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Monday, December 12, 2005

I see D C

Friday morning saw us wake up at 6.30am to a heavy dump of snow. The stairs outside had a thick carpet of white and the bannister railings were iced heavily as well. As we opened the door to head outside, thick fat flakes of snow swirled down lazily from the skies, looking just like a Hollywood Christmas movie.

Filled with childish snow-deprived glee, we stomped our way through three inches of snow, giggling as our hats, scarves and backpacks collected shavings of ice. Entering the subway involved dusting off small mountains of white, as we jumped on the subway to Penn Station.

It was only as we emerged at Madison Square that the stark realities of snow became apparent. Snow in the city doesn't stay fluffy and white. It gets churned up into sludge, becomes dirty and grey and melts into ankle-deep puddles that you don't spot until your shoe is already in it.

Umbrellas sound silly but when snow melts as it hits you, it is pretty much rain. My love affair with snow was officially over.

Thankfully we found a bus that was heading to Washington DC fairly quickly. This level of snow (and cold) was unusual for New York, especially at this time of year. Lucky us.

Bus trips between DC and New York are extremely popular. A return trip can be had for US$35 when a train will cost you US$75 one way.

Washington DC is nothing like the Australian capital Canberra. There are less people than New York, sure, but there is still a city feel to the place with its city population of 550,000. What I never realised before was that DC is restricted to the central hub of town. Once you jump on the subway for a couple of stations, you cross borders into the state of Virginia.

There is much to see and do in DC. The National Mall stretches for over 17 blocks and contains museums and galleries galore--almost all of them free. We happened to be at the White House just as Bush was arriving home. A swarm of security staff swatted at the tourists like fleas, offering nothing but scowls when asked why were being shooed away. Ten minutes later three helicopters loomed overhead: one descended onto the lawn as the other two kept guard.

We checked out the National Air and Space Museum which had lots of fun hands-on activities and the Freer Gallery of Art. The Peacock Room by James McNeill Whistler was stunning, covered entirely in peacock green embossed leather and gilded with gold.

The Smithsonian National Zoo was also free and the recent born panda cub has resulted in rampant panda fever. We saw Papa Bear Tian Tian who put on a good show for us with plenty of stretching, scratching and yawning. There were the usual tigers, lions, giraffes and elephants, and we did get excited watching the beavers, prairie dogs (so cute!) and even the hippo (he eats just like Hungry Hungry Hippo, munching constantly without pausing for breath). We felt rather sorry for the emu who seemed much out of place in the sub-zero weather. DC is much milder than New York (at times it felt like Sydney in winter) but even that's too cold for an emu surely.

The Washington Monument is a giant obelisk with two creepy red blinking eyes which turn on at night, looking much like an alien communication tower. We saw the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and visited the National Botanic Gardens as well. Here we were able to sample cacao pods, yes the stuff of chocolate production. The cacao pod contains a cluster of beans which are individually coated in soft white flesh. The flesh was somewhat reminiscent of mangosteen, but not quite as sweet. Of course it's the beans which are dried and roasted to create cocoa butter, but it was fun to try cacao flesh anyway.

We also joined a tour of The Capitol which meant a long list of prohibited items (no food, drink, knitting needles or sharp objects; the list even had to reassure the public that pens and pencils were allowed). The series of security checks was as long as the tour itself (thirty minutes each) although the inside of the Rotunda was pretty spectacular with the painting on the domed ceiling involving figures 18ft tall. A trompe L'oeil circles the room and depicts a timeline of key moments in American history. The Rotunda is deceptively high and apparently the Statue of Liberty could fit inside here and still not reach the ceiling.

Foodwise we didn't get up to much in DC. I tried a Philly cheeseburger which, as far I can work out, means a hamburger with Provolone cheese, mayonnaise and sauteed green peppers (capsicum). I also had the pleasure of cheesy fries, consumed only for research purposes. A decent handful of lard-encrusted fries are drenched in two ladles of orange-yellow gloop which tastes like salty melted plastic. And yet they were strangely irresistable in a sick kinda way.

We checked out Georgetown which is the posh end of DC, with pretty architecture somewhat reminiscent of London or Europe. Dinner was had at Vietnam Georgetown which was what our clogged arteries craved.

There was shopping at Macy's, wonderment at the giant malls they have here (think Westfield Miranda x 3) and much supermarket spreeing at Harris Teeter. Oh and we tried out a number of self-check out registers too, which are much more painful than you could ever think possible. Good for buying one or two items but any more and you'd be much better off waiting for a human. Take a frustrating automated telephone service and add humiliating grocery dance actions for maximum hairpulling hilarity.

We did like the countdown pedestrian signals which let you know exactly how many seconds you had left to cross the road. Running to make the lights was never so much fun!

We discovered the unused crypt in The Capitol, intended for Washington but never utilised as George died a year too early and his relatives demanded his body remain undisturbed.
And of course we couldn't deny the inevitable giggle whenever we saw the signs for the suburb of Foggy Bottom.

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6 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Anonymous on 12/12/2005 11:59:00 pm


  • At 12/22/2005 7:06 pm, Blogger Rose said…

    Hee hee. I love reading your experiences with our cities and cultural quirks. It puts a big smile on my face :-)

    My cousins (from hotter climates) had a similar reaction to snow--beautiful for about 5 minutes!

    That you got to see the helicopters land on the White House lawn is SO COOL!!!! When I was 8, Prez Regan flew over our house in these commando helicopters (massive rockets on the side of them and all).

    It's too bad you didn't get to sample more of the food. A Philly cheeseburger--never heard of it. There is of course, the famous Philly cheesesteak. and if
    you're looking for a good Philly cheesesteak (outside of Philadelphia), there is at least one NYC option: Philly Slim's (http://www.menupages.com/restaurantdetails.asp?neighborhoodid=10&restaurantid=5531).

    Have a great holiday(s)!

  • At 12/23/2005 7:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    My name it´s Alex Körner, I´m from Brazil and I write comedy and adventures chronicles in the blog www.aventurascotidianas.zip.net, and publish in two magazines...

    I´d like too know if you like to change links in the boths blogs, what do you think?

    Best regards,


  • At 12/23/2005 11:30 am, Blogger Mona said…

    I like Rose am really enjoying an outsiders view of our cities. And I've lived in both you've visited so it's even more fun for me:) I loved the Mall and would run from Georgetown campus to the Capitol building a few times a week. Miss the river trails...Good thing you got out of NYC before the strike! Lucky duck!

  • At 12/23/2005 2:59 pm, Blogger Joycelyn said…

    hi helen, everything sounds positively dreamy...sounds like you're having a truly wonderful and well-deserved break - happy holidays!

  • At 12/24/2005 10:06 am, Blogger jismgor said…

    Hope you can come back soon, dying to see what you think of the paramatta.

  • At 12/24/2005 8:35 pm, Blogger Reid said…

    Hi AG,

    Thanks for sharing your escapades with us. You're making me wish I was there too. I love the East Coast and am sad that I haven't been back to visit since my return to Hawaii 10 years ago.

    Have a safe and happy holiday season!


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