DC, in the Rain, With an Aussie

A chronicle of our whirlwind, 8-hour tour of America's capital, which included a lot of walking, a lot of memorials, and a lot of rain.

DC, in the Rain, With an Aussie

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

When James (my boyfriend) stepped off a United Airlines flight in San Francisco late last January, it was the first time his feet had ever stood on soil not belonging to his homeland of Australia. The main reason for his trip was to come visit me in Houston, but he had two side trips planned as well; one to Lake Tahoe with a few ski instructor friends from home, and one to Washington D.C. and the eastern shores of Chesapeake Bay to which his father’s cousin had retired. Luckily, he came early enough in the semester that I was able to take time off to accompany him to D.C. (although I would have liked to try my hand at snowboarding as well!).

We didn’t spend much of our three days in the greater D.C. area doing touristy things. On Friday, the day we landed, we drove through Annapolis on our way back to Graham (James’ cousin)’s home. After dodging flooded roads, caused by an abnormally high tide in the Chesapeake, we had authentic Maryland crab cakes, which we both enjoyed (although James did not enjoy not being able to order a beer in the pub, being only 20). From there, we found a parking spot closer to the center of Annapolis and strolled through the town, seeing lots of old buildings and the capitol building along the way. It really fascinated James to see buildings from the 1700s; there were probably just as many centuries-old buildings in Annapolis as there are in the whole of Australia!

We spent the rest of that day touring Graham’s amazing home, most of which had been around longer than America had been a country, and just relaxing/chatting. Saturday was our touristy day—this was when Graham drove us to the closest Metro stop and let us have a day in D.C.—and that’s the day that this journal is about. Sunday was another “relaxing” day, spent visiting with Graham’s son’s family. I say “relaxing” because James and I were both deathly ill from the colds the chilly rain had given us the day before! The cold wasn’t enough to stop James from having another uniquely American experience that evening, when he watched his first ever Superbowl. However, rather than impressing him, the Superbowl only confirmed his belief that American football is the most boring form of football ever created.${QuickSuggestions} Always, always carry an umbrella. The weather looked decent when we left the house, but after at least thirty minutes in the car to the Metro station, the clouds had turned the sky into a gray soup. We held out hope that it was just going to be an overcast day, but by the time we made it into D.C. proper, it was already sprinkling. By lunchtime, it was full-on pouring. We didn’t have an umbrella, and neither of our winter coats were waterproof, so we ended up looking, in desperation, through the Smithsonian gift shop for one. I pulled a small one out, only to find it cost upwards of $13. This led to me promptly putting it back on the shelf it came off of. We were eventually forced to buy one (or risk drowning) from a stand set up, conveniently, near the massive protest going on at the Washington Monument.

Don’t be overly ambitious, as we were. We attempted to walk down the entire Mall and back again on a gloomy, very rainy, freezing day in February. This probably had something to do with both of us being laid up in bed with terrible colds the next day.${BestWay} As I’ve mentioned above, our main modes of transportation were the Metro and walking, although our short excursion to Georgetown was courtesy of my friend Debbie and her jeep. I’m normally pretty good with directions, but I can’t tell you much about that trip, except that I got very, very lost. I can tell you that Georgetown is in northwest D.C., but that’s about the extent of my knowledge there.

We rode the orange Metro line into D.C. Since Graham dropped us off at New Carrolton, the last station on that line in the northeast, we didn’t have to pay the $3.50 parking fee there. Our fares were $1.85 each one-way, since we were traveling during an off-peak time (the weekend). Buying tickets is simple; you go up to one of the machines outside the gates at the station and buy a card with a certain amount on it, depending on how much you plan to use it. I don’t recall how much James and I put on our cards, but I feel like it was somewhere in the realm of $4 each. The ride wasn’t all that long either—30 minutes, tops.

We decided to get off at Capitol South and work our way west along the Mall from there. It’s a deceptively long distance to get from the Capitol down to the Lincoln Memorial and back, especially with side excursions to the White House (to the north of the Washington Monument) and the Jefferson Memorial (to the south of the Washington Monument/Lincoln Memorial). We definitely underestimated this distance, and in retrospect, we could have cut out a few memorials/museums and we would have been significantly less exhausted at the end of the day.

On the way home, rather than walking all the way back to the Capitol, we got on the Metro at the Smithsonian station, not surprisingly situated south of the Mall near one of the many Smithsonians. It was nice to just sit and doze, although a word of advice for you: if the person in front of you gets on the train with a large bucket of fried chicken, it would probably be less noisy if you get up and move then and there, rather than having to listen to her smack her lips for 30 minutes.

U.S. Capitol Building

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

As we rode up the escalator from Capitol South station and into the fresh air, little drops of rain hit us in the face. Not a great start to the day, we supposed, but hopefully the rain wouldn’t get any harder. Worse than the rain was the 40 degree temperatures, which, me being from Texas and James from Queensland, neither of us were used to. Luckily, we had prepared on the second front and were very bundled up, although after five minutes we couldn’t feel our faces anymore.

From Capitol South, we walked north on 1st St. When we reached Independence Ave, it was rather obvious where to go—towards the giant white building surrounded by cop cars and screaming school kids to our left. The kids were outside the booth where tours start, and they seemed like they were very antsy to find out about how the nation’s lawmakers turn bills into laws. I did not envy the teachers and chaperones trying to keep the masses under control; it reminded me very much of the group of kids I went to DC with during spring break of 5th grade. Those poor teachers.

Eventually, after making a right turn, we found ourselves in front of one of the towering symbols of America. I don’t really feel the need to describe it, since it’s a rather prevalent icon and I have a feeling most of the people reading this have seen it, either in person or on TV, at least half a million times in their lifetime. It didn’t seem quite as imposing as it does with a blue sky behind it, since the white walls seemed to blend with the dull, light gray sky behind.

We spent very little time actually at the Capitol. James wasn’t too interested in a tour, and I’d taken one before, so we took time for a few snaps and that’s about it. We created a routine for pictures during the day—there would be one of James, one of me, and two of both of us together, taken by me holding my arm out (two because the first one would invariably be an incredibly zoomed in shot of James’ eye). In most of the pictures, you can tell that we are shivering and wishing we had spent much more time in the warm confines of the Smithsonian, rather than freezing our butts off in front of a large monument to a president’s greatness.

From there, we started walking towards the partially obscured Washington Monument—although at this point, it was still visible enough that we could see two glowing red eyes possessing the Washington Monument (or possibly just acting as a beacon for passing aircraft). We trudged through the mud a little to get a good shot of the entire building, rather than just part of the dome as we had on the stairs. Then, we took off towards the first source of warmth we could find—in this case, the US Botanic Gardens.
U.S. Capitol Building
Capitol Hill
Washington, DC
(202) 225-6827

The National Botanic Garden

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

As we walked in the doors of the US Botanic Gardens, James was a bit surprised to see a metal detector and X-ray machine awaiting us. Given the proximity of the Gardens to the Capitol Building, these made sense, so we lined up in typical airport fashion and put my bag and our coats through the X-ray before walking through the detectors. I was fine, but when James walked through, the machine beeped. His face twisted into the utmost look of horror as thoughts raced through his mind about how he was going to get arrested because he was a foreigner that was making the metal detector beep, which obviously makes him a terrorist. However, after pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and trying again, the machine had no objections and he was allowed into the Gardens. Boy, did he breathe a sign of relief.

I don’t really recall a lot of the permanent flower displays at the Gardens, because James was obviously not very interested, which led us to rush through most of it. However, we slowed down a bit for the special exhibit on orchids. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through such a plethora of color and seeing the orchids blooming in such vivid blues, purples, and pinks. The orchids weren’t all in pots on tables, as I have so often seen them (as gifts from my father that my mom promptly sets about killing)—some dangled from above us while others grew in amongst other plants. It was nice to see orchids that weren’t on their deathbed, like so many that have passed through our house!

There were plenty of other displays in the Gardens, including a room for rare and endangered plants and another where you could walk on an elevated walkway above the jungle of plants below. These are part of the conservatory, which is where we spent all of our time; the other main part of the Gardens is Bartholdi Park, located across Independence Ave from the Gardens. This garden was created to “provide inspiration and ideas for home gardeners who visit it” and was named after Frederic Bartholdi, who designed the garden’s centerpiece fountain. Unfortunately, we did not get to see these displays or the separate garden because we had to see the rest of D.C. by nightfall. Plus, James really wasn’t interested in plants at all and he was the one that had never visited D.C. before.

The next building west of the Gardens on the National Mall was the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Since it was raining more heavily, we were more than happy to duck in there.
United States Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC

National Air and Space Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

After visiting the US Botanic Gardens, we worked our way west and into the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. I was particularly interested in checking out what the museum had to offer, since my only memories of my previous visit, during a spring break trip in 5th grade, were of giant airplanes hanging from the ceiling and only being able to find a unisex bathroom that sported a stall… with no stall door. Embarrassed, I decided not to use it and ended up spending the entire visit crossing my legs instead!

Apollo 11 greeted us in the entranceway, and after turning a few more corners, we found plenty of other spacecraft. Unfortunately, living right next to the Space Center and taking countless visitors there has somewhat dulled the excitement of seeing spacecraft up close and personal, so I wandered on. James didn’t idle for long in front of these giant vehicles, since we didn’t have a lot of time and he knew he’d be visiting Space Center Houston shortly anyway.

We went through a few exhibits but didn’t spend long in any of them until we found the Wright Brothers Flyer. This was the one thing in DC that enchanted James more than anything else. Our pace slowed immediately as he pored over all of the signs surrounding the Wright Flyer, absolutely enthralled (apparently, he was fascinated because he had done a report on the Wrights in grade school). For some reason, I didn’t get a picture of him in front of it, but we did get a good shot of the Flyer on its own, which has been his desktop background ever since. We also got a good picture of one of the best descriptions in the exhibit, stating that the Wright Flyer was “The World’s First Power-Driven Heavier-than-Air Machine in Which Man Made Free, Controlled, and Sustained Flight. Invented and Built by Orville and Wilbur Wright, Flown by Them at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903. By Original Scientific Research the Wright Brothers Discovered the Principles of Human Flight As Inventors, Builders, and Flyers they Further Developed the Aeroplane, Taught Man to Fly, and Opened the Era of Aviation.”

After dragging James away from the Flyer and skimming a few more exhibits, we acquainted ourselves with the Smithsonian food court. It was full of lesser-known restaurants like McDonald’s, where we bought ourselves a snack to tide ourselves over until lunch, which we planned to eat in Georgetown. We then arranged with my friend Debbie to meet outside the Museum of Natural History, so we took off quickly in that direction so we could take in the most important parts of the museum (read: the Hope Diamond) before she arrived.
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Independence Avenue At 4th Street SW
Washington, DC

National Museum of Natural History & Georgetown

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

We didn’t have long in the Museum of Natural History, which was sandwiched in between the Air & Space Museum and a trip to Georgetown for lunch.

From the outside, this museum is imposing; it is seemingly miles long and sports a giant gold rotunda in the middle. Inside the rotunda, which we found after going through yet another metal detector, is a giant elephant, which I vaguely remembered from my 5th grade trip. The squeals of children echoed throughout the rotunda, and after deciding that most of them originated in the dinosaur exhibit, we decided we didn’t really need to see those bones after all.

Our main point of interest was the Gem Exhibit, which contains the Hope Diamond as its centerpiece. I had wrongfully told James that it was the largest diamond in the world (partially due to a memory that greatly exaggerated its size), so when he saw it, sitting on its pedestal in the middle of the exhibit, glistening blue, he was very disappointed. Perhaps I meant to say “the most cursed diamond in the world,” since the diamond hasn’t exactly had a boring past (some of its previous owners have committed suicide, had to abdicate their rule, or been beheaded, to name a few).

After a look at some of the strange rock formations in the exhibit surrounding the Hope Diamond, we met up with Debbie and headed to Georgetown. The weather became more atrocious by the minute, which made for an interesting drive. When we finally arrived there—after a drive that seemed inordinately long after my friend Sonia, who attended Georgetown, talked about being able to run to the Washington Monument from campus—we were greeted with roads that looked like parking lots, such was the traffic. I’m convinced there were snails in DC that made it to Sonia’s quicker than we did.

We ended up eating at a nice Thai restaurant (which I can’t remember the name of at the moment). I had a wonderful Pad Thai (and when I ordered it, the waiters actually listened to my “no peanuts” order. It’s surprising how often they just toss peanuts on there anyway, regardless of the fact that it’s the most dangerous allergy today), and it was great to catch up with my friends, who I hadn’t seen in quite awhile, since I had been spending all my free vacation time in Australia. Plus, it was much better than eating lunch at McDonald’s in the Smithsonian food court!

After lunch, we had a much quicker drive back into the District. By now, it was absolutely bucketing it down, so when Debbie dropped us off opposite the Washington Monument, we were more than happy to stop at a vendor and buy a very large umbrella. It was very fortunate that there was a large (but getting smaller by the minute) protest going on nearby, which was the reason the vendors were there in the first place.

Armed and ready (with an umbrella, just to clarify for any… government agents that might take that phrase the wrong way), we headed to the White House.

The White House & The Washington Monument

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

As we walked up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it was very obvious that gone are the days of White House tours (still offered during my last trip in 1996, although we didn’t take one) and people being able to protest just outside the gates. Instead, Pennsylvania Avenue was completely blockaded off, so the closest we could get was the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. This didn’t particularly bother me, since I just wanted a snap of us in front of the building, but James wasn’t so happy. Being a cheeky foreigner, he wanted to hurl a small, harmless object over the gates just to test whether the White House really did keep snipers on the roof. So, to rephrase my sentiments, I was extremely happy it was blocked off so my boyfriend didn’t get killed/banned from America permanently/thrown in jail indefinitely.

It was just our luck that the rain started easing off (although it was definitely still raining) as soon as we bought an umbrella, but that meant that we didn’t get quite as soaked and we were able to take pictures without worrying about damaging my camera (didn’t need that, since James had broken when he attempted to take a picture of the Capitol building. Shows what it thinks about American politics!)

The rain had all but completely dampened all of the protesters’ spirits by the time we made it to the Washington Monument; the few people still there were filing out. Fortunately, the clouds had receded slightly, so we were once again able to see the top of the Monument pretty clearly. This meant I was able to take a picture from right underneath to add to my collection of “pictures taken staring straight up at large, man made structures.” The Monument, like the Capitol, was not nearly as striking as on a nice day, so the picture was far from the best in that collection, but at least we could see the top!

We decided that of all days, today would possibly be the worst to ever bother paying admission, waiting in line (even if it was quite short), riding an elevator, and taking in the view, so for the second time, I missed that view (on my first trip to D.C., protesters surrounded the monument yelling something about Taiwan, so our teachers very quickly herded us away). As the afternoon only got colder as it wore on, and the rain was still steadily working the chill into our bones, we didn’t spend long looking at the Monument, instead leaving to work our way west along the Reflecting Pool to Abe.

Lincoln, FDR & Jefferson Memorials

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by stomps on December 30, 2006

Probably more exciting for James than all of the memorials in Washington combined were the squirrels that inhabited the trees between them. On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, he stopped me, surreptitiously pulled out my camera, and tiptoed over to the base of a tree, where he frantically tried to take pictures before the squirrel got spooked and ran away. I laughed at him, but then again, he laughed at me when I wanted to go see kangaroos, since they aren’t native to my country, just like squirrels aren’t native to his. By the end of the day, though, this obsession had passed, which was unfortunate, given the number of squirrels at my university that will literally walk up and steal food out of your hands (or hide behind trees and chatter as they chuck acorns at you).

When we reached the Lincoln Memorial, we were surprised to see that the Washington Monument was actually reflecting in the Reflecting Pool. It probably hadn’t been earlier, but the rain had finally stopped and the clouds had gotten a little less gray. We did what had become routine by this point—I took a picture of him, he took a picture of me, then we took a picture together—on the steps. After walking up those steps and James realizing that Lincoln was really quite a large statue, we did the same routine, except this time posing with Abe, rather than the building he lives in.

We read both of the inscriptions on the walls to his sides, but there wasn’t really a lot else to occupy us there, so we headed around to the south to the FDR memorial (between the Lincoln and the Jefferson Memorials). I had never seen this memorial before, and both of us agreed that it was probably the best one in Washington. Rather than being a large stone building (or tower), it was a memorial open to the elements (which had turned some of his statues an odd green color), full of stone walls, statues, and plant life. We probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if it had still been pouring rain, but luckily it wasn’t. There was a man giving a guided tour, explaining all of the important parts of the monument, but by this point we were absolutely exhausted and didn’t want to do more than a quick walk through it.

Something cool that we saw on the way to the Jefferson Memorial was the Washington Monument as it would have looked in the late 1800s—the clouds had descended again and left only half of the Monument visible. We just hoped those clouds didn’t bring more rain with them—at least until after we got back on the Metro.

We spent the most time of any memorial at the Jefferson Memorial—not because of interest, but rather, sheer exhaustion. We called Graham to tell him when we planned on catching a train and then spent at least ten minutes staring at Thomas, asking for motivation to get back on our weary feet to walk the reasonable distance back to the Metro stop. We finally found that motivation, solely because we were getting cold and just wanted to find a nice comfy bed to fall asleep in, and managed to navigate our way back to Smithsonian station.

We certainly had a whirlwind tour of Washington, but we made the most of it—even if it did make us sick for the next three days!


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