Is It Already Monday??

Sad to be leaving and yet happy to be touring the Capitol before heading home, my sister travelers and I got up a little earlier on our last day in the capital. Knowing that it would probably take between eight and nine hours before pulling into my driveway that night, we needed to get an early start with our sightseeing.

After another yummy breakfast (this time with crispy, tasty waffles), we piled in my car, and Tilara drove to a perfect parking spot within a block of both the Capitol and the Library of Congress. Walking towards the Capitol, we again remarked on the statue that sits atop its shiny dome. It had to be a famous Native American chief, we figured. Wrong. That morning we learned that the statue is called “Freedom” and that it’s a female.

We excitedly waited in line with some other upbeat folks for our tour time of 9:50. As we walked through security, the alarm went off, and I was the culprit. Not too worried, I figured it was my bracelet. But no, it was my tiny pink Swiss Army knife. I was sternly told to take it outside and throw it away. I must have looked dumbfounded because the guard again demanded, “Go outside and throw it away or leave the tour.” I hated that! That little knife and I have been inseparable for years, and it’s come to my rescue on many occasions. It even had a nail file and a tiny pair of scissors. Nevertheless, I chunked it and decided to share this little episode so that others would know to leave their weapons outside.

The tour was magnificent. The young tour guide was knowledgeable and upbeat, two positive attributes for a good guide. As she pointed out many of the statues in “The Crypt,” the area beneath the Rotunda, she mentioned that John C. Calhoun from South Carolina had, hands down, the best hair of them all. I was fascinated by the star in the center of the floor that illustrates the point from which the streets of Washington are laid out. We also visited the beautiful Rotunda with its statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.  There was also a representation of three well-known suffragettes, including Elizabheth Cady Stanton. The fresco painted in the Rotunda’s dome is breathtakingly beautiful and beyond my ability to describe.

Capitol tour completed, we made quick stop in the gift shop for souvenirs before entering the tunnel leading to the Library of Congress. Even the tunnel itself was awe-inspiring with its posters of book covers. We learned that the Library is the largest one in the world by shelf space and in the number of books. Although the Library is open to the public, only people with a reader identification card can actually enter the reading rooms. The four of us quietly and almost reverently walked through the facility, taking pictures and absorbing the ambience. After a quick walk through Thomas Jefferson’s Library, we reluctantly left the building and headed towards my trusty Highlander.

With Tilara at the wheel, we cruised out of the city, wondering when we’d get back again. As we were riding along the Potomac, Tilara turned to look at people strolling in Potomac Park and inadvertently missed our exit. Upset for about half a second, she soon got over it as we all relished our last look at this historic river.

Within seconds we were on the interstate heading south. We chatted about our favorite sights and memories off and on for much of the trip back to South Carolina, and we realized that although we had done and seen a lot, there was so much more that we wanted to see. You know what that means, right? Another trip!

Day Two in Washington

After breakfasting on lox and bagels and omelets, we once again headed out into the capital city to do the tourist thing. Destination: the Capitol. Its shiny dome had been tempting and taunting us from the moment we had arrived in the city two days earlier, and now we were actually going to get to see it up close and personal. First, however, we rode the metro to Union Station. Too early for the shops to be open, the station was relatively quiet. Looking at its breathtakingly beautiful architecture brought back memories of an earlier visit with my son and some friends when we had taken Amtrak from Florence, SC.

Like millions of other visitors, we took walked out of the front door and were impressed with the statue of Christopher Columbus. As we busily snapped a few pictures of the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, we kept glancing up the hill at the Capitol. Then we began our ascent, all the while talking about the scenery around us. There at last, we were stopped by security guards who told us that the building was closed but that we could visit it at 8:30 the next morning. Happy to be so close, we couldn’t leave without taking several photographs. The one of the four of us standing against the wall was snapped by a man who jokingly told us that he was going to charge us. After all, he had six children to educate and every little bit helped. I hope he and his family enjoyed their time on “the hill” as much as we did.

Next stop, the Smithsonian. We began our museum visits with a trip to the American Indian Museum where we were treated to a performance of traditional dances. After about an hour of trying to read and study all of the exhibits, we hustled towards the next stop. My chums went to the American Museum of Natural History while I spent an hour or so walking around in a trance in the National Gallery of Art. Among other things, they wanted to see the Hope diamond, and I wanted to see art, art, and more art.  It’s huge! I was awed by its size and the collections. I was drooling over a poster by Georgia O’Keefe when my friends called to say they were headed to the Museum of American History.

I left Georgia’s poster and walked to the next museum to join my friends. In need of some energy, we ate snacks in the cafeteria before viewing the exhibits. Of my recollections of the afternoon, those moments in the cafeteria are among the finest. Here we were eating our yogurt and salads among some of the most diverse people we’d dined with in a long time, all the while looking out of the big glass windows at the sidewalk and the passers-by. It was marvelous. Fortified and refreshed, we went upstairs to view the exhibits of America’s past. LOVED THIS! From Dorothy’s red slippers to model train stations, we reveled in all of it.

We left the last of the museums at dusk, and as we scurried across the mall in search of the metro, I took a photo of the Washington Monument. Had to. There was something about its tall simple beauty that spoke to me. Weary but happy, we decided to grab some sandwiches at Subway in Chinatown and take them to the room. So much for our vow to eat ethnic food every night! At least the Subway was in Chinatown even if the food wasn’t noodles or bok choy!

Lights were out by 11:00. These Southern gals needed a good night’s sleep for touring the Capitol and the Library of Congress the next day.

Blackberries and a Bell Tower

We began our first full day in the capital city fortified with a magnificent breakfast in the hotel dining room. In addition to the customary eggs, bacon, waffles, cereal, and grits, there were other tasty treats such as salmon, capers, and a nice variety of fruit, including my personal favorite, the sweetest, plumpest, most succulent blackberries I’ve ever tasted. Plus, each day we were there, our server brought complimentary strawberry smoothies to us, and I can still taste the rich twang of the fruit. Nice!

Armed with directions, Tilara led our little band of tourists towards the Holocaust Museum. Walking briskly to stay warm, we nonetheless managed to take in the many interesting sights around us. As we stopped at a stoplight, I noticed a lovely young woman with a beautiful smile looking at us. I had begun to wonder if we looked weird or something when she asked, “Do you ladies need some directions?”

After about ten seconds of hesitation, we told her of our destination. She assured us that we were headed in the right direction and then began to fill us in on some inside information, the kind of stuff that residents know. Turns out she was a graduate student at Gallaudet University who was taking the day off to do the tourist thing. Alyssa was missing her mother, and we were missing our daughters, so we five banded together for a splendid day of sightseeing.

After crossing the street, we walked through a beautiful park filled with art work and sculpture. I took several photographs and am including two of my favorites. I love trees, even stark wintry ones, so I was captivated by this silver one whose branches were bereft of foliage. And the headless people? I can’t explain its appeal. Maybe I liked it because of its uniqueness. In my hometown (dear as it is), we have statues of heroes (all male), not a gallery of headless, sexless human creatures.

Alyssa led us across the mall and pointed out the various Smithsonian museums. Continuing our walk, we soon crossed another street and found ourselves at the entry of the Holocaust Museum. Four hours later, we emerged, sobered and vowing to “never forget.” Of all the things I saw and heard there, I think the hundreds of black and white photographs of children, family units, couples, brothers, sisters, and friends affected me the most. Here were people just like me enjoying the sunshine and the fellowship of loved ones, and then there was nothing. While in the gift shop, I reread portions of Elie Weisel’s Night. I immediately remembered reading this on the beach one summer, sure that the bright sun and lapping waves would lessen the horror. They didn’t.

I didn’t take any photographs at this museum. No one did.

Our next stop was the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, an attraction that Connie had read about online. It has a huge statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the United States Post Office, out front so we seized the opportunity for a photo op with him.  While there, we had snacks and enjoyed the beautiful architecture before going  up to the bell tower atop the building. It was freezing! Still, our time there was worthwhile, not only because of all the bells but also because of the fabulous views of the city. The woman working in the tower was kind enough to come out of her warm little cubicle to take this picture.

We told Alyssa that one of our goals was to eat ethnic food while we were in the capital city, and she recommended a restaurant called the Thiatantic. Catchy, huh? On the way to the metro, we walked by the Navy Memorial and took some cool pictures of us with the tall, handsome sailor standing with his duffel bag. As our knowledgeable young tour guide pointed out, he stands overlooking a map of the world.

The metro ride was interesting, and we were all happy to have experienced this as part of our trip. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, we were captivated by its charm. The menu was extensive, the décor was simple yet eloquent, the service was outstanding, and the food was delicious. Interestingly, one of Alyssa’s friends and her beau were also dining there, and she agreed to take our picture.  I enjoyed the evening so much that on our way home, we made a stop in Target so that I could purchase a scarf like Alyssa’s friend was wearing as a momento.

Back on the metro, Alyssa gave us instructions on what to do once we got back in Chinatown and the metro stop that was just a few blocks from our hotel. We all hugged Alyssa good-bye (for now), and Tilara extracted a promise from her that she’d call once she was back in her apartment safe and sound. You’d think four “mature” women would get it right, right? But no, we took a little detour before finally getting on the right train that was going in our direction.

Back at the Renaissance, we chatted about our experiences, all of them made better because of meeting our young friend who was kind enough to share her knowledge of the city. She also taught us some sign language, and one of my favorite expressions is, “Think for yourself.”

Day Two and the Smithsonian to follow….