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Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Smithsonian...

I've been home for 4 days now but I haven't yet finished the task I set myself. That task was to write a travelogue of our adventures on my blog. So over the next few days I'll try to finish that! So let me take you back to Washington DC...

DH and I spent 2 whole days and part of a third day in the Smithsonian. Now I always imagined this museum to be one building with several storeys. In actual fact it is a number of buildings none of which appear to be very high. We went to only 2 of these, The National Museum of American History and the Space and Aeronautics Museum. These seem relatively new buildings especially the former. Some of the highlights for me of the first museum were the display of First Ladies Inaugural Ball gowns, Julia Child’s kitchen, a display on immigrant groups to the US as well as an excellent exhibit on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Good photos were hard to achieve due to the glass in the museum but between us, DH and I got a few.

Some of the gardens between the buildings
The Museum of American History

In the Julia Child's kitchen, we could see people inside the exhibit. people were all asking the same question...'How do we get in there?' The answer was that you don't! The people we could see inside were grad students who were inspecting everything in the exhibit and comparing each item's condition with what it was like 9 years before when the exhibit was set up. I had never seen her cooking show but there were videos of the show running and I realised what a wonderful job that Merryl Streep did in playing Julia. (One of the videos featured Graham Kerr who used to do a cooking show on Aussie TV ages ago)

Julia Child's kitchen

A cast of Abe Lincoln

In the second of the museums that we visited we saw many historical aircraft including the ‘Spirit of St Louis’ which was Lindbergh’s plane, as well as space vehicles such as ‘SkyLab. There were lots of school groups touring the museums which made them super-crowded and impossible to get near some of the more exciting exhibits such as the simulators. The quality of the exhibits was amazing as is the sheer size of the collection on display.

DH and I spent some time in the gift shops of the Smithsonian too! DH had fun trying on hats !

Friday, April 29, 2011

The royal wedding...

I love weddings ...the dresses, the flowers, the music, the liturgy and of course the receptions. Unfortunately I was not invited to Prince William and Kate's wedding today but with the whole thing televised DH and I could still be part of the celebrations! (Well to be perfectly honest DH would have preferred his normal Friday night football especially as his beloved Broncos were playing! lol)
So earlier today, I used the little ladder to access a high shelf in our wardrobe to get down my 'tiara'; it's actually the band I wore in my hair for our wedding) Then later I made some dainty little sandwiches; 2 types, chicken and cucumber. (very English) Last year DH won a bottle of Moet champagne which was brought out for these royal nuptials. I also prepared a meal that could be cooked later in the evening after the 'kiss on the balcony'.

Next step was to clear the coffee table in the loungeroom and to put a starched, embroidered cloth on it. Then out came some 'special' glasses with handpainted flowers which were a wedding present. Just about ready by now as we planned to start viewing at about 5.30. So DH put on his 'tuxedo' T shirt and I put on the outfit I wore to DD1's wedding.

I loved the bride's dress; it was gorgeous! Kate was certainly a beautiful bride and William and Harry looked so impressive in their uniforms.I thought that the service was very moving, the music and the choral singing magnificent! And the crowds! These were huge and when the crowd moved behind the line of police and walked towards the palace...well that was just amazing!
DH called me a 'closet Royalist' but I'm not! I just love a wedding! Our children would probably think we are crazy...but we sure had fun!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tour of Washington DC, Part 3

Next we viewed the memorial to the Vietnam War. There are some beautiful sculptures and a wall with many, many names on. I took some photos for a few friends who served in ‘Nam.
Part of the Vietnam War Memorial

Another sculpture in the Vietnam War Memorial

We also visited the controversial WW2 memorial which was only completed a few years ago. Senator Bob Dole was apparently instrumental in getting the memorial completed after such a delay. He is also instrumental in organising for busloads of veterans to visit the memorial. The day we were there, there were quite a few busloads of these vets. It was so sad to see how frail and infirm some were but I bet they were proud to be there!

Veterans and carers waiting for their charter buses after a long visit to the memorial

The wall from a distance...all those stars!
 This memorial is also huge and a fitting tribute to all those service people who served in that war. It consists of many pillars that represent states and protectorates where the soldiers came from. The various theatres of the war are also represented on pillars. There is also a wall covered with stars. Each star represents 200 personnel who died or who were MIA during the war. These personnel numbered 405,399; to me, an incredible number to die in one war!
Our tour then took us to the state of Virginia and more specifically to Arlington National Cemetery and what a privilege that was to visit. Because we weren’t in a big tour bus, our tour could drive through the cemetery and I think we saw more because of this. Did you know that this cemetery is the ‘front yard’ of General Lee’s (of civil war fame) former home called ‘Arlington? The first section we toured was from the civil war and of course there were just so many little white headstones. Most were ‘standard’ headstones with a curved/rounded top. Some though, were pointed and we were told this story. They are confederate graves and they didn’t want ‘Yankees sitting on their headstones’ so the pointy bit is supposed to prevent that! Lol

Looking through the trees at some of the many service personnel graves
We visited the Kennedy plot which has JFK, 2 small babies who died very early after birth and Jackie. There is a memorial flame there which burns all the time...very sad and poignant and I watched with interest a group of high school students who were also visiting...they displayed a very dignified and respectful demeanour. We also visited Bobby and Teddy Kennedy’s graves.
The Kennedy grave plot, with the 2 babies on the outside of their parents

Then we were driven towards the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and we walked the last little distance. It was time for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. One of my blogger friends, Claud from the 'Casa del gato' blog had previously told me what an impact on her the ‘Changing of the Guard Ceremony’ always had so I was really looking forward to seeing that. It was to be the last part of our tour and what a finale! It was also poignant and dignified. Apparently these guards wear a special and smart uniform too. And I’m so glad we got to see it, even though it was raining through a lot of the ceremony.

On the right of the photo are seated some veterans

Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

As we were driving through the cemetery to exit we were to witness something very special. That day there happened to be two ‘big’ funerals at Arlington. Bill, our guide said, to get the military bands it would have to be someone with a rank of general. As well as the bands, the people who were being buried also had the honour of their coffin being placed on a caisson which was drawn by a team of magnificent was such a spectacular sight!
A coffin being carried on the caisson

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Part 2, Washington DC tour...

As well as being the seat of the Federal Government, Washington DC is also a centre featuring a number of memorials, honouring a diverse range of people. On our first stop after lunch we visited the memorial to soldiers who served in the Korean War. It was quite eerie...the memorial consists of figures of soldiers in an open grassed space. They are fully kitted up and are arranged as the infantry would have been, standing in a spread-out formation as though they were sneaking up on the enemy. To me it was so life like! There is a path around this area and then a shiny marble black wall beside the path. In the wall you can see images of service personnel looking out at you. These images also include nurses.

The images in the wall

Some of the figures on a night patrol

At this stop we were able to walk a short way to the Lincoln Memorial. I have 3 words to say about this memorial...big and grand! It has the white marble and the columns and a massive set of marble stairs at the front. In the main hall inside is a huge plinth, on which is a huge chair. Sitting on this chair is a statue of Abraham Lincoln worked in white marble. It was awesome! (the old meaning of the word..i.e. filling with awe) Now when you stand at the top of the stairs at the front of this memorial, you can see in a continuous line the Capitol building, the Washington monument and the Pool of Reflections. (the latter is being dug up and refurbished at the moment)
The Pool of reflections in the foreground is being dug up and refurbished

The Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln's statue inside the memorial

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Washington D.C. Part 1...

We drove to Washington DC from Lancaster along a number of busy freeways. The motel we stayed at was actually 15 miles from DC. It was in a town called Rockville and it obviously is a historically significant area. Some of the homes were magnificent. By staying out of the city we saved quite a lot of money on parking fees, as it was free to park at the Rockville motel.
There was an excellent train service from Rockville into the centre of Washington DC which we used a number of times. You have to buy your tickets via the machines; there is absolutely no human help. Let’s just say that we had quite a time working out how to buy a ticket...and we are both educated too! Lol
The week before we arrived had been the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC and by the time we arrived there were hardly any blossoms left...obviously all ‘dropped’.
On our first full day we got up at 5 am, showered, dressed, ate a muesli bar each (motel breakfast wasn’t until 6.30am) and headed off in a taxi to Rockville station, caught a train and we were in the city by 7 am. At 7.15 we were picked up by our tour guide. At first there were 5 of us but later on 2 Dutch tourists joined the tour. The vehicle was like a SUV and this was to be an advantage as it could get us closer to places than a regular tour bus could.

Our first stop was on Pennsylvania Avenue, outside the Visitor Centre from which we could walk up to the south gate of the White House. Even though that was the closest we got, we could still see the beautifully manicured lawns, flowering trees, shrubs and garden beds. One endearing thing I noticed about the grounds was the large vegie patch. I do remember hearing the Obamas starting a vegetable garden so it was great to see it...albeit from a distance. There was also a bee hive near that garden too.

The pathway to the South gate/fence of the White House

The Whitehouse vegetable garden

The 2 armed guards on the roof are to the right of the  fence post on the right

This pic shows the expanse of lawn
The other thing I noticed while looking through the fence was the 2 armed guards on the White House roof. I bet someone was filming me trying to get a photo of these guards. We were to see a lot of strict security in the capital and had our bags checked in all sorts of places. From the walkway to the south gate of the Whitehouse we saw the Jefferson monument and also the Washington Monument. The former is like a little Greek or Roman temple and the latter is a huge obelisk! Before we had to meet our guide again, DH and I had a quick look in the Visitor Centre after going through security. In the museum there it was impossible to look at all the displays about government and other historical items.

The imposing Washington monument

A street scene across the road from the Visitor Information Centre on Pennsylvania Ave
The next stop on our tour was the Capitol Building. Since ‘9/11’ a special visitor centre was built under the eastern side of the building. This centre has fairly strict security and if you tour the building you have a sticker on which says exactly what tour and the time the tour started. Bags etc are checked, jackets must be removed, jewellery removed before you walk through the scanner. It would be very hard to stray off the path you are allowed on as there are guards everywhere. Bruce misread an exit sign and was quickly intercepted by a guard wearing an earpiece ( and probably another ‘piece’ under his jacket). I expect everything is observed by CCTV.

This is where we first lined up to get our tickets to tour the Capitol (2 rooms only)

Very soon these queuing areas filled with school groups
The tour starts in a theatre with a film about the building of the capitol. Apparently the construction wasn’t without its own dramas and completion took many years, especially the cupola. Then the tour went into the first of 2 grand rooms. I was overwhelmed with the grandeur and the workmanship of these rooms. The first room we looked at had a magnificent ceiling, huge paintings around the walls, depicting scenes from US history and a wonderful marble floor. This room was also used for ‘lying in state’ of various presidents. The second room was also very grand and it features many statues. Some statues were presidents but not exclusively. One feature that the Capitol tour guide showed us was the acoustics of this room; the group stood while the guide moved away from us and spoke to us from a distance with his back to us. We could hear what he said very clearly. The tour finished then so we moved outside and took photos of the building, the library of Congress across the road as well as the Supreme Court.

Looking up towards the dome

The magnificent ceiling

I can't remember if this statue is called 'Freedom' or 'Liberty'! It is in the Capitol visitor centre

Looking back at the building from the street

DH photographing the Library of Congress. It is connected by tunnel to the Capitol building

The morning finished with a quick trip to the Smithsonian. DH and I knew that we would return there on our own. (we ended up spending 2 whole days there!)
In the afternoon we visited a number of memorials but I will talk about them in a separate post, to do them justice.