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June 24, 2002
Washington D.C.: monuments (Russell)

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The U.S. Capitol Building, home of Congress

We began and ended our week in Washington D.C. by touring its famous monuments.

On our first full day, June 20th, we decided to test our legs by walking to the nearest landmark: the White House.  Located at the well-known address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (every state has a street in Washington D.C., and they all run diagonally to the more familiar numbered and lettered streets), the 202-year-old home of America's president is nine long blocks away from our hotel.  We had turned on the television that morning and seen that there was a health fair there today, so we headed down at 9:00 AM.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived they were not admitting any more people, so we could only view the famous residence through its black iron bars.  (Joss, climbing on these black iron bars, fell and hurt his knee, which immediately sent the White House guards scurrying over.)

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The White House, complete with gigantic inflatable basketball

Since the events of 9/11, public tours of the White House have been indefinitely suspended, and we were amazed at the security measures that are now in place.  In addition to the many guards (including the cadre of snipers who camp out on the White House roof), many streets surrounding the White House (and throughout Washington D.C.) are now closed off.  This is reinforced by concrete stanchions laid across the roads as well as cars parked immediately behind them.  We tried walking over to the nearby White House Visitor Center in the Commerce Building to get more background about the White House, but we had just reached the front of the line at the metal detectors when the fire alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated across the street (we got the feeling that the bored security guards live for moments like this).  It was getting so hot and humid that we bought ice creams and walked back to our room.

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Many of D.C.'s streets are now closed and barricaded with cement stanchions

Later in the evening, after the stifling heat had cooled off a little, we set out on another walk.  This time we headed south and went further to the Lincoln Memorial.  The walking path started out next to the noisy and busy expressway, but ultimately ended up next to the peaceful Potomac River, where we saw a beautiful sunset against the hazy sky.  The memorial itself was surrounded by vendors selling military and POW/MIA paraphernalia, and the reflecting pool looked pretty sad (there might have been construction going on; it was half-drained).  The hike had left Cameron and Joss too tired to actually walk up the steps into the memorial, so we looked around for a while and walked back.

(On each of our walking excursions, we have been fascinated by the friendliness of the squirrels.  Numerous and used to people, they walk right up to you; in fact, one of them actually tried climbing up Cameron's leg until he jumped back.)

We saved the bulk of our monument sightseeing for our last evening, June 24th.  Back at Union Station, we took a two-hour night tour by bus, courtesy of Old Town Trolley Tours.  This was another lucky case where what could have been a very touristy experience turned out instead to be an educational and entertaining adventure.  Our driver/guide was "Wild Bill" (that's what his name tag says), an extremely knowledgeable and funny man who has obviously been doing this for years and loving it.  Wild Bill kept a lively running banter going as he navigated us around the National Mall, rattling off something interesting for just about every building that we passed.  Some of the fascinating trivia we picked up:

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Aboard the Old Town Trolley

The trolley made three stops.  The first was a return to the Lincoln Memorial, where this time we succeeded in climbing the 58 steps to the 19-foot marble statue of the great man himself, framed on one side by the Gettysburg Address and on the other by his second Inaugural Address.  On one side of the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the stark and controversial black granite chevron covered with names.  We actually preferred the lesser-visited Korean War Veterans Memorial on the other side.  Here, sixteen steel soldiers march in a lonely combat formation, while a 164-foot-long reflective granite wall next to them shows the ghostly faces of 2,400 other soldiers.  In the twilight, the overall effect was haunting.

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Inside the Lincoln Memorial

Our second stop was the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, honoring the only American President elected to four terms, the man who led the country through its Great Depression and World War II.  During his lifetime, Roosevelt once declared that he wanted a memorial no bigger than his desk.  This 7.5 acre landscaped park (which took 25 years to complete) shows how much Congress listened to him.  The site featured meandering walkways, waterfalls, and statues that included his dog Fala.

Our last stop was across the Potomac River in Virginia, where the Iwo Jima Statue stands at the north end of Arlington National Cemetery.  This symbol of patriotism, fashioned after Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, shows six weary soldiers triumphantly raising the U.S. flag over Mount Suribachi after one of the bloodiest battles in WWII's Pacific Theater, a one-month fight which cost the lives of 22,000 Japanese and 26,000 Americans (of the six soldiers, three died in the battle, while the other three never recovered from their sudden and unwanted "fame").

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The Iwo Jima Statue at night

It was a long evening, and we didn't get back to our room until 11:00 PM.  But it was the end of a week where we were able to see a lot in a short amount of time.  Tomorrow we board our last airplane on our world trip, as we proceed to Michigan... at least, we hope it will be our last airplane.  Our itinerary is supposed to include a triumphant two-night Amtrak train ride from Chicago to California.  However, with our new and easy access to news, we have learned that Amtrak is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy, possibly as early as next week.

Stay tuned...

 

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