Washington, D.C. The official tour.

On our first day in D.C we were met by a born and bred Washingtonian for our official tour. I recall walking around, listening to all her stories, thinking don't know how I am going to remember all of this for my blog post. But I'll try my best. Lets just call this Mia's version of American History.

Our first stop was the Capitol. I feel I must put this in capital letters. We entered the visitors center along with hundreds of eighth graders in class trip t-shirts. This is where we found out that during the summer holidays, hundreds and hundreds of eighth graders flock to D.C to tour the seat of democracy in America and the free world before they head to high school. It seems like a right of passage, like going to Mecca. And we were stuck right in the middle of this odyssey.

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O.k, so at the CAPITOL we got in line, donned our headsets and followed the tour guide lady in red. First we watched a poetic/patriotic film about the birth of D.C. For the first time I learned that D.C stands for District of Columbia, that Washington was built on a swamp, and that it was created specifically to be the capital/seat of government of the USA. It was named after George Washington, the first president of the US, to honor him. D.C. is where all the laws are made. And that everything is made and decided by the people - the House of Representatives and the Senate. We learned that the President needs to be invited into the House meetings. Oh, there was also some stuff about the Civil war, and the British burning down Washington in 1814. At the end the kids cheered and we sat there, thinking they used too many pretty words to say very little. Anyway, now I knew more about D.C.

The Capitol building, as most of the important buildings in D.C. is built in the Greco-Roman style. Very opulent, a reflection of grandeur. Oh, and it has a massive rotunda. They really like rotundas in D.C. Apparently it was one of Thomas Jefferson's favorite things, along with farming and books. Back to the dome,  at some point the building needed to be expanded, and the some looked silly, so they made it bigger, more like a wedding cake. There was also lots of statues. States can send a statue of anyone the feel worthy to be displayed in the Capitol. The only rule is they need to be dead.

Part of the tour included a peak into the famous room where Congress meets. We were properly frisked and ordered around by the security personnel of the Land of the Free, and could not take in cameras. But it looks just like on TV, without the people. The only met briefly that day, so we could not listen to some debates.

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Note the secret service vans on the right. The raised flag shows that Senate was in session.
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This is the spot where they put the special stand, taken from the Crypt, to place dead presidents laying in state.

From the Capitol we took the underground tunnel to the Library of Congress. Again, a very Cathedral/Temple like building with beautiful mosaics on the ceiling depicting all categories you might find in a library, from mythology to rugby! It really was an impressive library building.

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L: View from one of windows. R: Inside the Library.
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Next stop was the Supreme Court, just a quick one. Again, a massive roman temple to the law.
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A lamp post rested on these turtles -a symbol of stability and strenght.

Time to take the taxi to the World War II memorial. Wow, I feared for my life in that taxi. The WW II memorial has 56 pillars and two arches. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states of 1945, as well as the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory and Territory of Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The northern arch is inscribed with "Atlantic"; the southern one, "Pacific." The memorial is located between the Reflection Pool and the Washington Memorial, in line with the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. On the day we saw various war veterans being escorted around the memorial sites. Just like the eighth graders, it is very important for the war vets to visit D.C, and there are various fundraising programs to make that happen.

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4048 stars, each one representing 100 American service personnel who died in the war. Ironically, the 405,399 lives lost are second only to the 620,000+ lives lost in the American Civil War.
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It is said American Servicemen would draw the doodle and the text "Kilroy was here" on the walls and other places they were stationed, encamped, or visited. Another story says that it was a guy who checked rivets who wanted to make his mark, so other men could not erase his check marks, and remark them as their own (they were paid per rivet they checked).

Phew, did I mention it was really hot and humid, or what is referred to here as muggy. O.k, from WW II to Lincoln. Unfortunately the reflection pool was under construction so I could not do my Forest Gump moment. Apparently the pool was leaking, turning everything into a mushy swamp.

At the Lincoln memorial Jaco stood on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech, and I got some shots of ol' Lincoln. Note that he has one fist and one open hand. Some people suggest it represents his leadership style (firm yet human), others say he is saying something in sign language (the sculptor's daughter was deaf). The best part about the memorial is the typo on the Second Inaugural Address. There is no Cmnd Z when you are writing in stone.

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Can you see the mistake? Find the word "future" 8 lines from the bottom. It was an E instead of a F - they had to fill the leg with putty. Hiehie.
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Awesome dungarees.

Are you still with me? I know, it is info overload.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial was next. This memorial design was chosen from a design competition's entries. The winner was that of a girl whose lecturer only gave her a C for her design, and did not really want to enter it. It is a great design, symbolising a circle, and being made of reflective stone, to connect the viewer to the names.

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Sleeping squirrel - I envied him.
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Walk, walk, walk, past Lincoln again, off to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This memorial shows 19 life size aluminum soldiers (including Marines, Air force and Navy). Originally they wanted 38 to represent the 38th parallel, but that was too much, people complained. So they got 19, which reflects in the black granite wall, becoming 38. The soldiers walk stand amongst strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea. One one granite strip is written "Freedom is not Free".

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More walking. This time on the bank of the Tidal Basin, to the Franklin D Roosevelt memorial. This is a pretty cool memorial. It has four waterfalls in four "rooms", symbolising Roosevelt's four terms in office. Each waterfall deals with more challenges, reflecting the increasing complexity of a presidency marked by the economic depression and a world war. It includes a rare statue of FDR in a wheelchair. He did not want to be seen in a wheelchair because at that time physical disability meant mental disability as well. Roosevelt contracted polio at some point, paralyzing him from the waist down.

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Jaco in the bread line.

Last memorial of the day was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, another neoclassical building. A bronze statue of Jefferson stands in the middle of the rotunda, looking over the Tidal Basin at the White House. At the back of the statue is a pillar decorated with corn and wheat and books - Jefferson's main interests (farming and education). One the walls of the dome are excerpts from his writings, such as the Declaration of Independence."I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Last stretch. We walked so briskly that we still had time to see the White House, not that you can get very close. My camera's battery died at that point, so I couldn't get a picture of Michelle Obama's vegetable garden, or the National Christmas Tree - well, the new one, the original one fell over during a strom this winter.

Well done. You made it! We just walked for 7 hours straight, about 9 km, not including the distance covered inside buildings. At least there was a 30 minute lunch break at the cafeteria in Rayburn House, along with all the summer interns. See, history is fun and burns calories. Bonus.

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