If you remember, the last time I stopped after describing Annapolis, Philadelphia and Baltimore, where, where I paused on my way towards Washington D.C..
So let’s talk about the US capital, Washington D.C. If you’re staying at the Youth Hostel, part of the US HI network, you’ll be just a 10 minutes’ walk from the White House and 15 from the National museum of US history and nature. In that case a car is the last thing you’d need. You won’t really need public transport either, as basically all of the sights are at a walking distance.
Washington became the capital city, when the states of Maryland and Virginia decided – at the end of 18th century – to devote a part of their territory to a separate state, but neither more than 10 square miles. This is how the District of Columbia (DC) got formed. It was then that the capital was moved from Philadelphia. The history of Washington is clearly visible in its buildings, architecture, memorial sights and museums, which you really should take the tame to visit.
Most of the sights of Washington are free of charge, but in some cases you need to get a free ticket in advance. To visit Pentagon you have to send a notice ahead and await confirmation, but for the George Washington monument you can get the ticket the same day – you just need to be early enough (I suggest around eightyish in the morning). Just stand in line for the free ticket, which includes the elevator ride to the top of the monument, from where you can see the whole of Washington, Columbia District and parts of both Virginia and Maryland. The monument got a rather R-rated nickname, due to its shape, but you should not mention that, as there are people who find the comparison anything but humorous.
You will need to get a free ticket for visiting the capitol as well. It’s the most noticeable building in entire Washington DC if not the whole of the US. Visits are possible only in a group and you should not wonder away from your group as it will lead to you being escorted out of the building. That is nothing unusual, knowing that the building is the place where both the levels of decision makers do their work and is therefore full of political decision makers, with the real need for strict security.
Most of the museums are located at the National mall, which stretches for 3 kilometres from the capitol towards the Abraham Lincoln memorial. The number of museums means you will spend at least a day if you want a glance at each of them. So let’s at least mention them: The US national history museum, The national art gallery, The natural history museum, The national flight and space museum, The national museum of Native Americans, The botanical garden and the before mentioned US Capitol with the library of congress, connected to the capitol by an underground tunnel, so you will not need two security checks. Next to The national park of sculptures is The national archive you can visit for free. Entering any of the mentioned buildings will subject you to a security check, resembling a check at the airport. You are allowed to take pictures in all the museums, except at the national archive, which hosts the most sensitive documents in the US, including the Declaration of independence, the constitution and the bill of rights. In short, the archive is a definite must on to see list if you’re visiting DC.
Among museums that do charge you for a ticket, I’d definitely recommend two (if you’re interested in the topic): The museum of crime www.crimemuseum.org
and the international museum of spying www.spymuseum.org
. The museum of crime features anything from police equipment and vehicles, the history of crime, a gas chamber and an electric chair… but you can also try your skills at safe cracking, jail breaking or join the police action of finding a criminal, whom you can (in self-defence only – naturally) even shoot with a real police gun. You can also try out the lie detector and make your own fingerprint.
The international museum of spying offers gadgets used in the craft and the history of espionage. A large portion of the museum is dedicated to the period of the cold war, but there’s also an entire floor dedicated to James Bond. There you can see the silver Jaguar fully equipped, as well as Q’s gadgets from many films. You can also try to hang on to the wing of an aircraft or deactivate a nuclear bomb. So – there’s many things to see and do!
And no visit of DC would be complete without a photo of the White House, which you can theoretically also visit, but not as a tourist. It would have to be done in the company of the ambassador of your country.
Panda lovers simply must visit the ZOO. It’s a very nice ZOO in a lovely park, but is not much different from most of the other ZOOs you might se just about anywhere. Neither the size nor the animals are anything out of the ordinary – except for PANDAS! The pandas live in their natural habitat, within the ZOO, so if you’re into these black and white bears, this ZOO will the right thing for you!
Outside the area of »The National Mall« you should definitely visit the Arlington military cemetery, which is on the other side of the Arlington memorial bridge, but already in the state of Virginia. It’s a well-tended to cemetery, where, next to the fallen soldiers, you will also find the graves of the astronauts… but most people stop to visit the grave of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in Dallas in an event that still produces many new conspiracy theories as to why and how it happened.
But the biggest attraction is the city itself – as a whole – as it is a completely monumental city that shows off order, power and history of the US. The symmetrical streets, wide avenues, mighty buildings, colossal monuments… it’s what you will remember Washington for! If you ever thought that megalomaniac monuments are typical for the former communist countries, Washington will set the record straight, proving you wrong.
But off course, Washington’s broad area also has places, where you’ll feel like visiting a smaller town. Alexandria is just such a place, for it’s a town where time has stopped. Alexandria is a historically significant part of the broader Washington area, as George Washington made it part of the DC in 1791, but the state government returned it to Virginia in 1846. Even if the Washington underground line runs to Alexandria, it is still an independent town with 150.000 people on the banks of the Potomac River. Between the underground station and the river there’s also a free bus, which really is unnecessary, as it has so many stops the time of the ride is no faster than a walk.