We decided that Sunday should be a day on our own trying to get the lay of the land and learning how to get around in the city. We scheduled the shuttle provided by the hotel to take us to the Metro station in Ballston. It’s always a bit exciting and fun to figure out the transportation in a new unknown city and this was no different. The Metro is fairly straightforward and we managed our way around on our first day in town without any mishaps. It’s only about 15 minutes from the Ballston station to the Metro Center in the middle of downtown DC. This was fun for me because I have never actually traveled on a subway. Even my forays on the BART in the Bay Area haven’t actually been under the water.
Trying to determine exactly where we were in the city itself was challenging at first. The city isn't completely oriented on the cardinal directions and my sense of direction is so messed up here that it took days for me to get my bearings. I make maps for a living so I should be a pro! Mo laughed and decided that she should be the one to read directions in the city and leave the country directions to me.
One lesson learned it is a great city for walking and it is BIG. There are large wonderful open spaces that look deceptively short. It is misleading because of all the openness. For instance, from the west end of the Capitol Mall and the Lincoln Memorial to the east end and the Capitol it is about 3 miles. We walked a portion of the mall taking in many of the sites along the way. A perfect beginning was the exploration of the Old Post Office. The history of the building is complex and more than once it came close to being torn down. The tower tour is free and offers an excellent view of the city. It was great for our orientation and helped us get a feel for where we were located in relation to the rest of the city. Washington DC was once a swamp and the Potomac River flows to the south and west without many landscape features to use for orientation. From the tower of the Old Post Office, however, we could see in all directions. The National Cathedral is to the northwest on the highest point in the city. We could see all the way down Pennsylvania Street to the Capitol. Dominating the skyline to the south was the Washington Monument. After climbing the steps to see the 10 bells , we headed west to find the White House and see what we could of the Mall.
Most everything here is something that you have seen on TV, read about, or seen in pictures all your lives. It all feels familiar, but it is really bigger than life. in real life. It is inspiring to stand outside the fence to the White House grounds and to hear people speaking many languages. Many seemed in awe while taking photos taking photos. We all took turns at a space along the fence to get a photo of ourselves with the White House in the background.
Later, we walked along the huge grassy fields around the Washington Monument to the World War II Memorial, the reflecting pools and the white marble Lincoln Memorial. As I walked I remembered so many images from the news of protests and gatherings in this place. As our guide said today, this is the place where our freedom of speech is fully expressed. We can gather and protest here and speak our mind in this space. No dogs will attack us, no police with guns will shoot us down. The “I Have a Dream” speech rang out from these steps where I stood dwarfed by the Lincoln statue. It is moving no matter how cynical I might be sometimes about my government.
We walked along the Constitution Gardens passing a lovely pond on the way to the Viet Nam Memorial. I knew about the controversy around this memorial, the ‘black gash in the ground”, but for me it was truly beautiful. Contemplative, reflective, simple and somber. The way it should be. It is very different from the WWII memorial with its sense of pomp and ceremony.
Then, on the opposite side of the reflective pool, we saw the Korean War Memorial. The memorial was only dedicated in 1995, even though the Viet Nam Memorial has been here since 1983. The forgotten war. No wonder people were upset about the lack of a memorial honoring Korean War Veterans. The numbers are staggering. The Korean war lasted only 3 years and more than 40,000 troops were lost and more than a million United Nations troops were injured. In contrast, the Viet Nam war lasted 16 years with a similar number of casualties. No one talked much about the Korean War, and we have never signed a treaty or an armistice. It is a sobering thought.
By the time we headed back west toward the Metro Center we were darned tired and both of us had aching feet and ankles. I think we walked more than 6 miles and were really feeling it. We planned to go on to Ballston for some supper, but on the way to the station we found the Elephant Castle Pub and stopped for good fish, chips and beer. It was a perfect respite before boarding the metro for the trip home. The hotel shuttle is doing a great job of picking us up and dropping us off and the reviews that said they were never on time were just not true. They have been great!
Home to our comfortable room, a good shower, and a great night's sleep.