Sunday, January 6, 2013

Washington DC...

We were ready to leave for the train station at sunrise. From Union City, New Jersey we took a bus to the Port Authority Station, then walked to Pennsylvania Station. The walk was not as bad as I had expected as it was cooling and the streets we walked were not crowded.
Inside Pennsylvania Station
We were early by about two and a half hours.  Since we were not sure of what to expect, husband felt it would be better if we arrived early. The station is very clean and organised. A board showed the train schedule and platforms. There is more than one platform at Pennsylvania Station so we need to check the board for information. As our train schedule was not yet on the board, we proceeded to the waiting area. I was so tired. New York City had burnt me out. I decided to take a nap after taking two pictures. 
I was jolted from my sleep by my husband shaking my shoulder roughly. "Wake up and hurry or we will miss the train", said the exasperated man. We hurried down the escalator and were able to join the last few passengers. A check told me they were all boarding the same train as us. We were in time. What happened was, the schedule board showed only New York to Charleston. Husband had been walking around the area waiting for Washington DC to appear on the board. As the time neared the departure time, he was worried and decided to check with the information counter. Only then, did he realise that Charleston was on the board about an hour since we arrived and the train was leaving soon. Charleston was the last stop and we, being non-Americans (also non-train commuters back home) did not know that Washington DC would not appear on the train schedule. We booked our tickets online through the Amtrak website. The timetable showed that the train stops at Washington DC. Naturally, we thought it would appear on the board. So if you are taking the Amtrak train like us, do take note of the last stop. Do not be ignorant like us. 
The journey from Pennsylvania Station to Union Station, Washington DC took 3 hours 30 minutes and cost us US$98 per person. The journey was smooth and the coach we sat in was clean. The restroom also deserved some mention. It was reasonably clean with paper towels and toilet rolls inside. It was something I do not find on trains back home. 
The first thing that caught my attention as I walked into the arrival hall was the number of blacks. It was something I had not expected and I was surprised. Initially, I was rather worried not because I am a racist but due to a bad experience. I chose a spot in front of the shoeshine ‘stall’ to wait whilst hubby go in search of a telephone booth. It was fascinating for me watching the shoeshine men go about their work; something I had not seen in this manner. The waiting time was long and I squat, got up and squat. I think that must have caught the attention of the security personnel, a black woman. She walked right up to me and said "Ma’am would you like to wait in the waiting area. There are seats there to rest your tired feet." I explained that I was waiting for my husband who had gone in search of a telephone.  She said, "I can help you with your bags. Is your husband wearing a green shirt? I saw him at the booth. I will inform him for you." I declined politely. She smiled and walked away. Now, that was some good feeling for me. Husband came back and as we picked up our luggage to leave, she came up to us and said, “Ah, he is finally back. Have a nice day and Enjoy DC". I thought that was so nice of her. I was not alone with my experience. Husband too got some help from a black man. The man helped hubby make the call to our host. Being an 'alien' in the States, making that phone call was difficult. The area code and all made it such a task.
Union Station, Washington DC
One of the shops (upscale I would say)
We arrived at our hosts' house in Mount Pleasant. Our host was not pleasant  when we first arrived. He warmed up gradually and even allowed me to play with his dog. (More on our hosts later) After some briefings by him about Washington DC and some maps, we wasted no time.  We went out immediately aft for a short tour of the neighbouring street after putting our bags in the room. 
I liked what I saw of the neighbourhood. I took to it immediately. It was quiet, clean and had trees lining both sides of the road. I loved the sight of the semi bare trees. They have always intrigued me as back home; trees that looked so brown and bare are mostly dying. 
The house we stayed.
As it was our first day in Washington DC and being new to Mt. Pleasant, we did not venture far. Husband said to allow him some time to study the map then we will start our tour of Washington DC. 
The next day, we took the metro subway to Gallery Place where Chinatown is situated. Hmmm...the Chinatown was not what I had anticipated. I could not find any shops selling Chinese herbal tea that I needed. It was not that 'China' except for the Chinese looking arch. We strolled around to get our bearings.

After studying the map, hubby told me that the city is well planned. The numbers of the streets run systematically. With a good sense of direction, it was easy to get to a destination. With husband’s good sense of direction, I had no worries. White House was the first stop on our itinerary for the day. I was forewarned that it would be all walking as hubby was not sure of the bus-routes. Do I really have a choice?
We walked the surrounding area to get a feel of Washington DC. It was beyond my imagination. Seeing the buildings on the television was unlike looking through my eyes. They looked titanic (maybe I am shrinking in size) and the streets are so wide with so many lanes. Walking at my pace to cross the street before the lights turned red was near impossible. The first time I crossed the street I received a honk. I resorted to scurrying across after that. 
Calbary Baptist Church (just a church that caught my attention)
People are very civilised in Washington DC as I observed so far. They queue patiently. 
We crossed many streets, too many or so I thought. I lamented to husband that my Asian feet are not made for American roads. To that, he said that I would get accustomed to the Americans style of walking!
We needed an appointment to take a tour of the White House (at least 21 days prior to visit). I found out from the White House home page too late. We were just 2 days away from boarding our flight. Therefore, we could only view the White House from afar. We used the camera zoom lens (do not even own a pair of binoculars) to get a closer view. That was about all the pleasure we enjoyed from our White House visit. 
Executive Office Building along Pennsylvania Avenue
The First Division Monument in President's Park
We walked down from Pennsylvania Avenue. Most of the tourist sites are located quite near to one another. By near I mean there is still some serious walking needed and a good pair of walking shoes would do the feet justice.
We could see the Washington Monument from where we stood. It was a few steps away from the First Division Monument (picture above). However, it was not as near as what the picture portray. The picture tell a lie . So, do not be fooled.  
Washington Monument on The National Mall
The Truman Balcony
From the First Division Monument, we walked down to the White House to look at The Truman Balcony. The sprawling lawn in front of the White House made us see a small White House. We had to use the camera and its zoom lens to have a closer look. Ooo, how wonderful to be able to see The Truman Balcony. It was still a good feeling even though it was far. I wished I had taken more effort in planning this vacation then, we would be nearer to the building.
We walked through the Ellipse without realising that it was the Ellipse until we saw the information booth. I wanted to find out more but there was no one around. The park was deserted. My feet were tired so we stopped for a rest. There were a few squirrels scavenging from the garbage bin near the bench we sat. Squirrels as beautiful as these are rare in my country, Malaysia. I made some clucking sound and a squirrel stood up. I did that a few times then I decided to place a small piece of biscuit on my palm. I approached one of them (on top of the bin) with hand outstretched and clucking. I could not believe it; the squirrel stood up and took the biscuit from my hand! I would be feeding monkeys instead if I were back home in Penang, Malaysia. (Laughters)

Look! Squirrels instead of monkeys
It was getting chilly and I thought it would be a good idea if we head 'home'. My husband had other ideas. He was studying the map whilst I was having fun with the squirrels. He told me that there is a very long mall near where we were resting.  If that was not enough to entice me to walk further, he continued by telling me I could shop all I want as the mall is 2 miles long. 
We walked, crossed a few streets and arrived at a big building. I thought it was the shopping place that hubby told me. We walked nearer and a sign there told us it was a museum. The look on hubby's face told me that he had taken me to the wrong place. He stopped to study the map and said, "We will go into the museum first." It was the Smithsonian National Museum of AmericanHistory.
Entrance/Exit into the National Museum
We did not know if photography was allowed. No one was taking any pictures so I advised hubby to keep the camera. The museum has many floors and wings. I loved the First Ladies, the Food section, the Dolls’ House, just to name a few. I had some fun smelling the food. There is even a Julia Child’s kitchen. We did not have this museum on our places to visit list. I would say it was worth our visit. The visit gave us extra general knowledge. I am amazed that such a beautiful museum came with no entrance fee.
This entrance/exit faces The National Mall
My husband could not make head or tail of the map and finally, yes finally decided to approach a passerby. He asked about the mall as in The National Mall stated in the map. The woman pointed across to where we stood and said, "There it is. That is the mall." I went, "What? This is The National Mall? This park is them all?” Now, tell me why did I not ask hubby what was written on the map. Maybe even looking at the map. I had read about the National Mall but did not pay great attention. It is over 2 miles/3 km long and we stood at one end of it. "Now, there goes my retail therapy." I told husband. We had a good laugh. The sad part for me was I had further walking to do with no shopping. (Joking)
The National Mall must be beautiful when the trees are green with leaves my husband told me. I thought it all depends on the individual. I loved the bare trees, as I do not see them back home. I am not talking about dead trees. We caught sight of a few squirrels scurrying up the bare trees. I noticed there was hardly any litter around. These people, they are civic minded people. I could not help thinking so. It was a cooling walk and at the pace my husband decided to keep, I had no complaints. We were heading towards the National Museum of Natural History. My husband has great interest in dinosaurs.
One end of The National Mall
The Smithsonian Castle
We walked past the Smithsonian Castle. It is located on the opposite side of where we stood. There are many museums located along this mall. The Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, just to name a few. The Lincoln Memorial, US Capitol and a few others are also along this mall. 
I have been feeling like a dwarf whenever I go near a building here in DC. This museum, The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is another of them. It is gargantuan. I stood next to one of the columns for a picture.  The columns looked like it reached up to the sky when I looked up. The museum looked busy. There were many people walking into the museum together with us. Again, there was no entrance charge and no tickets were required. 

We were 'greeted' by an African elephant as we walked into the foyer. A check on the web gave me the information that this African elephant was fifty-five years old when it died in Angola in 1955. 
Paleobiology being husband's one of many interests, he headed straight for the Dinosaur Hall of  the museum. He posed for many pictures with the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur and others. There are many sections to explore. Many things were unknown to us. It was interesting finding out what we did not know. The wrong facts we had in our head. Picture taking took a back seat from then on. 
Life-size blue whale in the 'Life in the Sea' Hall
We spent about 3 hours inside the museum. I did not know I would be interested in any museum. This Smithsonian Museum of Natural History had me wanting to stay longer. Unfortunately, hubby said we have to leave, as it would be sunset soon.
Ice Skating at National Gallery of Art 
National Gallery of Art
My husband, the professional at map reading got us lost. By the time, he decided to ask for directions, we were already many streets away from the subway station. We could see the top section of The Capitol.  Hubby thought since we were near, his definition of near, we decided to go and look at The Capitol. 

As we crossed a street, I could see The Capitol in the distance. It looked magnificent. My feet were tired but the thought of viewing it up close made me push myself to continue walking.
We crossed the road (I scurried across) and husband decided to walk back and stood in the middle. He took a shot of The Capitol. Who could resist such a beautiful sight?
We were still walking when  we heard sirens then police outriders and a black limousine sped past us. Husband was only quick enough to capture a shot of the second car. We are still wondering if The President of the United States was in the first one!
It was quite dark and the place was deserted. The area around The Capitol was not fenced so we could walk around. The area was lighted up there it was...The Capitol, white in colour and it looked so magnificent. Breathtaking. I walked around as husband went about taking pictures after pictures of it.
The Statue of Freedom at the tip
The group of people we saw in the vicinity when we arrived had begun to leave. Some walked away while a few got into their cars. We decided to leave too. Hubby said we could not be too complacent with safety. We headed towards the Capitol South subway station for our journey home. The next day, we found out from a local couple that there had been muggings at this end of the mall. Phew!

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