Are you dreaming of a holiday in a tropical island, sun-kissed and all? Well, your dream holiday is my home.
As much as I love a relaxed beach getaway in my home country Sri Lanka, a desire to venture into unknown geographies fascinates me. However, it is no secret that if you are a Sri Lankan passport holder, you must adhere to strict visa procedures to make your travel dreams come true.
In February 2017, when I was just two months into my pregnancy, my husband was to travel to the US for work. I was psyched about accompanying him. Not so much about DC, but the possibility of making a trip to NYC during my stay was reason enough. May be I thought, Washington DC would be just a mundane city but I was wrong.
Did you know that the total (annual) number of visitors to DC in 2016 set a record of 22 million? Oh and that it is further expected to grow by 2-3% through 2020(estimated 25 million)? It prompted me to ponder…what really makes this city one of the most sort after cities in the world? Could it be the persona it has inherited over the years as the political power hub of the world or is it something else?
Named in honor of the first president and founding father of the United States of America,George Washington, the city was established by the Constitution of the country to serve as the nation’s capital. In 1970 a land area of 100 square miles ceded from the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia were designated to this new district.
The war with the Great Britain in 1812 caused much damage and destruction to the city that was still underway. In 1947 the land area that was taken from Virginia was retroceded. Despite the unrest in 60s and 70s, DC progressively developed during the 20th century.
The capital, often referred to as either Washington or DC, formerly known as District of Columbia, would particularly interest a history buff or someone who ardently patronizes fine architecture. Being the latter (I must say I am neither an architect nor have I studied the subject), I was certainly coaxed by the neo-classical monuments and buildings. However, in order to understand a city’s present, one must understand its past. I believe only when we have seen and heard, we can truly appreciate it for what it is.
Since we were here for some official work of my husband, the time we had to explore the city together was limited to a few days. Although the city offers a plethora of activities and sights, we had to carefully pin down our must-sees.
As the hotel was just a few blocks away from the National Mall, we decided to delve in to the city’s history starting there. I suggest you start at the famous Abraham Lincoln Memorial and take-on the footpath towards the Capitol building, exploring everything in-between. Your trotting can be as hustled or as paced-out as you want it to be.
DC can be an expensive city but if you are traveling on a strict budget you’d be glad to know most museums and monuments within this stretch happens to be entrance free and also open 24hrs.
1. The Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
Being the stage and backdrop to many significant historical events such as the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr and Jobs and Freedom March(1963), it is at present considered one of the most defining landmarks on America’s Front Lawn- the National Mall.
The memorial built, in honor of Abraham Lincoln, provides residence to a 19-foot statue of this great personality that has made an admirable impact on American history. For those who may not be familiar, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. Through an Emancipation Proclamation he completely abolished slavery within the Confederacy in 1863.
His Gettysburg speech still stands as one of the most famous pieces of eloquence in American history and is etched on to the walls of the memorial, alongside his second inaugural address.
If you look closely at the detail of the building you will see beyond its resemblance to a Greek temple.Every architectural element holds a meaning or a back story. For instance, the 36 columns around the outer sphere of the memorial is said to represent the thirty-six states that existed when he was assassinated on the 14th April 1865. Even the hands placement of the statue, is presumed to reveal his determination(his left)and welcoming nature(from his right).
2. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
This memorial dedicated to the soldiers who fought during the Vietnam War that took place between North and South of the country from 1955 to 1975. In this battle the United States supported the South Vietnamese army along with their anti communist allies such as South Korea, Australia and Thailand. The North Vietnamese army also made allies with the Soviet Union and China. The memorial is of three folds, one the famous three soldier figure statue, women’s memorial and veterans wall.
3. Korean War Veterans Memorial
The memorial is dedicated to 5.8 million Americans who served in the US military during one of the toughest battles of the past from year 1950 to 1953. Although it was a comparatively brief battle of three years, lots of lives were lost. What a sorrowful plight. As the inscription on the pool of memorial states, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met”.
The memorial is of four parts.
As you gravitates towards the sight, you would first see the nineteen life-like steel statues of soldiers designed by Frank Gaylord, representing the American squad patrolling the rough Korean terrain during battle. Immerse yourself in this surreal work of art, as you try to comprehend how America as a nation always stood up to assist another nation, during their time of need, even at the cost of the lives of their own soldiers.
Besides the statues, you will then witness the forty-one panelled mural wall, with photographs of the military personnel and support units etched onto it in a manner, they appear to be staring straight into the eyes of 19 soldier statues.
Then to The Pool of Remembrance which is a reflective pool encircled by a walkway. If you wish to rest your feet, sit on the benches located by the side of the walkway. There is also the United Nations listing to the left of the mural wall with names of the 22 member nations that responded to the Korean War.
4. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Dedicated to the author of the Declaration of Independence and also the third president of the United States of America, is my favorite architectural piece at the National Mall. Where Thomas Jefferson stands gloriously watching over the Washington Monument across the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River. To fathom the beauty of the Neo Classical architecture, Jefferson himself commended, one must physically be present at the site. Words or images cannot do justice to this splendid work of art, by Russell Pope(1925). Its resemblance to the Pantheon in Rome, is rather uncanny.
5. The Majestic World War II Memorial
As the name suggests, it was constructed in memory of brave men and women who fought in the World War II, as warriors of the American armed forces. That amounts to about 16 million including about 400 thousand soldiers that sacrificed their lives in the battle. Unfortunately we were not able to witness the breathtaking fountain I’ve seen in photographs. It could be because we visited in winter.
6. The Washington Monument
As I was quite tired this had to be our last stop for the day. Another structure built, in memory of George Washington. My husband had visited the monument before on a previous visit, so he quickly explained why the world’s tallest freestanding stone structure was two toned. Apparently, although the construction of the monument began in 1848, it was interrupted by political and other factors of the time.Hence as they resume construction in 1877(after the Civil War), the stones were brought in from a different quarry. This resulted in a darker shade of the stones from about one-third of the monument all the way up.
Memorial and monuments are not the only attractions in DC.
If you don’t feel overwhelmed by large crowds, I suggest you pay the city a visit during late spring and through summer; when the city is at its pinnacle of all the happenings such as the signature cherry blossom festival.
Await my next post 72 hours in DC, on a budget…