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The Big Capital (Washington D.C.)

Not the full state (yet) but has the feel and size of one

all seasons in one day 36 °C
View America 48 States Attempt on eharpham's travel map.

This was one of the stops I was definitely looking forward to the most, not only because of Washington’s political and cultural significance but also because one of my great friends who I did a year abroad in Australia with is D.C. based and I couldn’t wait to see her!

Heatwave welcome

After couple of warm days in Baltimore we were readying ourselves for a hot, hot, hot weekend in D.C. with temperatures reaching 36 before rain finally provided some needed relief on Sunday night. The place we were staying at was a charming Airbnb near the Capitol Hill. We were lucky to get such a great deal at a short notice. We got a whole basement floor to ourselves, with massive kitchen and living room filled with all sorts of political books ranging from George Bush’s autobiography to Noam Chomsky so it was actually quite difficult to decipher our hosts political views, though on average I think they were probably more left than right leaning. The place also included a free parking spot which was a big bonus because parking in D.C. (unless you have a permit or a friend who can get you a temporary one) is super expensive!
We had so much planned that we couldn’t spare a single hour so we headed out around noon in a scorching heat to do the first round of museums and famous institutions. Great thing about D.C. is that all the museums are free so visiting 3 museums a day won’t break the bank. Not so great thing is that most museums still require timed entry tickets which you need to book in advance as they usually sell out on the day. We got a bus to the Capitol Hill where we first headed to the Library of Congress, a massive building, with multiple wings and really cool reading room which unfortunately isn’t open to visitors but if you are a D.C. resident you can request your reading card, regardless of your academic standing.
The Library hosts many national treasures that celebrate freedom and democracy of the American people therefore serving as a de facto national library of the US. One of my favourite bits was the amazing US through photos exhibition which celebrates diversity of experience of people and places throughout the last century across US. Touching and sad at the same time how things not always change for the better.
Afterwards we walked up to the Supreme Court where there were several protestors, protesting against the apparently incoming overturning of the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling which legalised abortion in the US back in the 1973. The big protest of cca. 4,000 people was unfortunately the weekend before so we didn’t get to see the civil action in its full swing but it was good to see that someone was there everyday reminding Supreme Court that their direction of travel is not appreciated.
We then walked around Capitol Hill whose dome looks strikingly similar to London’s St Paul’s but the building is unfortunately still not open to foreign visitors, just like White House. So unless you want to do a virtual tour you will be constrained to admiring this great institution only from the distance. Reasons behind the tour closures were not clear, but we suspected it is probably more to do with the events from 06th Jan rather than COVID. Either way it was great to see them both albeit from the distance.
Next on the agenda was a Museum of African American History. This was one of the top museums on the list of places to visit in D.C., so expectations were high. The museum was absolutely massive. 3 floors over ground and 3 floors underground. Exhibitions featured the best of African American sporting, cultural, political, fashion and entrepreneurial achievements throughout last 4 centuries. All of the exhibits were accompanied by explanatory texts which were super interesting but did take a long time to read.
We spent couple of hours in the museum and still didn’t manage to see it all. If you really wanted to learn about the full history of African Americans from early 17th century to present day you would probably need couple of days rather than hours!
Exhausted and well air conditioned (Americans are obsessed with blasting air con to almost hypothermic levels) we had a little snack from one of the hundred of food trucks stationed in front of the museums and proceeded to another American History museum. The highlights from this one were Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Lincoln’s hat from the night he was murdered, massive American Flag to celebrate victory in the Revolutionary War and my personal favourite, all of the First Lady’s inaugural ball dresses.
The last museum we visited on our first day was the Museum of Natural History. We got there with mere 20 minutes to close so we went straight to the best part – Diamonds and Rocks exhibition. We very quickly realised that we won’t have enough time to see it all, cause the collection they have is absolutely insane, including a 45 carat hope diamond that we didn’t get to see until the following day (yes we did visit the same museum twice cause it was just that good), so we just browsed through quickly picking our favourites that we would want to add to our personal collection one day haha. Edd was so excited about the prospects of it that he actually put number of fossils and meteorites on his FChristie's auction watch list.

Day 2 – Washington + unofficial Virginia visit

We had a great night sleep at our lovely Airbnb and some great Poke bowls from a place on the Barrack's Row, so we were fully rejuvenated for another big hot day out. We were planning to officially visit Virginia in couple of days time but Arlington Cemetery which was on our list of things to see, is only 30 minutes on a metro from D.C. so we packaged it in the same weekend plans.
Arlington Cemetery is a famous military cemetery that you often see in the movies and is known for its white simple tombstones perfectly lined up on the greenest grass you will ever see. It is a national memorial as well as a very beautiful and peaceful space that is well worth visiting but be prepared to feel a bit unsettled by the sheer volume of tombs, translating to 400,000 serviceman and their families buried there, that represent the great toll America paid and is still paying to protect its deeply enshrined values of liberal democracy and liberty abroad. For many Americans I am sure this is a sacred place, for me it was more shocking than anything else but nonetheless very special. We saw several famous graves including the Kennedy’s, Unknown Soldier (representing all the American soldiers who fell in battles abroad and whose bodies were never returned or found) and Space Shuttle Challenger crew.
In the afternoon we still had couple of museum visits before finally heading to meet my dearest friend Emily. We were originally going to visit the Museum of Modern Art but on the way saw the sign for the FUTURES exhibition at Arts and Industries Museum so we decided to visit that one instead. The exhibition wasn’t as mind blowing as we anticipated but we did see one really cool installation titled “Doing Nothing with AI 1.0”, essentially a robot that observes your moves and then mimics it in a choreography.

Last museum stop was again the amazing Natural History Museum where we once again revisited some of the most amazing rocks I have ever seen. The selected few favourites displayed below:
Completely museumed out we stepped out to the start of a thunderstorm but quickly managed to find shelter while waiting for the bus to 18th NE Street where we were meeting Emily for dinner. We dined at Lupo’s pizza place which made our rendezvous that much more delicious! It was great seeing Em again, who now being couple of years in D.C. gave us a full rundown of all the D.C. inner circle must knows.

After the rain, comes a quick run and a long memorial walk

After the whole night of rain the heat finally wore off and as planned enabled us to complete several miles long walk around all the fabulous memorials.
Before that, I arranged a quick run with Em in the morning (despite my still aching back ☹). We ran around the Mall and Capitol Hill and then went for a coffee at the Wine and Butter café which has apparently been visited by First Gentlemen aka VP’s Harris husband. Coffee was excellent!!!
Post run Edd and I were first going to visit the White House visitor Centre before meeting Em at the Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately the Cisitor Centre is closed on Monday and Tuesday and as previously mentioned the actual tours of White House are currently not available to foreign nationals, so we just took a photo from the only relatively good photo spot and continued towards Lincoln’s Memorial.
On the way we stopped by WW2 and Vietnam War memorials which we were surprised have only been erected some 20 and 35 years ago.
The Lincoln Memorial was expectedly super busy but we still managed to get couple of good photos with big Abe with almost no people in the background.
On the remainder of the walk we saw Korean War memorial, Martin Luther King’s, Roosevelt’s, Jefferson’s and Washington’s memorials. Couple of interesting bits from each of them:
Korean War Memorial is still being built so it doesn’t really have a coherent look
Martin Luther King has a great Lake view and his statue is super impressive
Roosevelt’s memorial has most fountains and several statues of him and his wife Eleanor
Jefferson is the only one who has a direct view of the White House
Washington’s monument is actually built with two different stone colours which you can only really see when giving it a close look.

Balkan twist to finish off D.C.

We finished the day back at Barracks Row, where Em took us to AmBar the Balkan specialty restaurant where we cheered on some very expensive rakija ($11 for a shot!) and cevapi albeit both were delicious! Felt like home away from home.
As it was still quite early we headed back to Airbnb for some shop bought margaritas, which despite being in the can were some of the best, and strongest margaritas I ever had. One sorts you for the entire night.
With that our little-big Washington adventure came to an end and the next day we were headed for Virginias (both of them).

Top tips and recommendations

  • To use public transport in D.C. you either need exact change (one ride is $2) or you should get a SmarTrip card that you can top up at any Metro Station
  • Everything is super expensive, so make sure to ask for prices before you buy things. If you are craving an ice cream after you visited a museum on the National Mall be prepared to spend $9 for a single cone!
  • Most of the museums are part of Smithsonian Institution, which is why they are free, whenever you see a Smithsonian sign next to a museum it means it is free
  • If you are visiting in late May be prepared for some serious heat
  • In non COVID times (hopefully this will be restored soon) as a non US citizen you can visit a White House only if you announce your visit to your home country’s embassy in D.C. 3 months in advance of your visit so that they can arrange for an official to accompany you on your visit

Best T-Shirt Sign we saw and new music we spotted

“Ketchup with Jesus lettuce praise and relish him”
Wildfire - Watchhouse

Posted by eharpham 13:25 Archived in USA Tagged summer america capitol washingtond.c.

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