Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm not a good tour guide.

Though we have now officially lived in DC for two months, this weekend was the first time that Alex and I have had a chance to get out and do some sightseeing. We decided to make a day of it and see all of the monuments on the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Here are a few photos of our day around town.

Since we have to walk right by it on our way to the mall, we started with the White House. The White House is the official residence and principle work place of the President of the United States of America. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800. This is where Obama lives and works. There are four main sections of the White House: the Executive Residence, the West Wing, the East Wing and the grounds which include two notable gardens, the Rose Garden and the Kennedy Garden.

This week Alex and I applied for a tour of the White House. It's something I've been dying to do since my grandmother's stories of touring it during the Nixon administration. It sounds like probably the coolest building in, well, America. Hopefully we'll get to see it some day!

Next we walked past the President's Park and the Ellipse and caught our first glimpse of the Washington Monument. At 555 feet 5 and 1/8 inches, you can pretty much see it from anywhere in the city. I've never been to the top, but Alex and I have tickets for June 18, the first weekend day a tour available. It's a pretty popular DC tourist attraction. Lucky for me, the 897 steps to the top are no longer available to the general public. So there won't be any pressure to make the climb. Too they don't serve wine and cheese in the elevator anymore as they did in 1888.

After the Washington Monument, we made our way to the National World War II Memorial. This is the newest completed monument that we visited. It was completed in 2004 and opened two days before Memorial Day. The monument has 56 pillars and a pair of arches surrounding a plaza and fountain. It's a bit showier than the other monuments, but I like fountains and WWII history, so it works for me.

Then we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial. It was completely mobbed with other tourists, but some how managed to surprisingly have one of the cleanest public restrooms I have ever been in. Good stuff. The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. 

The sculpture of Lincoln the resides inside the temple is 30 feet high and made of Alabama marble. There are two neat urban legends about the statue. First, some have claimed that the face of General Robert E. Lee was carved onto the back of Lincoln's head, and looks back across the Potomac toward his former home, Arlington House, now within the bounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Another popular legend is that Lincoln is shown using sign language to represent his initials, with his left hand shaped to form an A and his right hand to form an L, the president's initials. The National Park Service denies both stories, but there is some controversy.

Next we visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The memorial consists of three separate parts: the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women's Memorial (pictured below), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

The Memorial Wall was designed by Maya Lin. It is made up of two walls that are 246 feet 9 inches long. At the highest point, the walls are 10.1 feet high, and taper to a height of just eight inches tall. The stone for the wall came from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. At different points along the wall, the reflections catch image of visitors as well as other monuments.

The Vietnam Women's Memorial is a memorial dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses. It serves as a reminder of the importance of women in the conflict. It depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. The woman looking up is named Hope, the woman praying is named Faith, and the woman tending to a wounded soldier is named Charity.

Next we visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was built in 1992. The memorial is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues. The figures represent a squad on patrol, and includes soldiers from each branch of the armed forces. When reflected on the wall, there appears to be 38 soldiers. This represents the 38th parallel.

Then we followed on our path to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. A sprawling, 7.5 acre monument to our 32nd president. Included in the memorial are many quotes from FDR as well as the only statue ever to depict a First Lady, the great Eleanor Roosevelt. Although I couldn't verify this, Alex thought it was probably also the only memorial to include a statue depicting the first dog, Fala Roosevelt.

Our last monument of the day was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The current site of the Memorial was originally a landfill dredged from the Potomac River in the late 19th century. Lovely. It became a popular bathing beach for Washingtonians and other locals, however they ousted when it became apparent that the site was well suited for another high-profile memorial since it sat directly south of the White House.

Inside the memorial includes a 19 foot tall bronze status of President Jefferson and the walls are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. It's one of the prettier monuments with the contrasting bronze and marble.

After walking for hours and hours touring all of the monuments, we decided that nothing would round out our day quite like a quick paddle boat tour of the Tidal Basin.

 So we grabbed a pair of life vests and set out across the Tidal Basin to catch a glimpse of the incomplete Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.

Though the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. was completed last year, the park is not set for completion until August 28, 2011. The park will portray three underlying themes: justice, democracy and hope.

To end the day we walked back across the mall, up 14th street, and over to U street where we had a few drinks at the Cafe Saint-Ex, an adorable aviation themed restaurant and bar. Though we were a bit disappointed that they did not have Unibrouque Maudite on tap as their menu promised, we did get to listen to some great tunes and wind down with a few strong beers.

All and all, what a great day touring our nation's capital.


  1. You're a great tour guide! I've been to DC several times and love it every time a go. So jealous of the cherry blossoms!

  2. Oh my gosh! As if I didn't want to go to DC enough, this really sealed the deal! Great job with the tour!

  3. Ha thanks ladies! Michelle, come visit! We can have dinner at some place fabulous.

  4. I know we're out of the season, but next winter try to hit the Koren War and FDR memorials when it's snowing - it's an amazing new way to see the statues.