Washington DC, District of Columbia
I hopped on the train from Williamsburg and four hours later was in Washington, D.C. The weather was probably similar in both places, but the passage of time had taken an icy morning and turned it into a sunny afternoon. My hostel was an easy stroll from the station. I must have booked it because of that, but the booking was long enough ago that it came as a lovely surprise when I saw how easy my transfer was.
Union station is a huge and grand building, all too easy to look up, gawp at something and find yourself in everyone’ way, though I managed to avoid that, just, thanks to there being so much room inside. Friendly Jon checked me in early; he is one of two hostel staff with extraordinary Irish accents, though whether that’s just my hearing being slightly off or because they’ve Americanised them, I wasn’t sure. I was off into the sun to have a walk around, and take in the Air and Space museum, which was on both Jon and Lonely Planet’s favourite parts of the Smithsonian.
That museum is a huge enterprise, with its own castle housing information and offices, and separate buildings for the art, space, indian and other museums. I walked back to the station and then down to the Capitol, which grows impressively in your vision as you walk towards it. The idea was to build everything in the neo-classical style, which is grand and looks fabulous, though I suspect there was a time when it just looked like a new country attempting to borrow the grandeur of older empires by copying an architectural style. Turning right from the capitol I was on the mall, though not before I had noted the protestors on the lawn outside. That seems a step up from our government blocking protest outside parliament, though on reflection you can’t get very close to the White House either, nor does it have large spaces to gather on very near, so maybe they’re just as restrictive. A little less keen to squash rights people have had for years, though.
The mall is grand, and looked stunning in the sun. It’s a great place to run, though I’m off that at the mo, watching those galloping or struggling down the long gravelled pathways with envy. I ducked into the museum, a place to immediately look up and see the planes and rockets hanging from the ceiling. I thought I’d be most taken by the space section, and enjoyed the room on exploration, but we have Apollo exhibits in Britain so it wasn’t quite the ‘wow!’ moment it might have been. The space shuttle exhibits are elsewhere, too. But the sections on flight, WW1 and 2, were fascinating. There are a few too many stories from back when America was an underdog – my impression is that they still tell stories that way, having become addicted to the image – even now they have the largest military by some distance. But there was a great variety of exhibits, and balanced coverage of the Knights of the Air from WW1, a good film showing Hollywood’s aviation depictions after WW2 and plenty to chew on. On that note, less recommended is the space ice cream available in the shop, and being offered around by a couple of Brits. “It’s horrible” didn’t get many takers.
I continued down the mall and it’s all killer sights, with the WW2 memorial huge and grand, the
George Washington monument tall and imposing despite fences keeping us all away while work is done and the Lincoln Memorial the place to see. There’s a sign near the statue suggesting people keep quiet from respect, but it was a very noisy place; reminding me of the similar futility in the Sistene chapel, though at least there people whisper rather than talking talking talking. I had been listening to podcasts on the American revolution as I came upon the Gettysburg Address and had coincidentally just heard the Declaration of Independence read out before I saw the similar sentiments in the Address.
I wandered back via the White House before ducking in to the E street cinema for Ralph Fiennes’ joy-filled comedic turn in the Grand Budapest Hotel. Wonderful.
This week’s cinema: Inside Llewyn Davis – bleak. See it.
Grand Budapest Hotel – joyful. See it.
Reading: Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men.