Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trip to Washington DC


It's been awhile since my husband and I have traveled far from port in Eastern Washington—on the Idaho border where we live. But when Southwest Airlines handed us two flight vouchers during an unscheduled flight delay last Thanksgiving, it opened the skies for a
U.S. Capitol Building
(We accessed from underground via a tunnel system,
thanks to an intern in our congressman's office at
the Rayburn House Office Building across the street;
just contact your district's congressman for information)
future trip (other than our usual jaunts to Utah and California). Vince and I just couldn't resist seeing a part of the country we've never seen before. And what better place could there be to visit than Washington DC, with the election just around the corner? But all politics aside (because Washington DC offers so much more), I discovered a writer's paradise when it comes to research and entertaining new ideas. Virtually all of the museums (with the exception of a few private ones) are free and exceptional in quality.

We began our Smithsonian tours on the fourth floor of the National Museum of American History and worked our way down through decades of history in about 4 hours. But we could have easily spent a day there—me, maybe two. We just had too much to fit in (only 3 days in DC). And with a background in American Studies, that wasn’t easy for me. The Americans at War display is especially good. It covers the Revolutionary War and upward through present day wars. What a thrill it was to see a life size model of one of our founding fathers, George Washington, wearing his original Revolutionary War uniform—blue wool coat, breeches and knee-high black boots; he was surprisingly tall and long-armed . . . Others are similarly depicted and the authenticity of each display is impressive. http://americanhistory.si.edu/militaryhistory/exhibition/flash.html?path=1.3.r_763

Washington National Monument.
(A constant presence wherever we
went; larger than expected; closed
for repairs due to earthquake Aug)
The display of the American flag created after the War of 1812 is inspiring. The flag is spread out flat under glass like a giant bedspread, all tattered and torn but as proud it seems as those who made and fought for it. It's the same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled banner. "Oh, say can you see . . ." Can't you just hear it?

Moving on to other displays depicting our era and culture, I discovered Julia Child’s complete kitchen. What fun! I know of no one else who has made cooking such fun, French no less.

Unfortunately, the rest of the display was blocked off  from view (for remodeling), but I could still hear Julia’s cute accented speech in my mind. “Bon app├ętit!” Wasn't Meryl Streep's recent interpretation of Julia in the movie Julie and Julia great?

 Another section documents the lives of our past presidents (and current); the gowns of the first ladies also displayed here are a rare visual treat; you really get a sense of the culture and fashion of the day. Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style dresses are especially stunning, and I understand she had a personality to match. And Michelle Obama's inaugural gown is lovely. 
 
We also did a quick tour of the Natural Museum of History, which is wonderful for families with children because of all the bones and dinosaurs (and mummies if not too gross). I’m afraid I rushed through this section too fast to benefit. Many of the skeletons are cast replicas, so that was a disappointment. I did think the precious gem exhibit was rather interesting. The famous Hope Diamond is on display, which I loved seeing since I had to research precious gems for a famous ruby I invented in my book. There is an amazing story behind this diamond. 


Perhaps the biggest highlight, since Vince is a pilot and I’m his passenger occasionally, was the Air and Space Museum. Holy moly
Apollo II - space capsule
. . . the actual lunar capsule that brought Neil Armstrong and his crew back home from the moon is on display! Where were you when they first landed on the moon in 1969?   was sitting at a switchboard taking calls as a long distance telephone operator
for Pacific Northwest Bell in Tacoma, WA. One by one, my co-workers and I were given breaks so we could watch the moon landing on TV. Pretty exciting day.

And Orville and Wilbur Wright’s original plane and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis! I had forgotten how much I love Lindbergh’s wife (Anne) and her writing, although I’ve only read one of her books, A Gift from the Sea. Anne Lindbergh wrote twelve more, I discovered; I plan to read at least two of those books, North to the Orient (1935) and Listen! The Wind (1938); both describe her and Charles’ world travels in their Lockheed Sirius airplane (purchased in 1929). I can’t wait. Anne was Charles’ co-pilot apparently and sat behind him in their tandem cockpit. My pilot husband who built a tandem RV8) of course found this interesting as well. Although I'm far from being his co-pilot; does 'white-knuckle' ring any bells? Well . . . needless to say, we visited this museum twice.

The Wright Flyer (Orville and Wilbur Wright 
were bicycle builders and mechanics by trade)
Vince at his favorite museum :)

Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, 1st soloflight ever across the Atlantic Ocean

Admiring the Charles and Anne Lindbergh display
(Behind, a replica of the Lockheed Sirius plane they flew)








Aviator face masks (with oxygen tubes) worn
by pilots in the 1920s and 1930s
We also saw the Holocaust Museum, which is a sobering, emotional experience. That there are those in existence today who still believe this ghastly period in history never happened to Jewish people just boggles the mind. The massacre also included non-Jews who were judged by the Nazis to be racially, religiously, culturally, mentally, and socially inferior; as well as bystanders who attempted to help and were arrested. Few children survived the holocaust, I learned. At the Auschwitz Concentration Camp alone, the policy was to exterminate all children under 15! The museum gives each visitor a passport with the name and biography of someone who had actually died, adding to the effect. There is also a special area designed for families with young children. I didn't have time to see this section, but I've been told it's exceptionally well done.


Library of Congress
 Lastly, we toured the Capitol (thanks to our district congressman), the Library of Congress (wow—another amazing research source); the Lincoln Memorial (hmm…for some reason I thought it was bronze like the penny (ha-ha); Vince thought it was bigger), the National Monument (damaged in an August earthquake), the Viet Nam Memorial (quiet, sobering), and the White House lawn on Pennsylvania Avenue (last of all). A funny thing happened at the Library of Congress that we still laugh about. Vince and his brother were shushed by a librarian at the Library of Congress. Vince is rather proud of that moment . . . but then, he and librarians have never quite gotten along. (A date at the library when we were sixteen is one of our best stories).
 


The White House was a special treat, because as we were walking towards it, three (?) ‘White House’ helicopters (Vince saw four) suddenly appeared overheard and landed on the other side. We didn’t see the president or the first family, but there was definite excitement in the air (and security personnel were everywhere on top of buildings and on the ground). 

Vince and brother on path to Lincoln Memorial
  
Lincoln Memorial

Statue on grounds at Vietnam Memorial

White House (Pennsylvania Avenue); next time we hope
 to tour; tours are limited and difficult to get due to
 high security; apply well in advance.








Protestor across street from White House


Old Ebbitt Grill
(Food and service great!)

We left for dinner—one block over across from the Department of Treasury—to a restaurant called Old Ebbitt Grill, which I dubbed “Old Debit Grill.” The evening (our last night in DC) was topped off by a protest march that paraded by in front as we waited. They moved so fast, I'm still not sure what exactly they were protesting.

Protest Marchers




Weather was hot and muggy for the first week in October (high 70’s, low 80’s) all three days, and our legs got a more than expected workout (hotel was wrong about walking distances!). But it was SO-SO worth it. I came home with a renewed sense of patriotism and a pride in our country’s achievements, despite all the flack in the news and uncertainty our nation faces right now. An intern from American University, the young man who gave us a guided tour of the Capitol and House of Representatives, did a great job instilling hope in our country’s future leaders.

Go to DC if you’ve never gone before . . . I don’t know why we put this off so long!












Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl

1 comment:

"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.

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