We followed up our early departure with our earliest start on our weeklong itinerary (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a planner – perhaps too much so, but it’s hard to fight the tendencies). We managed on our second day to see all the Mall had to offer, and though the distance between some of the monuments and memorials were shorter than I was led to believe, the cumulative amount of walking we did that day was extreme – I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Until I started researching the attractions, I had no idea that you could physically enter the Washington Monument and take an elevator ride to the top – I really thought it was just something to admire from the outside. Much like many of the other tours in DC, however, tickets had to be obtained to partake in the tour. My one failing in planning this trip was starting too late – by that time, all of the advanced tickets available for our time period had been snapped up, which left us with one option – queuing for day-of tickets.
Guidebooks stressed the need to begin lining up as early as 7am in peak season to ensure a ticket. While we didn’t make it for 7, we were pretty darn close, and reached the Monument ticket office at quarter after. Though Mack was unconvinced that there would be other “crazy tourists”, there were about a dozen people ahead of us in line.
At the Monument!
It was a decidedly cool morning, but in hindsight, a nice reprieve from the humid afternoons that were to come. As the ticket office wouldn’t open until 8:30am, Mack had time to search for a Starbucks, using his handy Blackberry Google Maps application, and with the breakfast he brought back, made our wait a little more leisurely.
Mack on the Berry (photo #1)
When tickets started to flow, we were fortunate enough to snag passes for the very first tour that day at 9am. We explored the base of the monument before the tour, and from that vantage point, glimpsed two other attractions we would see later – the Lincoln Memorial and the White House.
Mack at the Monument
Yes, it was pretty cool to the touch
We joined our second line up that day when we saw that a line to enter the monument had formed. The affable security guard kept us entertained while we watched the Park Rangers set up shop for the day. We were glad we had the foresight to head to the line early, as the school groups started arriving – in hoards. These groups – hundreds of school children together – would converse en masse at all of the tourist attractions we would visit over the next few days. It’s definitely a hazard of visiting during the end of the school year, and worth avoiding if you’re planning a trip to DC.
Just after 9, we were waved through the doors, a security check, and eventually, ushered into the elevator. The fast-talking, good humoured Park Ranger that led us up was a fantastic guide, and helped make the Washington Monument one of our most memorable moments during our trip. He explained a bit of the history, teased us about looking down, and prepared us for the view we were about to take in. Although the viewing level wasn’t open-air, it was a great way to get visually oriented to the layout of the Mall so early on in our trip.
Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial
World War II Memorial, Reflecting Pool, and the Lincoln Memorial
It got even better on the elevator ride back to ground level – partway down, the Ranger slowed the elevator down, shut off the lights, and through the windows pointed out the different stones embedded in the monument that had been contributed by states and countries (he was bitter that his home state of California only had one stone included, versus New York’s three).
Next up was the World War II Memorial. While it was visually appealing, it was the least striking of the war memorials to me. I found out later that it was built around the already-existing fountain, which made me appreciate it more for the DC mentality of confluence.
World War II Memorial
Detail underneath the Pacific column
Past the Reflecting Pool, was the Lincoln Memorial, my absolute favourite.
Reflecting Pool with Lincoln Memorial in the background
The Lincoln Memorial is definitely meant to be seen in person – photos can’t capture the absolute scale and magnificence of the statue, his solemn and wise gaze staring out into the distance. I love the idea of Lincoln forever watching over Washington (as well as some of the most significant events in US history – with protests at his doorstep), and the union he helped create. I have to admit I didn’t know much about Lincoln until after this trip, where we came across several exhibits dedicated to his life.
Mack at the Lincoln Memorial
The spot where Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I have a dream” speech.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial was one I had read about somewhat – with the number of statues and their reflections in the cool stone wall adding up to 38 – the parallel that divides North and South Korea. I didn’t think statues of life-size men could make a strong impression, but I was wrong – their distinct eyes and troubled expressions were hauntingly memorable. We learned later that the Korean Ambassador to the U.S. lays a fresh wreath to commemorate the war every Monday – without pomp and ceremony, but with constant remembrance.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Our last stop before lunch was the Vietnam War Memorial. Even though I had seen photos, I didn’t realize until I saw it in person that it was cut into the ground. The names of the fallen, which overwhelm the viewer in relentless numbers as you walk past the panels, made every bit the impact I expected. The Parks Department added a name to the memorial this year, making the total 58,261.
Vietnam War Memorial (objects left at the base are collected daily and kept by the National Parks Service)
Cut into the ground (to signify the scar it left on the country)
We wandered away from the Mall and towards the cluster of office buildings, in the hopes of finding a dine-in restaurant favoured by those who worked in the area. While we were consulting our map, a lady asked us if we needed help, and when we expressed the need for a place to eat (not wanting to resort to a food court), she actually thanked us for not eating in food courts! I realized we were near Teaism, a local chain that specialized in tea and Japanese food, and headed there for some subsistence.
Satisfied with our meal, we headed back in the direction of the Mall and decided to check out the Old Post Office. We had been told the view from the tower was spectacular, and that it was a good alternative to the Washington Monument. We waited in line for about 15 minutes, and eventually made our way to the top.
Inside the Old Post Office
One view from the Old Post Office (J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building and Capitol)
Unlike the Washington Monument, the viewing deck was refreshingly open air, although steel cables barred the windows. But both Mack and I agreed that the experience wasn’t as noteworthy – or breathtaking – as the one we shared that morning.
Our first of many museum visits followed. The American Museum of National History (one of 19 Smithsonian Museums) was first up. All Smithsonian Museums (like all of the national attractions we were visiting) were free of charge, which meant the bulk of our expenses on the trip was food – a stark difference from our New York getaway two years ago.
In hindsight, we shouldn’t have made such an effort to tour every corner of the museum, as our tolerance for exhibits lowered as the week went on, but it was amazing to see the breadth of the collection. Highlights for me included Carrie Bradshaw’s laptop and C3P0 (both in the lobby of all places), the flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner”, and exhibit that explored Lincoln’s life and death. Mack really liked the photography exhibit of President Obama’s inauguration.
“I couldn’t help but wonder…”
Mack and C3P0
Not the flag that inspired Francis Scott Keyes, but it’s pretty darn neat
The teacup that Lincoln used before he was shot (I was fascinated with the mundane objects that become historical upon the unthinkable happening)
Mack would make a grouchy Lincoln
We had a bit of time to kill before our dinner reservation that night, so spent it resting up and doing some Mall watching (jogging has to be the official sport of DC). Once our feet had forgiven us, we hopped on the Metro, and walked a little around Chinatown before heading to Proof.
Chinatown Gate (it was a little decrepit, actually)
For whatever reason, all of the signs in Chinatown were bilingual…does DC have a Chinese population large enough to warrant such measures?
You can read Mack’s day 2 recap here.