Stop number three of our travels this summer was Washington D.C., where I had the thrill of watching my beloved Manchester United take on the champions of Europe, Barcelona. While the events surrounding the soccer match filled a large chunk of our time in The District, there was still plenty of opportunity for sightseeing, and of course, eating. Our last trip to D.C. came just two years ago, and back then we managed to squeeze in a visit to just about every major attraction in the city. We took a little different approach this time, opting to focus our attention on sights that not only we missed last time, but that most tend to overlook as well.
After taking the Metro from National Airport to the Hotel George, we dropped our bags with the bellman and set out on the town. Since it was barely 9 AM, we had a full day ahead of us, and with The Capitol being a short walk from our hotel, we figured it was a good place to start. On our last visit we took the guided tour, and while it was very informative, it wasn't anything we needed to do twice. Instead, we visited the office of our Senator, Marco Rubio, and picked up tickets for both the House and Senate galleries. With both houses of Congress debating the debt ceiling plans, this was sure to be one of the few times that democracy in action was actually entertaining. For this lover of all things politics, being able to enter the House and Senate chambers is quite a thrill, and one that many people overlook when visiting The Capitol. Sure, you'll feel out of place and under dressed walking into your Senator's office, but just take my approach and barge in like you own the place....you do after all.
Later that evening, we found ourselves with a couple extra hours before sundown, so we decided to take the fairly long walk from Capitol Hill, through the National Mall, down to the Lincoln Memorial. On the last night of our previous trip, we discovered a hidden gem, and my favorite place in all of D.C. Instead of climbing the steps, snapping a photo of Abe and moving on, take my advice and walk around to the back side of the Lincoln Memorial and enjoy the solitude. Aside from the total lack of tourists, this spot offers an amazing view of the Potomac, Arlington Cemetery, and for the aviation lover, a great vantage point for watching jets on approach to National Airport.
The next morning, we got up early and took the Metro out to Arlington Cemetery. This is one of the most visited, and certainly the most moving attraction in D.C., but most people that visit, ourselves included, miss so much of the history of these grounds. The highlights, of course, are the Tomb of the Unknown, President Kennedy's grave site, and the Robert E. Lee house. On this day, however, we decided to stroll around the little walked sections of the cemetery, and came across the resting place of some great people in our history. Justice Thurgood Marshall, George Westinghouse, General George C. Marshall, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, are all laid to rest on these hallowed grounds, but it takes branching off the beaten path to find them. During our stroll, we came across a funeral in progress, and while we continued on to give the family some privacy, the sounds of a 21 gun salute and Taps breaking the morning air made it impossible not to shed a couple of tears.
With our last full day upon us, we had a few free hours before it was time to head to FedEx Field for the soccer match. My wife suggested we see the Newseum, which made this news junkie very happy. The Newseum is privately funded, so unlike most of the other sites in D.C. there is an admission fee, but trust me, it's worth every penny. The Newseum chronicles the advancement of media from the earliest hand made leaflets, to newspapers and television, to blogs and social media. There are moving exhibitions on Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, and a tribute to my man Tim Russert, who's office was moved to the Newseum untouched after his sudden passing. I think that many skip the Newseum not only because of the cost, but because they simply don't know what it's about. Well, there's a reason freedom of speech and of the press are in the First Amendment, and the Newseum is in my opinion the best attraction in our nation's capital.
For all it's history, power, and dysfunction, what strikes me most about Washington D.C. is its infancy. The monuments that stand as symbols of our greatness, are mere newborns when compared to similar icons throughout the world. Westminster Abbey, for example, was built over 200 years before the discovery of the "New World," and over 600 years before the completion of the Washington Monument. Yet this jaded view of our country is soon forgotten, as I watched Europeans and Asians, with far deeper and more rich history than our own, clamor alongside American tourists for a glimpse of the Declaration of Independence.
Of all the great cities I've been fortunate to visit in this country, Washington D.C. is second only to New York on my list of favorites. Like New York, D.C. has it's own aura that you can't help but feel from the moment you arrive. In New York, that aura is one of arrogance and toughness...an "us against the world" mentality that I absolutely love. Inside The District, however, that aura is a sense of pride and patriotism that you won't find anywhere else in the country.
"If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," are the famous words describing New York, but the more appropriate phrase for D.C. would be "If you're here, then you've already made it."
Enjoy Your Stay