Updated Nov 2017. I had actually gone and done it. I had lost my bus ticket. How was I now to get my weary feet from the endless rows of museums in the capital’s heart to those piercing eyes enthroned high on a marble chair, scanning the tiny crowd coming to remember his legacy to the US American people. I was in Washington DC and it was bigger than I expected. I tried to see Washington DC in a day thanks to my sponsored bus ticket from Washington DC Tourism, but that was a tough feet to achieve. Let me try nonetheless.
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Table of Contents
Lured By the Love of Books
It sure would have helped to get up way earlier and stand as one of the first to enter one of the museums on my long list. However, my curiosity had been piqued when I aimlessly followed the crowd with its camera sporting and socks in sandals wearing people eagerly queuing at one of the many white neoclassical buildings I saw myself surrounded by. Each looked just like the other to me with its massive stairs leading up to a line of pillars that gave way to ornamented doors before being swallowed by giant halls with sky-high ceilings it seemed. I wanted to get in! And once I was in, I never wanted to leave. This was the second most amazing library I had seen in my US travels so far.
It just so happened I chose the Library of Congress as my first stop and libraries have a soft spot in my heart when they look like this. Architectural masterpieces with walls full of dusty books bound in leather and telling tales of old. Nevermind their political contents, I felt wrapped in the comfortable embrace of literature and scholarship and settled down on marble benches, craning my neck to study the intricate murals. Glittering in gold and white, the library was a stunning piece of art in itself, perfectly merging awe with architecture and art.
Besides busy looking students, I gazed at old scripts and archaeological findings from the Aztecs as this was one of several current exhibitions portrayed in the wide corridors. Another one delineated the progress of equality and the stony path from segregation to the installment of nationwide Civil Rights for all.
Back to the Country’s Roots
Time passed and my bliss didn’t fade but the relentless ticking of the clock let me know it was time to unglue myself and venture out into the chilly air again, marvelling at more grand buildings and trailing along to my first museum of the day. After all, you can’t see Washington DC in a day if you get comfortable staying in just one area. Since I had already gleamed a little into Native American cultures of the southern continent, I entered the National Museum of the American Indian and learnt all about different types of corn and how they have to do with colours and the phases of life in native cultures.
I restrained myself from spending all of my food budget on authentic Native American cuisine that was offered in the restaurant below and turned my steps upwards, checking out each floor as I went. What I particularly enjoyed were the many drawers and displays of kids’ fashion, toys and general games, many of which were not only invented but are still played worldwide today. Ever thought about croquet or football being invented long before Europeans or US American played it?
Art-Bound in Washington DC
Again, I had to stop myself in my own tracks and went down the road, past the National Air & Space Museum (don’t yell at me, I have artsy priorities), cutting short my visit to the Botanical Garden and towards the Hirshorn Museum. Its grounds and the nearby sculpture garden already gave a hint of what was hidden inside its circular buildings. An eclectic collection of contemporary expressive pieces of both the painted and scultpural were generously scattered and invited for further investigation.
Thankfully in the walls were inscripted the artist’s intended meanings so that I could make better sense of a floating triangle of constuction beams or a flashy Christmas tree costume that would have been all the rage if Baroque had a baby with the 80s. Besides the captivating exhibits, the glass windows that opened the view to the panorama of Washington was exquisite. In the not so far distance I could just make out what I was to seek out next.
A Castle in the Capital
The Smithsonian Castle was the centre of the famous collection that started with James Smithson back in the 18th century. He was an avid collector as well as scholar and passionate about making education available to the masses in a way that was different to other museums. He had a castle built in reference to Europe’s famous architectural wonders and presented everything from stuffed exotic animals over knight’s armours to Chinese porcelain.
Now with the collections having received may additions and generous donations over the centuries, the Smithsonian has become a collective with each area of science boasting its own museum. The most interesting piece was still the original castle, which, if you ask me, had an uncanny resemblance to Manor Croft from Tomb Raider. Its collections were not big but being within the walls of such great architeture, I was not concerned. The real gem was its heritage and splendour.
Taking back my thoughts on the past to the present, I sprinted to the Big Bus Tours Washington bus stop outside to catch the last bus of the day. In I went and anxiously searched my bag as the bus lady wanted to see my ticket. But where was it? All day long, I had stuffed it back into my bag as it had tried to sneak away whenever I pulled out my much needed water bottle. It seemed it had finally made its grand escape and left me in the dust. My search attempts grew more anxious and I shuffled through all of my pockets, searched twice, searched thrice. It was gone.
How was I now to get to the memorials at the other end of the park? The bus lady driver just raised an eyebrow and allowed me to stay until the next bus stop as I was holding up traffic. Upon hearing my story of the lost ticket and why I had it, the lady just rolled her eyebrows in pity and remarked that I wouldn’t be able to get on another bus anyway and so I quietly stayed in the back of the bus and listened to the announcements and background information of each site we passed and which I was not able to get out for. At least I DID have a valid ticket. At one point.
Meeting the Man Himself
When we passed Abraham Lincoln’s memorial and I took a look at Albert Einstein’s cheeky grin, I knew I had to get out. Just sitting on a bus with audio commentary without the actual point of hopping on and off wouldn’t do. My feet had to be called in for service again; rest they could later. And so I strode alongside the Declaration of Independece Memorial, gazed at my reflection in the thousands of names of the fallen in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and walked up the steps to Abraham Lincoln himself.
It was hard seeing him in full despite his size as the view was obstructed by poles to which pink phones had been attached. Damn those sheltie sticks! What struck me as ironic where the millions of selfie shots with people poking their elbows at others, blocking the way and carelessly walking past the inscriptions of the sacrifices that had to be made to achieve freedom. The feeling of sacrifice and humility was long gone from this monument turned tourist trap. Be that as it may, it is still a must if you visit as much as you can of Washington DC in a day.
Down Memorial Lane in Washington DC
The sunlight was fading fast and painting pink clouds in the water that lead to a new rusty red Washington Monument. I explored the Korean War Memorial and tried to envision how it must have felt to hike through the jungle on a life and death mission, fearing an imminent attack and remembering loved ones at home. I couldn’t. On I treaded to the WWII Memorial and a round of pillars for each US state, after which I made a quick turn and headed straight for the White House. Or so I thought. It is not exactly located as pictured in the map.
Again, the crowds showed me the way and I followed suit like an ant in a train. And there it was. And it was… so tiny. I guess it could not be anywhere close to the gates but that was fine as my energy had reached a low point and my stomach was already making itself heard. Luckily, I chanced upon the ending of the day’s charity marathon run where I was told to take as many sweet and chocolate from one table as I wanted. Don’t mind if I do.
At the end of the day in Washington on a budget
With an increased sugar level, I even survived the second time my metro train was stuck underground for half an hour and was greeted by my friend with a home-made chicken and mashed potato meal with a corn topping. Super American and just what I had needed and the perfect conclusion to what I had learnt about corn and have seen of Washington DC in a day.
Granted, my Washington adventure has been rather meagre seeing its wealth of museums, significant buildings and selection of memorials, but what I saw I made sure to savour and now I want to know from you what would have been a priority? Memorials? Museums? Galleries? Or just a good old stroll through the park? Anything goes in travel.
So if you want to travelWashington DC on a budget, too, I recommend getting on the bus with Big Bus Tours Washington, too. The area was way too big for me to walk in a day so it was ideal for my short visit.
Let me know what you would have chosen.
I would like to thank Washington DC for providing me the Big Bus ticket so I can see more of the city as fast as possible and thus also providing me with a story to tell to you. As always, keeping it as quirky and honest as is.
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