Monuments, Memorials and Museums

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 19 Aug 2009 15:53
Saturday 15th
Having spent the remainder of Friday sorting ourselves out, taking a guided tour round the Capital Yacht Club and arranging a berth for Monday we went back to Ajaya in the anchorage to plan our assault on Washington. Saturday morning the Yacht Club hosts an 'all you can eat'  breakfast which we thought would set us up nicely for a walking tour of the main monuments that are in easy reach of our location. The breakfast was scheduled for 0830 which rather scuppered plans for a lie-in after a few early morning starts of late. We need not have worried about oversleeping as, anchored where we are in the Washington Channel means we are sitting in the middle of the M25 as far as chopper traffic is concerned in Washington. In fact it's a Helicopter enthusiast's paradise as, to date we have been closely buzzed by the US Navy, The US Army, Police, Park Police, as well as numerous civilian choppers that are rather tame compared to the powerful military machines that skim at about 100 ft above the channel. Seeing them flying up the channel at speed is quite awe-inspiring and we are now advised that 3 in a line represents the President arriving at or departing from the White House about a mile away as the copter flies. We are assured he rides in the middle one which we believe to be a rumour circulated by the CIA. He probably takes the Metro.
So. having been awoken twice in the night, by helicopters blasting overhead we were up nice and early to check in for our big breakfast and then, map in hand off we went to join the thousands of like minded visitors also about to tick off the monuments one by one as they 'do' the capital.
First on the tour was the Washington Memorial, the world's tallest obelisk at 555 foot which is visible from all over DC. 
It commemorates the first US President George Washington and at one time was the World's tallest structure until the French were given a very large box of Mecanno one Christmas which they used to build the Eiffel Tower. Being a Saturday all tickets were sold for the elevator ride to the top, although the airport security type of baggage screening inside looked a little off-putting in any case. From there we walked to the White House and then on to the Second World War memorial which was impressive with its fountains and quotations from various US Commanders, along with its 4000 gold stars representing American deaths in the war (100 deaths for each star).
Only ducks are allowed in the water features at the WW2 memorial !
 It was then on to the Lincoln Memorial with the impressive statue of Abe sitting down inside the building.
Onwards to the Vietnam Memorial which whilst not in any way grand was imposing as the names of the 58,000 servicemen and women who died or are MIA are listed. This memorial more than any other proved poignant as many relatives could be seen searching for their family name and taking a tracing from the marble carving. Rangers were there to do the honours if step ladders were required for the higher names on the list.
The Korean War Memorial was impressive for the bronze statues of soldiers poised with guns in their capes.
There should have been 38 statues but monetary constraints meant only 19 were cast and the marble wall in the background reflected the images to create the illusion of the 38 soldiers. It works really well.
For us however from all the sights we visited today the one we nearly didn't go to proved to be the most impressive, the Franklin D Roosevelt memorial. This was composed not of a single structure but of various outdoor 'rooms' with beautiful water features interspersed with many of his most memorable quotations."Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear".
The memorial represents 12 years in the history of the USA in his terms of office and amongst the many statue is one of  men waiting in a bread line,
although the most popular with visitors was the statue of Roosevelt with his famous Scottie dog Fala, probably the most famous real dog in history.
Our day ended with a visit to the fish and crab market which is next door to the Capital Yacht Club where we are berthed. This market area attracts anyone of need of an instant crab fix as they cook them on the spot for you, or you can buy some fish and prawns to take back to the boat for a barbecue as we did.
Monday 17th
Today we visited the Botanical Gardens and Smithsonian museum of the Native American Indian. Smithson was British we were surprised to learn, he never actually visited the USA, but bequeathed his entire estate equivalent to $12 million in today's money to set up an institution for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge". Both sites were impressive in their own right. Splitting the two locations we walked round the statues in front of Capitol Hill with some fabulous bronze castings representing the Civil War with an imposing General E Grant astride his horse.
The Botanic Gardens, whilst not of the same size as Kew were beautifully constructed having various features representing the many climates prevalent in the USA from arid desert to prairie and wetlands. Water features play a big part in the creation of the gardens.
A novel idea - a transportable hedge.....
with it's own office space inside !
The Museum of the Native American Indian is set over four floors and takes you on a long trip through all the indigenous peoples of the Americas, both north and south. So its not just about those nasty arrow firing Indians attacking wagon trains, but more of an insight into their culture and way of life with each nation having space to tell their story within the exhibition. The 3rd floor does bring in the struggles of the Indian with the new settlers - those struggles lasted 100s of years until the Indian nations were effectively wiped out, with little land allocated to the remaining tribes. What we tend to forget or not realise is that 9 out of 10 natives were killed not by guns but by the diseases that were brought in unknowingly by the first settlers.There are many stories to be told but perhaps the most interesting is the use of the Mohawk language in World War 2 in the war against the Japanese. It was the language used to transmit signals between battalions of troops in battle and could not possibly be understood by the Japanese code breakers - a brilliant idea. We didn't take many pics inside the museum because of low light conditions but the exterior is impressive as are the surrounding gardens
Tuesday 16th
We are flagging - only one museum today although if you count a trip to Safeway as a museum visit then it was two! Today we walked to the Smithsonian Air and Space which was also the choice of thousands of other tourists like us except they had loads of kiddies with them. This meant it was a dog fight to get to the working exhibits as the little tots would barge in front to grab whatever it was you needed to operate to make the working model come to life. Many were broken, probably due to unsupervised use, but this didn't detract from the museum as it held our attention from 1100 through til 1800 although we did nip outside for some peace and quiet for a spot of lunch for 30 mins.
On show are many of the space capsules that took humans (and monkeys) up beyond earth's atmosphere as well as the ballistic missiles that were part of the cold war arsenal that eventually both sides agreed to dismantle or destroy.
 Zimmer frame for elderly astronauts !
One of the massive engines from the Saturn 5 rocket which takes the space shuttle up.
The Apollo capsule 
The 'air' part of the museum deals with flight both military and commercial, how jet engines work and how airliners ever get off the ground. Altogether it was a fascinating day out and tremendous value, as there is no entrance fee to any of the Smithsonian museums.
Finally the Wright Brothers who started the whole flying thing off. They were brave men indeed.