Hey there, lovely readers!
Today I have another of my long-past journeys to impart with you. In the spring of 2009, my class at school took a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., in order to see the American landmarks we had been studying all year. This post will give you an idea of what I experienced about the U.S. capital, and perhaps it will interest you to make the visit. As it has been a while since my trip, however, I will provide this disclaimer: I have no photos to enhance the interest of my post, and I also might not recall every detail perfectly. I hope these factors do not detract from your reading pleasure, though, and I hope you find some value in the next few minutes of adventure.
Our journey was my first major trip away from home. Upon departure, I had only visited IA, MN, WI, and SD; the way east was just a precursor for many subsequent trips I would take in the coming years. We rode a charter bus all the night through, and we made it through Iowa, Illinois (state #5), Indiana (#6), Ohio (#7), and West Virginia (#8), and into Pennsylvania (#9), on the first day/night. These states unsurprisingly remained a blur to me until I visited them again later on, and I still have no recollection of West Virginia. I wouldn’t even know I had been there, were it not for my memory of which interstates we traversed. Anyway, we ended the drive with our first major stop, in Gettysburg, PA.
Gettysburg is important in American history because it was the site of a major battle in the Civil War, a war that kept the country united in the face of disagreements over slavery and other, much more minor, issues. We visited the town in order to see the battlefield and museum related to the battle. The Battle of Gettysburg, and the Civil War in general, were full of rich events and fascinating stories regarding the people, places, and motives for tension in America’s 1860s; more information than anyone would ever care to know can be found on the internet and in American libraries everywhere. I’ll spare you the painstaking and trivial details about the history of the place, but I will just say that the battlefield is massive and rather neat to visit, and a trip to Gettysburg could be very informative of America’s history for international visitors who are not familiar with it. We also toured and ate at The Dobbin House, which was once used as a hideout station on The Underground Railroad (google this if you’re unfamiliar with the history of slavery in the United States). It wasn’t particularly outstanding or special to experience, but there was some novelty and fun in eating dinner at a colonial house.
From Gettysburg, our trip took us southeast, into Maryland (state #10 for me) and the Washington, D.C. metro area. I don’t remember exactly which day was which adventure, but our adventure farthest north was the city of Baltimore. I really enjoyed the city and found its piers and streets charming, and I recommend it to anyone who has the chance to travel to the eastern U.S. We toured an old U.S. naval ship, visited The National Aquarium, and walked about the boardwalks by the Atlantic Ocean, and then we were given time to find lunch amid the city’s many restaurants. Some people in the class went to The Cheesecake Factory, while others spread out to various locales. My group went to The Hard Rock Café, and I had an all-around grand experience there. Our evening at a Baltimore Orioles professional baseball game ended the day, and even though I care not for most professional sports, I had an enjoyable time at the game as well. On a side note, I was spontaneously approached by someone handing out samples for Old Bay seafood seasoning, and it has been my favorite seasoning for pasta, poultry, fish, and rice ever since.
After our lovely day in Baltimore, we traveled to Washington, D.C., where we would stay until our departure a few days later. One day in D.C. included a visit to Union Station, a depot for trains that has been grossly (yet charmingly) “touristicated.” I remember seeing many gimmicky electronics shops, one of which successfully lured our foolish 14-year-old selves into buying low-quality junk for a “great deal.” Regardless, I also remember eating at Flamers, where the hamburgers and chicken sandwiches were rather tasty. Only the first night in D.C., however, Union Station was followed by several other neat adventures in the nation’s capital.
I’m pretty confident that we visited the U.S. Capitol Building at some point, but I really don’t remember it very clearly, to be honest. I remember eating at Five Guys Burgers and Fries one day (perhaps my favorite place ever for a burger, despite the mixed reviews online), and I think it was the same day we went to a bunch of national monuments around the city. We visited the Washington Monument, The Jefferson Memorial, The World War II Memorial, The Korean War Memorial (which commemorates those who fought in The Korean War, like my grandfather Roger), The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial (probably my favorite memorial, as it had plenty of cherry blossoms and water-and-stone sculptures to admire). We also visited the National Cathedral, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the White House on a separate day, and at one point when the class was given the chance to explore the National Mall (a grass stretch in front of the Washington Monument, rather than the shopping malls most people think of when they see the word mall), my small group visited The Library of Congress, which I really wanted to see. The Library wasn’t as cool as I had hoped, since the vast majority of materials in The Library were in digital and referential form, rather than in physical book form. This makes perfect sense, given the sheer amount of literature in the U.S. and the world, but it escaped my common sense as an eighth-grader. If I were to recommend the highlights to hit in D.C., I would say that the Roosevelt Memorial, National Cathedral, and Holocaust Museum are the three must-sees in the big city. If I ever make it back, I will surely have to visit the Peace Corps Headquarters as well, because how could I not?
After our exploits in Washington, D.C., we also spent a short time in Arlington, Virginia (state #11 for me). We toured The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, which is truly incredible and haunting. It is home to the graves of U.S. militants from several wars in the nation’s brutal history, and the sheer number of tombstones is enough to take your breath away. While at the cemetery, we watched The Changing of the Guards, a ceremony wherein the militants protecting The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (a final burial for an unidentified casualty in World War I, more recently accompanied by casualties from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam) change places at the end of their shift. The procession is very orderly and entertaining to watch, and you can watch the ceremony once per hour in the winter, or once every 30 minutes in the summer. My favorite part of Virginia was probably our visit to Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington’s slave plantation. The plantation is massive and has tours through all the buildings and grounds of the farm, though the best part is definitely the stunning Potomac River, which runs right alongside the property. I found the plantation fascinating, and I think it well worth the time and effort to visit if you’re going to Virginia and/or D.C.
After our time in the D.C. area, we took a very similar route home and finished off the last month of our middle-school lives. The road home was completely uneventful, and my travels went on hiatus for several years afterward. I wouldn’t mind making the trip back to the nation’s capital someday, though, and I hope you feel like D.C. would be worth your while as well after reading this post.