Washington DC

Capitol Hill

I arrived in DC at 7:40pm on April 16.

I was supposed to meet my parents, my sister and my cousin (who were all doing trips of their own) at 7:00, and I anxiously wondered if they’d still be there as I dragged my suitcase across Greyhound bus station to the exit.

I got outside and realised that I didn’t know what car they’d be driving – not the make, or the model, or even the colour. After a couple of minutes of no one honking or shouting, I went back inside.

I circled the station, but couldn’t see anyone I knew.

But wait! There was another exit!

I walked like the wind out the second exit, and once again didn’t know which car to look for. A minute passed. And a second. After five I started to worry – my phone didn’t work in the States, so I had no way of contacting them. Were they waiting for me to tell them that I’d arrived? Had they been waiting at another bus station since 7:00?

Or, had I arrived on the wrong day?

I didn’t know where we were staying, or even how to get to the city from where I was. Would I need to sleep in the bus station overnight? I looked inside – on this trip I’ve slept in hostels, on couches, on trains, on an airport floor, and have stayed awake on planes – if I had to, this would be my most unsanitary night yet.

After waiting for another five minutes, I went inside to a payphone. My last $3 weren’t going to get me far (especially since the phone only accepted coins), but look – there was a call-collect number!

I dialled the number, then that of my mother.

And got her answering machine.

I dialled the number again, and tried my sister’s phone.

“Hello?” she said as the recorded voice told her that she had a collect call from me.

“Oh, I’ve got a call from Jolie,” she said to my parents.

“Rhiannon, if you can hear me, would you please press ‘one’ to accept the call?” I asked, hoping that she could hear me through the recorded voice.

She didn’t, and the recorded voice asked if I could pay instead.

I called again, but this time it didn’t get through.

I tried my mum’s number, thinking that she might have turned her phone on after what happened with Rhiannon. Nope – answering machine.

Then Rhiannon came through the door next to the payphones – I was saved!

We spent the next few days looking at the sights, shopping and eating too much. So I ended up with new clothes that fit me when I tried them on . . . but probably don’t anymore :p

I was surprised by how quiet DC was. A long belt of parks runs through the south of the city, and as I went through the memorials at one end and the Smithsonian at the other, I felt like I was at the edge of the world. Even back in Washington’s grid of streets, the streets seemed far too wide for the few people who strolled down them. Yes, the White House, Capitol Hill and the National Spy Museum were all very crowded, but these were the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Smithsonian Castle

As dad had planned the first couple of days, we made our way through the city in a much more methodical method than I’m used to. On day 1 we started at the White House (just looking at the outside – apparently you need permission from your consulate to visit, and because so many Aussies go to the US the Australian Consulate has stopped signing the forms in protest), then made our way through all of the war memorials and presidential memorials, and finished with the park of Smithsonian museums.

WWII memorial

The WWII Memorial comprises 56 granite pillars forming two semi-circles around a plaza and pool with two 13 metre arches on opposite sides. Each pillar holds a grey wreath and bears the name of a state, and the two arches each house four angels holding another wreath. At 103 metres by 73 metres, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large war memorial.

Korean War Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is a long triangle of grass intersecting a circle, walled in black granite with over 2,500 photos representing troops sandblasted onto the wall. Standing on the triangle are 19 stainless steel statues of larger-than-life-sized soldiers on patrol. At the end of the triangle is the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool of black granite that looks like a giant sundial, and is surrounded by trees and benches. And American flag waves behind the pool, reflected in the water.

Roosevelt Memorial

Roosevelt Memorial

Next were the presidential memorials. Although the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials were impressive, my favourite was the Roosevelt Memorial. It is like a garden of stone – walls with large bricks are marked with quotations from Franklin D Roosevelt and small waterfalls and pockets of trees punctuate the maze.

Roosevelt Memorial

On day 2 we visited Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress and then Chloe and I went for a wander around the city while my parents and sister revisited the Smithsonian museums.

Although Capitol Hill is incredibly impressive from the outside – largely recognisable due to its appearance in countless films and television series – it was crawling with people. As we were unable to get a ticket, we needed to wait for 45 minutes for five to become available. If I’d been alone, I would have turned back as soon as I saw the mass of tourists. As I was with my family, and my father and sister really wanted to see it, I had to wait. Seeing it was interesting, our guide was quite entertaining and the dome is beautiful, but I didn’t think it was worth the wait.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress, on the other hand, was exquisite. The entrance hall is made of white marble, with two staircases leading up to the first floor, each of them lined with statues of little boys who each represent a different trade. The ceiling is painted in red, gold and black, with circular paintings of . . . And the actual library made me yearn for one of my own –

There were four exhibitions on in the building – one of the discovery of the Americas, one about the creation of the US as well as the Declaration of Independence and its constitution, one on Civil War portraits, and Thomas Jefferson’s Library. The Library of Congress was free, there was no wait and it was fairly quiet – excellent value.

After shopping on day 3 (I finally have new runners – my feet can function normally again!), I had day 4 to myself. I visited the Neuseum.

Neuseum

The Neuseum is a museum dedicated to news, including:

Neuseum - Berlin Wall

  • The history of news (including the creation of the printing press, the introduction of radio, TV and the internet, and significant stories), with examples of newspapers dating back to the 1500s
  • The front pages of the development of Hurricane Katrina as well as individual stories from the event
  • The front pages from September 11, a piece of the satellite antenna from the north tower and video footage from the day
  • Seven pieces of the Berlin wall (each weighing three tonnes, this is the largest portion of the Berlin wall outside of Berlin) as well as one of the guard towers
  • A temporary exhibit about the relationship between the FBI and the media, including famous cases
  • Information about different media, including video interviews
  • News ethics (there was a game on a touch-screen table here – you needed to tap the front-page story and decide what you would do in different ethical dilemmas, like whether you would pay for a story or cover something up, etc.)
  • A 3D film about different historic news stories (3D doesn’t really do much for me, but if you’re into that sort of thing you might like it)

At $21.95 (plus tax), it’s the most expensive museum I’ve visited, but with six floors and a ticket that’s valid for two days (so theoretically you could give it to someone else to use for the second day), I thought it was worth it.

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