You will have to excuse these next two days in Washington DC as, during this time, we did see quite a lot but also repeated quite a lot. This is because the tour bus went round the same place several thousand times. I’ve also forgotten quite a lot of this and am using the pictures we took as a guide. And good God, there’s lots of them.
Well, we’ve been *under* Washington DC a few times, now we’re actually going into it. We’ve bought two days worth of sightseeing tours around the city on an open-top bus, as well as a quick cruise down the Potomac river, and we’re going to use them. Only trouble is… where do we go first?
Once again taking advantage of the city’s Metro system we descend into the pit and, a few stops later (they’re not all over the place like New York) manage to find our way into Washington DC’s Union Station. We decide to grab something quick to eat so we don’t have to worry about lunch and buy wraps in the food court underneath the station (extremely cheap, extremely large and extremely tasty!), then venture up to ground level and find the desk for the tours.
These are the same sort of tours that you can find in so many cities around the world nowadays – open top bus, drives round many, many places and you get to jump off the bus at any of the stops and catch a later one. There’s quite a lot of routes and loops that all match up. Unfortunately, unlike the Chicago one this does not have a person narrating the tour, but instead a tape recording. As such, whenever we passed the place which deals with all the money (I think it was the National Mint) you’d get the same “no, you can’t ask for a freebie” quote from the bus’ loudspeakers.
In any case, we get on the bus and see Union Station from the outside, and our first glimpses of Washington DC itself. The station is quite big and fancy-looking, but the surrounding area – there’s not a whole lot there. This is because we simply haven’t gotten to the main bits of Washington DC yet – these are later on.
I’m just going to mention that I’m saying Washington DC – and not just Washington – because there’s another place called Washington in America. Seriously, they’ve not got the best imaginations, have they?
After a bit of driving, I notice what I believe to be the “March Of the Damned” from Torchwood: Miracle Day. Those who have seen it may remember a march of people carrying candles and wearing masks, seemingly protesting against the fact that they are being mysteriously denied the ability to die. Well, they did the same in Washington DC in order to promote the show, carrying signs with the show’s logo on, it’s air date etc. Given that it’s originally a British show, I’ve never seen the same sort of promotion here. In fact, in Chicago they had big billboards up for the new series of Doctor Who, something which, again, I’ve never seen in the UK.
A while later we come to where we’re to board the boat for the cruise around the Potomac river, which I believe divides Washington DC from the state of Virginia. We’ve got a while to wait for the next boat but wait we do.
One interesting fact about the Potomac is that planes now have to fly along it. Since September 11th 2001, Washington DC itself is a “no-fly” zone. Fine and dandy. Only problem is, there’s a major commercial airport nearby. Planes would, of course, fly over Washington DC so they were coming in at the correct angle for an easy landing. Not any more. Now they must come to the Potomac and actually follow it overhead, then come in for landing. What was once probably a reasonably easy landing is compounded by the fact that the pilot will be pretty low to the ground when on their final approach.
In any case, quick low-down of the river cruise. It is quite fascinating to see all the different areas sectioned off and reserved for different purposes, but for some reason I begin to feel a bit ill. I don’t think it’s any form of sea-sickness, since I’m normally all right on smaller vessels and the water was steady (I have been on cross-channel ferries though which haven’t been pleasant). Finally getting off the boat, I do feel a lot better.
Whilst we were on the cruise though we do see the building where the famous giant Abraham Lincoln statue resides, as well as the National Monument (which will become a bit of a tradition). Whilst I don’t believe you can see Honest Abe from the water, the building is quite impressively big. We also catch a few more views of the Pentagon (note to FBI – no we didn’t).
Back on the bus, we pass a few more places, including quite a quaint little house which I can’t remember what it’s for, and then the bus starts circling the National Monument (the big spikey thing) a few times so we can see it from every conceivable angle. Seriously. It’s a nice monument. You can go up it and everything – not that we did. And again, like Abraham Lincoln’s new digs, it’s impressively large. But do we really need to see it so often?
We also manage to catch a glimpse of the White House. Which has a BIG lawn. It seems that you can’t get within 250 metres of the place, but this is just a quick view of it from the bus. And a quick drive through Arlington National Cemetery.
At some point I do recall it being so hot that the bus, on pulling into the Pentagon Mall (after having just passed the Pentagon, which we’d already done two days beforehand) decided to give up the ghost. We waited in the mall whilst another bus was sent for us to continue on.
Finally, after a bit of time, we were able to see some of the famous – and impressive – buildings of Washington DC. And they are impressive. At first, when you haven’t seen them in real life you don’t think they’ll be that big. You just think “oh, it’s another building. Nothing special”. But then, when you see them, and you realise that the windows on these buildings actually are fifteen or twenty feet tall, you easily feel dwarfed by them. The Capitol, for instance, is huge. It doesn’t seem to have many floors but then you can’t tell, from pictures, how tall a floor in this case is. A floor would quite likely fit my entire house, and still have room for more.
Getting back to Union Station at the end of this day’s tour around a lot of the city (we still haven’t done much around the National Mall), we’ve got a bit of time to kill before the night tour. Oh well – time to find a Wendy’s! We ask the people at the tour desk in Union Station if they know where there is one – there is one nearby, about a 15 minute walk away. We do ask for directions on the way from two businessmen who find it on their iPhone, and they comment that it’s in a “rough neighbourhood”. When we get there, it’s not bad. Certainly better than a lot of places we’ve seen.
Coming back and going on the night tour, we find it getting dark reasonably quickly. Seeing all the buildings and monuments as dusk hit and turned into full-blown night was something, as was the fireflies that we spotted as we went through some of the more green areas. And the National Monument had evil red glowing eyes in order to be noticed by planes. I do recall passing one particular monument which had a lot of fountains, which would be the World War II memorial.