Sunday, 19 February 2012

America Reprieved and Canadians Invade DC

 Sunday 12th February to Sunday 19th February 2012

I am pleased to say that I have warmed to America in this past week; we left the Disney resort on the 12th and during the taxi ride to the Orlando Amtrak station we engaged the driver in conversation – something that we had not previously been able to do – found out more about the general feeling of America and Americans about a number of issues.

The scene at the station was very much as I had imagined it would be for a smaller station on the Amtrak line - the waiting room was a cross-section of part of America and it was interesting just being able to sit and watch everyone – we did after all have over an hour wait for the train – I can hear Diane saying – “nothing unusual in that”.
The train trip was overnight; the seats were quite comfortable and we were both able to get a fair amount of sleep during the trip; we did also get to see a fair amount of the surrounding environs through to Jacksonville and a bit beyond there.

Arrived in the capital at about 7am; the weather was decidedly colder than that we had left behind in Florida. Breakfast was had – quite nice really – used Google maps to find the exact location of the B&B – not very far at all so we decided to walk and take in a bit of the city.

We were able to drop off the bags at about 8:15am and had a good chat with Keith Byrd (Mt Vernon Square Bed & Breakfast); picked up the key and got some valuable information about DC. Keith is a very engaging person and we had many conversations about many things - he was particularly interested in our lifestyle aboard the boat.

We took a walk around the city area to familiarise ourselves with the overall layout and the proximity or not of the various places that we wanted to visit.
We had not seen Canada Geese since we had left the UK - they were vistors to all locations and now we find them here.

The Canadians have invaded Washington

Along the way we found the Washington Monument – not able to get close as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake last year had caused some damage to the structure and consequently it was deemed too “dangerous” to have visitors – it was pretty easy to see the cracks in the obelisk on the outside.

The cut down version of the Washington Monument - the top really is still there
See, there it is - and some woman in the foreground

Further on we spent time in the Smithsonian museums for American History and Natural History, after which we headed for the National Air and Space Museum – this was impressive – you walk into the foyer and immediately confronted with the returned command modules of the Mercury and Gemini missions as well as the Apollo 11 CSM.

The original Wright Brothers biplane that flew at Kittyhawk

The Apollo 11 module

The staff were marvellous in explaining what was where – but in a much more jovial manner.

We really are not in Kansas - although these red shoes want to be.
(from The Wizard of Oz)

We sadly were starting to lack enough stamina to continue through the whole of the exhibit and returned to the lodgings for a much needed nap (we are getting old).

Revived and reinvigorated we headed out to dinner and it was thoroughly enjoyable – Busboys and Poets – just around the corner from where we were – can highly recommend this eatery.

Our morning companions at breakfast were reasonably chatty and we warmed to them – gaining valuable information about how they found the country as residents and naturally gaining further insight into this land.

We headed off to the Metro this was built sometime in the 1960’s and we have found it to be a wonderful well-run system; very efficient and at a reasonable cost, even for the visitor to the city – Diane on a mission to visit a JC Penny looking for a particular coat (I thought it would simply have been easier to nick off with Sam’s). Alas we had misunderstood directions from the previous day and ended at Greenbelt – no relevant store – then back to Prince George’s Plaza – it was all good in the end – no coat but plenty of people watching.

Just one of the immanculate Metro stations
- they really were all were like this
We trained it back into DC city and thought that we might be able to get a reasonably close photo of the White House – we knew that not being Americans and not having a 6-month background check, we wouldn’t get onto the tour – but even as we got close, the security people were closing down the access areas which were normally open – no explanation, just a stern and uncompromising “move along” – with which we of course had no option but to comply.

Anyway we were able to get some shots (oops wrong word there!!) – I mean photos – of the White House – but from a considerable distance – all the while there were just so many security people – DC police; Federal police and Secret Service (not really very secret – it was written on the cars).

The White House from afar - about 500 metres was as close as we could get
In fact we have seen so much security personnel at all government buildings; and so much checking of people going into buildings and rules and regulations that it is easy to see that there can be no end to this upgrade of security – it does seem that the enemies of the US have really have won – the viewpoint is that everyone is potentially an enemy of the state.
The government is certainly in a state of heightened alarm and "fear".

Despite all of this we have found Washington as an extremely enjoyable city to visit, with so much going for it, so many friendly people who have a sense of humour about them – even in their official roles.

The ubiquitous American yellow school bus - Diane just wanted
to get a photo of one - she had hundreds to choose from
A more solemn visit was to the Arlington National Cemetery – this defines a lot about America – the history; the gratitude of the nation; the pride of the nation; the understanding of the future governed by their past.

The view from the Arlington Mansion in The National Cemetery

The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; the mansion of Arlington (at one time it was the home of Gen Robert E Lee); the tomb of President Kennedy as well as many many others – all heroes in America.

Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
We past a group of obviously young Armed Forces recruits touring around the site – a most probable part of their induction.

Onto the memorial to another hero of the Republic – that which was built to honour Lincoln – this is an inspiring site – the words of the Gettysburg address resonate as clear today as they would have done almost 150 years ago.

Diane and friend - I think he is quite well known

at 60 feet tall - this is imposing
and incredibly poignant

And the memorial from afar

We decided that we would not get into the Capitol visitors centre – “No Food allowed” – we suspect that there might have been an internationally wanted terrorist slug in the salad.

We did manage to get just a little closer than this

For our last day in Washington we only had a couple of places that we really wanted to go – two more memorials.

The first was the memorial to World War II

WW II memorial - surprisingly only opened in 2004
The second being one that no-one visiting Washington should miss – the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.

see the whole memorial - it really makes you think about this very special man
Both are impressive in their own and unique ways.

And then it was back to pick up the cases and off on the Metro to the bus stop for the trip out to Dulles and back to Heathrow.

Keith had been able to advise that there was a bus direct to Dulles from DC for about $6 – a lot better than the probable $50 taxi fare.

We were not too early, but just enough to allow for the endless searching that we knew was likely to happen at an American airport.

Alas - time to come home
Do we have an impression of America?

Yes we do – after a start that was less than welcoming and a numbing week of getting used to “Can’t do enough for you” greetings in a tourist city (Orlando), we started to find a bit more about a part of America which is more down to earth – still very welcoming and friendly and warm.

We saw how concerned and in some ways frightened America has become – security is very tight in all federal buildings.

We did not see any troubles on the streets – we felt safe in both Orlando and in Washington DC – we also know that this is such a small part and the outcomes here could not be extrapolated to the rest (neither of the kids experienced any problems in LA or Las Vegas either and Mitch has had no problems in New York).

Would we go back there again? We have already marked it in as a country we would go back to and see more of – maybe around the New England area.

The flight back was only 6 and ½ hours instead of the original 7 and ½ hours.

We arrived back in England and it felt like we had come home – we were off to visit Maggie and Paddy in Watford and then train it back to Stone – we had booked a taxi to meet us at the station earlier in the morning and a more lovelier sight we could not have seen at the station – within 10 minutes we were back on the boat – home at last!!

In the process of our travel to Washington, Diane managed to pick up a rather serious cough which has become a bit more serious, so she will need to take it a bit easier for the next few days to get over it.
We were exhausted and slept for 12 hours, but glad to wake up in our own bed.

Saturday was then filled with unpacking and washing and of course we needed to pick up the dog – thanks to Andy and Jean who were so kind to give us a lift to the kennels and back.

A rather relaxed Sunday for both of us – we had intended to walk to Aldi, but Diane was still feeling unwell so she stayed back on the boat and left me entrusted with the list and the trolley.
Gill and Malcolm had saved some of the snow which had fallen whilst we were away and Diane decided to make a very small snowman.

Later on we watched the FA Cup tie between Stevenage and Tottenham and then the draw for the Quarter Finals – after which it was another reasonably early night.

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