On to Washington

As part of our trip to Baltimore a couple weeks ago, Amanda, Darci, and I took the MARC train from Baltimore to Washington D.C. to spend a bit of time walking around our Nation's Capitol. I probably could have driven but I've always heard that driving in D.C. is a pain in the place you sit as well as parking being downright impossible to find so I decided that the MARC was definitely the way to go. The price is quite reasonable ($7 one way) and it's a rather relaxing ride, too, while you glide through about an hour's worth of Maryland countryside en route to the former swamp upon which our forefathers built the seat of our country's government.

We started our day by taking a taxi from our hotel to Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore. Darci had asked why it was called Penn Station when we were in Maryland and not Pennsylvania and the reason is actually pretty simple - the station was previously known as Union Station when it was owned by the Northern Central Railway but in 1884 the Pennsylvania Railroad bought the Northern Railway Line and changed the name of the station. The current station is actually the second railroad station to stand in this spot as the original was torn down in 1907 when it became evident that it just wasn't big enough to accommodate the railroad's growing number of passengers. In its place was built the current Pennsylvania Station which opened on the night of September 14th, 1911 with an attending crowd of 5,000 Baltimoreans who had come to inspect the new "gateway to the city".

I don't know if any of you have ever spent much time in any older railroad stations but one thing I have to say about them is that the architecture is always wonderful and you can generally find a stained glass window or two in the ceiling to gaze at while waiting for your train. Balimore was no exception with the beautiful ceiling above.

Unfortunately, the day we chose to go to Washington D.C. was not the best weather-wise; Hurricane Bill had stirred up some unsettled weather and the skies were definitely not blue. The temperatures couldn't seem to make up their mind either so it was alternately relatively cool to uncomfortably warm and to make it even more fun, the humidity levels were fluctuating all over the place. Ah yes, D.C. in August - what was I thinking??

Fortunately, Union Station in Washington is not very far from the Capitol Complex and that was our first destination. I had booked a Capitol Tour and even though we were going to be a bit early, I figured that would give us plenty of time to see the other buildings around the Capitol as well as spend some time in the Visitors Center.

As we arrived on the Capitol grounds, the sky had become even darker and thunder could be heard in the distance so I wasn't sure how much time we had before we got drenched. A quick inquiry from one of many the Security Officers nearby pointed us in the right direction of the Visitors Center where he told us we could definitely find shelter from the impending rain. Of course, it wasn't raining yet so that gave me time to take some (lots) of pictures of what has got to be one of the most impressive structures I have ever stood in front of.

Long, long ago in what seems almost like another lifetime so many years have passed, my father was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base and my mother used to bring visiting relatives over to the Capitol and other Washington sites. There are pictures of my brother and I on the steps of the Capitol but I was only three or four years old at the time and have absolutely no recollection of our visits except for those pictures. Essentially then, this was my very first time visiting the United States Capitol and I have to say that I was very, very impressed. I was awestruck at its size, I marveled at the architecture, and I have to say that I was quite proud of the fact that the building standing before me in all of its grandeur was my Nation's Capitol Building. I also felt very, very small with the dome towering over me but that's okay, I like feeling small from time to time!

I'll try to keep the history brief but some must be given as what would a travel post from me be without some history, right? In a semi-nutshell then - in 1791, President George Washington selected the area that is now the District of Columbia from land ceded by the State of Maryland. Before that, the federal government had no permanent site and the early Congresses met in eight different cities: Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton, and New York City.

After selecting the land, President Washington then selected three Commissioners to survey the site and oversee the design and construction of the capital city and its government buildings. The Commissioners, in turn, selected the French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant to plan the new city of Washington, a plan which was influenced by the gardens at Versailles. The city's streets and avenues were arranged in a grid overlaid with baroque diagonals and the result was "a functional and aesthetic whole in which government buildings are balanced against public lawns, gardens, squares, and paths."

The Capitol Building itself was located on the brow of what was then called Jenkins' Hill. The site was, in L'Enfant's words, "a pedestal waiting for a monument". The building is located at the eastern end of the National Mall on a plateau 88 feet above the level of the Potomac River and commands a westward view across the Capitol Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument 1.4 miles away and the Lincoln Memorial 2.2 miles away.

The cornerstone of the Capitol was laid by President Washington in the building's southeast corner on September 18th, 1793 with Masonic ceremonies and since then the Capitol has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored. If you'd like to read more about the laborious project, please click on this link which will take you to a very informative webpage that tells you all about the Capitol's construction and also has links to many other pages that will give you wonderful information on the architecture and the art of not just the Capitol but the many buildings surrounding it.

The rain held off long enough for the girls and I to take lots of pictures outside of the Capitol and then we ducked into the Visitors Center just in time to keep from getting soaked. Inside is an Exhibition Hall, a restaurant, gift shops, and 24 statutes which are part of The National Statuary Hall Collection which is comprised of statues donated by individual states to honor persons notable in their history; all fifty states have contributed two statues each and they are on display in various locations in the Capitol.
On display is also the plaster model of the "Statute of Freedom" which stands atop the Capitol's Dome.

Following a quick lunch, the girls and I began our Offical Tour of the Capitol which starts with a multi-media presentation and then a guide leads you up to the Rotunda of the Capitol which is located in the center of the second floor. It's a very large, circular, domed room and is the place where Presidents and other distinguished citizens have lain in state so that the Nation can pay a final tribute to them.

It's a totally amazing room to put it simply and I would love to have had more time to look around at the statues and paintings that are there, especially the frieze that circles the rotunda which contains a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. It looks like it's a sculpture but it's actually done with a painting technique on wet plaster. Unfortunately, though, they rush you through kind of quickly and I get the feeling that lolly-gaggers are not appreciated!

From the Rotunda we moved on to the Old Hall of the House which is now known as the National Statuary Hall. The House of Representatives first occupied the space south of the Rotunda in 1809 and used it as their meeting room for almost 50 years until it moved in 1857. Unfortunately, while we were in this room, I started to feel a little bit queasy and wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to continue on the tour. For a few fleeting moments I thought I was going to have to toss my camera to Amanda and try to figure out how to get back to the Visitors Center without causing some sort of National Security Breach but thankfully the impending feeling of being sick and/or blacking out passed and I was able to continue on with our group. Due to that, though, I missed almost everything the tour guide said while we were in the room and didn't get to take anywhere near as many pictures as I wanted to. Looks like I need to go back to make up for what I missed!

Our tour guide next led us downstairs to the Old Supreme Court Chamber which was used by the Supreme Court from 1810 to 1860. It was pretty interesting to be in the same room where so many historic decisions had been handed down over the years. We didn't spend much time in this room and it was hard to get any pictures as there were a lot of people in front of me but one that I managed to take was actually rather interesting when I looked at it on the computer as it looks like one of the judges may still be hanging around the old court in the form of an orb. Just as a note, I didn't use a flash when taking this picture and I had managed to hang back briefly when everyone else had cleared the room so there was no residual flash from anyone else's camera either. Truth be told, I'm rather surprised that this was the only orb I got on a picture in the entire Capitol, though I did get a rotunda full of them at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History while we were there.

Moving on, our last stop in the Capitol was The Crypt which is on the first floor of the building directly under the rotunda. Our guide told us that the original intent was for President George Washington to be buried there but obviously he's not as he's buried at his Mount Vernon home across the Potomac River. There is a star in the center of the floor which denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered and the forty columns that surround it support the rotunda. The room is now used to house more of The National Statuary Collection.

Our tour ended there so it was back outside in the hopes that the rain had stopped so that we could see more of Washington. After walking around the rest of the Capitol building, we grabbed a taxi to take us to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. While the girls walked around the various exhibits, I found a nice bench and apparently fell asleep for a little while! I kept thinking I wanted to go up and look at the Hope Diamond but I just couldn't seem to get my feet to move in that direction!

It had started raining again while we were in the museum and at that point I was beginning to wonder how much more we were going to be able to see, though it seemed like we hadn't really seen anything yet except the Capitol. I hated the fact that there we were in Washington D.C. with so much to see around us and the weather was so lousy; add on the fact that Amanda's feet were bothering her and she wasn't liking the humidity at all and it was enough to make me think we should just head back to Union Station and go back to Baltimore. Still, I really, really wanted to see the World War II Memorial and it had stopped raining again so I talked the girls into doing some more walking.

The World War II Memorial is located in between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool. The monument is dedicated to the 16 million who served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. If you biggify this collage, you can read some of the great quotes that are part of the memorial.

Construction of the memorial began in September of 2001 and it was opened on April 29th, 2004. It commemorates the sacrifice and celebrates the victory of "the greatest generation" and it's really a sight to see. Actually, all of the monuments and memorials in Washington are sights to see as they help you to remember those who made this country the great nation that it is but this one was as far as we were going to get as shortly after we got to the World War II Memorial, the skies decided that they were really going to open up and let the rain pour down. Even though we were just a short distance from the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, and the Lincoln Monument I knew that it was probably time to call it a day.

After flagging down another taxi, we rode back to Union Station in the pouring rain and caught the MARC train back to Baltimore. This time we took the Camden Line which dropped us off just outside of Camden Yards, the impressive brick home of the Baltimore Orioles. It was only a couple of blocks from there to the Inner Harbor so we decided to walk down there to find a place to have dinner. Amanda chose the Hard Rock Cafe and even though it wasn't my first choice I really did enjoy our waiter who was funny and entertaining.

I had wanted to stop by Fort McHenry on Saturday before we left to head back north but the day didn't exactly dawn bright and sunny ...

... and I opted instead to just hit the turnpike and start the drive home. I just wasn't up to dealing with anymore heat and humidity plus I'd worn a nice hole in the side of my right foot walking around Washington. As much as I would have liked to go see the fort, I didn't think the girls would be all that interested and I was definitely ready to go home. I think that next time I'd really like to have another adult along for the ride even though I enjoyed Amanda and Darci's company.

As per usual, I have put together a video with some of the many pictures that I took; this one is set to yet another piece of music from Doctor Who but that's probably because I've come to really like the soundtrack music as it seems to lend itself to videos! I hope you enjoy (be sure to press the HQ button as it looks so much better!) and go ahead and try to guess which picture out of all them is my very favorite ... I'll let you know tomorrow which one it was!


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