Washington, DC. The Nation’s Capital. The Federal City. The American Rome (Don’t ask; I didn’t make up the nickname). Where, during your short workout, your hotel might have suddenly been overrun with Secret Service because the President is speaking at a function. Where you’d stumble upon museum after museum just rambling about the National Mall. Where the National Mall isn’t an actual shopping center, but an expansive park that welcomes perhaps more visitors than Disneyland on an annual basis.
In the National Mall (or simply just, The Mall), we find the Washington Monument, built to honor George Washington – the first U.S. President. This was once the world’s tallest construction until the Eiffel Tower was erected. Fun fact: the monument is two-toned because its building blocks came from two different sources during two different phases of construction.
Across the pond from the Washington Monument is the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the 16th President of the United States. What’s significant about the number 16? It’s not so much the number, but rather the Head of State’s success in leading us through the Civil War and abolishing slavery.
Are the images above familiar? A penny is molded with Honest Abe’s profile on one side, and his memorial on the other.
The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool (the largest of the city’s reflecting pools) is bordered on either side by war memorials for our troops. To one side is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with glossy black walls engraved with the names of service members in remembrance of those who served during the Vietnam War. To the other side of the pool is a memorial dedicated to those who served in the Korean War.
Between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, we find the World War II Memorial, dedicated to those who served in history’s most tragic war.
Not far away is The United States Marine Corps War Memorial, also called the Iwo Jima Memorial. It’s dedicated to all Marine Core personnel who have given their lives defending the United States since 1775. Just beyond that is Arlington National Cemetery, one of two national cemeteries under the care of the U.S. Army. With nearly half a million service members buried here, it is the country’s largest military cemetery.
But DC isn’t all statues and history. Downtown, Penn Quarter makes for some gastronomic delights and interesting sights. I’d show you what my chocolate dessert looks like, but it somehow seems less interesting in comparison to this car.
As with most major cities, there is a Chinatown. (How does a Chinatown spring up most everywhere? I’ve even seen one in San José, Costa Rica!)
Could the canals in Georgetown ever be mistaken for those in Amsterdam? The Washington City Canal, used for a mere 35 years, can still be glimpsed in sections where it hasn’t been filled in or built over.
Despite there being more to DC than government, that aspect of the city is inevitable. From the U.S. Supreme Court Building, to the Capitol Building, to the Library of Congress, the District of Columbia is filled with reminders that the nation’s laws are debated and forged here.
The most officious building of them all is, of course, the White House. America may not have a royal family, but we do have a first family. And they live here.
Across the lawn and beside the official residence of the President sits the Eisenhower Executive Office. Sometimes called the “gray building,” this administrative structure houses the offices of the President and the Vice President. And across that is a museum dedicated to the future of art – The Renwick.
Speaking of museums, I mentioned earlier that DC itself is a museum of sorts. After all we’ve just seen, would you disagree? I’ll even add that the city has the country’s oldest fish market. (The Maine Avenue Fish Market opened in 1805 and is still going strong today.) The nation’s capital is filled with such historic locales and history-chronicling museums. It seems all you have to do is cross the street and you’ll stumble into another monument, or place of historic significance, or museum. And these museums live in grand buildings. Oh look, here’s one at sundown.
Many of the central museums are Smithsonians, but they are not your only options (though most Smithsonians offer free entrance). For example, there’s the International Spy Museum (the only publicly accessible spy museum in America) and Madame Tussauds (Take a photo with the spitting [wax] image of your favorite celebrity!).
Now I have to ask: Is it officially “Washington, D.C.” or “Washington, DC”? There appear to be arguments for both spellings nowadays; the former is the more formal and more traditional spelling, but even the official government website now just uses “DC.” Note that, while these are both the District of Columbia, neither are Washington state, which is on the opposite side of the United States (a common confusion among non-Americans). Either way you spell it, DC is a fine city. And in this fine city, I’m off to visit Henry the Elephant at the National Museum of Natural History. Yes, that oversized pachyderm has a name!