My rogue United States of America entry here, in that I’m not writing about a State – it’s actually a Federal District. Of course I can only be talking about Washington DC, formerly the District of Colombia and hence the initials. Now this really is a place of museums, walking, famous sites and learning. Best of all – it’s pretty much all free!
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
REFLECTING POOL | I was lucky enough to land one stunning day of two in DC, so hired a bike and made a point of seeing as much as I possibly could. Which was tiring but good. The Reflecting Pool was my favourite spot by far, walking from the Washington Monument up towards the Lincoln Memorial. The spire, pool and Lincoln himself are all so off-the-scale iconic that you can’t fail to feel like you’re either on a movie set (think Forest Gump) or watching the BBC 10 o’ clock. Also check out: Lincoln Memorial itself was a highlight, as well as walking the full length of the National Mall which takes you to the Capitol Building.
SPACE MUSEUM | I saved the ‘indoor stuff’ for my second day, and of the three museums I went to, this was by far the best. I think the layout and excessive amount of information on offer could do with a bit of a curator overhaul (it felt overwhelming and thus inaccessible: hard work to digest). However the space history is JUST. TOO. AWESOME. You can see many of the original space modules that actual people launched out of this atmosphere in (!!!), and it is mind-blowing. Most of the modules look like something a 5-year-old has super-glued together as part of their Blue Peter project. Also check out: The National Museum of National History, including fascinating giant sloth skeletons.
WHITE HOUSE | oh hiya Obama. You in? I found it quite bizarre just strolling up to the perimeter gates of this famous home, and getting surprisingly close. What was even more unexpected was the lack of crowds (again largely due to starting at a decent time in the morning – I was probably there by about 10am).
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
MUSEUM OF NATIVE AMERICANS | this was another smaller stop on my museum day, recommended to break up the beasts that are the Space Museum and the Natural History Museum – both easily commanding a day if that’s your bag. Now my real highlight of this museum was the honestly incredible lunch canteen haha. It has so many good options to choose from, based on traditional food for five areas of the Northern Woodlands, South America, Northwest Coast, Mesoamercia and Great Plains.
POST OFFICE TOWER | no doubt I read this tip-off in Lonely Planet – so not-so-secret at all – but considering how great the panoramic views are, there was hardly anyone there with me. Granted, I did get there early in the morning, but nothing too uncivilised. Built in 1899, the Old Post Office’s clock tower houses the Congress Bells, a Bicentennial gift from England commemorating friendship between the nations. Please note: I read the Tower is closed until 2016 undergoing major renovations.
GEORGETOWN | on the first day when I had the bike, I cycled away from all the sights and further on to M Street (which seemed kind of officey, with lots of suited workers lunching), going further still to Georgetown. This suburb felt like a fairly upmarket area with shops and lovely delis to mooch around, as well as famous bakery Georgetown Cupcake which has featured on several TV series.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
DUO HOUSING HOSTEL | this place won ‘best US hostel in 2013’ (note – this was the same year I was actually there), yet I really couldn’t figure out how. The location is decent enough, and it’s big if you’re set on meeting people. From memory there were rooftop style events and free brekkie, but more importantly it seemed dirty and tired. And the final grotty straw? 12 bed dorms are the smallest option. So not up for that anymore. If ever.
CROWDS | the key in DC is definitely to get up early and beat the mega crowds. I found some of the iconic sites surprisingly uncrowded, like the White House and Capitol Building, but others like the Lincoln Memorial were piled high with selfie-stick wielding tourists. However note that it is the major museums that are most testing of the old patience levels: queues; school groups; dawdlers; noise, and all en mass.
SOULLESS | one of my observations about Washington DC, and don’t get me wrong I really enjoyed my two days there, is that it feels a bit ‘empty’ in the character stakes. I compare this feeling to how people feel towards Canberra in Australia – yes, it’s the capital, but it’s famous for politics, porn and fireworks. It doesn’t attract fans like the beaches of Sydney or culture of Melbourne. DC for me is kind of the same: a tourist attraction by default, rather than a cosmopolitan city that beckons you back time and time again with rich layers of a vibrant, diverse society. Far from it.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
THE FRIDGE GALLERY | Washington DC is so jam-packed with famous monuments and museums on just about everything, it is pretty hard not to be blind-sided by these major points of interest. But I should have been more adventurous, and Karla Zimmerman for Lonely Planet writes up a decent ‘alternatives’ list here. I like the sound of The Fridge Gallery that specialises in street art, and you have to follow the murals and graffiti to find the public art display finale.
AND KNOW THIS: When President Woodrow Wilson had to move out of the White House at the end of his term, Prohibition forbade him from moving his precious wine collection. He appealed to Congress and passed a special law that allowed one person to transport alcohol from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Wilson’s home. One rule for us and another for them, hey.