Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Don't Cheat in History

My first impression of Washington DC was "wow there is no fence around the National Monument!" This city was designed to be touched. You don't have to buy tickets (most everything is free!), wait in line, or stand behind red velvet ropes. You can literally walk up to (most) monuments and touch them - skin on stone. The National Monument was the first thing we saw as we popped out of the Metro station at the center of the city. Over the next few days, it would be our North Star. The monument sits atop a casual grassy hill, surrounded by American flags, and tourists meandering along walking trails. We didn't need to take a tour of the National Monument. We stood below it, peeked at it from across the city, and gazed at the glowing landmark across the river. The National Monument was the centerpiece of each sunset. 

The Korean War Memorial is pure art. The design draws you right into the melancholy as if we are all there alongside the soldiers, encouraging them to stay strong. The expressions on their faces heartbreaking. This was probably my favorite memorial...a definitely must-see.

DC is a clean freak. So there was an underground tunnel that connected our hotel to the Metro Station, restaurants, and shops (and a Walgreens!) and a section of this underground town had been transformed into an art gallery. Super white walls, bright lights, shiny floors, and men in crisp clean suits. No one painted graffiti on the walls, no one vandalized the artwork, and no one left any trash along the edges of the hallway. There was not even a speck of dirt or dust. I'm talking white glove clean. This was pretty much the case everywhere we went in DC. The metros were litter-free, the stations clean, the grass trimmed neatly, trees and bushes pruned, statues swiffered. No joke.

DC is also a place where you feel safe being a young female touring the sites alone. I spent two afternoons exploring the mall by myself and felt completely safe. Everywhere I looked, I saw police and secret service. On rooftops, roadsides, parks, walk ways, streets, museums, metro stations - they were everywhere. It was the first place that I have felt at ease hopping on a subway and finding a serene spot in the middle of a grassy lawn to read a book and eat candy all by myself.

The Arlington National Cemetery was breathtakingly gorgeous and I highly recommend visiting if you travel to DC. It was peaceful and lovely, and I could have spent another hour or two walking around perusing the grave stones. I will let the photos and my video of the Changing of the Guard tell the story.

The Changing of the Guard ritual at Arlington National Cemetery was so impressive. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by volunteer Sentinels 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Even though the soldiers are volunteers, it takes the perfect candidate to qualify as a Sentinel to guard the tomb. All soldiers are elite members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment of the US Army. They must be between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 4 inches tall, have an impeccable military record, be in superb physical condition, and have a proportionate weight and build. They must memorize seven pages of Arlington Cemetery history, and know exactly where more than 300 veterans are buried around the cemetery. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is full of symbolism and respect. The guards take exactly 21 steps, pause for 21 seconds...21 because the 21 gun salute is the highest military honor. These guards honor all American service members who are "known only but to god". So cool.

Changing of the Guard from Jaime Dwight on Vimeo.

Overall, I feel very fortunate that I was able to make the trip with my mom and aunt Cathy to share in a new place together. Here's to sipping moscow mules on rooftops, snagging the hunkiest rickshaw driver, eating sandy clams, and shopping tip we dropped! 

Also, a big thank you to Dr. Schoonover for giving me a tour of the State Department. I was very impressed with that place. Talk about tight security!!! Lockers for cell phones! I can't say anything else because it is all TOP SECRET! ;) I loved getting the insider's view to life in DC...made the trip all the more interesting!

And lastly, I will leave you with a stupid fact that I learned that I regrettably and naively did not know prior to visiting DC...but...this blew my mind....drum roll please...the Capitol building is NOT on the same property, i.e. next door to the White House!! GAH! And wait, it gets worse....I wondered if the President transits through underground tunnels to get to the Capitol building every day to work. Well folks...guess what? He works in the White House!! SHOCKING! ;) And that, my friends, is what you get for cheating in American History class.

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