May 02, 2006

Walking Marathon in Beautiful Washington DC

We woke up on our first day in Washington at 7:30 am local time and got out and about around 9:00. The Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference that I'm here for starts tomorrow, so I had the full day with Yumi to get ourselves situated before I turned her loose on her own.

I'm going to put a bunch of photos at the end of this post, so if you're a visually oriented type and want to avoid all the blather, just scroll down :-).

We walked north across the Mall to the Old Post Office to try and find some breakfast in its food court. Along the way we noticed all the concrete planters placed for security since 9/11 and the armed guards everywhere. We encountered our first of many security checks when we entered the Old PO. I had stuff spread all over several pockets and had to pass through the scanner three or four times. The last item found was my Swiss Army knife, which the security woman perused, shrugged and handed back to me.

The food court in the magnificent hall was deserted, giving the place an eerie feel. We decided to go up the tower first and then get something to eat. I didn?t like the glass elevator, but felt fine at the top. There were magnificent views all around on the sunny, clear morning. We could see the Capitol, a chunk of the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian buildings. Great place to start our visit!

Back down at the food court a few places were beginning to come awake at 9:30. We got bacon and egg breakfasts for $3.49 ? a lot better than $12 for the same thing at the hotel.

Morning hunger pangs sated, we headed over to the White House. There was a crew digging up an area on the lawn, and I snapped a photo of a John Deere Gator with the White House in the background -- nice juxtaposition for a Saskatchewan boy!

It was gradually getting warmer as we ambled along toward the Vietnam War Memorial. As it came in view I began feeling somber. There were quite a few small Canadian flags left along the wall so it looked like a Canadian tour group had passed through recently. It was touching to see the photos and mementos left by people, and watch aged couples painstakingly page through the memorial books. Hard to believe there are over 50,000 names of the dead carved in that black granite.

Next stop was the Lincoln Memorial. It?s an impressive structure. The feeling of awe and respect was destroyed by herds of rowdy schoolchildren who were running around and shouting despite the signs asking for quiet. The view up the Mall was impressive and we thought of Forest Gump.

We trundled off to the Korean War Memorial and it was a somber and impressive monument. I found the statues of a unit on patrol powerfully evocative of the rigors of that often cold campaign. Both the Korean and Vietnam memorials didn?t yet exist the last time I was in Washington nearly 35 years ago.

Down around the Tidal Basin we began to flag a bit as lunch approached and the sun strengthened. The Roosevelt Memorial was impressive. I found the quotations thought-provoking. They seemed to call upon ideals that are not actually reflected much in contemporary American society. Wonderful words, but are they heeded? I found this to be a recurring thread throughout our long march today. Many monuments to many highly intelligent men who wrote compelling thoughts, yet the swarms of fat retirees and screaming schoolchildren kept intruding with their apparent lack of awareness and respect.

Oh well, it?s still a magnificent place and the Washington Monument commands the eye from every turn.

Next up, the Jefferson Memorial. Somehow it was not quite as impressive as the Lincoln, or even the modern Roosevelt. I wondered out loud what presidents since Roosevelt would ever be honored in such a manner. Likely none, or at least none that I would deem worthy.

By this time we were tired, so we headed back across the Mall to the food court in the Ronald Reagan Building. Security again. It was a relief to get out of the sun, eat and relax. We checked out the Washington Visitor Center in the same building and were not impressed. The woman there ignored us until we were leaving, and there appeared to be little free information available.

Somewhat refreshed and fully refueled, we trekked on to Ford's Theater and caught a presentation on the assassination of Lincoln. I could remember visiting the theater as a kid of 11 or 12. I think we saw a production of ?You?re a Good Man Charlie Brown? there, but I could be mixing that up. There is a museum in the basement of the theater. There is something macabre about the clothing worn by Lincoln the night he was shot and the pillow he died on, yet it is all strangely touching. Across the street is the house he was carried to and the bedroom he died in. The house is flanked by gaudy souvenir shops, fronted by raucous street vendors, and fumigated by the exhaust of idling tour buses. The parks staff seem dispirited and resigned to an endless stream of repetitive questions. Poor Abe.

That did it for us. Over seven hours of walking was enough. We dropped into a convenience store and picked up some drinks for the walk back to the hotel, and stumbled in, exhausted, at 4:30 pm.

I?ll do some blogging and some homework and Yumi will bone up on sights she?ll see tomorrow while I?m in sessions.

Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial from the Old Post Office tower.

John Deere on the White House lawn.

Bird's nest in a traffic light near the Mall.

Kids make rubbings of names on the Vietnam wall.

Lincoln Memorial framed by trees.

Yumi got me with Abe. There must be millions of photos like this one!

The Korean War memorial patrol. Canada is among the UN nations honored.

The two of us at the Tidal Basin with the ever-visible Washington Monument.

Roosevelt Memorial bread line figures.

The quotation on the wall to the left deserves sharing: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

Fishy humanoid gargoyle on Ohio Dr. bridge looks Jimmy Carter-ish :-)

Posted by Paul at May 2, 2006 07:06 PM