Day 1…Travel to Washington
Our next destination was Washington and we decided to do this by road to soak in the feel of an American road trip .After the usual internet searches, we decided to take the Greyhound ( the government interstate buses)
We were dropped off at the Port authority bus terminal which is just a block away from Times Square.Needed some convincing from the cabbie that we were at the right place!The entrance looked like a small door in the midst of a busy thoroughfare!Once we were inside, it was a different world in itself!Really surprising to see so much activity going on below; unmindful of the activity in the streets above.Amazing to see such far sighted planning and implementation; way back in 1950.
The bus ride was comfortable with push back seats and the bus had a toilet too.The distance to be covered was approximately 370 km took around four and a half hours.The fare from New York to Washington is only around 15 dollars…very reasonable.
Once the bus left the terminus, it crossed over to New Jersey through the underwater tunnel.There are two such tunnels…..the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the Washington bridge that connects Manhattan to New Jersey.Then we were on the highway for a major part of the journey.
We crossed New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Baltimore on the way and were dropped off at the Washington union station bus terminus.
After some snacks and coffee at the station, we were to take the metro to Shady grove station where we were to be picked up by a friend.Then was the process of buying tickets from the vending machine seemed a little challenging in the beginning but we managed to do it.There are clear sign boards and so we easily located our platform and boarded the train.Even in the train, there are maps with exact stations on the route and where to change over in case you want to go elsewhere.Life becomes so much easier when there is proper organisation…
In the train we found ourselves among the regular office goers….That’s the advantage of taking public transport…you really get to feel the local pulse…Living and housing costs in DC being much higher than the national average; the more affordable adjoining states of Maryland and Virginia are the choice
We were picked up from the station by our friend who was our host. He actually lives in a place called Monrovia in Maryland. After meeting his family and having a sumptuous Indian dinner, we crashed for the day.
After a breakfast with the family, we were dropped off at the same metro station and we took the train to union station.
We decided to take Big Bus here too ( like we did in New York) and purchased the necessary tickets from the agent at the station itself.
The first monument that you pass is the Capitol, and then the bus winds its way on the National Mall.The entire National Mall area has monuments, memorials and museums.For people who are not particularly interested in getting into each of these memorials, a ride on the bus gives a quick roundup.It is next to impossible to see everything in detail…so the best option is to decide on your choices and alight there.
The National Mall is a landscaped park with tree lined avenues and it houses many memorials and museums like the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.It also houses some of the most treasured museums in the world…The Smithsonians.
Our first stop was at Washington Monument.
Built to commemorate George Washington, the first president of USA,it is a hollow Egyptian style Obelisk……surrounded by a row of the US national flags.
Construction started in 1848 but was halted for a few years due to the civil war and lack of funds.The colour of the stone used during the first and second phases of construction was different. The difference in colour between the top and bottom of the monument is due to this .
The Washington Monument
Next we visited the Lincoln Memorial
Built in 1868, this memorial is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and externally resembles a Greek temple.The monument has highly symbolic elements…the 36 columns representing the 36 states at the time of his death, and 48 festoons above representing the 48 states in 1922.There are three main chambers and the central one houses a statue of Abraham Lincoln.
The Lincoln Memorial
Boarding the Big Bus, we passed by the Jefferson Memorial
Built in memory of President Thomas Jefferson, it lies on the banks of the Tidal basin on the Potomac and houses his statue.The highlight of this monument is the cherry trees planted near it…a gift from Japan.If you visit this monument at the right time, you can have a visual treat of the cherry blossomed avenue.
The Jefferson Memorial
World WAR II Memorial
Built to honour the soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in WW II, this is also a memorial of national significance.Consisting of 56 pillars representing the states and two arches surrounding a fountain,it was dedicated by President Bush in 2004.There is also a freedom wall with gold stars representing the Americans who died in the war.
The pillars at WWII Memorial
As I said earlier, it’s almost impossible to cover all the monuments separately, so we drove past them on the bus which did offer reasonably good views.
A description of the National Mall is incomplete without a mention of the Smithsonian.Named after its founding donor James Smithson, they are a group of museums and research centres. There are 11 museums and galleries on the Mall and several others elsewhere.Entry to all these are free….the goal being Diffusion of Knowledge
Some of the museums are:
Air and space museum
Museum of Natural History
Museum of American History
Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden etc
Needless to say, it is almost impossible to cover all these.
So we decided to visit the their flagship museum……the Air and space Museum
Air and Space Museum
It is indeed an awe inspiring museum and is a centre for research in spaceflight.Exhibits of aircraft from the Wright Brothers era to the latest are seen here.Spacecraft, missiles, rockets , space artefacts are exhibited here.A planetarium and Imax Theatre form part of the Complex.A space enthusiast can spend hours looking at the exhibits.
National Air and Space Museum
Due to time constraints, we spent only around an hour there and decided to head back home for the day.
In anticipation of another exciting day, we followed our earlier schedule and reached union station DC by 9am. Seeing The White House and doing a Potomac Cruise was on our agenda.The bus took us on The Mall once again and dropped us off at the Wharf for the cruise.
Since it was early in the morning, we were among the few people for the Cruise.As we sailed down the Potomac, we could identify many of the monuments on the Mall which we had visited the previous day.We also saw the Arlington Cemetery and The Ronald Reagan Airport which are actually in Virginia.
The first halt was at Alexandria Pier, which has a quaint old world charm about it. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the banks of the Potomac.A leisurely evening is probably the time to visit Alexandria.
After a half hour halt at Alexandria, we sailed to the National Harbour. There are many US Navy institutions near here. We did see an aircraft marked US 1 there. After the National harbour, we returned to the wharf to be picked up again by the bus.
This time, we took a different loop of the bus which goes to the Virginia side.As we traveled around in Washington DC we found ourselves moving between Maryland, Virginia and DC.This is due to the peculiar history of the formation of DC from the states of Maryland and Virginia
It is essential to give a brief history to understand the geography of these three territories; as we travel along.In 1790, the US Congress established a territory which would be the permanent seat of the Federal government.This territory was named District of Columbia after Christopher Columbus.President George Washington chose this place on the Potomac River and it was named after him.That explains the name Washington DC.The adjacent states of Virginia and Maryland ceded land to this new territory.The Virginia portion was subsequently returned…This explains the close intermingling of the two states and DC.In fact as you travel along, you will often crisscross Maryland and Virginia.
Our next destination was The Arlington Cemetery.
It might sound a little odd to the lesser exposed ; that, a cemetery is a tourist spot.Well, this needs some elaboration.
Cemeteries are very different in this part of the world!They are so well landscaped and maintained and spread over vast areas.I saw such a cemetery first when I visited Canada and it really hit me!!!The reverence shown to the place of final rest of ancestors is something to be seen.
Now Coming to Arlington specifically,
Arlington Cemetery is a military cemetery and hold your breath…..it is spread over 639 acres!!!Located in Virginia across The Potomac, it is the final resting place of many Americans who died in conflicts starting from the Civil War.
The Arlington Cemetery
We just spent a few minutes there strolling along the well manicured lawns and seeing some of the tombs.
Took the bus again which actually took us away from the Mall.Here we did see the streets of actual Washington city .
We then headed to Madam Tussaud’s Museum
The museum in Washington is much smaller than the others I have visited.So it was a bit of a disappointment.The exhibits relate mainly to dignitaries of the US …that too very limited.So if you have seen it elsewhere, and there are time constraints, it can be skipped!
At Madam Tussaud’s….
After seeing the wax replicas, we decided to see the President in person and went to the White House!!!President Trump was the president at the time of our visit.
The White House
This neoclassical style building is the official residence of the President of The USA.It also houses the offices of the Presidents staff and Vice President.Due to security constraints, we could not get anywhere close by.Sitting on the White House grounds and enjoying the ambiance around is all that we could do.Pennsylvania Avenue, where it is located is shut to the public.At the time of our visit, the height of boundary walls were being increased and hence there were temporary structures there.
The White House
Our next stop was The US Capitol
The US Capitol
Located on Capitol Hill, on The National Mall, it is the meeting place of the US Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the US Federal government.This is also built in neoclassical style and has a white exterior.The structure draws heavily from well known churches and buildings in Europe like the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican and St Paul’s Cathedral in London.Like most of the National Mall, it has lush green lawns and we did enjoy the rest there after being on our feet the whole day.
The US National Library known as the Library of the Congress also functions at Capitol Hill.
The US Capitol
Finishing off day 3 at the Capitol, we walked to Union Station and headed home.
Our last day at Washington, we decided to take it little easy.
This is essential in long trips like what we did…a day to just laze around…to help soak in local ambience.
We walked around the local community, visited their garden and play area etc .What struck me was the importance given for open spaces, parks and recreation areas in all communities.Lot of effort and planning goes into this …not only here but in many countries.That makes a lot of difference in the quality of life of its inhabitants.Something that should be an example in town planning.
There is a Hindu Temple close by.Our host took us to the temple and also visited the priest who is his friend.It was news to me that it is easier to migrate to the US as a priest than most other professions.Their residence permits etc follow different rules and time frames.The daughter of the priest enthralled us with a brilliant Bharat Natyam performance.Perhaps we would not give that much importance to a temple visit or a dance performance when we are here.
It is really strange how INDIAN we feel when we are abroad…alas..the strange ways of the human mind!!!
With these thoughts, we finished our Washington leg of the journey. Next Destination…Chicago