Holiday Road – Part XXIII

We were all up early for the longest day of the trip – North Carolina, to Maryland with two stops into Washington D.C. We were to be at the bus by 7:45am, and it would be go-go-go until at least midnight (that’s what we were told, though little did we know it would be well past midnight when the day ended). It wouldn’t be partying, drinking, and dancing that kept us up into the wee hours of the morning; history, politics, and a scheduled city tour would be our entertainment. I could hardly think of a better night to have, though I’ll be the first to admit that I was probably more excited than the rest of the bus. Some people were really not looking forward to it all. Others, it turned out, were. It was a shame that Washington came so late in the trip – it turned out that there was a handful of people moderately interested in politics, in general, on the tour that I had not known about (and if I had, probably would have buddied up with them more often), and there was an Australian woman, Shelle (also 21), who was not only keenly interested in Australian politics, but interested in US politics. Not as obsessed with the US politics as your’s truly, but interested and knowledgeable enough to have conversations with. And, to boost it all, she was a loyal Rudd and Obama supporter. We got on swimmingly after we both found this out. Not that we hadn’t actually had anything to do with one another to this point – recall that she was on the pirates dinner table in Savannah.

Anyway we woke in Raleigh, I a little before most people as I had gone to bed early. Knowing we had a full day ahead, and a day I wanted to see everything that came our way, I had had my good sleep and then made use of the hotel’s breakfast facilities to tide me over for a while. As I have probably mentioned, I’m not much of a breakfast eater. I don’t eat it at home unless I have a long day ahead (i.e. a 12 hour plus shift at work), and even then a single slice of toast will suffice. I wandered out to quiet and empty halls, walking past the occasional doorway that had some empty beer cans and bottles stacked up. The cleaners obviously hadn’t made our wing yet, or were at least waiting until we had vacated the rooms so that they could do it all in one hit. I made the breakfast area and saw a handful of people shuffling around – our proficient and skilled driver, Marcus; Tony, aka Pilot; Shelle; Jayne (Pirates dinner); Jonas and English Phil. That was it. I wasn’t going to gamble on my stomach or well-being for this day. Not even a little punt. I grabbed some cereal, used milk that had just come out of a carton, avoided the sausages (I didn’t know how hot they were, and how long they had been sitting there; though they looked good), avoided the scrambled eggs (the risk there is that there could be egg shells in them, and as a young child I had scrambled eggs at a McDonalds once which was full of shell and I was made to feel quite ill – that feeling reemerges when ever I get even the tiniest shell to this day), grabbed an apple, grabbed some sliced fruit, and sat down. All this had an added bonus: fruit! As I have often repeated in this post series, vegetables and fruits are few and far between in the US. Any opportunity to get some I took with two hands.

I sat near to Marcus, exchanged a few words, and then we returned to our food. He finished up his and left. More Contiki people came in eventually, and others left. I finished up and headed back to my room, passing my roommate. I told him the breakfast was quite good. He said that was great because he needed a good feed after last night. I returned to my room, made my bed (I always do this for the cleaners; I don’t know why); checked around, and then watched some C-SPAN (the US politics 24/7 channel) to get myself in the mood. Knowing the schedule of the day (we had been prepared by David), I had prepared my best casual clothes (for the smart looks but the comfiness as well), a new pair of socks (because there would be much walking), cleaned off my Akubra, cleared my camera’s memory stick of any unnecessary photos, got a new tape ready, charged up everything that needed a battery, and sent an excited SMS to my travel blog. All this preparation, you might think I was actually going on my first date. No, I was just being prepared for the best tour day. The fact that I thought this would be the best tour day is probably a key reason why I haven’t actually been on a date. And here’s what I was so excited about:

We would leave Raleigh, as mentioned, at 7:45am, travel across the rest of North Carolina, stop briefly for lunch in Richmond, Virginia, then back on the road for a long drive to D.C., where we would then stop in to Arlington Cemetery, drive by the Pentagon, go to the Iwo Jima memorial, then drive across to Maryland to make an hour stop at our hotel, turn around and go back to D.C. to go to the Capitol Building, then the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, then the Lincoln Monument, over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, then the Korean Veterans Memorial, drive by the White House, along the National Mall, before headed back to Maryland.

To anyone who has read this blog, can you think of a more exciting day for me? US politics and history galore!

When my roommate came back, we both headed out to the car park. It was raining lightly, then as we waited for everyone else to come out, and then David, our tour guide, and Marcus, it got heavier. We passed the time talking. Some of the boys from the boys group came and started talking up the dare from last night. Eventually the woman came and she had on these shorts that were baggy 3/4s on her. She was fulfilling her part of the dare. Then came Garreth, and he had on a regular pair of shorts. Everyone said he was a chicken and didn’t go through. They he dropped his shorts and showed everyone that he was, in fact, wearing the woman’s shorts. The woman was as thick as a twig, and weighed probably 50 kilos wet. Somehow, Garreth had squeezed into these tight (for her!) denim boy shorts. He wasn’t able to do up the waist button, but he did somehow pull the fly up to the top. It was a sight to see. I know the photo is on Facebook somewhere. Maybe I’ll pinch it just for this one day.

Eventually, we were all there, packed up, loaded up, and underway. David gave us a talk about the day again, and told us pretty much what I told you above (though in some more detail, seeings as how I don’t want to spoil the rest of the post). 3 states and a district, thousands of miles, and some of the most important places in the world we would be covering all in the day. Be prepared, we were warned. But first, we had to get to Richmond. And the drive, much like the drive across South Carolina, and the first leg in North Carolina, wasn’t all that flash. I mean, the first hour through South Carolina was good to see, but now it would be something like two days of the same – not the best way to pass time. I was seated next to English Phil, from my Orlando theme park group and recent seating arrangement shenanigans, which wasn’t too bad. I suspect he only sat next to me because the woman he was chasing, was in a nearby aisle seat, and he couldn’t get any closer. Again, I didn’t mind because I knew I’d be getting someone agreeable next to me. Though I would have liked Anthony back. He would eventually sit up the back of the bus, with the boys group, for the first time – and he would swear that he would never do it again by the time he got away from them.

I passed the drive talking with Phil for a little (mainly about my MP3 player), and then he drifted off asleep (he said he had had a late night last night). I listened to some music, unable to get to sleep, and read some of the first book of my Theodore Roosevelt series. Eventually, we rolled into Richmond, and unloaded. We were given an hour to get lunch and be back. I was disappointed, seeings that we were in the capital of the Confederate States. I knew there would be some interesting spots to visit, but just didn’t have any time. I joined up with a group of woman – Jayne, Sarah (from previous lunches), Shelle, and Kathryn, who I had spoken to occasionally since we first talked in Vegas – in looking for somewhere to eat. Eventually we found a quaint/small diner and stepped in. We were shown to a booth at the back-end of the place. The waitress was a bit gruff, and seemingly having a bad day. I didn’t hold that against the woman – these days, I know that one customer is enough to put you off for a week.

We ordered our meals (being an Italian restaurant, I ordered a calzone), drinks (Mountain Dew of course), and waited. The service was prompt, and the food quite good. The company was the best thing though – we were exchanging stories like old friends. As we enjoyed ourselves and each other, I lamented, again, the fact that I had missed all this for some time at the beginning of the tour. I was redetermined to make sure that I make the most of the company around me through the last few days that we had together. Eventually, we finished up and headed on back, making sure to stop into WalMart to grab some supplies for the rest of the day (as we would only have that stop at the hotel  to break things up). I wandered around, wondering what I should buy. Should I go healthy and buy the sort of stuff that will give me a prolonged source of energy? Perhaps stock up on some sugary items to give myself a bit dose later in the night when I start to feel a little tired? But, as I walked into the drinks section, my answer was before me.

There, up on the shelf, a 12 box of Vanilla Coke!!! I drink this by the litre per week when I’m at home, and now I had gone a tick over 3 weeks without so much as a whiff of it. I pulled the box down and tucked it under my arm. Then I went by the candy section and grabbed a variety there. Then I stopped in to the deli section and picked up some chicken pieces. It was a meal I would have prepared at home: cold meat, Vanilla Coke, and a gratuitous amount of sugar to seal the deal. I was in heaven as I checked out and wandered back to the bus. Someone asked if I were going to stow my box of drinks and keep one or two with me. I said I’d be finished them before we made it into Maryland – a couple hours away. With each can at 355 mL, and me with 12, no one thought I would be able to down 4.2 litres in such a short space of time. I scoffed a laugh and said they’d soon find out.

I had opened my first on the way back to the bus. I was onto my second by the time we sat down. I found out, quickly, that Phil had never tried it in England. I offered him a can, and he accepted it and liked it. Then Kathryn said that she liked it, so I gave her a can. So, in a sense, the people I spoke to were right: I didn’t drink 4.2 litres. I drank the 3.5 litres I was left though, and with no problems at all. It lasted less time than I had planned – probably because I knew people were watching me and also I didn’t want to share any of my precious, precious drink.

After our stop, we were ploughing through Virginia like there was no tomorrow. Soon, on the horizon, you could make out the Washington Monument. I grew more and more excited as we drew closer and closer to the heart of politics. Soon, we were pulling into Arlington Cemetery, still in Virginia. Before we were allowed off, David gave us a stern talking to, and rightly so. This wasn’t just a cemetery – it was a national place of respect. It is a solemn place, and one where people are still buried. People may be visiting relatives or friends graves, there might even be a funeral on. So be respectful. Especially through a ceremony we would be watching. I think that there were people in our group that probably needed that talk. We headed in, after a look around the lobby, and some bathroom stops, then made our way through to the grounds.

Arlington Cemetery was first used during the Civil War, ironically enough on the land of the great Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s estate. It’s across the Potomac River from D.C. and the Pentagon. With roughly 290,000 people buried there, there are some extremely notable names. We were there to visit the grave of President John F. Kennedy first, buried alongside his wife and two of his children (when a family member is buried in Arlington, wives and I suspect immediate children are allowed to be buried there as well. Otherwise, it’s a military cemetery with strict rules on getting ‘in’). Burning above their markers is an eternal flame. On the platform where they are situated, you can look out over the whole of D.C., while looking up the hill that the platform is on you can see the Lee’s estate house. Nearby is Robert F. Kennedy’s burial place, though much less noticeable – it’s marked by a cross only.

We were given time to observe, then moved on to the Tomb of the Unknowns. This memorial was completed in 1932, and it is a tribute to soldiers who have died and left no remains, or have never been identified once killed. There are unidentified remains of 3 soldiers in there – one from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. There previously was a soldier from the Vietnam War, but the body was later identified and exhumed, with the tomb being left empty. There is a constant guard in place, the posts being kept by the 3rd US Infantry Regiment. They guard day and night, and we were going to watch the changing of the guard at the top of the hour.

It wasn’t top of the hour yet, so we had time to look around. There are 2 memorials to space flight disaster’s – the Challenger and the Columbia – that I found. Beyond this, I found a memorial to the USS Maine that was blown up in Havana, Cuba, and it’s destruction triggered the Spanish-American War. They salvaged a mast from the wreckage and erected it as part of the memorial. I was keen to find the most decorated US soldier in history’s – Audie Murphey – burial place. I found the area, but could not find the marker. As I went back up to the USS Maine memorial, which is higher off the ground, to look around, I saw a very moving sight. There were two horses pulling a simple carriage, on it a coffin draped in the American flag. It rounded a road, then stopped in front of a group of people, with soldiers lowering the coffin off the carriage and slowly walking it onto the grass. I would like to have watched the rest of the funeral procession, but it didn’t feel right to be invading the private and intimate moment that that family was having. I had a good reason to get away too – the top of the hour was near.

The group reconvened at a viewing platform behind the memorial to the Unknowns, and the walking strip for the sentry. Then the sergeant of the regiment marched out and told us what was happening, to stand to the duration, and to pay respect by staying quiet. He was the stereotypical US soldier. The process of changing the guard was remarkable to watch. It was mechanic and so routine that it went like clockwork. I taped it on video, and one day I’ll upload it to YouTube. It was something to see, that’s for sure. It was all like a ticking clock with everything in sync.

After this, we were told to wander back to the visitor’s centre at a slow pace. Tony, aka Pilot, who was keenly interested in all things space, and when I told him about the memorial to the disasters, he asked me to show him where it was. I walked him there, he took some photos, and we walked back. We had a good talk about it all, how moving it was, and how impressive a sight it was. As we came down a road, we were able to look all around the cemetery – and you could be tricked into thinking it had been snowing. There were acres and acres of tombstone in every direction, rising and falling with the hills and valleys. It was only ever broken up by trees or areas that were yet to take in the body of a valued and loved soldier. It teared both of us up, just the sight.

We were loaded back onto the bus eventually. I had a look in the gift shop, only while people were passing buy but not enough time to buy anything. I’m sure there would have been something I would have wanted, but we were on a mission to get everything in (and traffic had slowed us down leaving North Carolina that we had to eat into whatever spare time we could find). Our next stop was a massive monument to the soldiers of Iwo Jima/the USMC War Memorial. Everyone who has seen a documentary on US soldiers in the Pacific in World War Two will know the famous image of soldiers levering a flag up to the silhouette of the sky. Someone made a huge state of the photo – the soldiers are 10 metres tall, the flag 20 metres. We got some photos of that, and moved on.

Our next stop was our hotel, so we were making our way towards Maryland. We passed by the Pentagon to get some photos. David asked if we knew what the Pentagon was used for – only two hands went up. Mine and Shelle’s. David said, expecting such (as we had both shown our US political knowledge off before it seemed) a response, proceeded to explain. We continued past. Unfortunately, traffic was bad again so we lost some time – and a long drive turned into a really long drive. We would have half hour to 45 minutes to turn around and get ready, be back on the bus to head back into the city. Because of the length of the day, and the demands of the city tour, a buffet dinner had been arranged. Through this leg, I polished off the last of my Vanilla Coke, leaving some impressed faces. I don’t know why they were impressed – though these are the same people who were impressed by me getting kicked out of a casino and falling off a second story balcony. Perhaps feats of achievement were different. They must have been. My roommate and I got our keys and headed for our room. Everyone was keen for a shower – a long, hot day, that would leave no time to shower later in the night. I was ready quickly again, obviously still spurred on by the prospect of a D.C. tour.

Eventually the bus filled up (with everyone from the tour, which surprised me – I had expected some of the boys to stay at the hotel and drink rather than go out and look at monuments, buildings, and the like) and we were off. We stopped for our buffet dinner, and having had nothing substantial to eat since lunch, and digesting 3.5 litres of Coke, plus whatever other sugar I had picked up, I ate a lot to try and even the balance. Of course, in doing that I ate too much, though thankfully no so much as to make me ill. Most people ate too much as well – I suspect preparing for the long night.

Somewhere over the course of the day, perhaps around here in the sequence of things, I asked David how it was possible to tour the Capitol Building. I knew that you couldn’t get into the White House without months of preparation and a congressman to vouch for you. I was so keen to do that tour – actually step inside of the Capitol Building! We were there over a weekend, so I certainly wouldn’t see any politicians going about their business. But to step into building that Thomas Jefferson began, that George Washington laid the first stone of, that Andrew Jackson, Abe Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, and Bill Clinton – my favourite presidents – and that Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Charles Sumner, and Barack Obama – obviously my favourite senators – had all set foot in themselves would be something to cross off my list of ‘Thing to do before you die’. It turned out that a limited number of tickets were handed out, for free, at the beginning of the day. It was, however, first come-first serve, so you had best get there early I was told. I noted in my mind that even with a long night ahead, I would have to have a very early morning. I had asked David what time tours started and he had no idea. I asked if it would be wise to get there really early. He said that on a weekend, in peak holiday season, and a big peak in interest in national politics, it would be a good idea.

We moved on from our restaurant, and headed back into Washington, D.C. It was evening, though the sun was still up. It would, however, be set by the time we got back into the capital. Our first stop was the Capitol Building. Here, we unloaded and snapped some photos from afar, then moved up and took up position on the front steps. There was a band playing out the front which had attracted a crowd, so we moved to the side. There David proceeded to give an apt description of the US political system, the way things ran, and what the primary election, general election, and the midterms were. It wasn’t overly detailed or complicated so that everyone understood it. I listened, but was more interested in taking in the sight – standing on the steps of the US Capitol, looking up at the dome that had come to symbolise the United States’ power around the world. Making it this close to the building, my ambition to get in with the tour the next morning was reaffirmed. I took one of my favourite photos from the entire tour, and then boarded the bus again to go to our next stop.

We drove around to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial next. A great president, my favourite quote about him comes from President John F. Kennedy: When Kennedy hosted forty-nine Nobel Prize winners at the White House in 1962, he said to them all “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”. he was involved in the American Revolution drafted and wrote the Declaration of Independence, was one of the founders of the University of Virginia, a state legislator for Virginia, the Minister to France, the Governor of Virginia, the Secretary of State to George Washington (the first to ever hold the post), vice president to President John Adams, then finally elected president in 1800 (though secured the position by much political wrangling – he tied in the electoral college votes with another from his own party, while the oppostion party controlled the House of Representatives (which decided the outcome)). The man who would eventually become the Vice President to Jefferson, Aaron Burr, annoyed Jefferson because he never dropped out of the race and would eventually be dropped from Jefferson’s reelection ticket when he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, in a duel. And we thought Dick Cheney was bad …

It’s a good memorial – a circular, completely white marble building with steps leading up all around, a colonnade of columns that forms the portico to the whole structure, with inside inscriptions from the Declaration of Independence on the walls and a 5.8 metre bronze statue of Jefferson in the centre, all under a shallow dome. It was completed in 1942, while the statue was installed in 1947. For people with less knowledge on US history, it would just be another memorial. But for people read up on America’s history, they are the people that will understand the importance of the man that the building was dedicated to. We were given time to walk around, get some photos, and take a break. It looks out over the Tidal Basin, and you get a good long-shot of the Washington Monument. I was very pleased to pay this memorial a visit as Jefferson rates as one of my favourite presidents.

We headed back to the bus eventually and found our way to the next memorial. Another one that I was glad to go to, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is probably the best designed and laid out I have ever seen. While I hold presidents like Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt in higher esteem, and probably invest more meaning and emotion in military memorials, like Arlington Cemetery, the cemeteries across Gallipoli, and the memorials to Australian troops here at home, when I say that the FDR Memorial is the best, I mean in design. The 4-term President had a spacious outdoors memorial, divided into 4 unique yet similar sections. In a mark of respect  to his own disability, it is designed with the disabled in mind with very few steps, and even those accompanied with ramps. It is spread over some 7 and a half acres, though the memorial’s structure isn’t that big. The structure itself seemed to be made from a deep red and orange granite, cut into huge blocks, placed where they were (if they weren’t the walls) with thoughtful arrangement.

As well as being a memorial to the president, it also acts as a sort of living history.  There are extremely poignant quotes from his terms carved into these granite walls, some of which, in denouncing the destruction that World War Two was causing, can only remind us of the futile nature of conflict still today. There are water features that depict important parts of the 12 years Roosevelt saw – the first, with a single waterfall coming out the wall, is called the Single Drop, and reminds us of the Depression; the second has a few waterfalls, called the Multiple Stairstep Drop, and harks back to the Tennessee Valley Authority dam-building project; the third, with jets spraying everywhere, represents World War Two; the fourth, the Still Pool, represents Roosevelt’s death, and; the fifth, a clever combination of the four before is a reflection on the Roosevelt presidency. Combine all this with the statues that are sparse, but provide the impact as if there were hundreds around you: a bronze statue of Roosevelt by the fireside with his dog (a famous photo from the time); a simple statue, with nothing around him, of the president in a wheelchair; a line of bronze men, with emotion on their cold faces, that is of the unemployed workers lining up for something (whether it be food, a job, welfare payments, etc.) at the height of the Depression; two of the millions of citizens, sitting sit beside their radio at night, listening to his fireside chats, and; Elanor Roosevelt speaking to the United Nations, a great supporter of the organisation. Walking around, it was like living history. I thought that students at nearby schools should be so lucky to have this memorial as a resource. People could really learn a lot from it.

There was an incident at this memorial though that cast a bit of a shadow over the night. As was normal when it came to this day and all our stops, I was first off the bus and first into the place, and if David wasn’t giving us a speech, then I was racing around like a kid in a candy store with my camera. So I was able to miss the incident thankfully, because it might have ruined the night’s experience for me. One of the tour members – the woman that joined us at New Orleans that few particularly liked – tried to get someone to take a photo of her straddling the statue of FDR in his wheelchair. It was stupid – really stupid. What was the stupidest part of it all was that David was standing nearby. He saw her and gave her a dressing down then and there. As people caught up to me, they related to me what had happened. I’m not American (even though I probably sound like one half the time), but beyond the disrespect that I thought something like that did, I felt somewhat offended. I don’t know why, maybe because I quite like FDR and think he was a very good President. But if I was feeling that as an Australian, I wondered what David was thinking being an American. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to getting back onto the bus.

When I reached the end of the memorial, we could look, again, over the Tidal Basin, back toward the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. I caught up with some people and raved about how good the FDR Memorial was. I suspect the people I spoke to didn’t hold it in as high regard as me. On the way back to the bus, after our 45 minutes to walk around, I caught David. After a hot day, with long, long drives, the stress of having to manage us, always being the last person to sleep from the bus because he had to arrange the next day’s activities as well as going out the nights the group went out, and drawing towards the end of a month-long tour (whereupon he would back up for another month long tour a few days later), I could see that the incident with the woman and the statue had just filled his cup and he had gone over the edge. I began to talk to him, and spilled out all the excitement and the anticipation that I had been feeling for D.C., and how grea this day had been – even with the long drives – because I got to do things that I have always been dreaming about. Then I started to talk about how great the FDR Memorial was (the walk back to the bus was a long one), and how it was the best designed one I had ever seen. On and on I went, and I have to say that it cheered him up. Everyone on the tour, really from the start, had taken David and his skills for granted. Perhaps we were expecting it – we had paid a premium for a good and all-encompassing tour – but it wasn’t often that we stopped to say a simple thanks to David. I was guilty of it as much as the rest of the tour. I think I made up for my lapse with all the praise I was giving out on the way back. I was right to hark on about the FDR Memorial – it was David’s favourite as well. He held it in as high esteem as I did, and I think this pleased him. I suspect that he was glad someone was getting a lot out of this tour (because, by this point, all the boys group was complaining, and the less interested people had started to as well), even if it was just one person. He could have expected it – he knew I was keenly interested in US politics and history. We had a good handshake before we got on the bus, and traded some thank-you’s.

Then David got on the bus’ microphone. As we drove to our final highlight for the evening, he started on again about how people should respect these memorials, how it’s offensive to do some things to statues, like sit on them, and how as a tourist you are a visitor so act like one. He was clearly annoyed with the whole incident – he was actually fuming about it, but held back, he would tell us in a couple of nights. I felt like I was back in high school where someone had mucked up and the whole class was getting a talking to, and eventually, because I wasn’t the one who mucked up, by the end of the talk I really didn’t like the person who was wasting my time with this talk. David was finished before we got  to the next stop – the world famous Lincoln Memorial.

We unloaded and were told that there were three memorials here – the obvious Lincoln Memorial, but to the side was a Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a Korean veterans Memorial. We were given an hour to look at all three, then get back to the bus where we would then go back to the hotel. It was already past 11pm, so we knew it would be late. The drive back would be quicker, because there would be no traffic this late, but it would still be substantial. We wandered away from the bus, everyone tired and exhausted. Well, everyone but one.

The Lincoln Memorial is perfectly designed for US history buffs. There are 36 columns around the outside, 37 feet high, that represent the 25 Union states and the 11 secession states at the time of his presidency. Each column has a state name carved into the entablature above them. When the building was completed, the exterior attic walls had the names of the 48 stats carved into them, and amended following Hawaii and Alaksa being admitted to the Union in 1959. The Lincoln statue sits on a thrown, beneath with the arms of the thrown are fashioned into the design of the Roman fasces – an icon taken on by the United States. There is an urban legend is that Robert E. Lee’s face was carved into the back of Lincoln’s head, looking back at Arlington Cemetery, over the Potomac. I can report that this is untrue. Another legend is that Lincoln’s hands form the sign language symbols of his initials – A and L. Denied by officials as having been designed or requested, it is possible that the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, did intend it as a tribute to Lincoln signing the federal legislation Gallaudet University, university for deaf students, authority to grant college degrees. Boosting to the legend is that French had a deaf son and was familiar with sign language.

Inside is the main chamber, hosting the statue, flanked by two chambers. The only things in these are engravings into the wall. One is the Gettysburg Address, while the other is his Second. Above the statue of Lincoln is inscribed:

IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE

FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION

THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER

It’s of Greek Doric temple design, styled oafter the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece, which is notable if you know your architecture because most of the rest of Washington is of a Roman/triumphal design. It’s built of Indiana limestone and Yule marble from Marble, Colorado. The statue of President Lincoln itself is made of Georgian marble from Tate, Georgia (funnily enough, a succession state of the Confederacy). The sculptor managed to capture the pensive, ‘honest’ look that Abe Lincoln was photographed with so many times. It looks out over the Reflecting Pool and you can draw a straight line from the front steps, through the middle of the Pool, through the base of the Washington Monument, down the centre of the National Mall, right to the front door of the United States Capitol Building. It’s perfect symmetry, and Lincoln is able to keep an eye on the goings on of Washington today. A perfect right angle forms when you draw a line from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument then to the White House.

After walking around the inside, I stopped and took a seat on the steps. On a marked tile is the spot where Martin Luther King Jnr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech 100 years after Lincoln had freed the slaves. To be standing on the spot where such an influential speech, and even more influential man, had passed before me was humbling. It gave me a chance to reflect. While different to the almost mournful reflection I had at Arlington Cemetery, this one was different but with all the emotion. I wondered what King would be thinking where some 45 years later a black man was about to be nominated Democratic candidate for president, and would hopefully win. I wondered how America, indeed the world, could have achieved so much but fallen so short of its ultimate potential; not just since that speech was given, nor when Lincoln changed the course of the United States, but across all of time. And I wondered if I would get a chance to see, in my life time, that potential come to fruition. As I said, sitting on those steps was very, very humbling.

After some reflection, I moved away and came upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Unfortunately, while all the others had been, this was nit designed to be view at night. I would have liked to have looked at it, after David had described its history and controversial nature. I was able to make out some statues that accompany a long wall with all the names of the dead on it, but any photos I took weren’t worth keeping bar one of a trio of soldiers that were at the start of the memorial. I moved on to the Korean Veterans Memorial which was better lit and more photographic. There is an arrangement of a squad of US troop, dressed in their ponchos, equipment ready, highly detailed. The lighting was quite good for the evening – moonlights on the group at the feet of the statues. I got a few photos, and then moved on. My time was running out to look around, and I hardly wanted to keep the bus waiting (like Santa Fe). I made my way back towards the bus, realised I had a few minutes left to spare, went back to the Lincoln Memorial once more for some photos, then returned with the rest of the crowd to our transport.

We all boarded the bus, and after a little closing talk by David to remind us what else there is to do in D.C. (though he had already gone into detail on this through the day on our long drive from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia). There was little response from the bus – we were all tired, and ready to hit the sack – some more than others. On the way back, David made a point that Marcus drive by the White House. The two people you would expect to be excited about seeing the White House from some 500 metres away at near to 1am in the morning – Thomas and Shelle – were the only two that moved to take photos. Everyone else was happy to see it the next day.

Everything looked remarkably different at night, I would find out after I headed back in the next day. But, for now, my attention was more focused on getting to sleep. When we got back, I rushed to the front desk and asked if I could book the free shuttle they had to take me to the train station at, say, 6am. They were a bit surprised, but obliged. I failed to ask some semi-important questions, but it wouldn’t matter much. We all headed to our floor, then dispersed to our rooms. My roommate was as tired as me, and after telling him that I would be setting my alarm for 5:20am (giving me less then 4 hours sleep), I promised him I’d be as quiet as possible. He thanked me and went to sleep. I sent a message to my travel blog, excited about the fact I was touring the US Capitol tomorrow, then climbed into bed myself. I fell asleep immediately, but not for long.

Thomas.

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2 thoughts on “Holiday Road – Part XXIII

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