Washington DC: The Smithsonian Museums

The rest of the day were spent at the museums. I am not sure exactly how many museums there are but I think there must have been over a dozen major ones in Washington DC. The beautiful thing about the museums in the DC area is that they are all free. Collectively these museums are known as the Smithsonian Museums.

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The existence of the Smithsonian Museums are attributed to this man, James Smithson. He was a rich Englishman and a scientist. When he died in the 1700s, he donated all his wealth to the US Government for the purposes of research. It did not seem like a lot what he donated. The value of what he donated was about $10 million at today’s value.

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Today, the Smithsonian Museums manages not only museums but they also manage a zoo too. Most of the Smithsonian Museums are located in Washington DC. The above is the cluster of Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall. Many of the museums are huge and you can easily take more than 1 day to cover just one.

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The Smithsonian Institution Building, better known as the Smithsonian Castle, is the first of all Smithsonian buildings. (more…)

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Washington DC: The National Mall

Today, I want to share with you this park that had witnessed many historic events. The National Mall is located right smack in the middle of the Washington DC downtown area. I am amazed with the foresight of the city planners to create such a huge expanse of park land and conserve this place from indiscriminate development.

No visit to Washington DC is complete without having stepped in the National Mall, don’t you think so? In many respect, the National Mall can be referred to as America’s Front Yard.

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All the green expanse that you see above is the National Mall. From one end to the other, the distance is about 2 miles. On a clear day you could see the Lincoln Memorial from the US Capitol.

The layout is quite simple. I’ve marked the map above in red. The map is a bit small but click on it to see a bigger view of this. In the center is the Washington Monument. Way to the west is the Lincoln Memorial, to north is the White House and towards the east is the US Capitol.

Between them are peppered with a lot of monuments and museums. Most monuments are located west of the Washington Monument while the Smithsonian Museums are located east of it. Suanne and I spent a day covering the museums and another for the monuments.

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At (almost) the center of the National Mall is the Washington Monument. This is perhaps the most important monument in the National Mall, dedicated to the founding father of the United States of America. Until today, no building is taller than the Washington Monument.

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Here is looking east from the top of the Washington Monument. At the far end is the US Capitol. The buildings you see on both sides along the strip of green are the museums — Washington has lots of museums … and they are all free! (more…)

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Washington DC: The White House

After the visit to the Ford’s Theater, we made our way via the Metro to The White House. The closest Metro station to the White House is the Federal Triangle. We got out of the station and ended up on Pennsylvania Ave.

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I had read so much about Pennsylvania Ave. For one, the most famous address in the US is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave — that is the official address of the White House. Pennsylvania Ave is considered as the “Main Street” of Washington DC and is also the avenue where parades and processions are held.

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The two most important buildings in Washington DC, the White House and the US Capitol, is joined to each other via this avenue with an (almost) direct line of sight. He he he … how do you like the illustration above of the view down Pennsylvania Ave from the US Capitol. I made it using Google Earth. Is there a way to record a drive by using Google Earth … anyone know how to do that?

I have two trivia for Canadians. First one here and the other one further down this posting. Here is the first one … the only embassy located on Pennsylvania Ave is the Canadian Embassy. No other embassy is located as close to the US Capitol than the Canadian Embassy. Cool, eh? I think the Yankees likes the Canucks a lot to allow us to do that.

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The White House is not opened to the public. The only way for most people to find out more about the White House is to visit the official White House Visitor Center. This is located about 2 blocks from the White House — (more…)

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Washington DC: Ford’s Theatre and The House Where Lincoln Died

The Ford’s Theater is where Abraham Lincoln was shot. He was pronounced dead later in a house across the street.

At the breakfast, we were told by the owner that The Ford’s Theater is undergoing renovation but we could still visit the House That Lincoln Died in.

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Abraham Lincoln is considered as the greatest of all American Presidents. He was the president who led the country through its darkest hour when some southern states wanted to secede from the union and form the CSA (Confederated States of America), triggering the civil war which lasted four long years.

Abraham Lincoln is the 16th President and also the first from the Republican party. He came to power at the time when the Democrats were divided and made it easier for him to win the presidency. He also campaigned against the expansion of slavery and that is what caused the southern states to secede.

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just a few days after the end of the civil war? History recorded that he was originally targeted to be kidnapped but was later changed to an assassination after Lincoln had made a speech supporting giving voting rights to blacks.

On that fateful night, it was not only the President was targeted for assassination but the plot also included the assassination of the Vice President and the Secretary of State. Both the Vice Presidents and Secretary of State survived the attempts but Abraham Lincoln was shot once in the head while watching a play at the Ford’s Theater.

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After he was shot, the people wanted to take him to the hospital but decided against it because the road was too bumpy and they thought they might not survive the ride. It was then someone across the street shouted to bring the president to the house which today is known as the Petersen House … or better known as The House Where Lincoln Died.

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The building is now managed by the National Park Service. (more…)

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Washington DC: Breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop

We slept like a baby the first night in Washington DC. We had no idea how tired we really were. We were well rested … well … except that Suanne woke up with a stiff neck. The pillows she selected at the hotel were too soft for her.

We had a real early start. That second day in DC is what we call the “museum day”. Our plan is to cover the places and sights along the National Mall east of the Washington Monument. We planned on also visiting the White House.

While trying to get our bearing outside the hotel, a tourism ambassador of sort approached us asking if we needed help. I was really impressed even though Suanne and I looked every part a lost tourist. We said we just wanted to find a place for breakfast and she promptly said that we should head to a place called The Waffle House just across from Ford’s Theatre, the place where Abraham Lincoln was shot. Sounds like a great idea.

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The Waffle House, located on 504 10th St NW, is just a short walk from our hotel. It was quite an interesting place to say the least. There is a newspaper clipping from The Washington Post pasted outside the window that says:

Legend has it that Mr Lincoln really wanted to dine here that bad night, but the missus refused to sit on stools that swivel, so they went to the theater across the street instead …

I thought it was kind of funny. Actually the article did not say which “Mr Lincoln” and everyone just assumed that it was Abe they were referring to.

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Their breakfast special was quite interesting. This is exactly the kind of place we wanted for breakfast … wow, scrapple! That is until we went in … and was kind of disappointed that it’s not exactly a waffle place but looks like they are owned by Chinese.

They do serve both American style home cook food and also Chinese American food.

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We had coffee and hot chocolate. (more…)

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Washington DC: The US Capitol

After the quick bite at the Union Station, we decided that we should just take a walk around the area and then call it a day. After all, Suanne had not slept well on the flight.

So, we thought the best thing is to just visit the US Capitol and the surrounding area since it was just a couple of blocks away.

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The US Capitol is located at the very eastern end of the National Mall. If you have a map, you will see that it is at the center of Washington DC, well, almost. The US Capitol had a direct line of sight of the White House via Pennsylvania Ave … actually almost direct line of sight had it not being blocked slightly by the Treasury building or something.

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Most impressive of all, it has a direct line of sight of the entire National Mall. This line leads down to the Washington Monument and eventually end up at The Lincoln Memorial.

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It was very quiet around the area which we thought was a bit odd. We would have thought that this place would be teeming with tourists and all. (more…)

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Washington DC: Sbarro Lunch in Union Station

By the time we got to the hotel, checked in and dropped off our bags it was already past 2PM. We were not too hungry but decided that we should just get something to eat since we only had cereals for breakfast. I guess it must have been the excitement that we’re not feeling that hungry. We asked the hotel’s front desk where we could find food and they pointed us to the Union Station.

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The Union Station is an old station built at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, train travel is the main form of long distance travel. The city designed and built this station as a ceremonial station and as a grand entrance to the city of Washington DC. Today it is the main train hub in Washington DC. We started our day from this station everyday.

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Considering this a building of over a hundred years old, it is amazing that it looked so new. I felt that this station is brighter and better maintained than the more famous Grand Central Terminal in New York City. (more…)

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Washington DC: Getting Around and Accomodation

Alright … this is what we learn about getting around Washington DC. Please feel free to chip in if you have anything readers should know about. After all, what do Suanne and I know right …. since we were only in Washington DC for just a few days.

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Two things we find so indispensable is a good street map of Washington DC and a Metro Guide. For the first few days we go from one place to another using Washington DC’s subway which they call the Metro Rail or Metro in short. Actually Metro is used to refer to both Metro Rail and MetroBus. You can get the Metro Guide from most subway stations. For street maps, you can get it from the various tourist info center, museums … just about anywhere.

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To us, the fares structure were kind of confusing and complex. Fares are basically charged depending on the time of the day and the distance traveled. The lowest fare is about $1.60. They do have what they call the “1-Day Pass” which costs $7.80 which allows you unlimited travel during the day … but … can only be used after 9:30AM. We like to start our days early and thought the 1-Day Pass is too limiting.

So, we bought a FareCard from the machines. It basically works like a cash card. You can buy any amount you want — we bought $10 worth of travel. The amount is deducted from your card each time you exit a station. You can top up the amount if you run low for the next trip.

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All the stations looked the same in Washington DC. They all have that classical DC architecture style where the ceilings have sunken panels. I am not sure what it is that people in DC like so much about sunken panels. Just about every building we go to we see sunken panels. (more…)

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Flying Continental from Vancouver to Washington DC

While our flight tickets cost next to nothing, there is a catch. We are traveling on standby and not just any standby but what the industry call SA5. SA5 stands for Space Available 5 and that means that in terms of priorities, this is the lowest of lowest of boarding priorities. I am not sure what the other priorities are but surely I often see that airline pilots, air stewardess, and own airline employees get a space above everyone else.

Since we were SA5, it is obvious that it is next to impossible to get standby seats on peak times. The busiest travel times are Sunday afternoon, Monday mornings, Fridays and Saturday mornings … this is when most people will travel for business. The best time to get standby seats? The times which the aviation industry refers to as “Red-Eyes”.

Red-Eyes are nicknamed as such because you travel at close to midnight and arrive first time in the morning … which almost guarantee you to arrive at your destination with bloodshot eyes. LOL! Red-eye flights are also a good way for the airline to mop up all the excess overbookings for the day.

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So Suanne and I traveled on such red eye flight. Our flight to Washington DC from Vancouver has a layover in Houston. If you know your geography, it’s about the worse route as we travel just about as south as we can get in the US and then fly north to Washington DC. Well, we flew Continental and Continental’s hub is in Houston, that’s why.

Our flight was at 11:30 PM and arrive at Washington DC at about 6:00 AM close to afternoon the next day. That was on a Saturday/Sunday time in which there were plenty of seats available. I was tired because I promised to publish two project reports before I leave work behind for two weeks. I worked a good part of the Saturday to finish it off. So, I had a good sleep on board but Suanne was too excited to sleep on the flight.

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There were no food for the YVR to HOU sector. They served free breakfast for the HOU to DCA flight. It was nothing to shout about. There is a half-ripe banana (I hate half ripe bananas!) and cereal.

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There’s also the milk that goes with the cereal and of course drinks too. (more…)

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