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Jun 29 2013

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Washington DC

We started the day by getting a taxi to take us a couple of miles to find a store that sold E-ZPass devices (similar to the Dart-tag for the Dartford crossing). We have been advised that these are extremely useful in this north-east region when going along the motorways. Once we’d bought our E-ZPass we were dropped off at the nearest Metro station where we had to ask someone for help to figure out where we were going and how to get a ticket. It made me more sympathetic towards tourists coming to London, I expect it’s as confusing for them as the Washington Metro was for us.

Never mind, we had tickets and knew where we had to go so all we had to do now was make our way to the platform and wait for the train.

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On the platform it’s clear this is a much more recent system than the antiquated London tube that I’m used to travelling on. The platforms were straight (no ‘Mind the gap!’ here) and the trains came in on the same platform with their line colour and destination showing.

We got off the Metro at the Smithsonian station, right in the middle of the museum sector, but wanted to sightsee before going to the Air and Space museum. Our first stop was the visitor centre at The Washington Monument where we bought a map that showed the sights and gave some idea of relative distance (although our feet were to put a lie to the apparent close proximity of the different sites).

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The Monument is closed and covered in scaffolding as it suffered damage in an earthquake in 2011 and is being repaired. It still looks impressive, even with its scaffold coat.
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This is the World War II memorial consisting of different sections commemorating the campaigns with relevant speeches and quotations by various luminaries carved into the stone. One end was the Pacific, the other the Atlantic. There are plaques around the site honouring the states and the six US territories that existed at the time of the war. The adjacent area was a building site so we asked what they were building. They’re burrowing rather than building, squeezing concrete under the memorial to reinforce the foundations as a precautionary measure.

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The long rectangular lake down to the Lincoln Memorial is a pleasant walk during which glimpses to the side reveal other memorials. It was very hot and we were glad we’d dressed appropriately.

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The Lincoln Memorial is huge and reminded me of one of the ancient temples at Paestum. It certainly gave me an idea of what those buildings must have sounded like with all the subdued voices echoing round. At one side, carved into the wall, is Lincoln’s second inauguration speech;  I felt sorry for the stone masons who must have wished it had been rather shorter than it was.

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The huge statue of Lincoln dominates the hall.

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The Vietnam memorial has a very long wall of remembrance and this wonderful sculpture. No matter which side you viewed it from the figures looked real.

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Each conflict the USA has been involved in has its own specific memorial and the one I think had the most impact on us was the Korean War memorial. It’s in a quiet grove with slightly larger than life sized statues of soldiers depicted as if they are walking into battle. They are very lifelike and appear to be ready to walk out of the little garden. To the side is a marble wall with what appears to be a very shallow series of random dots and scratches. It’s only as you look at it from different angles that you see hundreds of different faces in it.

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The Martin Luther King Jnr memorial was executed in bright white stone and has a beautiful outlook over a lake towards the Jefferson memorial.

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One of the ladies in a visitor centre told us about this tiny memorial that commemorates the people of DC who lost their lives in the first World War. She said you can’t miss it, it looks like a bandstand. She was right! I wonder if it ever gets used as such?

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John Paul Jones, sometimes known as the father of the United States Navy

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As we wandered out of the very moving Memorial Park and walked towards the White House we saw this tiny little oddity amongst the huge buildings that populate the area. This incongruous dwelling was a lock-keepers house. I don’t think you can go inside which is a shame as I’m sure it would have lots of history to tell.

It wasn’t possible to get very close to the White House as every entrance was blocked by a gate and security personnel. There were lots of people in sharp suits and sunglasses standing around. No-one appears to have told them that it’s not secret if you have ‘Secret Service’ in large letters on the side of your car. We had been told there was to be a festival the following day so weren’t sure whether this security was a result of that or if it’s the norm; we suspect the latter.

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We walked past the huge edifice that is the Executive Office building which apparently took 17 years to build. I guess a country like the US has a lot of bureaucracy to house.

Just round the corner, through the railings, we were able to see the the White House but to be honest the most interesting thing round here was the Segway tour that was passing.

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We weren’t able to get a stamp for the White House as the visitor centre is being renovated and we didn’t fancy going all the way back to the Monument visitor centre which had all of them. Moving away from the White House and standing by the Treasury building we could see the Capitol building in the distance. Yes it really was that far away and yes I really was that red!

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Capitol Hill is just what it says, a hill, and it’s a long way up when you’ve walked round the city already. I asked one of the numerous Park officers where the entrance was and he showed me. He said I looked rather hot which was an understatement and when I said it felt like I’d walked all the way from England he gave me a bottle of water. Unfortunately I had to gulp it all down in one hit as I wasn’t allowed to take it into the building.

Our final stop for the afternoon was the Air and Space Museum. Being children of the 60’s we are both fascinated by the Apollo missions and enjoyed looking at the Command Capsules (very tiny) and some of the lunar landing craft (very flimsy).

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In addition to the Space exhibits there are lots of historical aircraft including a Spitfire and a full-sized model of the Wright brothers’ first aircraft. We thought we would have longer here but there was a private party that evening so the museum closed early at 5.30. We’re not sure our feet could have taken much more though so every cloud…

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B130628 130625 030On to rally headquarters in Pittsburgh tomorrow where the bike has an appointment for an overdue service. We’ll make a few detours on the way.

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