It was a super early start as we were getting picked up in Midtown at 7a.m!! When the alarm went off I was momentarily annoyed at being roused from my slumber but then I remembered we were going to D.C today and my slight annoyance at the early rise was replaced by excitement. We boarded our bus easily enough in Midtown and were introduced to our guide Mayan. We knew it would take a while to get there so were prepared when she announced it would be 4 hours each way. It was going to be a very long but great day.
She talked us through New York – The Empire State as we were driving through the Lincoln Tunnel out of Manhattan and into the state of New Jersey. A lot of the information we had heard before but it was interesting to learn that the Statue of Liberty is actually part of the state of New Jersey and not New York! We passed by Newark as she explained that the Mayor of New York had decided to try and cut crime in the city due to the high tourist population – there are more tourists in New York than people live in any other American city – and so he invested hugely in the NYPD. This meant that crime has come to a standstill in the city and that the mafia had to move their headquarters to Newark instead. This has caused a huge increase in crime in the state of New Jersey which is also home to some of America’s richest people. After Mayan finished her chat we all settled down for a nap, next stop Maryland.
It took a little longer than expected to arrive so when we did we were so ready for breakfast. We were hoping for some pancakes but instead got stuck with a Nathan’s. This is basically a McDonalds with a different name in terms of breakfast options and we were not impressed. After swallowing some hash browns and a bacon and cheese muffin we boarded our bus for the final leg to D.C. The cherry blossoms – a gift from the president of Japan to symbolise the bond between Japan and the US – were out to welcome us and it was a lovely day which really added to the splendour of the city.
Our first stop was the Memorial park and the Korean War Memorial. It was great to have our guide Mayan to walk us around each of the memorials explaining the significance. The Korean War memorial is quite a recent addition to the park because of the fact that the US is still actually at war with North Korea. Usually they wait and build the memorials after the war in question has officially ended but they gave up waiting with this one and constructed a square of soldiers wading through grass with a wall mirroring the hundreds of people lost staring back at them. There is then a fountain at the end of this section and a low wall with each of the UN Countries that were involved in the war listed.
From here we walked over to the vastly grand Lincoln Memorial. President Lincoln is the president with the most literature written about him. He was the first republican president and was a huge force in starting the notion of ending the slave trade. This is why Martin Luther King chose to stand on the steps of his memorial to give his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. As you walk up the steps to the Lincoln memorial the vastness of his solid white statue inside begins to gain some perspective. There are speeches of his on the walls at either side of him which I managed to quickly skim before being swept away in the crowds of people.
The final memorial we visited was the Vietnam memorial. The beginning of the memorial is a more recent addition to remember those that fought and survived. It consists of 3 men looking over to the wall of names remembering those they fought with but didn’t make it. The path then winds down a granite black wall with the name of every serviceman who lost his life or is deemed ‘missing in action’ during the Vietnam War. The war has to be updated every few years as even now 40 years on people are still being discovered. After the sobering stroll through the memorial sections we hopped back on the bus and headed for the White House.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks the White House is now shut off to anyone who is not an American citizen and visiting dignitary so we just caught a glimpse of the front as we were driving past. We did however, get the chance to get up close to the back of the building. My first impression was that it is really small, much smaller than it appears on tv. Apparently the reason for this is that when it was constructed they wanted to distinguish the fact that the elected president was a man of the people and not royalty. Thus, they built a reasonable size house for these needs. Next we were back on the bus and after a quick souvenir stop we arrived at Madam Tussauds.
In all honesty I have never been to a Madam Tussauds in any of the cities I have visited and have never really felt inclined to either. However, since the admission was included in the price of the tour I went in with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised. The D.C exhibitions focus on past political figures; so all the past presidents, Churchill and other important people from the UK and US. Then they have a small section of celebrity figures such as George Clooney, my mum literally squealed when she seen him, and finally some famous American sports personalities. Although there is no way I would have ever paid to enter one of the Madam Tussauds attractions, going was fun and for those who really want a picture with a famous face then it would be a great couple of hours of your time. The models are all extremely lifelike and have striking resemblances.
After we left Madam Tussauds we were all starting to feel a little hungry. When we arrived at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum and found out that the lunch option was McDonalds we decided to grab a hotdog from one of the street vendors, actually pretty delicious, before heading inside. The great thing about the museums in D.C is that they are all free! However, this means they are full with lots of people which can get a bit frustrating at times when trying to walk through the exhibits. This is exactly the same at the big non-free museums in New York although these tend to be a little fancier inside due to the mandatory admission.
We started off upstairs in the Space exhibit where they had lots of artefacts and full size replicas of different sections of the ships used from different missions. They also had lots of interactive stalls with museum staff explaining why different items were as they are such as the spacesuit used in the Apollo 13 mission. They handed round the gloves and allowed the audience to answer questions of what different parts were used for. After the Space Missions we headed to the Planets section to find out what had been discovered about each of the planets and we got to touch a piece of the moon. After a quick stop in the gift shop we did a whistle stop tour of the war plane exhibition.
Like the Space section they had lots of lifelike planes and interactive exhibitions to get everyone involved. For me one of the most moving and memorable exhibits was tiny and about the use of planes in the conservation of wild animals. They had an elephant which was blown up and then a tube next to it filled with small toy elephants to demonstrate the number of elephants killed every single day in Africa due to poaching. Planes are used to transport the illegal ivory as well as to protect the animals by doing aerial surveys in the dense African bush.
After our short but great time at the Air and Space museum it was off to the Capitol Building for our final stop of the day. They are unfortunately doing repair construction on the dome of the building so the pictures are not the best but it was nice to see and our guide took us around the gardens in front of the building to explain its significance.
When I first heard the idea of doing D.C in a day I was a little flabbergasted, it’s pretty far from New York and there is a lot to see. However, I honestly think the tour was a great way to see the highlights if you are short on time. There are definitely things I would like to go back and see and hopefully I will do at some point. As we left D.C it was a short hour and a half to Maryland where we had some Dunkin Donuts which I am a big fan off. I had the Boston Crème and my mum had the Strawberry Iced and then we shared a mix of different munchkins – mini donuts.
I was planning to read some more of my book on the way back to New York but instead the guide put on a Spanish film – Instructions Not Included. I was initially quite annoyed at not being able to concentrate on my book so gave up and started to watch the film. It turned out to be brilliant – Maeve, you should check this out – and made the long journey back to the City go really quickly. Just as we were about to go under the Lincoln Tunnel back to Manhattan they played Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York New York’ as the amazing skyline came into view. What an amazing city!
Since we were in the neighbourhood we decided to stop by Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen for some hand pulled noodles and steamed buns for dinner. I had the Spicy Beef Ramen and we shared some Peking Duck Buns. This place was amazing and transported me right back to Hong Kong and having fresh noodles and dim sum there. We were apparently really lucky to get a table too as the couple next to us said its’ usually queued out of the door. They also gave us a few tips for other restaurants to try. Another amazing day in a great city. I am so looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow though! 18 hours is a LOOOOONG day.