We have visited our nation’s capital many times but never to see the cherry blossoms in the spring. As we planned our trip to Raleigh, NC we realized that we would be arriving in North Carolina, just a five hour drive to D.C., in time for the Cherry Festival. We left the trailer at the Falls Lake State Recreation Area and, in Elisabeth’s car, the three of us drove to Washington , D.C.
We arrived on Monday afternoon, checked into the hotel, and took the Metro (subway) to the National Mall. We wandered around the Tidal Basin and enjoyed looking at the cherry trees in bloom. We visited the World War II Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial. We strolled along following the cherry trees, we took in the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. I am always impressed by the way the creators of these memorials are able to capture and display the essence of the subject of each memorial – the stark silence of the Vietnam Memorial as you descend to the wall, the weariness of the troops in the Korean War Memorial, the way MLK is anchored in rock, and the quotes of FDR and the wheels of his chair hidden in his statue.
The next morning we had planned to go to the Smithsonian National Zoo, but it was raining and we opted to make the Smithsonian Museum of American History our first stop. I love American history and could have spent a week there, the exhibits are so well done. We spent a lot of our time at the exhibit on the history of food, yes they have an exhibit on food. I never knew there were so many different lids for coffee cups!
It was both intriguing and disturbing to see things you remembered like TV trays and TV dinners displayed as history. What does it say about you when the things you remember like they were yesterday are on display in a museum, sort of makes you feel old. We even saw an early version of today’s RV, although I’m sure the family portrayed in this exhibit would have preferred the one we have.
I love Washington’s Metro system, it makes traveling around the District so easy. In the afternoon, as the rain moved on, we took the Metro to within a short walk to the Smithsonian National Zoo. As much fun as it is to see the animals, the history of the Zoo was interesting to me. William Hornaday, the chief taxidermist for the Smithsonian began the collection with fifteen North American species. The deer, foxes, prairie dogs, badgers, lynx and bison would eventually become the National Zoological Park. In 1889 President Grover Cleveland officially signed an act of congress into law creating the National Zoological Park for “the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” Two years later, the animals, who had been living on the National Mall, had a new home within Rock Creek Park in northwest Washington, D.C., which officially opened in 1891.
They have “trails” for each variety of species and have done a great job in building environments for the animals to live. It was fun to watch the tigers roam in their area, the elephants eat and wash themselves, the prairie dogs hiding in their burrows, and the pandas munching on their bamboo stalks.
On our last morning we took a guided tour of the Capital by the staff of our daughter’s Senator, Tom Tillis. There are tours available through the Capital Visitor Center, but I felt we got special attention by going through the Senator’s office.
We arrived well before the tour and decided to take a look in the Library of Congress before the tour. If you are into libraries, this is the spot for you. The nation’s first collection of books was held in the Capital Building but was destroyed when the British burned the Capital during the War of 1812. After that Congress authorized the building of the Library of Congress . To make up for some of the lost documents, former President Thomas Jefferson, who had the largest and most comprehensive collection of published works in the U.S. at the time, sold his entire collection to the Library for whatever price Congress thought was appropriate. This collection is now on display at the Library of Congress.
After meeting our guide, an intern, in Senator Tillis’ office, we walked through the tunnel that leads from the Senate Office Building to the Capital. This is a definite benefit that allows members of Congress and their staff to go directly from building to building without the need to go through countless security checkpoints, not to mention the benefit of avoiding rain and snow.
During our tour we visited the old Supreme Court, the center of the U.S. government (the geographic center of the District of Columbia), Statuary Hall (where we saw the statue of Gerald R. Ford, Michigan’s only President), the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the old House and Senate Chambers. One of the new additions to the Capital is a plaque honoring the passengers and crew of United Airline Flight 93. On 911 they fought and took back their hijacked plane and saved the U.S. Capital, its intended target. After the tour we ate lunch in the Visitor Center and viewed an exhibit that traced Congress, and its buildings, from its conception to the present. This exhibit is an excellent and inspirational.
The Capital is a historic, and imposing structure with an impressive view of the National Mall and the Washington Monument. I consider it to be a “must see” place to visit when touring Washington DC.
After a short ride on the Metro, we loaded back into the car to return to Raleigh to begin our time as Camp Hosts for the Falls lake State Recreation Area.