Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sun 24 Mar - Washington, D.C.

We wake up to a cold day, with even colder weather predicted. Oh well.

The room we were given last night at the Phoenix Park Hotel was very small, and the specified queen size bed had shrunk to a double bed, so we didn't have the best of sleep. We send Di down to have a chat with reception to see whether that could be amended, with the result that we should have a bigger room by the afternoon after people checked out. Just pack up your bags and leave in the room and they will take care of the rest.

Sounds good enough, so we do just that, and then wander out to have a look at Washington on a cold Sunday, perhaps 1 degree Celsius or so when we left at 8.30am.

Here is a pic of our hotel Phoenix Park, with the adjecent Dubliner pub and restaurant. Phoenix Park is apparently a park in Dublin, Ireland and this area around Union Station and Columbus Circle was once an Irish enclave.

We wander south on North Capital (the name of the road) towards the US Capitol building when we see this little cute squirrel finding and eating a nut, totally unafraid of humans.
We asked a couple of German girls to take this photo of us in front of the Capitol building. They appeared to be students and were a bit ditzy. They "abandoned" their backpack in their excitement of being here and of course Capitol security policeman came over concerned about the backpack. They rushed back to collect it. We figure policing this city is a very expensive job but they do take it very seriously.
Opposite the Capitol building and across the little park is the US Supreme Court building, which was covered due to renovations (as a large chunk of the buildings were we found out later).
There was a line of people sitting on the sidewalk outside the Supreme Curt who had clearly been there for a while. We thought that they were protesting against something, but when we ask the security policeman, he mentioned that they were waiting to get in and listen to a court case on gay marriage rights starting Tuesday, and some had been here since Thursday.
That sounded like commitment to the cause...
Down Constitution Avenue, we saw police barriers in a few places and wondered what dignitary was visiting the nation's capital this time.
Nup, no foreign visit. The barriers were for a Sunday early morning fun run and walk, for the good cause of preventing colon disease.
Well, we continue west on that large green expanse referred to as the National Mall, pass numerous Smithsonian buildings, the Washington Monument - closed for renovations after an earthquake(!) in late 2011 and find the various war memorials.
This memorial is for World War II and depicts the various battlegrounds.

There is a star studded wall at the World War II Memorial where each star denotes 100 fallen service personnel in the War. There were 4048 stars in that wall... According to sign below it should be 4,053. Tragic waste.

We arrive at the western reflection pool, featured in so many movies and video clips. We were not tempted to repeat a "Forrest Gump" scene as it looked a bit slimey on the bottom.
Hans is throwing a handful of coins into the pool. Lincoln Memorial in the background.
And Di throws in a couple more coins. Washington Memorial in the background.
Well, everybody seemed to be doing this...
The Lincoln Memorial is very impressive. Abraham Lincoln's two key speeches, his Gettysburg address and his second inauguration speech were stamped into the walls on either side of the memorial.
This is Lincoln's Gettysburg address.
Sorry, just one more shot of the Washington Monument. It looked so cool from the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. You also get a sense of how popular this place is. To the right of the photo is a choir singing, not sure why.
Now, the building below is the Federal Reserve. Hans is holding a US $20 note, eager to support the world economy...
The boys below were playing hurling in front of the White House in an area referred to as the Ellipse. We thought it was quite symbolic!
Off we go to a somewhat familiar address...
A reasonably grand building is on this piece of land. The general public seem to take some interest in it. Here is the back of the building looking into the Oval Office.

Well, we decided to have a look at the building from the front as well, and here we are.
This year as a budget saving they stopped tours in the White House. American citizens seem a bit upset about this. You can still tour the Capitol and heaps of other federal buildings.
In front of the White House is the Lafayette Park, with good old ex-president Andrew Jackson immortalized yet again, and given that today was Palm Sunday, a small procession of perhaps Peruvians (Di's guess) walked around the statue and chanted about Hosanna from what we could hear.
Why they were just there, and what Andrew Jackson did to deserve this, we have no idea.
Next to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue is the Treasury building, another building currently undergoing renovations. Looked nice though with a statute of an early Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, proclaiming him a "genius of finance" and "champion of democracy". Must be great to be remembered that way.
We continue walking Pennsylvania Avenue eastwards into downtown and very soon the scenery changes. Below are 3 homeless people sleeping on top of a vent blowing out warm air (we think from the Metro). This is certainly a town of stark contrasts.
And below is the FBI building, named after a certain J Edgar Hoover.
We thought that it is a very very ugly building which looked like it was suffering from concrete cancer. However, the building seemed to be very much in use.
Yep, Di confirmed the building's usage. A sign on the door states "No Public Tours". No surprise!
And who is that suspicious character hiding in front of one of the entrances to the FBI?
Not one of their undercover vehicles...
Well, time flies when you explore (even without entering any buildings) and it is now close to 2pm. Time for a lunch break and what better place to have it than in Chinatown. The Megabus travelled through this area last night so we knew that there were Chinese restaurants here.
Picture is taken at the corner of H And 6th Street. Gates are on H Street. Di is very happy.
We found a Chinese restaurant which ticked all the boxes; busy, filled with Asian people, grotty, good prices, surly Chinese servers and... Handwritten notes in both Chinese and English on the wall. We were sold.
And doesn't Di look even happier here? We probably had our best Chinese meal in the US as previous experiences have been lack luster to say the least. Finally a Chinatown true to its name and the experience felt very Australian or Chinese. We have really missed the culture and food. Mexican in the South West was a reasonable substitute for a while but now we feel at home.
After lunch, we continue H Street east and then Massachusetts Avenue. We stopped at a CVS store along the way to pick up some groceries for breakfast.
As we mentioned earlier half the town seems to have some construction/renovation going on, but we liked these guys and what appeared to be a bit haphazard demolition work. Appropriate naming? Celtic demolitions?
Before going back to our hotel, we decide to explore Union Station a bit more thoroughly as last night we just whisked through it. Here is Di outside the main entrance to the Union Station, and next to a Pennsylvania Liberty bell.
The Union Station complex is very grand and is spread over 3 levels, including what looked like several adjacent buildings built and added on over time. This is one of its rooms where they now sell expensive goods to travelers.
There are several restaurants and bars in the Union Station complex, and umpteen number of fast food outlets. Here is Hans on the 3rd level, outside one of the restaurants called Uno.
We wander out again and we see this inscription at the end of the Union Station building. We like that saying.
Back to the hotel and we find out that we got a very good room, at the front rather than the back, with 5 windows instead of 1 (looking onto a brick wall and office block) on the same 6th floor so great views over Columbus Circle and Union Station.
All thanks to Di and her influencing skills :-)
After a few hours downtime, we wander out for a quick and cheap meal from one of the food outlets at the Union Station. As many of them closed at 7pm, we settle for Johnny Rockers, a Californian hamburger and sandwich joint that has a small jukeboxes for each booth. One song request is only 5 cents.
As we leave and walk out, small droplets of rain have started to fall and since the weather forecast is for snow, we decide to call it quits and walk back to the hotel for an early night at 8pm. Big day yet again.


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