The flight to Washington was short and sweet. The only hitch was having to pay to put a bag in the hold because it was an internal flight (not sure what my holiday company thought I would do with it but that will be sorted I am sure) and there was a bit of a to do as to whether or not my guitar was hand baggage or not. It was as it turned out, but it still went in the hold at airside and the case ended up at the other end slightly dented.
I was fine with this – the guitar was in good shape still, the case needs a bit of bashing to make it look more ‘Nashville’. It now sports a ‘DC’ sticker to say it toured here. I forgot to get a Nashville one but eBay will no doubt come to my rescue.
We took the metro to within five blocks of our hotel which (thank goodness) was perfectly situated for all that Washington has to offer.
On arrival the reception guy immediately struck up a conversation about my guitar and I proudly told him the story of its purchase in Nashville and so on and so on.
Then the bugger raises his eyebrows and says, ‘it must be expensive is it?’
We unloaded our luggage and found the best spot to hide my ‘not expensive’ guitar so that the nefarious cad behind the desk couldn’t easily describe its location to his mates in the hotel robbing trade.
Under the bed as it happens.
My determined spouse then dragged me out, reassuring me everything would be alright, to the Washington memorial and down to the Washington Monument just to get a feel for the place.
Flipping hot as it happens.
We checked if Mr Trump was in but they appear to have layered up another level of security to prevent anyone getting anywhere close to the boundary of the Whitehouse. Pictures from afar until he is impeached and thrown out I am guessing.
We were pretty hungry by now. The Nashville airport breakfast of egg and sausage bagel was long digested and we had missed lunch due to fears of a raid on our hotel room and the additional time needed to shore up security.
Some research by my good lady had suggested a restaurant serving a Chicago style pizza, and that was where we determined to go.
At this juncture I should wax on inanely about the history of Washington in order to spice up the interest level in this blog, as is my usual practice. So we will come back to the food if you will bear with me.
Washington is the only city in the US that is not inside any of the states. It stands alone as the District of Columbia. This was a deliberate act on the part of the founding fathers of the US since it houses the federal government and is separate from the states themselves. At the time of its early construction they decided on a couple of essential qualities that would set the tone for the new country, reflecting on it aims to be a pure democracy. Firstly they hired a French architect, Pierre l’Enfant, to stick it up to the British – and he laid out the grid pattern around the Capitol we see today. Secondly they wanted everything to reflect the symbols of democracy that history gives us from Greek and Roman architecture.
So there are bags of ornate columns and Greek inscriptions all over the place, grand domes and Classical fountains, sculptures etc. This is a city that tells the British Monarchy, ‘stick your Royal prerogative up your aristocracy!’
Anyway – my learned wife knows a lot about lots of things. What I have never realised though is how much she knows about this ancient aspect to Greece. So imagine my surprise when she spots the restaurant from afar by virtue of seeing the symbol for pi written over the restaurant.
‘That’s the symbol for pi she says.’
‘3.1415926?’ I say.
‘No, you idiot. Pizza pie!’
Anyway we enjoyed a kind-of Chicago style pizza pie in π and it was very cheap for the two of us so we finished the day pretty satisfied and myself better educated.
We deliberated long and hard next morning over the priorities of our Washington trip. We wanted to do a lot but we really needed to get off our feet for some of the time. New Orleans and Nashville had been hard work and we are supposed to relax on holiday aren’t we?
We plumped for a Big Bus tour. Two full days of someone driving us around the sights, dropping us off and on at our leisure to meander round the historic monuments and take in some scenery. As a bonus for our two day booking we could join the night tour for free and get into Madame Tussauds as well.
Walking is for mugs, we sneered as we boarded the first bus.
We headed North towards Mount Pleasant where one of the first major stop offs was the Zoo. Well if we didn’t pay to get into the zoo in New Orleans we weren’t going to pay to get into this one.
Ah! But the Zoo in Washington is free; it’s part of the Smithsonian Institute.
Free? My ears pricked up.
It’s not only free, it’s fantastic.
So we ended up walking heaven knows how many miles around that zoo.
Our lunch was at the zoo. It was fine for zoo food.
With weary legs we re-boarded the big bus and took a relaxing twenty minute break before we reached the next stop, Georgetown, where we decided a few more miles on our feet might just wear the blisters down to bone.
I had hoped we might find a boat hire to take a relaxing paddle down the river, but the Potomac was flooded recently and all hires are suspended until the deadly currents subside. So inconvenient, we had to walk two miles to find it and two back when we saw the closed sign.
When we got back to our hotel I got changed and went for a four mile run from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. I’m not sure why now that I read back how this day went. I felt that I wanted to do it.
Arlington Cemetery is a military burial site close to Washington DC. It’s also the site of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the site of interment for JFK who has a rather inspiring eternal flame over his grave. Using the big bus we made our way to the start of our four mile walk around the cemetery.
There is nothing amusing or even interesting to say about Arlington. You possibly need to come from a military background to really appreciate it. It’s not a site like ones on the Somme in France, although it appears to emulate the symbolic nature of white markers all in perfect rows. The graves are not anonymous though, these are the graves of servicemen and women who have died, not just in conflict, but at any time.
The most poignant tribute is the one paid to the Unknown Soldier all day and every day. A military guard marches in front of the tomb that houses unidentified remains. We witnessed the changing of the guard, a highly disciplined ritual that seemed all the more commendable in the heat of the afternoon sun.
After Arlington we went into the American History Museum and thought we would have lunch there. Unfortunately, while the admission to this museum is subsidised, the food in the restaurant is clearly part of the means of doing so. Fifteen dollars for a sandwich?
We dipped out to little food court where a sandwich shop called Timgad was selling some decent pieces for under ten dollars. In fact we managed some lemonade and a gigantic Blueberry muffin too.
I do enjoy American History even though it is pretty anti-British stuff. Maybe I’m a sympathiser?
If you don’t know your American History here it is in a nutshell.
Ancient times – people arrive from the Garden of Eden somewhere in Africa via the Bering Straits and become the first people – Native Americans.
About a thousand years ago – Leif Erikson from Iceland finds America but it’s too warm so he heads back home to become a Viking and raids Scotland instead.
13th century – Spaniard Christopher Columbus crashes into the West Indies on the way to China and he comes home to tell the Queen.
13th century to around 16th – Spanish explorers follow Columbus’s navigational guidance and end up in various other places in the South of the US. Realising the continent is there British sailors grab a slice landing in New England, the French take Canada and the North while Spain continues spreading into Mexico and up into the West of the US. There’s a lot of problems getting work done so the Pope says God wants the people of Africa to be enslaved to help in God’s work over there. Everyone believes him and the fact that they will make shed loads of money is just a bonus.
17th to 19th centuries – Colonists have built the US mostly around the handful of states in the North East where farming is easy. When it comes to the South where it is harder they really start to give the slaves a hard time. Sadly they also teach them to read and suddenly it becomes apparent that they are human beings after all.
The colony starts to build confidence and decides it wants to go it alone. Taxes from Britain start to rise and a revolution starts. They sign a Declaration of Independence and fax off a copy to the King. He wages war. The British Navy is the only thing that prolongs the war so the colonists go to the French with some cash and borrow their Navy. The French are happy to see someone give the Brits a doing and say ‘remplis tes bottes’.
Once the USA is born they write a Constitution and stuff and laugh all the way to a field where they build Washington DC.
But all is not well. The slaves want out. They’d also like a piece of the action. The North agrees but the South say no. Civil War begins.
Abe Lincoln wins freedom for slaves and he is promptly assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while watching a play in Washington.
19th to present – jazz, Hollywood, prohibition, financial crash part I, two wars, JFK assassinated, Vietnam, end of segregation, financial crash part II, first black president, Trump, end of world as we know it.
Oops the last bit is the future.
We had dinner in Chinatown – a place called Chinese Garden. It was nice.
We then did a night tour of the city which was very pleasant. Mainly because we stayed on the bus most of the time and didn’t walk our little socks off. The city looks different at night – it’s dark for a start.
Our last day here we got up and messed around at Madame Tussauds to make use of our free pass. After that we lunched at Au Bon Pain, a lovely place with great sandwiches and a nice outside space to eat in.
We did actually tour the Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot and the presentation of it was very well done. It was just across from Tussauds so not too far to walk this time.
The walking started over though as we toured the Capitol (yay) and Library of Congress (meh), then we pushed on to the Space and Flight Museum which is (you might have guessed) free.
The Capitol is an excellent visit and it was a great way to finish up. Tomorrow we head on the train to New York for our last wee bit of the holiday. But before we go …
As we were missing our happy Golden Retriever Harry, who we learned today has suffered a bee sting to the nose (all together), we dined at Harry’s Diner on E Street. We stayed at the nearby Harrington Hotel the first time we came to Washington so it felt fitting that we honour our puppy this way in his time of suffering.