USA Diaries – Day 20 – A day to get the “Bloody Tourist” Stuff done!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 06-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 0024, Pakistan Time:06 August 2012, 0924

Today was “fit-everything-in” Day – which basically means that being the second last day that we will be spending in DC, I needed to get started on my list and get done with as many things possible. This included getting the typical “Bloody Tourist” Stuff – a term a guy at my work place used to describe my desire to see the typical places like White House, Washington Monument etc. Anyways, the morning started with my decision to go and see the Sunday Mass at this Church which is located right next to the hotel in which we are staying. I had no idea what was happening there, considering the fact that I have never really attended a Mass before in my life. But nonetheless, I did everything that I could do by copying the people around me. I have to say that the Church was a truly magnificent structure. The details and the Stained Glass work inside the building was superb and not to mention the lady who was singing the hymns – OMG – Her voice could truly open the sky above. The crowd was a mixed crowd with a lot of younger people with their kids also present in the crowd. When the Mass was over, I asked a man in charge if it was okay for me to take the pictures, and he encouraged me more than anything to go and take as many pictures as I want. This place was truly serene.

At 10:45 am, it was time for us to drive away to Mt. Vernon – the wonderful home of George and Martha Washington. Now I don’t know why but when we entered the place and saw the orientation movie, since then I have been in love with their story and how they got together. So much so that I even bought a book about her and their life together. The book is called “Martha Washington: An American Life” and is written by Patricia Brady. The Mansion was beautiful and showed the love and dedication that each of these individuals might have put in this place and making it into a home.

I liked this place much more though to Williamsburg and the main reason for this was the scale of this place. This place was much smaller and much more quiet and it had a certain intimacy to it which was completely absent from our experience in Mt. Vernon.

The most moving experience however was the one seeing the Slaves Quarters and how they lived in those times. The beds were miserably small and I really doubt that anyone could have lied down straight ever in these beds. I was really moved by seeing the condition of the way they were treated. And therefore it was equally moving to see the Slaves Memorial that has been erected close to the Tomb of the Washington’s.

I then took some time out and headed towards the Wharf and I have to say that it was one of the best decisions that I made that day. The Potomac River is a sight to see and the wind was just perfect. The environment was so serene and peaceful and I could have sat there and enjoyed the weather for days and days. It was just the most wonderful experience ever.

There are so many things that I just loved about this place, the pathways, the forest trail, the wonderful views that you can catch of the River from almost every part of the site – Mt. Vernon is truly a wonderful experience.

Oh – and the Museum, do visit it too. The entire life journey of Washington has been captured so wonderfully and in the most interesting manner. It just makes you wonder about the effort these American’s put into each and everything thing that they do. The other half of the Museum showcased the furniture and the jewellery from the Mansion but photography was not allowed in the hall. It covered the various aspects of the Mansion life, including the food that was cooked in the time of Martha and you can even find the recipes of them in the gallery.

After coming back to the hotel, and half an hour rest, I decided to take a long walk to cover the “Bloody Tourist” List. So via Metro, I got off at the Smithsonian Station and start to wonder towards the most probable location for White House. Now I knew that it has to be on my right, but I had no idea about the exact location. It is therefore, I would like to take a minute, and thank the wonderful people who work in the Signage Department of DC because it wasn’t for them and the wonderful signs that they have put up all over DC, there was no chance in hell I would have ever gotten anywhere. Oh and it was raining today!

It was only due to the signs that I kept finding my way and finally made it to the back side of the White House. There was a huge crowd outside the gate of the White House and nobody was bothered with them and what they were doing. No policeman or Secret Service man came up to people and told them to get off the rail or don’t put you hand beyond the rail or any such crap. People were allowed to take as many photographs as they wanted and go as crazy with their posing as they cared – That is not something that you can expect to happen in Pakistan EVER!

I then walked up to the Vietnam Memorial and finding it was a bit hard. Firstly it was raining and secondly, this time I had no idea about whether to turn left or right even. But here is when my Lonely Planet guide came much handy. Thank you Lonely Planet People .. you have saved another wanderer. Anyways, so I finally reached the Memorial and I take my pictures and head out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, when I hear a man talking about eh Memorial and the concept being it. I just stopped in my tracks and started listening to him; he talked about how the Veterans just by the word of mouth got to know about this memorial and they started sending in money, about how the competition was announced and some 400 entries came and were exhibited in some Air Hanger close by, about how the idea was that by this memorial it would be exhibited how the war cut the people and the nation right in the middle and that is why the structure is not rising but is splitting the Earth and Landscape, how the winner of the design was a 20 year old student of Architecture from Yale. It turned out that the man was the Guide for a group of people who were in town doing Baseball tours – which basically meant that they were looking at all the Baseball Stadiums in the country or something. I have to say that they were the most wonderful people since they let me be a part of their tour so generously.

I then headed out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial…. Now Lonely Planet People, you need to zoom in on that area more where the Memorial is, because I took one hell of a wrong route. I have to say I was pretty scared today, so scared in fact that I had to stop and ask the Old Town Trolley Driver if it was even safe for me to go down that path or not. He guaranteed me that there will be nothing wrong since the Park Police is still patrolling the area. Well it was such a long road that I have to say that his words hardly comforted me for more than five minutes. I walked and I walked and I walked, until I finally saw the Memorial. There was another tour guide driver standing with whom I confirmed my pathway. And then once again asked him “Sir Is it really safe to go there at this time. I mean will there be people in there?”. And he goes “There better be my 59 people who went inside”. I was relieved. So I went inside, and there were so many people inside – I don’t think I have ever been so happy before seeing people.

Anyways, on the way back, I reconfirmed the closest Metro from a Police man and then stalked this couple halfway until I finally recognized the area in which I am. Apparently there is a short cut to get to the Memorial, but that I only discovered on the way back. And finally after an adventure that lasted 3 hours, I was back home. I have to say it was fun being scared in DC.

USA Diaries – Day 11 – The Peru Festival is in town!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 12, 28-7-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating

So I know I skipped yesterday diary, which is not the first time I have broken my promise of writing every day for the duration of this trip. I think it is safe to conclude that thank god there is no police that is coming in, barging in my hotel room to put me on trial.

But in all regards, there was very little to report from yesterday. So let me just walk you through yesterday quickly. The day was dedicated to Exhibit Design and we were given in the care of the lovely and really funny Elizabeth Musteen Allison. She spent 3 hours with us, and in this time, she not only showed us the Mammal’s Hall, but guided us through the entire process that went behind in the design of the Hall. The session was extremely important in my point of view, since it gave me the direction and the answers that I needed which I have been facing at my work. So much thanks goes to Elizabeth Musteen.

Carol Butler introducing Elizabeth Musteen

For lunch, we rushed over to the award winning Mitsitam Native Food Cafe at the National American Indian Museum (NMAI), which opened up in the year 2004. The Museum is a must visit, especially nowadays, with the Peru Festival in a full swing, till Monday and with the highly creative and detailed exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation” on display. The exhibition covers the various facet of the important of Horse in the lives of the American Indian. It is truly a wonderfully amazing and well researched exhibition.

From there on we headed to the section that is known as the ImagineNation Section. The area and section is filled with activities for the children to be a part of and how the exhibition can be extended beyond the display boards and into the lives of the children who visit the museum. Truth be told, we were running around the area as if we were 5 again… So therefore I can speak with some credibility when I say that we simply loved that place. The idea was that you get a passport and then you visit the various areas which are a part of the American Indian Culture, and on each of these stops – where you learn something new –  you get your passport stamped.

After looking around at the museum, we went and had a talk with Elizabeth Gordon, who is the Project Manager of the NMAI. She talked about her experience of working here and how it has been received by the indigenous community. Although she makes it known that she can hardly speak on behalf of the entire community, she did mention some of the problems that have been raised and have come to her. She also gave us a big treat by allowing us to go over to the terrace and enjoy the wonderful view of the entire National Mall, we took every advantage of this moment by making sure we got our pictures taken right in front of the Capitol Building – which acted as the most wonderful backdrop.

 

I have to say again, the museum is pretty spectacular and their theater is a must-have experience. The film – which we were not allowed to take pictures of – s displayed on 3 levels. The first level is that of the stone, the next one is the screen which is made out of knitted material, the third one is the entire dome like ceiling of the room. You just can’t figure out which one to look at and which one to concentrate on, but each one is simple to enhance the sense of the environment which is being depicted on the main screen.

I browsed around some of the other galleries too and had a chance to see some of the most amazing parts of the Culture of the American Indian.

 

After the browsing I made my way to the Peru Festival that was happening. The treat and the items that the local artisans had on display were truly intriguing. There was a guy there who only made jewelry out of Silver Wire, then there was an artist who was making sculptures out of clay. Then there was another one who had these wonderful doll houses and mirrors with doll borders on display. It was truly intriguing.

Oh did I forget to mention that there was a petting place where there was a kind of Lima…. The sweetheart was so adorably cute, I cant even begin to explain. Oh, and how can I forget the wonderful horse.

 

On the way back, I decided to take the Metro while the rest of the group decided to walk. It is safe to say that I got lost on the way back, which is one of my favorite things to do. Yes, I love getting lost.. cause I think it is only when you get lost that you can truly enjoy the city. So I got lost, I made stops, saw different places, before finally making my way to the L’Enfant Metro Stop.

A musician playing outside the Metro Station

The rest of the day comprised of a dinner party for some of our group members. The food was good, the company was good. Cooking the food in such small a kitchen was a disaster, but nonetheless, we had a great time.