While New York is ‘the enticing one’ with the incredible film and TV industry, I’m a history and politics geek and I’ve always wanted to go to DC. Well, now I had the chance to!
After seeing the sights of New York (catch up with it all in my latest blog), our train pulled into Washington where the station itself is an incredible building which tells the tale of the creation of a capital city.
Washington DC is a created city – geographically, where the North and South begin to meet; politically, where they convene; and historically, where they’ve clashed, conceded or compromised.
It was built specifically to be the seat of government and to hold the key executive branches of the US federal political system. Without a doubt, its buildings echo with the voices of those who fought the British for independence, established a democracy and battled about the extent of the democracy, challenging who had a right to it and who exemplified the ideals and ideas of the modern USA.
The National Archives are a great way to start a tour of the capital, and, stood near the top of the Mall, is where the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are housed. There is now also a permanent exhibition on the fight for Civil Rights, all of which are essential for understanding the history of the US and its perceptions.
We saw the final stages of the latest Smithsonian Museum to be built – the Museum of African American History and Culture – which aims to tell the whole story from the arrival of enslaved Africans to America, through the journey of slavery, fighting for freedom, continued prejudice and discrimination up to today’s events.
Positioned almost directly opposite the Washington Memorial, the building is in the shape of Nefertiti’s head dress and adorned with bronze – now there’s an image that tells you two stories of American development.
Many of the monuments are breath-taking and require far more than a simple walk by (as is always the problem with a recce of this sort – the big issue is time). I couldn’t spend my days walking back and forth amongst the many branches of the Smithsonian, especially as the entry is free.
The White House visitor centre was a flying visit to check its access, as were the trips to other key buildings. While I was able to do the full tour of the Capitol, I didn’t get to spend the time that I would recommend in the Library of Congress. All the more reason to return!
What I did learn was how easy it is to address lots of the UK history requirements that look at America by a visit to Washington, from the Revolutionary War to the events of today.
I also learnt how much you can realistically do on foot, when you should get a tourist bus, the best times to visit certain sites, what can be booked ahead and the insider tips for what’s on.
I can tell you that a trip across the Potomac is well worth it to get to the Pentagon and visit Arlington Cemetery.
I can’t guarantee good weather, but in DC but that doesn’t matter (unless you’re on an open-top bus in the rain!). With so much to do, you actually want to stay inside. So what if the Capitol Dome is currently under scaffolding? At night they still illuminate it so you can forget the scaffolding is even there.
Is there anything I wouldn’t recommend? Not giving yourself enough time! I know that when I go back, it’ll be to spend at least half a day in each of those museums and archives. With over twenty museums in the Mall area alone, there’s just so much to see. Until next time, DC.