I was welcomed out of the Metro station with a crystal-blue sky and biting wind.
Just to the left of me, the Washington Memorial obelisk was glowing white in the sunshine and hundreds of people were flying colorful kites in the lawn. The freezing wind carried the sweet smell of cherry blossoms on the trees which are celebrated with a festival this time of year.
Tens of thousands of people were out on foot, wandering between the monuments and around the Smithsonian buildings. I hardly noticed, there was plenty of room for all of us in the sprawling National Mall which stretches for nearly two miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Unbelievably, a choir was singing America the Beautiful as a large flag was unfurled to kick off the kite festival. I almost laughed at the perfect timing as I looked at our Capitol building for the first time.
I was on the ground in an exciting new place with a rucksack of camera gear biting into my shoulder. Damn, what a feeling!
People find it shocking that I “live” on the eastern side of the US but have never taken the time to visit Washington DC.
To be honest, getting closer to the steaming pile that is American politics never held much of an allure for me. However, standing here among all this history and impressive eye-candy makes me regret not venturing to this part of the country sooner.
DC is an exciting place, buzzing with international visitors and things to do.
I spent the entire day just walking in the sunshine, taking the obligatory photos of the monuments, people watching, and lost in my own little world.
Being an ex-soldier, the war memorials were my first interest. The Korean War Memorial was chilling with life-sized soldiers walking in a V-wedge formation. You could even see the horror of the moment carved forever in their gray faces.
Captain Palmgreen, a friend of mine, pointed out that the last man was looking back and gesturing to make sure that you were in the correct formation. Very cool.
The Vietnam Memorial had even more of an impact on me than I expected. So many names, way too many damn names, carved in the black stone. It was maddening to think that every single one of those names was once a human being like myself, equip with dreams, family members, and ambitions.
Being a Sunday, there were quite a few vets present that had come to leave letters and flowers. Some were etching the names of buddies onto paper. I spoke quietly to one and told him “thanks”; he patted the wall behind him and said, “Don’t thank me, thank these guys.” I got out of there quick with a huge lump in my throat.
The first thing that I noticed about the Lincoln Memorial were his eyes, fixed across the Reflecting Pool. Despite all the problems and complaints, standing there on those marble steps, I felt damned proud of my country.
With so many people zeroing in on the Capitol on such a beautiful day, I was always on the lookout for Secret Service guys or even an innocuous looking tourist with one-too-many ear buds.
Disappointingly, there were none…that I could see. They were trained well.
Wondering what the latest and greatest cause being solicited on the lawn of the Capitol is? Try anti-circumcision. Seriously, are we THAT out of material to harass the politicians with?
I wandered just a couple of blocks behind the Capitol in search for something to eat that wouldn’t clog my arteries and came into an empty Thai restaurant. I tried some of my pitiful Thai with the greeter and was actually asked to sit down with the staff that were having their lunch.
Tiny plates of culinary ecstasy littered every inch of the table. The family was friendly and I think they had as much fun chatting about Thailand as I did. Some were looking forward to getting home soon where “it doesn’t snow”!
I spent the next hour attempting to eat the spiciest noodles that I’ve had outside of Thailand without looking like there was a five-alarm emergency going on in my mouth and stomach. I did my best to play it cool between wiping tears and snot away.
Could this day get any better?
I caught a $1.35 train over to Arlington National Cemetery (DC is surprisingly easy to get around) to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The elaborate ceremony was impressive; soldiers train for years just to enjoy the honor of guarding the Tomb.
The Tomb is guarded by the finest soldiers that the Army can provide. They stand with their unknown fallen comrades 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter the weather. Hooah.
The perfect day was followed up by the perfect night. A friend’s sister (who happens to be a Lt. Colonel and lived in Korea) found us a hidden little Korean restaurant where we were pretty much the only non-Asian patrons.
I think I managed to eat my weight in things that once crawled, swam, or oozed in the ocean. I’m also pretty sure that I saw two black, beady eyes watching me from the depths of my spicy soup bowl.
We left there with kimchi evaporating from our pores and met up with more interesting people at a Tapas bar on King Street where a band played great Spanish and Latin music.
I honestly don’t think that I could have pieced together a more picture-perfect day on the road here in the U.S. Even with more politicians than I normally care to fraternize with, DC is one exciting place to find yourself vagabonding.
As with every new city or country, the buzz here is unique and makes my skin tingle with all the possibilities. This was just a short visit, but I will definitely be back.
I will have more photos uploaded when I am on a faster connection. I hate to cause a mutiny by flooding the free wireless here at my Barnes and Noble office.
Life is good!