Posted by: robinson2000 | August 6, 2011

Back to the States – Washington DC

1st – 7th August

After having a great time in Rio, it was strange to once again be travelling alone as I flew up to the East Coast of the United States to finish off my trip with a visit to Washington DC and New York City. I took a cab to Rio’s International airport, taking in my last glimpses of South America and giving the last of my change to a street kid. Security was refreshingly relaxed in Rio so it took next to no time to enter the departure lounge and wait for my first flight to Miami to depart. I had paid for the cheapest flight at the time and it certainly showed as the leg room was minimal and the cabin crew couldn’t give a monkeys. We were initially delayed for two hours as an announcement from the captain informed us there was a technical problem with the landing gear and we were towed to a maintenance bay for service. As we were waiting I got chatting to a nervous American sitting next to me who had a serious fear of flying at the best of times. After getting through the usual topics of conversation where I found out he was once a high-flying Wall St stock broker, about to get married and buy a house, we got onto the topic of Brazilian women. It must have been his pre-flight jitters as this very normal straight-laced type of guy began to tell me in graphic detail of all his infidelities with other, mainly Brazilian women over his past few visits. Trapped next to the window I was forced to listen in disbelief for the next hour as he proudly rattled off his conquests. Thankfully the plane eventually took off and I was able to steer him back to his nervous self with a few well-timed remarks about some unexplained rattling coming from the wing. We landed in Miami 8 hours later where after a short 4 hour transit, I was able to catch the 2 hour flight to Washington DC.

It felt very odd to be in a place where I could read & understand all of the signs, easily communicate with people and generally didn’t have to worry too much about my safety after dark. In a funny way, I kind of missed South America as I took the Washington Metro to my hostel, only 3 blocks from the White House. It didn’t take long to settle into the American way of life as I found a bar a couple of blocks away and sat at the bar eating my burger and watching the baseball.

Washington offers an incredible amount of historical sights and places to visit considering its relatively short 250-year-old history. I had allocated 6 days to the city and I ended up being exhausting myself as I crammed in as much as possible. I began with a walk around the White House, which is amazingly small but heavily guarded by SS guys with guns. In fact, all of the museums, memorials and government buildings are heavily patrolled by security guards and Capitol Policemen, all of who carry guns and take themselves way too seriously. They say America is the land of the free and that personal liberty is guaranteed, but it seems you have to forsake that right as you go through the most vigorous security checks whenever you enter a building in Downtown DC. The US Capitol Building was particularly infuriating as drinks and food were prohibited and had to be thrown away before entering. Aerosols were obviously banned, which left the security guards furrowing their brows as they studied my asthma pump.

After being subjected to the security measures, the museums and government buildings are well worth visiting. The highest court in the land, the US Supreme Court was a fascinating place and we were able to see the courtroom where the Chief Justice sits and the other eight Associate Justices. Opposite this is the US Capitol Building, which apart from being visually spectacular, was very interesting as I was able to sit in the gallery of both the House of Representatives and the Senate House and witness a couple of debates. An underground walkway leads from the US Capitol Building to the Library of Congress and houses a beautiful reading room. As you head west along The Mall, you have a vast array of museums such as the Museum of American History, which houses the hat of Abraham Lincoln when he was shot dead at Ford’s Theatre. Next to this is the Museum of Natural History, which unfortunately was overrun by small screaming children, but did house an exceptional exhibit about marine wildlife including a scale model of a Right Whale and a 40 ft. long female Giant Squid. Opposite these two museums is the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, which houses such things as the Predator Drone, the Apollo 11 Command Module, US & Soviet Rockets with nuclear capabilities, and my personal favourite the Howard Hughes H1, which at the time broke the airspeed record. Further west along The Mall is the brilliant but sobering Holocaust Museum, and also the National Achieves where I viewed originals of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. To supplement this array of museums is the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the Marine Corps Memorial along with many famous buildings such as the Watergate Hotel, Hoovers FBI building and the US Post Office building. Did I also mention that all of these fantastic sights are completely FREE to get into.

In between seeing the sights, I managed to see the Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves for only $10. My seat was high up in the nosebleeds, but I did witness something called a “grand-slam” where the bases are loaded and the batter hits a home run meaning the team scores 4 runs. It seemed a pretty big deal to the home supporters as the fans went nuts with everyone high-fiving each other. I was able to sit down at the end of the innings after high-fiving about twenty people in my section. The hostel was very good at organising little tours around the city so I tagged along on a tour of Georgetown where the guide showed us John F Kennedys former house, the steps featured on the cover of The Exorcist and Georgetown University.

Overall Washington is a great city to visit if you’re in to politics and history, and don’t mind doing a lot of walking. Tomorrow is a comparatively short 4 hour bus to my final destination, New York City.   

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  1. Blimmin ‘eck, looks like there’s a shed-load to visit in DC. I love that memorial with the soldiers wading through with their rain capes on. Is that an aluminium tree btw?!

    • You would really enjoy Washington Rob being a big West Wing fan. Shame its incredibly difficult to obtain a tour around the White House. You have to go through your state senator in order to organise one. The soldiers in the rain capes is the Korean War Memorial – quite a strange tribute i thought. Yes that is an aluminium tree or some sort of metal. It was part of a number of sculptures in a garden that i found. Any old excuse for art these days!

  2. Oh DC, I miss you!

    So much to do, you could spent weeks there just wandering. Didn’t fancy taking the city bikes out then? Probably a good idea!

    • Yes I see why you liked it here so much. Did you visit the Capitol City brewery just down the road from the hostel? Didn’t have time for the bikes in the end.

  3. Welcome back to the relatively ‘sane world’..We found Washington a bit stuffy but N.Y is great to walkabout. Enjoy.
    S & M x

    • Thanks S & M, I don’t know about sane world, they are Americans after all! The temperature has been about 35 – 40 degree all week and really humid so walking anywhere left you a sticky mess. Hopefully NYC will be slightly cooler. Hope to see you soon. Ben xxx

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