Washington, March 2009

I finally got the opportunity to visit Washington rather than just fly in and out. The first challenge was that, this time, I drove down rather than fly. Equipped with my brand new GPS I managed to do it in more or less 11 hours. I still do not completely control it but it did get me there so I should not complain. It is pretty accurate in locating my position as can be seen in this photo where it said I was at the end of the road…and I was!

It was cold and cloudy while I was there and the cherry trees were not yet blooming so my photos are a bit gray but it took nothing away from my enjoyment of this fabulous city.
The neighborhood I was staying in has the lovely name of “Foggy Bottom”.

It is within walking distance of the White house, which, of course, turned out to be my first stop. I was surprised at how close to the street it is…I expected something hidden.

There was also a subway station close by that allowed me to get to the “mall” easily. The stations are amazing…. very futuristic I found…. and clean! I did not see any graffiti, granted I stayed in the center of the city…

The mall is THE place to visit. It is a huge area surrounded by museums mostly belonging to the Smithsonian foundation and they are all free…You can even take photographs inside…for someone like me, it does not get much better than that!

I tried to visit as many as I could and managed to catch a few guided tours along the way, something I always enjoy as they get you to notice things you might have missed on your own.

I started by going into the Smithsonian visitor’s center as it opened earlier. It resembles a small castle but was never lived in.

Then I went next door to the Freer Gallery of Art. Apart from an interesting collection, it has a lovely inner courtyard.

Even if the cherry blossoms were not about to open, the magnolias were…there are lovely gardens behind several of the museums.

I don’t remember exactly where I shot this sculpture but it was in that area…

I then crossed over to the American history museum. There is a brand new exhibit pertaining to the star spangled banner. I was lucky to get in without waiting in line. This modern structure imitating a flag undulating in the wind is displayed in the entrance hall.

There are exhibits on American presidents as well as Dumbo the flying elephant; you can have a look at the Wizard of Oz’s ruby slippers and Julia Child’s kitchen. I had fun there perusing her collection of kitchen gadgets and listening to old tapings. It was all more entertaining than educational….

Next I visited the National Museum of Natural History. This one seduced me with its fish tank.

I also saw films about the sea…fascinating stuff…. I totally missed the section on gems…. just as well…it might have made me yearn for some….

Next down the road is, to me, the star of all these museums: The National gallery of Art! Not only are the collections extensive but the buildings are lovely too! I spent most of my time in the West Building. The main hall was ablaze with azaleas.

I enjoyed the impressionists especially! This auto portrait of Van Gogh was new to me and very impressive.

But as far as impressionists go…the winner to me, is the Phillips Gallery. It is a little further north and is not free, but well worth the price.
Their pride and glory has to be this Renoir painting titled: “Le déjeuner des canotiers” (Luncheon of the Boating Party).

Some of the other painters featured here are Cezanne, Matisse, Rouault, Picasso, Modigliani, Bonnard…. and again in a lovely old building that has been modernized in a spectacular fashion.

Speaking of spectacular buildings…the Smithsonian American Art Museum is breathtaking! It is huge and has an extensive and eclectic collection, from the very, very modern to traditional. The displays are at times unexpected but always effective as in the case of this picture of Abraham Lincoln on a black wall…

This section reminds me of an upscale department store in Europe….

After spending two days visiting museums (I could have kept on doing that for weeks but time was limited) it was time to go “see the monuments”…or some of them at least.
We started with the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. I was surprised by it as it was not what I had expected. The wall is long and low and black (granite). It starts at a few inches, slowly grows higher up to ten feet and then diminishes back down. It is dug in rather than free standing. Oddly, this simple stone wall is so very troubling. Seeing the names of all those soldiers engraved on it and watching the expression on the visitors faces is very sobering.
I am told that on sunny days the stone absorbs the heat and then radiates it back so that you feel heat coming from the wall when you walk by it, as if it was somehow alive.

The park rangers can make rubbings of names if you want to have a keepsake.

The visit moved me even if Vietnam was something very far away for the Canadian teenager that I was in the 60s. Having met Vietnam vets, I have a better understanding of the scars this war has left on an entire country, both for the survivors and those who still mourn loved ones.

While we are on the topic of war memorials and although we did not visit them in this order, I was very impressed by the Korean War Veterans Memorial which consists of 19 statues of soldiers scattered in a “field” as on patrol. They are very realistic looking yet ghost like because of their whitish color.

The World War II memorial is more traditional…with arches and pillars representing the various states and bronze reefs.

I know I missed several, in particular the Marine Corps War memorial with its famous Iwo Jima statue.

Next we tackled the president’s monuments starting with the
Lincoln Memorial. The reflecting pool was empty but it was easy to imagine the view from the steps facing the needle of the Washington Monument and further back, the Capitol. There was a choir performing by the pool…it made up for the missing feature. The statue inside is 19 foot and the walls around it are the words of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address.

Next we went to the Frank Delano Roosevelt Memorial. To get there we walked along the basin…. lined with cherry trees…and a few ducks

This is not one single monument; it is almost an open-air museum as it spreads over 7.5 acres. It must be lovely in the summer as there are several fountains and waterfalls that were not operating yet.

Next we walked over to the Jefferson Memorial. It is a spectacular monument as you can see it from so far away. We caught the tail end of a guided tour and it made me wish I had time to take a whole one as Mister Jefferson is one very interesting man…very intelligent and cultured and complex…His 19 foot statue stands surrounded by passages from the Declaration of Independence and some of his other writings.

Finally to conclude our tour we walked by the Washington monument. It is definitely the most visible of all the memorials along with the Capitol.

The next morning we took things easy and walked around Georgetown. It is a lovely trendy area with lots of cafés and fun shops. There are some old houses still standing such as this one.

On the walk back to Foggy Bottom I could not help but shoot this sign…only to show that I was there…

It is truly a lovely area…. with all those colorful homes and their tiny front garden…. very British…

This visit was way too short and in no time we had to head home.
We decided to stop by Annapolis for some crab cakes…unfortunately we were so early that none if the restaurants were open…we did find one that had an amazing brunch buffet with everything under the sun…save for crab-cakes…and no uniformed sailors either…ohh well… another time.