Wanderings in Washington

*Note, I am very aware my time in Washington was not a few days ago, I got busy so took a break from writing. Most of this was completed before I reached the UK so I have decided not to change the start as it reflects me at the time I wrote it.

So, I’ve not managed too well at working through my backlog of blog posts; I’ve been far too busy enjoying myself and doing lots of things I want to write about! I finally finished my piece about Toronto which means I still need to write about Niagra falls, Nashville and the Smoky mountains before I get up to date. I wanted to write about Washington while it is fresh in my mind however so I have broken the chronological order of things by writing this post about my time in Washington over the last day or so before the rest of it (if you care so much about timelines, read another blog, mine will never be completely organised as that would require my brain working in a normal fashion :P).

Mum and I had spent the weekend at the Twin Valley ranch by the Smoky mountains but needed to get from there to Washington on the Monday, there were no viable public transport options so we opted for keeping the rental car and driving there. It was by no means a short drive, at over 500 miles and about 8 hours of driving for mum. I wasn’t the best road trip company either I must admit, I’d been suffering from a bad head cold over the weekend which is still bugging me now as I write this; I did put on some ABBA and 70s smash hits though which won me some brownie points!

 

There isn’t much to say about the journey, I was asleep for a fair portion of it and though we stopped off in Roanoke, it was only for 45 minutes to grab a hot drink and bite to eat as we wanted to make good time to our accommodation. We passed some interesting places on the way, places with names stolen from Europe like Carthage and Dublin but also historically significant locations like Jamestown and Salem. Salem you’ll know for the witch trials but Jamestown was involved in the English colonisation of the Native Americans and the abduction of Pocahontas (Wikipedia)  (not the site for a mass cult suicide a I thought, that’s Jonestown, or an FBI shootout as my mum thought it was), if I get the chance to come back to this area of the US, I’d enjoy visiting both Jamestown and Salem to take in the history there, just a shame our busy schedule didn’t allow for a stop off! Also, the interstate was monitored by an “aircraft” (see image), I’m not sure what exactly is enforcing the laws on the road but that sign made it sound like some weird futuristic robot plane was flying around.

When we got into Washington, we needed to head to Ronald Reagan to drop off the car and we made the number 1 mistake of driving through a major city; we ignored our planned route.  We saw a sign for Ronald Reagan and thought “hey, it’ll be all right” despite the fact it was 2 exits earlier than maps had indicated. All was not all right. We found ourselves completely lost trying to find our way to the airport along one-way streets, nearly missing turnings and being honked at (fairly) by grumpy Washington traffic. I was more than a little bit relieved when we finally dropped off the car at the airport; no injuries or physical symptoms of our ordeal other than a raised heart rate and muscle cramp from hanging on for dear life. You would think us safe in the hands of the experienced Washington taxi drivers but you would be wrong. The rank coordinator directed us to a cab, the guy pulls out THEN asks where we’re going, we tell him, “I don’t know where that is”, doesn’t think to pull back into where we got in and let us find someone who can actually do their job, no, he drives off, grumbling under her breath about how we’re inconveniencing him! Proceeds to tell me I need to find the location on maps and direct him or he’ll have to ASK FOR DIRECTIONS at another taxi rank, no word of a lie, we’d be paying for him to stop and ask how to his job too I imagine. Well, I manage to get the directions up on my phone and have to sit there, tired, feeling ill, and read out the directions- I can’t just run over them either, he turns around and says “you’ll have to tell me when to turn because I can’t see the road signs too well”. After all this, me doing half his job and all, you’d think he may knock a bit off the fare, nope, it was actually more than we’d expected because of him getting grumpy and not knowing where he was going! Google: taxi complaint form. Buuuuut the Airbnb mum found was very nice; Kate and Russ are a wonderful couple getting married and moving to British Colombia (where Russ is from) next year; we had a really interesting conversation about politics and wildlife. The third host was also great, he’s a dapper British fella called Cooper.

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We decided not to rush out in the morning to avoid the commuter traffic on the bus (minimise human contact as much as possible) so I got a nice-ish lie in as mum made me pancakes with the last of the jug of Ontario maple syrup we’d opened- I must say, Canadian maple syrup is soooooo good. They call it liquid gold and I can see why, not only does it look golden when you pour it, it fetches more by weight than oil or cocaine! If I can, I’d like to get involved in tapping when I visit Canada again, you hammer a tube thing into the tree and the raw maple syrup drips out into a bucket- there’s also the Canadian tradition of pouring it into snow and rolling the resultant sticky, snowy creation around a stick and eating it. Despite the dire warnings from our cab driver the night before about how unsafe the neighbourhood was (methinks there were racial undertones to his problem with the area) we made it to the bus stop and into the centre of Washinton without being shot or stabbed! We were actually right by the white house when we hopped off the bus so we made our way there for our first bit of touristyness. Before you say anything, yes I know that the first picture is of the back of the white house but you can get closer to that side and you can still tell what it is. We did also take photographs from the front, you just can’t get as close with all the security. We stood and looked at it a bit from the park where people gather to watch the inauguration of the president (note the difference between images between the inauguration of the 44th and 45th….), you can see the Washington monument from there too but there are a few annoying trees in the way (damn nature, ruining my photos yet again)!

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By this point we were getting rather hungry so mum and I take a break and plan our attack; the Smithsonian natural history museum closed at 17:30 so it made more sense to go there before walking around the more famous presidential and influential monuments. There aren’t many food places by the white house and the mall (big park) where the museums and monuments live so we started heading towards a pret a manger in the general direction of the Smithsonian. As we were near the museum; however, I spotted a sign outside the Ronald Reagan building for their food concourse that boasted “a variety of food from multiple cuisines”, certain we’d find acceptable satiation, we headed inside, through a “new leaders” convention (why wasn’t I invited?) to the concourse. I was a little taken aback when we got there though as the mangers of the stalls shout at you as you go past to try their food, we settled for a mid-level shouty Greek place that did a yummy veggie lunch combo. We also grabbed a couple of cookies to share that I quickly merged into an epic Frankencookie, nom nom. On the way out we discovered a section of the Berlin wall in the lobby, it was quite something to stand there in front of something that had been present through some of the most trying times in human history, you can get a feel for the defiance of the people through the graffiti.

After refuelling in the Ronald Reagan building we headed to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum; there are actually 19 Smithsonian museums and galleries in America’s capital and I may or may not already be planning a return trip to visit them all…. One of them, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, looks a bit like our new library in Birmingham only nicer; I’m not a big fan of the new library, I think it looks like a weird hat box, I preferred it before they put on the metalwork.

The Natural History Museum was pretty damn awesome and 100% free! The only thing we would have to pay for would be the butterfly walk throw exhibit unless it was a Tuesday when it would be free, guess what, it was Tuesday! First, we headed into a special exhibit on outbreaks that went into the spread of Ebola, I’d covered HIV etc. and had lots of interactive bits to do. Though the content was mainly what I’d covered in my second-year parasitology module so I didn’t necessarily learn much but the games were fun and the kids there were certainly taking a lot in which is the important thing. There was a geology section that included a number of meteorite fragments and a tiny bit of mars collected by the rover alongside information about how the vast mountain ranges of North America (including the smokies) were formed by the movement of tectonic plates and a couple of cool videos about the formation of the galaxy. I also got to see the Hope diamond which has had a rather dramatic history; it used to reside in the crown of the French monarch before it was stolen and found its way to England, its owners have a habit of dying leading to the rumour that the large blue gem is cursed. *Insert spooky sound effect* They had a really big collection of animal skeletons from teeny tiny frogs to a tyrannosaurus rex, RAWR. As a zoologist, I was pretty awestruck by the sheer number of animals they had there both skeletons and taxidermy, some specimens I’d never even heard of which was pretty cool. They’d posed the animals in interesting shapes too, there was a Mexican wolf in the form of pouncing on some poor rabbit and you could “follow the anteater” into an ants nest and see it all to scale.

I stood next to a Megladon jaw which put the film The Meg into better context, I could literally walk easily through the jaws of those prehistoric beasts! Glad that we only have teeny tiny sharks nowadays, Great White sharks are only 4-6m, embarrassingly small really.  In the underwater theme, I saw a big narwhal and a selection of tusks (including a double tusk?) and I couldn’t get the Narwhals song out of my head!! 😛

There was also this exhibit from the nature photographer of the year competition, all the pictures were good but I was particularly taken with the funny bear shots. 🙂

 

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After the museum we set out on our monumental tour of Washington, see what I did there? Monumental? We started off with one of my science idol, the late, great, Sir Albert Einstein, it took quite a while for me to get a photograph of him as some blinking woman was essentially doing a photoshoot in front of him and didn’t appear to care that other people would potentially like to see the statue and not her stupid duckface.  We stopped by that wonderful phallic symbol that is the Washington Monument before heading around the humanoid attractions. Posing next to Elanor Roosevelt (the real power in that term) and seeing that FDR was sat next to his lil doggo made me think I’d have enjoyed dinner round at the Roosevelts.  The MLK monument has a lot of inspirational quotes taken from his life and the actual statue of him is a great representation of one of his more meaningful speeches, quite literally “out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”. Though I have obviously not experienced the suffering of the African American community in America, I have felt prejudice and am thankful for men and women like MLK and the message of peace and progress they send spread in a world too often guilty of treating anyone who doesn’t fit a certain ideal image as broken and inferior.

I was pretty awestruck by the Jefferson monument, the space is just so peaceful, despite the throng of tourists outside, when you step within the walls you feel the history seeping from the stones. After reading the writing o the wall I just sat and read my book for a few minutes, I take such pleasure in finding great spots to read- my book included a lot of political drama too so it seemed an apt setting!! Unfortunately, I was unable to rub the luck thumb of Abraham Lincoln as they’ve set up a barrier, *sad face, but he was still pretty cool to look at.  I’d like a chair that big in my living room I think 😀

 

I think I was quite within my rights to be very tired after all that walking!!

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I thought I would risk a bit of dairy and treat myself with a yummy milky way bar. Then I discovered that American’s have ABSOLUTELY RUINED MILKY WAY BARS. I was a little upset. The American version has caramel on top of the nougat and the wrapper is an ugly brown colour rather than the cool blue of the UK edition…. you know, representing the milky way….. It’s like some freakish hybrid between a Mars bar and Milky Way bar. Not good America, not good.

Despite this epic fail by American confectionery, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to go back to Washington and tick all the other Smithsonian museums off my list and maybe sneak into the lincoln memorial at night and sit on his lap ;).

 

 

 

 

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