Now, Washington DC was a city I could relax a little more in (which is a bit ironic if you have a look at the crime statistics). It reminded me a lot of Canberra, not just because of the features that all capital cities share, but just the feel of the city was very similar. Sort of that big-small-city vibe going on (although Washington is quite a bit larger than Canberra). Washington shares some other features with Canberra too. It was also intentionally founded and planned as the country’s capital, and is located within a territory independent of any state. Interestingly, DC was originally made up of land donated by both Virginia and Maryland, however in 1846 it returned Virginia’s land.
Our bus into Washington DC was a bit late, but no drama. The bus station was not far from our hostel and we were really surprised by how warm the evening was. We stayed in a HI (Hostelling International) hostel which turned out to be one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed in. The worst bit, really, was that our mattress had a plastic cover beneath the sheet which crinkled a bit, but it wasn’t a problem for sleeping. Our window also didn’t seal perfectly, so we got a bit of street noise being in central DC, but we found it’s not a noisy city at night time. The shared bathrooms were clean and well-kept and the corridors were carpeted which helped minimise noise from outside the room (although some doors slammed if not closed gently, but we found most people were good about closing their doors considerately). The breakfast was great too, with a very friendly dining room supervisor who likes to meet everyone and find out where you’re from. The included continental breakfast included things such as fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt, dried fruit, bread or toast with spreads, bagels, muffins, tea, coffee and juice.
On our first day we discovered that the previous night’s warm weather was very atypical for the time of year, as we woke up to a chilly and grey day. We met up with a friend, Nathan, who took us on a personalised tour of the city. We started with the National Mall where we saw the Lincoln Memorial, several war memorials, the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. I really appreciated the war memorials – they were each distinctly different to each other, and we saw memorials for wars we’d never seen memorials for before (due to Australia and the UK’s lower participation), such as Vietnam and Korea.
We had booked an afternoon tour of the Capitol building, which was very interesting but a little disappointing as the dome was completely covered in scaffolding, both inside and out. There was just one little gap left in the scaffolding at the top inside the dome so you could see some of the ceiling mural. That night Nathan (a Texan) took us out for dinner at a local barbeque restaurant which he said was the closest we’d get to real Texan barbeque without going to Texas!
Over the next few days we visited a range of other national museums, galleries and archives. We loved seeing the Library of Congress, which aside from being a spectacular building with some beautiful reading and research rooms also housed significant texts and literary works (such as a Gutenberg bible) and Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. As the British burnt much of Congress’s original library during the War of 1812, Jefferson offered to sell his collection to them. Congress bought his library in 1815, although in 1851 about two thirds of the library was burnt in another fire. The Library of Congress is now re-building Jefferson’s collection, but as a result many of the books are not his original copies (although some are!).
Another building of particular interest was the National Archives, where you can view the original Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence (although these documents are so old and faded you’re not allowed to photograph them). The National Archives also houses one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, however we’d already seen one in London’s National Library. The Public Vaults in the National Archives contain dozens of other interesting documents and recordings of historical importance.
We also visited some of the Smithsonian Museums, although the most interesting was the Air and Space Museum which contains numerous aircraft and other relics of historical significance. This includes Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5B Vega, the Wright Flyer, the Apollo 11 Command module, an Apollo Lunar Module, Sputnik’s arming pin (its last remaining piece), a North American X-15 (the fastest aircraft ever), satellites, missiles, space suits and more. We very briefly visited the American History museum primarily to see the original, 200-year-old star-spangled banner from the Battle of Baltimore.
That same day we took another walk around central DC as it was much sunnier and got a look at the Whitehouse (from the outside) and a few of the National Mall monuments again, this time in slightly better weather!
We also paid a visit to the National Gallery of Art where I most enjoyed seeing the presidents’ portraits and paintings depicting day to day life at various times throughout America’s history.
We also spent a few hours one afternoon walking around the parks just off the National Mall where there are many memorials to various American historical figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr and Franklin Roosevelt.
On our last day we were running a little late for our plane, only to discover once we got there that somehow my booking had never gone through! I had become suspicious about an hour earlier, when the booking which had previously been showing up in my JetBlue app had suddenly disappeared. I had, to the best of my knowledge, completed the booking via the app – I’d put in payment details and the booking had been showing in the app ever since I made it. The girl at the counter said she could see the attempted booking but for some reason the payment had not been taken (ie, not an attempted payment which had been rejected) and the booking never properly confirmed.
She said she could book us onto the flight now, but by now we were running so late she couldn’t guarantee we’d actually make it to the gate in time. Fortunately there was another flight going in a few hours, so we booked onto that one instead. You can bet I never tried using the JetBlue app again!