Monday 23 October 2017

Washington: A humble house for Mr Trump...

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The White House, where the president sleeps, attracts far more visitors than Capitol Hill
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The White House, where the president sleeps, attracts far more visitors than Capitol Hill

Joe Corcoran

It was about nine o'clock in the evening when I first arrived at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

I'd been riding a bicycle for about an hour at that point - touring, with a group, a selection of the most prominent sights and monuments in and around the National Mall.

We were just leaving the Korean War Veterans Memorial when the sun set and our tour guide instructed us to turn on our headlights. The steps are never wanting for visitors after all and he'd rather we didn't take anyone by surprise.

There are 87 steps all told. Four score & seven, if you will.

Decked out across them that random Sunday evening were, as promised, easily 200 or so people. Locals and tourists alike.

Such a gathering at such an hour apropos of nothing was a fairly impressive sight in its own right, I thought, however, when I headed into the summit temple I realised anything less would hardly have been fitting.

Lincoln's statue is simply awe-inspiring. They say the camera adds 10lb but to compare the noble stone behemoth sitting proudly before me that night to the somewhat tepid figure I'd seen in brochures, I'd say the opposite is true and then some.

Surrounded by epitaphs on each wall, deep marble carvings of choice quotes and even an entire reproduction of the famous Gettysburg Address, old honest Abe is a powerful and pertinent reminder of the true gravity of presidential office.

In a time when the word president seems more closely associated with buffoonery and deception than prestige, here still and for 94 years and counting, Abe sits.

The sight of him is a reaffirming one in this sense. Reaffirming of the power of politics. The power to move people en masse and change the course of history.

I remember that beside the statue stood a man openly weeping at the sight in front of him. Had I been able to muster such a reaction it might have been more appropriate.

In the temple as a whole there was a palpable sense of euphoria that manifested itself in the likes of a father quietly giving his son a small history lesson and telling him he was standing in front of a great man, or couples young and old posing merrily for photographs from every possible angle.

As it was I made do with a stunned silence, leaning back against one of the 38 Doric columns and drinking the moment in.

Later on that night my group would go out to explore the city nightlife.

I, a cherub of only 19 years old, which is a whole two years below the legal drinking age in America, was certainly not permitted to take part in those festivities...

However if I had been, allegedly, I most certainly wouldn't have been disappointed. DC is only the fifth city in the country to be honoured with an ultra-prestigious Michelin guide, meaning it boasts about as fine a selection of restaurants and bars as you'll find anywhere in the world.

The Georgetown Waterfront was where we/they ended up going that night and it would also be the location of our kayaking expedition the next morning.

Kayaking is a popular summer activity for residents of the Waterfront, and proved a riotous bit of fun for the hour or so we spent out there. I would also imagine it makes a great hangover cure but then who's to say really?

After that I spent some time visiting a few of the many expos and museums located downtown. DC is home to the world famous Smithsonian Institution, a collection of 19 museums and a zoological park open free to the general public every day except Christmas.

The range of subjects includes everything from African art and culture to air and space travel, and each museum is comprehensive and dynamic enough to easily spend the whole day in.

Apart from the Smithsonian there is also the International Spy Museum and my own personal favourite, the Newseum which chronicles more than 200 years of American news media in fascinating detail and features a moving exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs that I got lost in for quite some time.

Upon leaving I was struck with a new appreciation for photography as an art form and was cursing myself for having forgotten to pack my good DSLR camera before I got on the plane.

As great as the museums and nightlife in DC are, however, they cannot distract from the fact that, at its core this is still a one industry city.

Politics is woven into the fabric of this place, and the political machine is one that can sell itself far better than I or any other travel writer could ever hope to.

The sights to see? Everybody already knows them.

There's the White House, of course, which it turns out is a humble enough building for all of the attention it gets.

It probably says something about the tabloid nature of our culture that the building where the president and his family sleeps at night receives easily twice as many visitors as the much bigger Capitol Building just down the road, where most of the tangible policy making gets done, but no matter.

It is monuments like the Lincoln Memorial that speak most candidly of the true power of, well, power, in its most official public sense.

After 10 or so minutes staring up at Lincoln that night I started hearing voices outside. "Oh my God! Look at the moon!" I turned around and started back down the steps.

The moon was bigger than I'd ever seen it in my life, and perfectly blood red in colour.

It was emerging from behind the Washington Monument a mile to the east, casting a strange but magnificent light across the entire scene. I tried to take a picture but it was too late for the colours to come out properly.

This was one of those moments that would just have to live in the memory.

I spent about another five minutes sitting on the steps of the memorial watching the moon move slowly out of sight before getting up to retrieve my bike. In the middle of doing so I stopped for a second, having stepped, by chance, on to something rather peculiar.

It was a plaque, around which a small group of tourists was gathering patiently. I looked down and started reading.

Four words, spoken by a man who was standing in this exact same spot 54 years ago when he said them. They read: "I have a dream."

GETTING THERE

Essentials: Get your tourist board info from www.VisitTheUSA.com

www.washington.org

Hotels: Go on, you know you want to stay at the Watergate Hotel, and from $425 per night Cinders might just go to the ball. Just don’t steal the ashtrays. 

www.thewatergatehotel.com

Activities: Bike & Roll Monuments bike tour (www.bikeandrolldc.com)

Kayaking on Potomac River near Washington Harbour (www.boatingindc.com)

Museums: International Spy Museum (www.spymuseum.org)

The Smithsonian (www.si.edu) and don’t miss the National Gallery of Art (www.nga.gov) 

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life