I first visited Washington, D.C. when I was in 8th grade. My dad took me over Spring Break – I chose D.C. over Disney World. Yes, I’m a nerd like that.
I don’t remember much from that first trip. I know we visited the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Building. We probably visited the Jefferson Memorial too and I think we stopped by the Smithsonian and Arlington National Cemetery as well. And I have a few pictures of myself with horribly permed hair and poofed-out bangs, sporting an acid wash jean jacket with Esprit jeans rolled up at the ankle (which happen to be in storage up in Minnesota and not available for me to scan and share with you).
Almost ten years passed before I visited D.C. again. A friend had an internship there the summer after our junior year of college and I went out to visit for the 4th of July. We went to the National Zoo, checked out the Natural History Museum and watched the fireworks while drinking beer on the National Mall. And then we may have headed to the Lincoln Memorial a little tipsy to take some silly photos.
I visited D.C. for work in 2009 and 2010, but each time I stayed just one night and had no time to see or do anything.
So when the opportunity arose to go to D.C. again for work the first weekend of March, I couldn’t have been happier. My work obligations were on Sunday night and all day Monday – flying in Friday night, I had almost two full days to be a tourist in our nation’s capital once again.
My flight landed at Reagan National Airport around 8:30 p.m. on Friday. After learning the hard way that flying into Washington Dulles requires an expensive taxi or shuttle ride into the city, flying into Reagan was a no-brainer. By 9:00, I was on the Yellow Line heading into the city and I checked into my hotel, the Courtyard Convention Center, by 9:30. And by shortly after 10, I had picked up a gluten free thin crust pizza from Ella’s Pizza across the street from the hotel – the perfect start to the weekend!
I would love to say I woke up early Saturday morning to hit the tourist trail, but I didn’t. Recovering from a nasty cold, I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in. But by mid-afternoon, I got myself together to meet a friend from college for lunch at Rosa Mexicano (a yummy Mexican restaurant with a gluten free menu!). After gorging ourselves on chips and guacamole and chicken tortilla pie, we headed to the National Archives a few blocks away.
We waited about twenty minutes to get into the Archives – not too bad considering admission is free (as it is for many of D.C.’s museums). Once inside, we made a beeline for the main attractions – the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It was interesting to see the originals of these historic documents, some so faded they were hard to read (not that I could make out the handwriting anyway). It also struck me that all of the explanations and signage were only in English. After a year of traveling and visiting so many museums with explanations in multiple languages, I found it surprising and disappointing that museums in the capital of the United States aren’t more welcoming to visitors by providing multilingual information.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Mall, catching up on ten years of our lives while passing the World War II Monument, the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Then, I headed back to the hotel to rest up for a night on the town with another friend.
Without too much of a hangover Sunday morning, I headed back toward the Mall by mid-morning. This time, I started at the U.S. Capitol Building (where I would return the next day for a tour for work) and made my way all the back to the Lincoln Memorial. With my camera in tow this time, I took my time and stopped for a lot of photos. A clear remnant of my experience traveling in the former Soviet Union, I felt like I was looking over my shoulder as I snapped shots of the Capitol Building, waiting for someone to scold me that I couldn’t take pictures. Luckily, that never happened.
As I wandered around the World War II Memorial, I couldn’t help but notice how similar it was in look and feel to the dozens of memorials to the “Great Patriotic War” that I saw on my travels.
I walked past the Reflecting Pool once again, this time enjoying the reflections of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument as the sun was finally shining. Then, as I walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I had an odd flashback to the Garni Temple in Armenia – a building that is much older, darker and smaller, but that features similar Greek columns.
Finally, I returned to the hotel once more to get ready for the work portion of my trip, a little bummed that the tourist portion ended so quickly. I definitely need to return again soon – there is so much more to see.