to talk to my fellow travellers again and have a taste of Christmas. Even more exciting...we get a present! Two luggage tags, 4 pens and a globe keyring. Merry Christmas DC!
The next morning I check out and join the long, long queues for the Megabus to NYC.