Yesterday morning I visited the National Air and Space Museum and what an exciting museum. It shows man’s quest to fly and how they studied animals to try and simulate flying. It illustrates from the first flying machines to modern aircraft such as the Airbus. There are Zeppelins, fighter jets, military aircraft, rockets and satellites with a whole section dedicated to the space race. You can even touch a piece of moon rock (which feels like marble from a kitchen counter-top) and learn about our universe and planets in our solar system.
In the afternoon I explored the National Portrait Gallery with oil on canvas portraits, drawings, busts and photography. I especially enjoyed the sections on Amelia Earhart (the first female flyer) and the portraits of the American Presidents and photos of the first ladies although you cannot take photos through most of the museum. There were contemporary portraits and photos as well but these were not as electrifying as the older portraits as they were not as familiar and I find it is more interesting if you know something about the subject in the artwork or if it is a landscape scene that is just plain stunning.
I spent the evening watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony with a billion other people. I enjoyed how they displayed UK culture and icons. I think if you know a little about the Brits you would have appreciated it as they were showing people who they are and they did not attempt to outdo Beijing (as no one can beat that). They showed something personal and emotional. I loved how the queen was sky diving with James Bond, how Mr Bean was still doing silly things and the references to the famous stories and fables and the forging of the rings. It was an entertaining day!
PS. I haven’t seen any stars in Washington in the evening. I don’t know if the city is too bright or if the stars just come out late due to the sun setting so late but I found it extremely weird. Maybe there were some clouds high up and the stars were just not visible but I missed the starry nights.
Thursday was a day for the Metro and a scorching sun. I had an early morning as the rental car had to be in at eight. After I dropped the car I got on the Metro and got off at the Federal Triangle on my way to the National Museum of American History. I was standing at a map trying to orientate myself and find the right direction when a woman asked if I needed help and sent me on my way. I find the Americans are very helpful and friendly except those bag checking guards – they can be rude and give people attitude if your bag is not open already, if you do not stand behind the line, if you moved forward too quickly and they haven’t called you yet.
I arrived at the museum at nine but it only opened at ten so I decided to just sit in a park, have a cold drink and plan the rest of my day. I enjoyed the museum which tells the story of American History through exhibitions of transportation (with iconic models such as the Ford, Buick and Titanic), lighting (with the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison), the evolution of machinery, textiles, communication, religion, communities, music, photography and people that shaped the country with reference to slavery, democracy and the promise of freedom. There was also a section on American culture with a short film playing with clips of all the famous cars from movies which I enjoyed very much and other famous items such as Dorothy’s red shoes, the first outfit from the TV series Adventures of Superman, the first records, Apple computer and Mohammed Ali’s signed boxing gloves. Other areas told of all American wars and the American flag. It was an exciting and fun morning.
I was walking across The Mall to the Smithsonian castle but it was now extremely hot (38 degrees Celsius). It reminded me of summers in the Karoo. I stopped for American lemonade which was very refreshing and then went to the Freer Gallery of Art which celebrates Asian art and has a lovely courtyard with a little fountain.
The Smithsonian Institute building (aka The Castle) offers information and a place to eat but the most striking thing is the building itself which is build out of sandstone so it looks like red bricks which is in contrast to the other concrete buildings around The Mall. I was walking around outside on my way to another museum when I found this little garden path and habitat for butterflies. There seems to be a little hidden gem everywhere if you just keep your eyes open. I sat on a bench under a tree and enjoyed the scenery and saw something that looked like a bee but about 6-8 times the size of a regular bee so I am not sure what it was.
I went to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden which is essentially a park with art placed all over. There is also a big fountain in the middle of the garden and a lot of people were seeking refuge from the hot sun sitting with their feet in the water trying to cool down. I walked around to appreciate the art and had an ice cream under a tree. On my way back to the Metro I walked past the US Navy Memorial with the lone sailor statue and ended my day at Union station which has a whole mall inside with shops and restaurants but it is also has an interesting and beautiful building. It was a hot but awesome day.
Wednesday morning had an interesting start with the police arriving at the hotel. During the night some thieves stole all four wheels from one of the hotel guest’s car parked in the hotel parking lot. They didn’t even leave the car on bricks so the car was just sitting there on its axis. I have never seen something like it.
We went to Arlington National Cemetery which is not only one of the most visited places in DC (average of four million people a year) but it is also an active cemetery where an average of 27 people get buried every day. I was glad I packed a hat and booked us on the Tourmobile which takes you around the big cemetery and stops at all the notable burial sites such as the grave of John F Kennedy. You can walk around at leisure and basically hop on or hop off at any time. Arlington House (built by the step grandson of George Washington) is on the top of the hill and overlooks Washington DC. Guides are dressed in period clothing talking with each other as if it was during the time of war, women discussing their men having gone to war and having dances in the room. There is a beautiful amphitheatre and garden outside. We watched the changing of the guard but because there was a dignitary on a visit we could not see much or get close to the Tombs of the Unknown or the Memorial Amphitheatre which was closed and guarded due to the visitor.
I spent the afternoon at the National Museum of Natural History learning and seeing everything about natural history, from our oceans, plants, mammals, human origins, climate changes, birds, butterflies, insects, modern humans, fossils, dinosaurs, ancient worlds and seas, gems, minerals and modern forensics.
Early evening we went to see the famous Marine Corps War Memorial (aka Iwo Jima Memorial) and then went to the shops in search of some proper food as one can only eat so much restaurant, take-away and hotel food. It was nice to see what groceries the US have and to see their fruit of which I found something called a velvet apricot which I have never seen before. We got some fresh fruits and salads. It was an entertaining day as the natural museum was really fun and I enjoyed the Iwo Jima memorial as it was on my list of things to see.
On Tuesday I went to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. During tourist season you have to get tickets (free) for time scheduled access to the main and permanent exhibition that gives the chronological history of the Holocaust. There are other free exhibitions that don’t require tickets of which I saw: Remember the children: Daniel’s story that details the life of a boy named Daniel, a Holocaust survivor and State of deception: the power of Nazi propaganda for which there was a guide. The Nazi propaganda is also interactive and you can use your cell phone and “chat” with another survivor and get information while you go through the exhibition. I was happily snapping photos when the security came and took me aside to delete my photos as you are not allowed to take photos in the museum. I didn’t know as this was the first museum that didn’t allow photography and I somehow missed the sign that the guy said was posted outside. The main exhibition stretches across three floors and shows how the Nazis killed 6 million Jews (two thirds of European Jews) during 1933-1945. It was a touching and informative experience.
“Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.” – Hitler 1924
I got a $25 fine when I got to the car as I was 6 minutes late for the meter as I didn’t have enough quarters (25c) on me and wasted time looking for a shop to get change from. Luckily you can pay with a credit card online.
During the afternoon I visited the National City Christian Church, Luther Place Memorial Church and the Washington National Cathedral. The National Cathedral is a beautiful building with stunning architecture and reminds of the cathedrals found in Europe. There is also an underground crypt section with smaller chapels.
In the evening we went for a little stroll around the National Mall, saw the Washington Monument, White House, World War II Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. There was a little breeze and it was a stunning and unforgettable evening.
Yesterday I decided to go explore Annapolis (Maryland) and the US Naval Academy at the Chesapeake Bay. On the way to the US Naval Academy I passed the Maryland World War II Memorial site; it is an open amphitheatre with granite pillars that represent the states at the time of the war. Granite stones highlight key events during the war and the names of all the people from Maryland who lost their lives are inscribed on a wall. There is also a lookout point where you can see the bay and US Naval Academy in the background.
The US Naval Academy train students (called midshipmen) either for the Navy or Marine Corps. It houses stunning old buildings on campus such as Bancroft Hall (where the students live and eat) with the impressive Rotunda and Memorial Hall (open to the public); a dedication to people who gave their lives in service. The Bancroft Hall is the largest dormitory/residence in the world. I got to see some first year plebs march around which was impressive. The Naval Academy Chapel is a majestic building, at the centre of the campus, with beautiful stained glass windows everywhere. The interior is spectacular with a huge dome visible from far. The Chapel offers Protestant and Catholic services.
The US Navy Academy museum is in Pebble Hall and shows the history of the Navy and naval advances through the ages. It also hosts the flag “Don’t give up the ship” of Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie. After a stop at the Museum shop I headed back to Washington DC for a quiet evening.
Yesterday started with a trip to the Pentagon Memorial that honours the 184 people who died during the 9/11 attacks. It consists of benches that are displayed according to the age of the person when they died and the US Air Force memorial can be seen in the background. The difference in colour of the concrete wall is visible of where they repaired the building after the plane crashed into it.
We then went to the neighbourhood of Georgetown (one of the oldest neighbourhoods in DC) to explore the beautiful grounds of the Georgetown University, a research university that opened in 1789. The Healy Hall building with its towers can be seen from afar and is majestic and beautiful – imagine having class there. I think you just have to be inspired when studying in such magnificent surroundings. The grounds in front of the Healy building also have fabulous big trees and there is a lovely fish pond with water lilies. The town of Georgetown is lively and charming with beautifully painted houses that give it character. We found the newly opened Edible Arrangements which makes bouquets for any occasion using fresh fruit and chocolate. I sampled a strawberry dipped in white chocolate and had a daisy (made out of a slice of pineapple with a piece of melon and dipped in chocolate). They also make fruit salads and fresh juices and smoothies – too delicious for words.
We went down to Georgetown waterfront Park by the Potomac River with a view of the Key Bridge with its beautiful arches and watched people on the canal kayaking or boats going past. You can also see the Kennedy Center from there. The park has plenty of benches or you can sit on the grass under a tree; it is very relaxing. We had lunch at Chadwicks across the waterfront and it is supposedly famous for real American food and great burgers. I possibly had the worst burger of my life. The patty was burned black (like almost charcoal and wasn’t really edible) and the chips looked like it was cooked in old oil so I was really not impressed and the place was packed. The restaurant/pub has been open for at least 50 years so it cannot always be that bad otherwise they would have been out of business a long time ago. Maybe it was just my bad luck that I got the new griller who couldn’t cook a patty. It was very disappointing.
Late afternoon I visited Capitol Hill, home to the US Capitol building, Supreme Court, Library of Congress and the US Botanic Gardens and what a sight. You cannot help fall in love with the iconic US Capitol building. I read somewhere that buildings can actually be disappointing for tourists who have seen it on television or on the big screen and then feel let down by the actual building. This was not the case – the building exceeded my expectations. You do feel like you want to go find your West Wing friends on the stairs somewhere, that Josh, CJ, Sam or Toby are lurking around somewhere – just an awesome experience. I did some more exploring around town and happened to go past Freedom Plaza where people were dancing in the square – so happy and free. I ended the day with a night view of the White house and Eisenhower building.
On the way back to the hotel I somehow drove through Chinatown and decided on Chinese take-out for supper and stopped at the Chinatown Garden. The food was delicious and it was a fun experience to see Chinatown at night. What a great and memorable day.
I was on my own yesterday so I decided to sort out the car and my phone, do some grocery shopping as well as some sightseeing. I had eggs and toast for breakfast and when I wanted to put the butter on my bread, it looked like cream and on the outside it said butter and something about sweet cream so I am not sure if that is something you have with pancakes but I had it none the less. I decided to go to the airport to see if I can extend the rental car as it is still overcast with light showers so the car will be easier and it is weekend so it is just nicer. The queue at the car rental was coming out the door so I decided to phone later and left. I drove to the National Mall and parked the car (for free).
I thought it was best to do the walking while it was nice and cool and I didn’t mind the occasional drizzle as it barely gets you wet. Your hair just looks really bad. I started at the Jefferson Memorial, walked around the tidal basin (and past the Bureau of engraving and printing and the US Holocaust memorial museum) to the Washington monument. It has a circle of American flags around the base which were all at half mast (due to the Colorado shooting tragedy). I then walked to The Eclipse and sat at a bench with a view of the White House while watching people play softball. I walked to the National WWII memorial and then along the empty reflecting pool (they are busy with renovations) to the Vietnam War memorial, Lincoln memorial and Korean War memorial and ended my walk at the Franklin D Roosevelt memorial. I missed a few things but by now my feet were tired and sore so I thought to leave the rest for another day. It was such a wonderful experience. The memorials are gigantic and beautiful. I had a chicken sandwich (which is actually a chicken burger) with something called fruit punch which is very red and very sweet but it was nice and I was sitting enjoying it when I heard some people speak Afrikaans and you get all warm and fuzzy and want to go over and hug someone and say how glad you are that there is a fellow South African but you carry on eating and pretend all is normal and fine but it was a great feeling.
On my way back to the hotel I stopped at the first mall I saw. I went to at&t to inquire why I had no call time on my phone as the guy at the airport who sold me the sim for $85 said it came with $50 call time but I had none. The guy couldn’t help me and said I needed to take it up with the store at the airport in New York. He couldn’t even give me a number – most unhelpful. I went to a store to buy some things like water, hand cream etc and I don’t know if it is the store or the area but all the products were from Mexico and in Spanish but it was a fun experience. I also stocked up on Starbucks frappuccino which is a cold coffee drink but it is too delicious. I had a Starbucks coffee the other day and it tasted the same as coffee at home – don’t know what the supposed fuss is all about but this drink is yum yum. It comes in Coffee, Vanilla and Mocha flavours.
Today is still overcast so I am going to do more outdoor sightseeing. I have posted some photos on Flickr (but will always be a day or two behind).