Friday, July 16, 2010

Washington D.C. - Day One

Day one in D.C. Wake up, head on over to the main office, and jump the shuttle bus to the metro. In D.C. you can grab a day pass for nine dollars which makes perfect sense if each trip runs you four bucks. One issue – the day pass only takes effect after nine thirty in the morning. It was now eight forty five.

For the next forty five minutes we read Scott Pilgrim and past the time by doing terrible things like talking. At last the time was up, and we could pass through the turnstile, jump on the train, and get into the city. Location the first? The visitor centre. Now we found the building labeled as the centre, and in we went, after going through security and having our bags scanned. Inside there was even a label and an arrow pointing out the visitor centre, however this was not going to plan. The arrows and labels disappeared. On a map of the building there was no such marking on the layout. Lies flow freely in Washington. I know this to be true, for I grew up watching the X-Files.

A block or two over we found the White House visitor's centre which, after being security checked again, provided us with maps of the city, and other informative handouts which will no doubt be glued into my scrapbook at a future time.

Looking at the map we made our plan of attack.

I should note that it was hot out. This will come into play in a few moments.

Our first stop was to be the white house, followed by the World War II memorial, with a view of both the Lincoln memorial, an the Washington monument. We set off.

The white house? Sure it was neat to see, after having seen the iconic building so many times throughout pop culture, and news, and video games. But it would seem a whole lot more inviting if it wasn't behind such large steel bars. You can fit your camera between the bars to take pictures that make it look at lovely as it could be, but really it's cold place, given life only by the nonsensical protesters that seem to always be outside screaming about one thing or the other. Cars drive around with signs also trying to rally people against one thing or the other.

Then on to the World War II memorial, with fountains, and sparkling white contrasting the blue of the sky. It is set on an axis connecting the Washington monument, to the Lincoln memorial. It connects to the long reflecting pool that Forest Gump ran through. The pool? Not as beautiful as it looks in popular media. In real life it's stagnant water, with gunge floating around. Empty water bottles float around adding to the waters visual flavour.

As we made our way to the memorial as seen on the back of all American pennies, the heat started to over power. I accepted my shirt would become gross and disgusting, putting on my backpack, and letting the sweat build.

When we were face to giant overbearing face with honest Abe the heat became too much for some of those in my party. After suffering through much needed pictures (which may have required waiting for all number of couples to clear the shot) we retired to the cooled corner of the room. There we sat watching sweat pour forth freely, also viewing the sculpture from an angle most tourists never quite make the time to see. We would have just gone for the front on shot as well, were there no need to sit down.

From the memorial we headed to the Metro, from C street all the way up to I. This was a walk made quicker by constant whinging about the weather. And talk about how food was needed If i were to remain alive. Hot dogs were all that lined the roads – and while I can tell you that I do enjoy a little bit of street meat now and then, this was not the time for it. You could have cooked the meat on the street itself today.

Just as I was fearing my own destruction we came to the station. The station happened to be at the George Washington University Hospital. I put forward the idea that perhaps there might be a cafeteria inside. This was based on the fact that sick people, doctors, and students all enjoy food. Still, thinking of what those groups might eat here did not put me at all at ease. Until I saw the salad bar.

Now here's the thing, salad bars that are priced by weight are just asking to be taken advantage of. Leave the cucumbers and the broccoli at the counter. They weight too much with minimal payoff. Now, a pound of ham and cheese, on a blanket of lettuce, with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette? All for five dollars and fifty cents? That is value. A little cottage cheese on the side for texture.

I also contemplated a pound of the fresh berries, but there was no going back.

Who are these people paying for a pound of cucumber when there is so much better options to be found? It's like a lunch time version of the old game show, Supermarket Sweeps.

Fully fed it was off to the Smithsonian. Above ground you'll find yourself in the National Mall. There are no Baby GAPs here, or Victoria's Secrets. This mall is less for shopping, more for strips of grass. Poorly tended, dying, quite ugly – truth be told – grass. We missed the lady in the chili pepper bikini handing out free veggie dogs by just one day. I may hate PETA but I do love free food. Still, there was plenty else to see and do in this area. Namely all the Smithsonian Museums. There is but one problem – there are so so many, and relatively few hours in the day.

We started with the big one. The one I'd been wanting to see for years. The Air and Space museum.

Even Capitan Picard, hundreds of years into the fictional future went there to see the Pheonix. No doubt it would have been hanging proudly in the main gallery beside the Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, the Apolo 11 Command Module, and the X-15. All legends in the history of flight. Who knows what other advances would have, will, make their home there as the centuries wear on?

This museum is not one to be rushed. To say it will take hours to explore is quite accurate. There is the room dedicated to the history of flight showing the earliest attempts made by man to fly. If these included strapping wings to arms and legs and jumping from tall buildings to a rapid death, then so be it. Of course the first planes, and a video showing the history of those historic flying machines (narrated as if it were 1912) also make a home within the walls.

Nuclear weapons, ICBMs, all stand on display, showing the awesome destructive power as something, well, quite beautiful in a way. To see the Soviet weapons beside the Americans shows a divide in ascetics. At any time during their creation, I wonder if someone thought – these will be in a museum some day. Weapons often find themselves in galleries – but when they're shiny and new and terrible, are they ever thought of as those things we've seen in museums through the ages? No Samurai ever pictured his blade behind glass, I'm sure.

In the World War II room there is a Spitfire, which I had the privilege of seeing in flight a few years back over Lake Ontario, in Toronto. To say this plane saved the world? Well, it's possible. An overhead in a Japanese Zero, close beside the German Messerschmitt. To see, and be able to touch these pieces of history – well, tactile sensation does have a way of making something real.

Spaceship engines, and satellites, and the Lunar Lander... passenger jets, and cockpits, and all number of engines – all right there. Such a wealth of beautiful knowledge, and sights, all free for anyone to see (there are no entrance fees for these buildings) well, it's just unreal.

After exploring the many floors (finding the model of the USS enterprise – the aircraft carrier and the starship) we headed out, across the mall, to museum number two. The Natural History Museum.

Here we had time, and energy, for one floor. Just the first floor. But even that, speeding through, took some time to accomplish. The highlight? It was the underwater video – I breezed through the section, but the video which showed footage of sea life three kilometers below the oceans surface was spectacular. All the bioluminescent creatures that live where few humans have ever travelled, an the various squid and octopus – it's like glancing briefly into another world.

To think that with all we've seen, there's so much under the waves that will remain unknown to us.

Now, it's hard to believe this was my highlight when there were also dinosaurs (which are still awesome) but it was. The skeletons of various creatures could not compare this time. The deep aquatic depths are just as foreign to me as those times one hundred million years ago. Though, looking at a stegosaurus from the Jurassic, I still found it hard to believe that such things were ever real. To imagine that they walked the same Earth we do... that nothing like them remains (sure people say sharks and crocodiles, but when you see a crocodile with two brains – maybe – and a giant spiked tail, then you call me and I'll be interested)

Growing tired we grabbed the metro, and the shuttle, back to the motel where plans to nap, and shower the days grime away were formulated (after a tasty dinner at the IHOP.) There was but one problem. The light in the bathroom did not work. Why did it not work? Oh, perhaps because a flood of water was streaming from it? A flood the floor above was causing our outlet to burst with water. Electricity and our lovely H2O rarely go together at the best of times, but when right above a shower?

We called the front desk of our [take note here] Days Inn in Alexandria, VA they said there was nothing to be done. We just had to live with it. Used to hosteling I accepted this – Katherine reminded me we were paying 79.99 a night, however and that thoughts like that were out of place here. Which was correct.

We went back to the front desk only to be lied to about mysterious maintenance workers who would be on their way. Would we be offered anything other than a cold shoulder? We would not be. Letters will be written. Actually, a letter was written – it will be sent when we leave this place behind us.

Aside from this event it was quite lovely, but this was not acceptable in the world of non-budget travel. It's not four star, don't get me wrong – but when water is pouring through an electrical outlet, something more than nothing needs to happen! I'm looking at you Days Inn.

Just before falling asleep we noticed a commercial for the show DC cupcakes premiering tomorrow. DC cupcakes eh? We're in DC. We like cupcakes. Perhaps we'll have to...

and then sleep took hold.

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