Quick tour in Washington DC (1st – 2nd October 2007)

Monday, 1st October 2007: After much contemplation last week, I decided take a short trip out of Chicago to Washington DC and New York and booked my flights online via ATA Airlines. Costed me USD209.80 one-way to Washington DC and returning from New York to Chicago. By the way, you need to pack your own snack on board the plane because you would have to pay for food and drink on the plane (thus I can understand why the cost of the ticket was cheap).

The weather in Chicago today was pretty bad – cold and raining. Hope that it would be a smooth ride though…Antonio sent me to airport at 8am for my 10.16am flight to DC. Washington DC is the capital of the United States. The city was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States. By the way, you can’t say ‘Washington’ as short for ‘Washington DC’ because there is actually a state in US named Washington (apparently famous for great outdoors adventures).

Arrived in DC at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 1.05pm DC time and took the metro to Metro Center. Sure looks cleaner than the Chicago subway :) It costed me USD1.65 one way to Metro Center. Took me awhile to get my head around the ticketing system. In Chicago, it costs the same for every ride. Here in DC, the cost differs depending on the location you wish to go to. I had to refer to the cost chart and put the correct amount of money into the machine for my ticket to my destination.

What a bummer…turned out that the Metro Center was about 5-6 blocks away from where I was staying and boy was it a pain carrying my backpack walking all the way to the backpackers! I had booked my accommodation of 2 nights at Hostelling International American Youth Hostels Washington DC Hostel in an all-female dorm. It was a large room with bunk beds for 10 people and costed me USD62 for the 2 nights. Looked pretty nice and clean to me, just not too sure how I'll be getting any sleep with 9 others in the room (but girls aren't supposed to be rowdy, right??).

My friend Nga from Vietnam came to meet me at the hostel. It was so nice to see her again after over 6 years and she looks the same! I first met Nga on the plane to New Zealand in 2001 – she was seated next to me and we exchanged contacts details and kept in touch. Neither of us expected to meet up again after this long, what more in a country where both of us are foreigners! Just shows how unpredictable and amazing life can be :) I remembered in our last correspondence that she mentioned she had moved to DC with her husband for a few years so sent her a quick email to find out if she was still around. Lucky for me she was!

Oh Nga, you are so sweet! She drew me a map that showed all the key museums to visit near the backpackers so I won’t get lost in the city. Thank you!! She was my city guide for the afternoon and we visited 2 museums, starting with the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. This museum complex holds more than 126 million specimens, some of which are brand-new and some of which were collected almost 200 years ago during early voyages and explorations of the world. This was also the museum where the movie Night at the Museum was filmed. You should go check out the movie if you haven't - a light comedy for the whole family.

Nga had wanted to bring me to the National Museum of American History but it was closed for renovations so we ended up going to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The museum maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. We didn't get to see all the exhibits as the museum was due to close in half an hour so just breezed through a few of them. There were also a few collections from the National Museum of American History that was moved to the National Air and Space Museum temporarily till renovations complete.

It was a very nice afternoon spent with Nga and I would have loved to take her out for dinner but she had to return home (she lives in Maryland which was quite a distance away from the city centre). We had agreed to meet up again tomorrow evening for a walking tour in the city – I'm not sure what this walking tour is about (Nga only said it was in the evening and it was free from the website she sent me). I'm excited to see what's it all about!

Speaking of walking, my legs are really sore…all the soccer playing on Sunday and walking around town today is making me exhausted. Food, I need FOOD! Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603827369705/detail/

You know, DC feels very different to Chicago. The atmosphere or air here breathes government, seriousness and proper. Didn’t see many people walking the streets after working hours (perhaps it was a Monday). Had a quick dinner at a Japanese restaurant near the backpackers and headed home to rest.

Met 2 other females staying in the same room – one from Scotland and another older Japanese lady. I hope the other ladies don’t snore because 1) I’m a light-sleeper and 2) I have an early start tomorrow (my last day in DC so have to make the most of it). It’s a nice backpackers – clean and tidy. You even have a lockable cabinet in the room for your stuff (it was big enough for me to put my backpack inside).

After my shower, I went to check out the other facilities available in the hostel and bumped into a French guy named Erik in the kitchen and got chatting. We bumped into each other again later that night in the internet area and ended up talking about our itineraries tomorrow and planned to meet up at the Washington National Cathedral at lunchtime. The cathedral wasn’t part of my initial plan but from the photos he showed me from his travel book, it sure looked worth the trip to see it. We swapped contact details just in case one of us got caught up some other place and couldn’t make it to the cathedral. Erik was very nice and even gave me tips on a few other cool places to visit. So glad I met you!

Oh yeah, I bought an online bus ticket one-way from DC to NY for tomorrow. I don’t know why but the idea of travelling with a company that I suspect is run by Chinese makes me a little sceptical (and it only cost USD20).

Tuesday, 2nd October 2007: Got up to start my day at 7am and headed towards McPherson Square train station, stopping by Cosi Café for a muffin and coffee costing me USD5.70. By the way, they make bread on site and the shop smells so yummy!

Joined the rush hour to go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Baltimore. Wow, what a beautiful church! This is one of the world’s largest churches featuring more than 2000 tons of marble and mosaic. There was also a theology school located within the grounds of the majestic Basilica. Photos taken at the Basilica: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603827407895/detail/

Next, I headed to Union Station and walked around till 9.30am so I could buy day pass for USD6.50 – need to travel smart and cheap :) Union Station is the grand ceremonial train station designed to be the entrance to Washington, D.C., when it opened in 1907. It is one of the busiest and best-known places in Washington, D.C., visited by 20 million people each year. Another popular location where movies are filmed (bet you have seen this place on TV before even if you haven't been to DC).

Headed off to The Pentagon from Union Station. The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington, Virginia. Was disappointed to find that I wasn’t able to take any photos of the premises so left and headed to Arlington National Cemetery. But of course, Angelica - how could you take photos at such a place? Wishful thinking!

Arlington National Cemetery is the best known of more than 100 national cemeteries in the US, with its green slopes sheltering veterans from every war that has involved the nation. About 24 burials are conducted here every weekday.

All who are remembered here have this in common: service to their country. To each one, no matter what rank or station, whether decorated hero or unknown, belongs a place of honour. Though the majority of thoses buried here have been servicemen, many women who have contributed to the Armed Forces are also interred within these hallowed grounds.

A funeral with full military honours is a dignified and moving occasion. An honour guard accompanies the American flag-draped coffin drawn by matched horses. A band plays solemn marches while muffled drums beat the slow cadence for the procession. Before the remains are lowered, a squad fires 3 rifle volleys and a bugler lows the long notes of “Taps”. Finally the guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.

Call me lazy but I’m not up for walking around the huge cemetery so took the tourmobile with Tourmobile Sightseeing for USD7 – a hop-on and -off entertaining, fun and live narrated tour and only riding tour of Arlington National Cemetery. Tour was about 1 hour – you can hop on and off at 3 stops but it takes about 15 minutes to wait for next pickup. According to the guides, the cemetery is likely to be in full capacity within 40 years given the rate of funerals happening each day. Photos taken at the cemetery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603824022908/detail/

Ops, time to make a dash to meet Erik at the Washington National Cathedral! Unfortunately he was stuck in a US Capitol tour. It’s ok – we might meet up in New York if our schedules coincide (he leaves for NY on Amtrak this evening; I bus to NY tomorrow morning). Did a bit of shopping and the took a bus to the cathedral. Washington National Cathedral opens its doors to people of all faiths as they have gathered to worship and pray, to mourn the passing of world leaders, and to confront the pressing moral and social issues of the day. It was the site of President George W. Bush’s Inaugural Prayer Service and later the National Prayer and Remembrance service on September 14, 2001.

I did a free tour of the place and I have to say, this cathedral was more beautiful in real life than in picture. The tour was supposed to be for an hour but I couldn't stay long (only did the first 30 minutes). Photos taken at the cathedral: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603824115906/detail/

Hopped back on the bus to the metro station and took the metro to the Dome in Rosslyn to see Bodies - The Exhibition. Innovative, real, groundbreaking – a must see! I've never seen anything like this. The exhibition showcases real human bodies, giving visitors the opportunity to see themselves in a fascinating way like never before. The exhibition will enlighten, empower, fascinate and inspire. Very mind blowing when you look at real human bodies preserved, cut up, skinned, deboned (you could even see the fetus in different stages). Hmm...you would probably not eat meat for awhile after spending the day here...but it sure does make you want to care for your health – most of the exhibits came from willing donors who were sick and/smokers smokers. Costed me USD26.50 to see the exhibits and unfortunately no photography allowed (oh, I so want to show you all what I saw!). Still, it was worth coming to have a look.

Rush, rush, rush...Now I've to catch the metro to Capitol South and hopefully the US Capitol is still open by the time I get there! You know, if you mapped out all the places I had been today in a DC map, you would probably have lines everywhere! I think I was in Metro Center like 5 times today changing trains!! Good thing for the day pass...hehe...Saved me heaps!

The US Capitol is the capitol building that serves as the seat of government for the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. Erik mentioned that the Library of Congress nearby was worth the visit but it was closed by the time I got there (surprisingly the museums in DC closes by 5pm). Oh well, I tried...

Walked all the way along National Mall towards Washington Monument. The Washington Monument is the most prominent, as well as one of the older, attractions in Washington, D.C. It was built in honor of George Washington, who led the country to independence, and then became its first President.

My god, how far IS it from the US Capitol???? Was so tired walking. About 45 minutes later, I finally got to the monument for free walking tour at 6pm and met Nga there. The free tour was conducted by 2 young lads from City By Foot Free Walking Tours. The tours run 6 days a week, from Tues-Sun at 6pm. No reservations necessary. All you have to do it turn up at the Washington Monument and look out for people wearing baby blue shirts. It was a fantastic and hilarious tour - the guides were a good laugh with their anecdotes and acting! Something new that I learn today: The notes (US money) consists of 25% linen and 75% cotton thus you won't have to fear your money tearing apart if you left them in your pocket and had your clothing washed :) Photos taken during the walk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603827668901/detail/

Thank you Nga for keeping me company during my brief visit in DC! Please keep in touch and hope to meet up again soon - perhaps you can show me your lovely country, Vietnam next time :)

Time to head back to the backpackers and put my feet up. Feeling so, so tired from all the walking today. It'll be another early start tomorrow - New York, here I come!


Popular Posts