Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Carefree in the capitol

We'd planned our trip to D.C. months ago because DC's vacation time is less flexible than mine.  So there was no real time to be tired from all the packing and moving out.  Before last month's end we were eastbound, to the capitol.

What an exciting descent! 

incomingdc   dcfromabove

jfkhallnationsWe arrived in the early evening and Metro'd over to Foggy Bottom, from whence it was a 3-minute walk to M2's apartment.  When M2 told me she lived right by the famous Watergate hotel, I didn't think she meant right across the street.  After a home-cooked dinner (so nice after a long day of traveling!), M2 said, "You guys wanna walk over to the Kennedy Center?  It's just five minutes away, and one of my favorite places," she added, encouragingly.  So we went.  Actually, hopped across a couple of streets.  The lights were on, but there were hardly any people about; it felt like we had the whole building to ourselves!  We pointed out various flags at the Hall of States and Hall of Nations, went up to the roof and saw the nighttime skyline, and even glimpsed the Thomas Jefferson memorial in the distance.  Not a bad first night!

DC lived in D.C. for almost five years, so our trip was a homecoming for him -- he didn't have to think twice about which Metro to take and where the stations were located.  He even gave me an old Metro pass, so transportation was a breeze.  (The D.C. Metro stations are really, really clean.  "Of course," says DC, "this is our nation's capitol!"  But I was a little bit disappointed that they all look the same and don't reflect the stop's attractions or history.  I'd rather have a clean station, though, so no real complaints. (^o^))  It was nice to have a guide who, moreover, pointed out the places where he once worked, studied, ate -- lived.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane with him... but we were there to make new memories, too!

What really made this our trip was that we both got to meet up with our old friends, and in doing so, make new ones.  In addition to hanging out with M2, I got to see my old roommate, who I've not seen in two and a half years.  I also got to see a church friend who relocated after getting married a couple of months ago.  DC got to see his former classmates and co-workers.  And, through one of them, we scored a tour of the Senate side of the Capitol through the personal office of Senator Collins of Maine.  While on our way to her office, we saw Senator Kerry walking down the hall (shoulda snapped a photo)!  And later on, during our tour, DC recognized another senator (whose name escapes me).  We even got to ride the little underground trains between the buildings.  It made me feel very political.

It just so happened that the only week DC was able to travel was the week of the National Cherry Blossom festival.  My brother, after his first visit to D.C., recommended it at this time of year as an alternative to Japan.  At the time I was a little put off because the reason I go to Japan is more for the people than the petals.  Yet when I arrived to see them abloom in all corners and not just designated parks, I understood what my brother meant.  Though the sakura are truly breathtaking in Japan, I am equally fond of the ones in D.C. for the simple fact that they're interspersed among our national monuments.  A perfect, lovely crossing of cultures for me!



It was a bit grey and sometimes windy on the days we were out and about.  And although the threat of wet weather remained, the air got warmer as the week progressed.  My goal was to walk the National Mall from the Washington Monument all the way to the Lincoln.  That's a lot of steps!  But each one was totally worth it.  This sounds totally cheesy, but I felt so much happiness and pride to be among the great forefathers, leaders and important times in America's history.  And I soaked up all the quotes engraved on walls and surfaces.  Somewhat surprisingly (to me), my favorites were some of the war memorials.  We went to the WWII, Vietnam, and Korean ones.  Incredibly moving.  Especially seeing veterans reminiscing and honoring, and young schoolchildren exploring and learning. 

wwiimonument  washmonument

natlgalleryFriday -- which M2 took off to hang out with us -- started off cloudy and grey, so we decided to visit the National Gallery.  But when we emerged from the Metro station we were met with vivid, blue skies!  It was almost a shame to go indoors, but we did to browse Dutch landscapes, lots of Monets and even a couple of Cezannes, and a very interesting exhibit on Robert Frank's The Americans.  The weather stayed lovely through lunch, which we had in Chinatown (signs in Chinese, but nary a Chinese restaurant in sight!).

Our last full day in the D.C. area brought us to Stafford, Virginia, where we had lunch with some new friends.  Our rental car ended up being a little red Chevy Cobalt -- funny in that it was so not us!  After a lovely afternoon we had some time to stop off in Quantico to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps.  Among other things, I got to see a display of standard issue items that each Marine gets at boot camp, try picking up a backpack full of gear, and see interactive displays of rankings and insignias. 

usmcmuseum   legoiwojima

There was even a Lego version of the Iwo Jima flag raising!  It was another extremely proud moment; I felt a bit better able to understand my younger brother -- who has deployed twice to Iraq and whose contract with the Marines ends this June -- and truly appreciate and honor so many men's and women's sacrifice and service to our country.

What an awesome trip!  In some ways I am jealous of the young students who get to go to Washington, D.C. for a social studies trip; indeed I think it should be required of all students!  But at the same time, had I gone as a junior higher, I woulnd't have appreciated it as I have this trip.  I am glad I got to see the capitol at my own pace and at my own understanding.  And I look forward to coming again!

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