09.05.2011 - 09.05.2011
I made it to breakfast! Yeeaah. It was a self-catering affair - I made a toasted bagel with cream cheese. It wasn't great but it was free calories so it was sufficient.
In my head I had a loose plan to visit the Natural History Museum today, I've been to the one in London and I just love those museums; being a lover of all things science, the place just rocks and I can spend hours upon hours in them. As with travelling and maybe more specifically, as with me, that plan changed not long after thinking of it. I saw one of my roommates Chris, a guy from California, in the lobby and we chatted for a minute and he said he was off to the Capitol Building with another guy. So I tagged along for the trip. His friend Lars was from Germany (I think :oS ) we chatted and exchanged travelling stories on the 20 minute walk to the Capitol. It's an impressive structure and another major iconic building of America. It's the place where all the politics go down - new laws get made here etc.
We walked around the perimeter taking the usual photos. I got my signature Sackboy photo. Sackboy for those who haven't seen my Facebook photos is a teddy that someone gave me as a gift from work when I left. I said I'd try and take him with me and thought it would be funny to take photos of him in front of all the sights around the world. It's not the smallest teddy in the world by a long way so it's proven to be a bit of an annoyance at times, only just fitting into my backpack before I set off, and it takes up most of the room in my daypack - but comedy will always prevail for me. The photos look funny and therefore I will suffer the annoyance and, probably more significantly; the embarrassment. Taking it out of my bag when I'm on my own and trying to sit him somewhere to get a photo gets some funny looks and laughs, but so what I think - comedy wins so screw you. The most embarrassing part however is about to happen in this story where I'm up to. It's happened several times so far and will happen many more times:
We entered the Capitol building after taking our photos and as usual in all these buildings there was a full security check. Metal detectors, bag screening and usually a pat-down. I seem to always set off the stupid metal detectors first time, but this time I went straight through - awesome I thought. ''Who's bag is this?'' God damn it. ''Mine.'' I had a small bottle of water which apparently in America, is always a bomb in liquid form. Fancy that, a 24 year old tourist from England with liquid explosives. So I had to go out and throw it away and start all over. I went through again and waited for my bag. The strange shape of the teddy obviously made the guard curious, so he opened the bag and had a look in, gave me a weird look then handed it over. This opening of my bag to see a teddy bear and then looking at me thinking I'm either a big girl or just plain weird has happened several times and it's not the most comfortable of moments - a strong big framed security guard or indeed, member of the police force, looking at me casting judgments isn't too great of an experience. Luckily however, they all hand it over after a quick look and silent insult. I did think that maybe someone would think it's stuffed with drugs or something and cut him open - Nooo! I'd rescue him don't you worry Mandy. Luckily no one has yet.
My manliness in tatters, the three of us walked to a big hall full of statues and queues of people. A good thing about Washington D.C is that most of the museums and sights are free, somewhat like London. An even bigger bonus about the Capitol Building is that they have free guided tours. You can go to a lot of the free sights, but without a guide you might not learn anything about the thing you're looking at. Obviously some sights just look great and you don't need to know, or care, about its history etc. but a place like the Capitol is full of history and there's a lot to be learned about the goings-on here.
We got our tickets and were led into a big cinema room. The short 10 minute movie that followed covered a lot of the history of the building, when and why it was built, and some of the laws that were made in the building etc. All with a big American twist of course. It was pretty hilarious, even to Chris from California. It was basically a propaganda movie. The first 5 minutes went on about how American's are great and all they ever want is freedom and the same rights for everyone - then it very subtly said ''the Capitol Building was built mostly by black slaves''. Lovely stuff. The movie then made it sound like they did the Native Indian's a favour by pushing them out of their own lands as they took over the entire landscape of North America. I'm thankful that the American with me was intelligent and unbiased, so to realise how ridiculous the whole movie was; many jokes ensued.
We then started our proper tour led by a happy & knowledgeable lady by the name of Whitney. I made her name up. We went through many big hallways stopping to learn about certain statues; one room we went into had a star in the centre, she told us that this was the very centre of Washington D.C. When you look on a map you notice that all the streets originate from the Capitol - 1st Street, 2nd Street etc.
We went into the room that's below the big dome which makes the building so recognisable from outside. The tour lady told us about the painting on the inside of the dome and who did it (of course I have forgotten). The one bit of information that I do remember about this room was a painting that stretched all the way around the room. It was really high up just below the dome. A kind of skirting board around the top of the room if you like. A very big room. The painting basically had all of America's history up to a certain point. Our guide pointed out the starting point; Columbus arriving by boat on the shores of America, and the finishing point just to the left of the start; The Wright Brothers setting off their first plane. We were told that the artist who did this impressive painting had a good sense of humour and so he left a little surprise in the picture. You had to look close but near the start of the painting there is a woman holding a baby; well if you look very close you can see that this baby has an old man's face - the artists own face. Pretty cool.
We went into a lot of rooms, learning mainly about past presidents when we came to their statues, we also saw where President Lincoln's desk used to be, among others - and where a lot of the politics goes down nowadays.
Chris and Lars wanted to go and see the Library of Congress next, I did too - but it wasn't so high on my list of things to see, and I was running out of days in D.C so I made a note that I would try go back if I could, but for now I left them to it and I headed for the Space Museum. Woop.
I was pretty hungry so I tried to forget my bad hotdog experience of New York and I opted to get another from a street stall. The lady asked me if I wanted raw or cooked onions. Oh maybe this is where I went wrong I thought. I asked to look at them both. I found the answer to the reason I disliked the hotdog of NYC; the cooked onions were the horrible yacky ones. Someone who has more cooking knowledge will know what they are cooked in, but they are certainly not to my liking. I asked for raw onions and ketchup and sat on a wall in the sun and enjoyed this one a lot more than the previous.
Space Museum time. Alright. After another teddy peak from the security I was in and eagerly looking the museum map over. The museum's full name was The Air & Space museum so there was quite a bit I could skip over that I didn't care too much for - the planes and stuff basically. I went straight for the big league; the sections on space and the universe. My geeky side was getting ready for a nerd party in here.
It was good, but to be honest it wasn't the greatest museum in the world. Some of the information was a little dated and the sections for space & the universe weren't even that big - but I had a good time and spent an hour or so in there. There was a cool bit where a live camera was recording in infrared and it was displayed on a TV screen. Aside from the fact that the camera was aimed at a really awkward place where only 2 people at a time could go on it, and the fact that it was aimed quite high so you could only see the top half of tall people and little people had to try and stand on things; it was cool. I imagined myself being hunted by the Predator for the 30 seconds I stood in view of it. Good old school movie memories.
I left the museum and looked on the map to see what I could do next as it was only half way through the day. I noticed that the Holocaust Museum was down the road so I set off for some of that.
The security guard at the Holocaust museum let me keep my bottle of water this time after I had to drink some to prove it wasn't anything dangerous. I had to resist the temptation to pretend to start freaking out after I drank some.
The Holocaust Museum was very good. Photographs weren't allowed so I've nothing to help jog my memory but it was a really good informative revealing museum. There was a lot of very graphic images and some of the most horrific videos I've ever seen. Growing up through my teenage years in to my twenties with the full force of the internet at my hands I've seen some pretty horrible things before, it's what guys do when they get together - but this museum shocked me. It was very educational and very sobering. I left the museum after a couple of hours quiet and without the bounce that I'd had every day thus far. Thanks a lot Hitler. Douche.
It was late afternoon now and I'd done quite a lot so I figured it was time to make my way back to the hostel. I walked north up one of the main streets. I was pretty close to the Washington Monument, it looked awesome lonely in the clear blue sky with the sun heading for its resting place behind it. Quite a few times I've used the sun to find my way home in New York and Washington. Both my hostels have been north of all the main sights so when i know roughly what time of day it is, relative to where the sun is, I can find my way north. It's not exactly up there with surviving in the jungle eating bugs and drinking my own piss but it's a start!
On my way back to the hostel, maybe 10 minutes before getting back I saw a police squad car and some kind of official SUV vehicle (CIA/FBI I don't know) with their lights flashing but no sirens blaring out. They were parked on a corner kind of haphazardly and as I got closer I noticed that no one was in them. I looked around to see if I could see any action but there was nothing to see. After I buried the temptation to jump in the squad car for a free shotgun ala GTA-style, I turned right to carry on my journey - I walked maybe five steps and something caught my eye; I turned my head to the left and there, immobile, half out of an underground parking lot were four black SUVs, two behind two, all full of suited guys with shades on, just staring at me, motionless. Excitement flooded me; should I take a photo? A video? Should I just stand to the side and see what happens? Should I wave? But I knew I couldn't do anything, I had to keep going. For all I knew, the president could have being having a secret lunch somewhere and anyone acting stupidly could be arrested shot or something. I looked back every 10 seconds or so while I walked away down the long street but I saw nothing. Damn. I hate getting a glimpse of action and never finding out what's happening.
Evening time was spent on the netbook and I also visited the hostel's movie room. It has a big 60 inch or so TV and about 20 separate leather (lazy boy style but without the awesome perks) comfy chairs. I spoke to an American guy who was in D.C for a week on leave from the army. He mentioned he'd been in Iraq, I wanted to ask questions but I didn't know the etiquette when it came to questioning people serving in the forces so I didn't bother.
The best thing about the evening was an advert on TV. Perhaps the best advert I've ever seen in my life. I was on my laptop not really watching the adverts when I heard ''Are you single? Are you Christian?'' I looked up. ''Well log on to Christianmingle.com today!'' OH THIS IS AMAZING I thought. The advert went on, ''Some people leave it up to God's good will to decide but now you can find your own partner!'' It went on for the whole advert like this, I was sat there open-mouthed ready to burst out laughing as soon as it finished, waiting, so not to miss any more of this comedy gold. As the advert finished the American guy loudly proclaimed ''WELCOME TO AMERICA BAHAHA!'' Everyone burst out laughing. The whole minute or so was absolute comedy perfection. I honestly could not have made a better parody of such a subject if I tried. Welcome to America indeed!