Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Day 24: Walking Washington

The weather forecast called for deteriorating conditions as the week progresses, so we decided to take our first day outdoors on a walking tour of the buildings and monuments of the city.

But the first problem was getting tickets for the subway. It took us several days last year to figure out Amsterdam's tickets. Well, the Metro here advertises itself as "safe and simple to use". Like their ticket machines.
Whoa, nellie
It could be as simple as "I am here and want to go there". The machine would reply "That's $2.10". You would pay and get tickets. But no. Here, you look the fare up on the table in the upper right corner by finding the station. Then you need to know the time of day (fares change 3 times a day). Then you enter the fare you have calculated. Then you hope you're right.

Anyway, we started our tour where you should start: The White House.
Note the 2 dudes on the roof 
The lights are on
Next comes the two toned Washington Monument (construction was paused during the Civil War and restarted using different stone).
You see this everywhere. Stay tuned for more shots
Then to the WW2 Memorial, where veterans were doing ceremonies.
One side for each side 
One tower for each state 
One whole lot of vets
Next the Vietnam Veteran's memorial.
Tons of kids
There's a lot of names on that one. 58,272 names.

Then came the Lincoln Memorial.
Perhaps the statue's perspective could have been better
A moving spot, though
Great views from here back towards the Captiol building.
Note the pool and the mall 
The designer of the city was good
The reflecting pool is empty, undergoing repairs, and most of the National Mall is torn up for new grass or something.

Then came the Korean War Memorial, strangely built only in 1995, more than a few years after that war was finished.
More traditional?
Thence to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
"Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope"
Then the incredibly (unjustifiably?) large FDR Memorial, with 4 concourses and multiple fountains -- and his dog.
One of 4 bronze statues 
The dog was a nice addition. Made the country a better place.
Thence to the Thomas Jefferson memorial.
From across the tidal pool 
Nice ceiling
From the other side of the pool
And all the while, the Washington monument stands visible from most places.
From the FDR memorial 
From the Jefferson memorial. White House on the left
Speaking of the White House, Mr. Obama arrived while we were there.
Marine 1
...after the place was buzzed by police and secret service helicopters.
300' over the tidal pool
Washington has more than monuments. One example:
Note the French styled building next door, too
In fact, Washington is a beautifully laid out city with wonderful architecture. The only downside to this is that all the architecture is Greco-roman, which the Greeks and the Romans do better. At least you can time the buildings in Europe by the column caps (Ionic, Doric or Corinthian). Here, it's mix and match based on what looked good to the architect. The city was designed and laid out by a Frenchman, hence the plethora of French styled buildings and gardens. Which Paris does better. So if you have never been to Europe, this city is fabulous. If you've been to Europe, it looks like someone tried to copy a lot of the features of Europe. Not a bad copy, but a copy none the less.

We loved the Lincoln memorial. We liked the Jefferson and the Korean War one, and were split on the Washington Monument. We were puzzled by the absence of a WW1 monument (reason: it's in Kansas City). But none of the memorials touched us at all, and none came close to moving us like visiting the Menin Gate did. There's about the same number of names on the Menin Gate as on the Vietnam memorial. One brought us to tears. The other didn't move us at all. I wonder.

We were, however, touched by the endless hypocrisy of the messages. Like Mr. Jefferson writing a Declaration of Independence promising equality and justice for all (then writing a Constitution that declared slaves as 3/5th of a person). Mr. Lincoln fighting a Civil War for equality and justice for all. Mr. King, quite a few years later, fighting for equality and justice for all in the Civil Rights movement. Today, gays and lesbians fight to marry. Seems the Americans haven't figured out the concept of equality, and it's only been 250 years and 44 Presidents since they wrote it down in the first place. But I digress.

After our walking tour, we started our exploration of the various Smithsonian Museums. We started at Natural History, which turned out to be a tired, old style, very big but very boring place. In 1904, the then director of the Smithsonian "discovered" the Burgess Shales in Canada and over the space of 5 years, took tons of one of a kind fossils out. This is all that there is to see:
3 small display cases
The animal section was full of big critters they found, killed, stuffed and brought back to show the world in the 1800's. Except that now we know what an elephant or a platypus or a giraffe looks like, so I'm not sure why they're still on display.

About the only display of note was the artifacts from the Chilean mine rescue of 2010.
The actual rescue capsule 
Watches, bibles 
I'm hoping the other Smithsonians are better. Stay tuned for more days in Washington.

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