Back again! And in a much better mood. So let’s see if I can’t paint a prettier picture from the second DC day.
After getting a taste of what to expect from the first evening, my thinking was “Hey! Everything’s open from 8 to 5. I’ll be in DC by 8, hit the city hard, rockstar style, and grab the Metro at 5 or 6 back to my hotel.” On paper, in my head, that sounded like the perfect, most logical idea.
And it about killed me!
6AM on Friday came way too early. But up I got, grabbed a shower and breakfast, and was on the road by 7AM. And parked and on the Metro by 8AM. The Smithsonian stop was quickly becoming my second home. I had talked to my mom the night before and she mentioned how she had never been up the Washington Monument due to the line always being too long. So I figured I’d do that first, since their ticket window opened at 8:30AM for the first tour at 9AM. Turns out, I way overplayed it. I show up at 8:45AM, there’s no line at all, I grab a ticket, and wait it out for 15 minutes to be one of the first to the top for the day. I chatted it up with a lady in line with me while waiting. She was from Idaho and pumped to be going to the top. She was in DC for work and all of her meetings were canceled, so she was sight seeing until she flew out at 3PM. It was fun talking to her about her side of the country (Yellowstone, Montana, Boise, etc), but also to see her doing the same thing I was – rushing around the city with a check list of things to do before leaving. It’s fun meeting the nice people on the trip!
The trip up was pretty painless. 500 feet is the highest point you can go, which is 55 feet, 5 and 1/8 inches from the top. The guides make sure to emphasize the 1/8 of an inch for some reason. The view on the Capitol side wasn’t superb because there was still a bunch of haze that hadn’t burned off yet. But the Lincoln side was amazing! And funny enough, the height part didn’t bug me. You also couldn’t look straight down though – only out. So that probably had something to do with it.
The West view, you can see the World War II Memorial, reflection pond, and Lincoln Memorial. The South view has the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Pentagon on the far right. The East view is the Mall, the Smithsonian museums, and the US Capitol. And the north view is the White House. Pretty good overview of the city if you know what you’re looking for. And of course I didn’t. It all makes sense now though.
On the way down the monument, they slow the elevator down to show off some commemorative stones given to the construction of the monument by various governments, cities, and states. Really cool. The guide said there are over 200, which can be seen online. Who knew?
One monument/memorial down, bajillions to go! So off I went to the World War II Memorial. For whatever reason, everyone always seems to think the world of the Vietnam Memorial. But to me, this was the coolest and most impressive. It was just done better than the others, in my opinion. Also, when I was standing around taking pictures, an older man in a wheel chair was pushed up to one end of the memorial. He was a pilot in World War II visiting the memorial. Everyone was taking pictures with him, but I thought I’d just stand back and watch. Just amazing to see all of that happen.
In the middle of the long side, there’s a wall of golden stars with the saying “Here we mark the price of freedom” carved out. That was pretty moving, I thought. And I had to take a picture of a quote carved into one side by General George C. Marshall that I thought was really powerful.
“We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”
I wish I spoke that well.
Back to the Lincoln Memorial to get some pictures during the day. I like it lit up at night, but it’s still very impressive during the day. You really don’t know how big the scale is until you’re standing right next to it all. Just massive!
I’m also noticing that most of my pictures from this day are slightly crooked. Pretty sad considering all of the straight lines (steps, skyline, etc) I tried using to keep them straight.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial was next. On one side, there was a wall with a bunch of scenes and people carved into it. It was really impressive, especially since the scenes look like they were chiseled out instead of being etched. Then in the middle were a bunch of life sized sculptures of Korean War-era soldiers. One one hand, it was really cool to see. But on the other, it was a little eerie, because something about their faces or eyes wasn’t very lifelike. So it came off as a bit spooky to look at, straight on.
And finally, since I’m an equal opportunity war memorial visitor, I hopped onto the other side of the reflection pond to check out the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Like I mentioned earlier, I was a little disappointed with this one. Everyone always seems to make it out like it’s this huge, imposing wall (I thought it was two sided for some reason…). But really, it’s just dug into the ground and has names carved into it. Just not as impressive as its reputation seems to be.
With pretty much everything on the West side of the Mall checked off the list and done, I walked all the way back to the Smithsonian Metro station and headed North to see Ford’s Theatre. Rena, I won’t give you the shout out for giving me the idea to go, but you definitely increased the intrigue & interest in it with the bloody pillow comment.
It. Was. Amazing.
I was just on the phone with my dad mentioning this to him, but it’s amazing how many first hand artifacts they had in the museum part of the theatre from the surrounding events. A pillow with blood stains from Lincoln’s wound, like Rena had mentioned. The boot the doctor actually had to cut off of John Wilkes Booth’s foot. The presidential flag that hung from the booth, complete with a tear in it from JWB’s boot when he jumped down. The original door to the booth. Lincoln’s suit he wore to the play. But as one of the guides was saying, the theatre was instantly shut down due to it being a crime scene. And once Lincoln passed, I’m sure everyone made a solid effort to save any and everything once the police were finished. Just amazing to see everything in front of you.
I also learned some new things about Lincoln and his family. This actually surprised me, given how much info I’ve seen about him over the last few weeks. Tad, one of his sons, was a bit mischievous. There was one time when he stood behind Lincoln at a review of Union troops waving a Confederate flag. I literally laughed out loud in the middle of the museum at that. Too funny! He also used to charge a five cent entrance fee to the staircase leading to his dad’s offices in the White House.
There were also some pretty odd run-ins with John Wilkes Booth before the assassination. Lincoln attended a performance of The Marble Heart, which starred Booth, in 1863. Apparently he even delivered the threatening lines in the play, directing them at Lincoln by starring him down when reciting the lines. Someone in Lincoln’s party said “He looks as if he meant that for you.” And Lincoln responded with “He does look pretty sharp at me, doesn’t he?” Just crazy info! And this…
And who can really say they’ve seen all there is to see about Lincoln without eating at the Lincoln Waffle Shop? It’s right across the street from Ford’s Theatre. Not too far down the street from the house he died in (which was closed for renovations) actually. And in all honesty, it has absolutely nothing to do with Lincoln. It’s pretty much a breakfast/lunch diner. But I was hungry, it was close, breakfast sounded good, and Lincoln’s face was outlined in neon. Who could say no to that?
While stuffing my face, I busted out the DC map and went to work on finding what I wanted to do next. Since it was close and had been recommended by Ms. Jacobs, I decided on the International Spy Museum. This was also in my book as a substitution for the Pentagon since it’s no longer open to tours after September 11th. So why not!
I got there and they had several things to do other than just the museum. They have a Spy City Tour where you can take a tour of the city with an emphasis on the covertness of DC. There’s a Spy at Night tour. And Operation Spy, which is an interactive, one-hour adventure with other people as you’re all acting as spies to solve an international situation. So being the big kid I am, how could I say no to that? So Operation Spy it was! It was pretty fun! There were 9 of us. It was this whole story line about a nuclear device trigger being stolen and possibly sold on the black market. We had to track people on camera through a building, decode a phone message, physically search an office and crack a safe, interrogate a spy. Sure a bit cheesy in the grand scheme of things, but it was fun!
After that, I hit the museum. It was four levels, I think. This is where I made the big mistake of my day. It was very interesting. They had a bunch of stuff from the 50s and 60s. Nothing new…because it’s probably still being used by spies? But the HUGE downfall is that there is way too much information here. I like reading. A lot. So I tried reading a ton of the exhibits. By the time I made it down to the 2nd floor, I was tired of reading. I just blew past almost two entire floors of exhibits and information because my eyes were physically worn out from seeing so much. Less is more, people!
Exhausted, I drug myself to see the White House. I wanted to run by the visitors’ center but it had closed by 4:30PM. So I walked around the house itself to grab some pictures. Regardless of your political leanings, there’s something surreal about standing a hundred yards or so away from the house of the most powerful person in America. It’s just a symbol of power and everything our country stands for, I think.
I was trying to hang around and wait for a call from an old high school friend who lives in the area. Plans and schedules didn’t work out, which was too bad. But it was good hearing from her. And from there, I drug my frozen butt back to the Metro station to head back to Virginia for the night. My day started at 6AM and I spent 10 full hours on my feet, touring the city, taking in as much information and sites as I could. When I made it back to my hotel, I barely lasted to 10PM. That was probably the hardest I’ve slept in a long time too.
So between the walking, long hours, and information absorbed, Washington DC beat me pretty good on Friday.
But would it get the best of me on Saturday?