Bel Air News & Views goes to Washington

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Bel Air News & Views took the family to do the touristy thing in Washington, D.C. Saturday. It’s really a great way to spend a day without spending a dime (except, of course, for what you pay for gas oh, and for the taxes you pay to keep D.C. running). We went Saturday because we thought parking would be easier and it turns out that on-street parking on Constitution Avenue, right along the museum-packed National Mall, is free on weekends. Directions from Mapquest (sending us down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to New York Avenue to 6th Street NW and then to Constitution) were the easiest I’ve had getting into the city. We slipped the minivan into an on-street parking spot right across from the Washington Monument and left our picnic lunch in a cooler in the trunk while we hiked up to take in the obelisk. Full of “just-got-here” energy, we thought about climbing to the top, but quickly learned that timed tickets distributed for the climb were all taken by 8 in the morning, as they usually are. Feeling vigorous, even with the temperature in the high 80s, we decided to make our way to the Lincoln Memorial, which we could clearly see on the opposite end of West Potomac Park, just three quarters of a mile away. Along the way, we came upon the 2-year-old World War II Memorial on 17th Street between the Washington and Lincoln memorials. (Just for fun, check out its location on Google Earth. They still have a satellite shot of it when it was under construction.) With splashing fountains and soaring granite pillars, it possesses all the grandeur of its fellow memorials. When we finally made it to the Lincoln Memorial, we rested on its marble steps to soak in the view of the Washington Monument behind us. We were surprised to discover the obelisk’s reflection in the long pool that stretches across the park, wasn’t obstructed by the World War II Memorial, despite that memorial’s impressive size.

Next, we headed to the Vietnam Memorial just a little northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. It was the most moving of the memorials we visited. Visitors treat it almost like a graveyard where the collective grief is in concentrated into the more than 50,000 names engraved on this triangular expanse of black granite. The first name appears on an incredibly narrow triangle of stone that emerged as we descended into the memorial. That name was quickly joined on the widening wall by dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of war dead that reached from the ever lowering walkway to high above our heads. The polished stone reflected images of visitors almost as sharply as a mirror, as they laid pages bearing the images and names of lost loved ones in their military uniforms at the foot of the wall, as they wedged dog tags into the seams between the granite slabs or as they crouched to rub an engraved name onto a slip of paper. A reverent hush hung over the busy scene by the time we reached its lowest point, where one wall of granite meets another at a corner marked by the date 1959. Turning this corner, the ground rose to gradually lead us out of the memorial. As the Capitol dome and the tip of the Washington Monument broke the surface of the horizon above, the chatter of tourists returned.

The hike back to our picnic in the car was exhausting. But the great thing about Washington is that there are lots of air conditioned museums to provide refuge – and they’re free. We hit the National Museum of American History, simply because it was the closest to the car. We saw Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Mr. Roger’s zippered sweater, Fonzie’s jacket, Jim Henson’s Muppets (including Kermit the Frog) and the Inaugural Ball gowns of Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Rosalyn Carter, Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Patricia Nixon.

We spent a full day in Washington and spent only a few dollars on water and Haagen-Daz ice cream bars from street vendors. On the way out of town, we spied Chinatown’s elaborate “Friendship Archway” over H Street and we decided to research the best place to eat there for our next trip to D.C.