Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Reflections on DC

I know, I know...for a travel blog (or something of the sort) I've not done very well at keeping up while travelling. Too busy walking myself into the ground and racing around interesting sights, as usual. But excuses aside, here's what I thought about my weekend visit to DC:

Washington DC, the nation's capital, is an iconic city. Many films and tv shows have been set there, so lots buildings are easily recognisable. Flying into Ronald Reagan airport was amazing. It was like coming into the back yard of the Pentagon. I flew in at night time, so all of town was lit up. Craning my neck, I could see the Washington Monument, the Capital building and the Potomac River, amongst other things.

I took the metro into the city centre, dropped my increasingly heavy and cumbersome bags off at my youth hostel, and set off. I walked first to see the White House (of course). It was neat to see, all lit up, but I must say that the building next door to it, The Old Executive Building is far more impressive architecturally. From there I walked down to the WWII Memorial and went along the long path to the Lincoln Memorial. I just wandered from there really, enjoying the city and coming across places like the Ford Theatre (where Lincoln was shot), the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building and passing lots of official looking buildings. (Next time, I want to go to NCIS ... give a shout out to television's favourite Special Agent...)
WWII Memorial and Washington Monument under heavy skies

Capital Building
The next day was a busy one. I made a bee line for the Capital Building. It is probably the most impressive building in Washington (in my opinion) and gorgeous to boot. I had hoped to go in, but you aren't allowed to take food, and I wasn't about to throw away my entire day's rations. (So, word to the wise, go at the end of the day, or don't bring food or water with you!) I went instead to spend many enjoyable hours at the Smithsonian museums: The Natural History Museum and American History Museum. I saw the Hope Diamond at the first, but left fairly quickly as it was full of screaming children and mums ready to strangle them. Besides, the Natural History Museum in New York is much better (again, in my humble opinion).

The American History Museum was delightful. I spent many hours there seeing all sorts of wonderful, random Americana. Bob Dylan's leather jacket, the first Apple Mac, The First Lady's Inaugural Ball gowns, and George Washington's writing case were highlights for me. The American spirit captured in a four-floored museum; wonderful.

National Archives
The other highlight of the trip was going to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. They are set in a sort of semi circle, with informative boards explaining it all. We visitors sort of shuffled along, taking turns. I was behind a man and his son, and the boy said, "I can't read it at all, Dad, can you?"
He had a point - the writing was so looping and faint that it was a real struggle to make it out in the low, protective lighting.

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union..."

The man had recited this first bit for his boy from memory as they moved on. I remained, finishing his recitation under my breath. Then, I was in front of the Constitution myself - the words I had just remembered there, in the flesh, as it were. I had been made to memorise the Prelude to the Constitution by my 8th grade history teacher. He was a brilliant teacher, and while memorising presidents and studying the Bill of Rights isn't really all that interesting at 14, I will never forget it.

At this point, in the 8th grade, I was not yet an American citizen. True, living in America is all I could remember, all my friends were American, my favourite food was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - but on paper, I was not an American. I could never answer properly the question, "So, where are you from?" Nor could I ever really fit in ("Hey, your accent is funny!"). But there, at 14, I got an insight to this wonderful, young, powerful, great, unique nation.

Anyway, my point is that it was a great opportunity to explore the nation's capital, to admire the buildings and think of all the great things that take place behind their doors. Politics aside, a democratic nation is a wondrous thing.

After so many years spent away from this great nation, it was nice to feel so close to it again - to feel I was a part of it, as I had done in my 8th grade history class. And now, I've got the paperwork to prove I am a part of it all! I've voted many times and written letters to my Senator; I've queued up for hours in the cold to meet Presidential candidates - and those are moments I cherish. Freedom is a responsibility like any other, and it is ours to be a part of shaping the future.