Museums, statues, monuments, government offices; the National Mall in DC is like a humanities teacher’s theme park. We’ve taken in a fair few of that which is on offer during the last 3 days here and we still have the best part of the day tomorrow to tie up a few loose ends before we continue our journey south. We’ve managed to get in to the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and some museums while we’ve been exploring, but the Washington Monument is closed for repair and the White House needs a security clearance from the US consulate in London so we had to settle with the views from outside. Inside the Capitol Building we were taken on a guided tour and also able to sit in on sessions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Very interesting, although both were relatively empty, we at least got to see the floor in action. The tour of the Capitol was undoubtedly a highlight. We were able to stand underneath that iconic dome and look up at the decoration and grandeur as well as exploring deeper lying parts of the building. There are 2 satues from each state dotted around, representing notable people who have contributed to their state and the nation.
As we had to wait a day to go into the Capitol Building (fully booked when we first arrived) we spent our first day exploring the Air and Space Museum. We’d actually had 4 museums down to visit as they are all quite close to each other and all free to enter but we spent so long in air and space that we only had time for an hour around the American Indian Museum. As you might have guessed there was a lot to see in the Air and Space Museum including the Wright Brothers original flyer, that was the first plane to make a successful flight. I doesn’t look like it does, or at least would, have gotten off the ground but we were assured it did. It was quite interesting to see how quickly aviation developed and seeing various models how planes were shaped during that development. In the Space section there were models of various Apollo Lunar Landers and Mars Rovers as well as Neil Armstrongs space suit. They also had replicas of Cold War missiles that were HUGE, at least 3 stories high if not taller! A very interesting few hours, although it is a shame it took up so much time as the hour we spent in the American Indian Museum was equally albeit differently entertaining. The exhibition we saw demonstrated how treaties were made between aboriginal nations and settlers from Europe who eventually formed the United States and how ultimately the American Indians were moved from their homelands. The exhibition gave an explanation from both view points on a number of the treaties that was interesting and helped give an understanding of how the Indians were eventually being conned and double crossed.
As well as the museums and the Capitol we explored the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. Both highly impressive buildings. Our tour guide in the Library told us the story of when Boris Yeltsin visited the Library with Bill Clinton he expressed his shock that the US were able to contruct such a grand building without a Tsar, what you can afford when you don’t have to pay for health care, eh! Both were constructed of beautiful marble and, as seemingly with everything in America, were huge. The court wasn’t in session so we were able to hear any argument but the court room still looked mighty without it’s judges sat in session. The library houses the remnants of Thomas Jefferson’s library which he sold to congress after the British burnt down Washington 200 years ago. Lots of this library were then in turn destroyed by an accidental fire and the Library of congress have been buying replica books to try and replenish it back to its former glory. So if you have any old books lying around have a look to see if Jefferson also owned it you might be able to flog it for some decent money!! The entire library of Congress is the largest library in the world, and they currently receive about 10,000 items per working day which I thought was staggering. I didn’t think that many books existed!! Apparently they are in a friendly dispute with the British Library about who is actually the largest in the world, but given we burnt theirs down a few centruries ago, I wasn’t prepared to back us while stood in their magnigreat hall!
Today, as the forecast was looking nice (it wasn’t it was overcast and freezing!), we headed to the far end of the Mall to check out the Lincoln Memorial. It’s quite sport stood infront of it as you get the best views whether you look up at the large imposing statue of Honest Abe or down the entire Mall to Capitol Hill (which is apparently 2.25 miles away). As well as the statue the monument contains a column for each of the states in the Union that Lincoln kept together after the civil war and the words of his Gettysburg address and his second inorgeration speech. It’s is quite a homage to the assassinated president. We took in the view broken up by the reflection pools and the Washington Monument as we strolled east to see how close we could get to the White House. Perhaps closer than we were expecting although not close enough to see Mr President, although we think we did the the Japanese Prime Minister taking off in a helicopter (or at least his helicopter taking off, can guarantee he was in it) he was meeting the most powerful man in the world today in the Oval Office. After staring through the railings for a while and confirming it was indeed white we headed for the metro and to get out of the cold.