Washington DC is recommended by all who have been, great for history, food and free museums. They weren’t wrong. After an overnight Greyhound from Toronto to New York, we jumped on a 5 hour bus (or motorcoach as they say here) to the capital. We arrived soon after midday at, you guessed it, Union Station. Many train stations in the USA have this same name as it meant that different companies serviced them. This was our first piece of history, built in 1907 and is the location of Amtrak’s headquarters. It’s a bit of a shame we didn’t arrive or leave by train but by this time our dwindling budget caught up with us and the buses are generally cheaper, although definitely not as interesting or comfortable.
Our first taste of food came from Lincoln’s Waffle Shop, a must as we had arrived on Pancake Day. After a quick nap and wash at the hostel we headed to the first free museum with its amazing courtyard roof – the National Portrait Gallery. One exhibit contained portraits of all the presidents, each with brief history next to them. This was a great introduction as walking around on later days we recognised more street names and monuments belonging to the more unknown (for us) presidents. While walking through past the traditional portraits into the more modern styles (for JFK and Bill Clinton), we noticed one portrait near the end had a really long queue, but we couldn’t see who it belonged too at first. Thinking it might be for Trump, we turned the corner and were pleasantly surprised to see it belonged to Barack Obama. After talking to many Americans along our journey, he is very clearly loved and missed by many. Here is his wonderfully colourful portrait, we didn’t join the queue in the end.
Our days were spent walking the mall in its entirety, from General Lee’s house to the Capitol building. Arlington National Cemetery is located in Virginia state across the Potomac River. It is a military cemetery where soldiers and soldiers partner’s have been buried since the civil war. When visiting the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, we witnessed a procession with a band and horses bringing in a coffin to bury. At the highest point sits the house of General Robert E. Lee, the confederate leader. He married the woman who owned it and the name Arlington comes from the town in Gloucestershire where her family originally came from. During the civil war they fled the house and due to many losses and overflowing local cemeteries, for political gain the unionists began burying in the grounds of Arlington. After the civil war ended, the Lee’s sued for the property back but they later sold it back to the government. As well as the never ending graves of soldiers, JFK’s memorial is located in the grounds too.
A short walk across the Potomac River brings you to the impressive Lincoln Memorial and his view down the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument. Many momentous moments have occurred on these steps, it was awe inspiring to sit and look out down the long flat green mall.
Over two days we visited several museums, each in its own unique building. The Hirshhorn had amazing sculptures surrounding the circular building, the National Museum of the American Indian felt like layers of swirling wind and the Smithsonian Castle felt regal in its fake Norman style. The US Botanic Garden had enough cacti for me to be excited by and a quick dash before closing time into the National Archives allowed us to view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The National Museum of American History contained a great exhibit on the railroad and transport through the ages, including a small section on how containers changed the shipping industry with short videos of the workers who’d lost their jobs because of them. It also had an interesting section on American food – including how processed cheese is made. It genuinely starts as real cheese, and then they mess with it. So many times we’ve ordered some food with cheese, it might even be advertised as cheddar, just to be severely let down by squares of orange. Eventually we reached the United States Capitol building where the House of Representatives and the Senate sits.
We caught a glimpse of the White House from afar after spotting many road signs with the graffiti “Fuck Trump” scrawled on. We didn’t actually walk up to it in the end given interests taking us elsewhere. Near the Washington Monument there was more stranger graffiti about possible conspiracy theories on an information board.
The last bit of history took us on the metro lines north to the state of Maryland. To define the original District of Columbia in 1801, 40 boundary stones were placed in the shape of a diamond cutting a portion of land from both Virginia and Maryland. The northern most stone lies about 15 minutes walk from Silver Spring Station and is sandwiched between a large-ish road and someone’s garden. It is a simple pillar surrounded by a small green fence. It didn’t look as well visited as you might expect. On the way back we visited the Florida Avenue Grill. Recommended by a friend of Mischa’s sister, the grill has seen many famous visitors including Obama. I went for the veggy plate, reminding us of plate lunches from the south in Louisiana, containing collared greens, spiced yams and mac’n’cheese (not real cheese but this was tasty).