The end. Finito. Farewell. Washington D.C. marked the final few days of our 180-days-around-the-world adventure. In many ways, we felt ready to go home. That is until the very dawning realisation of reentering the real world crashed over us!
As such we grabbed D.C. by both hands and made the most of our last few days in Uncle Sam’s fair capital. Our visit also happened to coincide with Independence Day, guaranteeing us an explosive end to our amazing adventure.
Our base in D.C. was in the gorgeous historic district of Georgetown, home of former presidents and statesmen, and our good friends Kate and Ben, plus their impossibly adorable twins Isabella and Amelie.
We can’t thank them enough for inviting two bearded nomads in to their home while bringing up their daughters and all of the chaos that inevitably brings. Their unfeasibly beautiful smiles (and excitable squeals) brightened our final few days no end.
We have visited Washington before to see Kate and Ben (pre babies) but our 36 hour whistlestop visit gave little time to visit many of the grand edifices and historic museums and galleries that make the capital famous. This time, we went HARD on the sightseeing!
The several mile long Mall, with the Lincoln Memorial at one end, and the Capitol Building at the other, has most of the big attractions but it’s a long walk, especially in the 90 degree, 90% humidity July heat, so we took 2 or 3 days to see everything.
Most of the Washington museums and galleries are operated by the Smithsonian Institution, which runs them for free. This is nothing new in the UK, but in America it’s an absolute novelty. Unfortunately, it seems that as a result, investment in new exhibitions and displays is sometimes lacking.
It was most evident in the National Air and Space Museum, where little seems to have changed since the 1980s. Sadly, air and space travel has taken quite mighty leaps since then!!
There was a new Google-sponsored space shuttle exhibit, but other than that, the whole place felt tired, and impossibly busy. One room was actually titled, “25 years of space travel”. It had begun its timeline in 1957. You do the math!
Similarly, the National Archives are teeming with people with little to interest the average visitor for more than half an hour. Once you’ve queued for 20 minutes to see the original Declaration of Independence over an obese American’s shoulder, it felt like time to leave. Thankfully, each of the buildings are highly impressive architecturally, making a yomp around the Mall rewarding in itself.
Our favourite stop was the National Portrait Gallery. It’s a wonderful mix of contemporary sports and entertainment stars, American presidents and historic figures. The special exhibition looking at the life and times of John F Kennedy was particularly arresting. We happily spent a few hours taking it all in.
Another must see in our opinion is the ‘Newseum’, which as two broadcast journalists must hardly come as no surprise! From exhibits about how journalists covered 9/11, a section of the Berlin Wall, and gallery dedicated to 50 years since the Civil Rights movement, it’s a fascinating way to while away half a day.
We didn’t get chance to visit this time, but it was the only museum we visited in 2014 – and after exploring a few more this time round we still reckon its the best (even if you do have to pay at this one to get in!!!).
The Sculpture Garden between the two main thoroughfares of the Mall is also worth a visit, especially Roy Lichtenstein’s mind-bending wooden house! The beautiful fountain in its gardens is a wonderful way to cool off too.
No visit to the capital would be complete without a visit to the Capitol! Tours run every 10 minutes, all day with military precision; we booked in advance but it seems easy to just turn up and book on to the next available tour.
The guides are highly knowledgable, you get to see the Senate and House of Representatives chambers (they’ll be empty unless you’re lucky enough to coincide with a session) and the sheer grandeur of the circular room beneath the famous dome is worth the visit alone.
For these political geeks, it was the perfect way to spend an hour. It’s worth it for the hilariously God Bless America propaganda film everyone is shown prior to their tour.
The White House is worth a passing visit but from the outside it really is just a big White House. You need the photos, and it’s fun to see which protesters want Trump impeached on that particular day, but 15 minutes here is enough.
That brings us to the many and varied monuments to presidents and historic figures dotted all over the city.
The Lincoln Memorial is the most famous, a giant Abe looming down from within his Neo classical pillared home. But it was Franklin D Roosevelt’s shrine that affected us most.
The wartime president was the closest the USA has ever come to socialism, and his inspiring quotes, carved in to huge hunks of rock, brought home just what a gigantic mess the country is in at the moment, and the disgusting and ignorant words the current President has consistently used to divide rather than unite.
FDR’s hugely inspiring words take you through to Martin Luther King’s equally impressive monument.
Mr Trump isn’t fit to shine the shoes of these men.
Much of the rest of our time in Washington was spent chilling with our friends and their babies: trips to the park; steak and wine; the supermarket run with two twins in tow; even a baby dancing session at the local library!
We loved being Kate’s Mannies for a few days; the smiles and laughs from Amelie and Bella made it all worth while.
Keen not to outstay our welcome, we checked in to a hotel for our final few days, over the Potomac River in Arlington.
It was a perfect location to check out Arlington Cemetery, where the Kennedy clan are all laid to rest, and witness a changing of the guard, carried out with impressive military precision. But it wasn’t the grand memorials or the pomp and ceremony that was most affecting.
It was the rows and rows of simple white graves, snaking over the rolling green hills, that brought home the futility of war.
Our last night was the big one, Independence Day! We spent the afternoon watching some of the parade along Constitution Avenue, complete with brass bands, cheerleaders and inflatable bald eagles.
In the evening we knew we wanted to see the fireworks, but were left with a baffling range of options.
There’s a televised concert down near the Capitol building, but it seemed difficult to get close. There are at least 15 recommended spots to get the best view, but we settled for the most iconic; right in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the fireworks going off with the Washington Monument behind.
We took snacks, saved a spot and waited for nearly three hours, but it was totally worth it. The fireworks were the best we’ve ever seen.
They managed to make a smiley face out of a firework, and spell out U S A! Our mind was blown. Our words can’t do them justice…
We couldn’t have had a more fitting end to a truly life changing trip. Amazing places, made all the richer by so many amazing people, too many to mention. Thank you, all of you, for letting us in to your little part of the world for a while. We’ll never forget it.