The air-hostess is walking down the aisle collecting our ‘trash’; “good job y’all” she says as we deposit our empty cans. I’m being praised for throwing away a single item of rubbish in a bag being held open for me. It’s then I know I’ve really arrived in America.
I travelled to the land of the free to see Hayley – the first person I met at university and a best friend since then. Hayley married Andrew – an American trainee doctor and huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan – and has lived in DC for the past two years and I’d finally made it over for a visit, my first to America.
Hayley and Andrew were able tour guides, showing me the way on the metro, taking touristy photos of me against the impressive backdrop of the Capitol and introducing me to a huge variety of grossly unhealthy but amazingly delicious fast food, including deep-fried pickles. But, if you’re not lucky enough to have a friend to show you the sights here’s my run-down of DC to-dos:
I studied American politics in sixth form but that didn’t prepare me for the impressive vista of the Capitol building – a stunning, white-domed building that oozed presence. The ground was thick with snow and the sun was shining – crisp slants of brightness bouncing off the stone.
Hayley and I did a free tour of the building, which I recommend – it was littered with cheesy rhetoric and a glossy American history, but it did communicate the impressive feat of achieving government in America in of itself. The government slogan – ‘out of many, one’ – is an embodiment of that which we derisively call the ‘American dream’. For such a vast and varied assembly of states to have one government is an achievement and the tour really brought that home.
Arlington Cemetery is the final home for fallen men and women in the American military. Acres upon acres of identical white gravestones off-set against the spring grass was an arresting, moving spectacle – I really did feel like I was on hallowed ground and, whatever the reasons behind war, the enormity of their sacrifice hung heavy on me.
I took the $6 bus tour, which lets you off at J.F.K’s grave, at the coliseum for the changing of the guard and at the top of the cemetery for a view over Washington DC, but I actually recommend taking the time to walk around yourself and really think. It’s an easy enough walk and you won’t have the fairly uninteresting facts the bus driver delivers ruining your reflection.
George Town is a pretty part of DC hugging the Potomac river. Hayley and I walked over the bridge from Rossyln and strolled by the water’s edge before having Pad Thai on the harbour. The sun was streaming through the cold air and it was just nice being next to the river and out of the hustle and bustle.
After lunch, we wandered around the plethora of shops George Town has on offer – a good mixture of boutiques and high-street stores. Hayley and I hadn’t been shopping together since our university days so part of the fun was in egging each other on in our purchases.
We didn’t go, but Hayley and Andrew highly recommend a visit to George Town Cupcake, which always has a queue, so it must be good.
The National Mall has a huge array of free museums to choose from – you could easily spend days discovering all that’s on offer. I chose to visit the Natural History Museum and spent time in the gem exhibition, transfixed by a display of opals (my favourite stone), the Hope Diamond (the biggest cut diamond in the world) and cases full of truly outrageous and stunning pieces of jewellery- sapphires the size of your fist and emerald necklaces that only a body builder would have the neck-strength to wear.
The Air and Space museum gave a fascinating look at the life of an astronaut, is jam-packed full of model rockets and planes and is home to an iMax cinema. I saw a film about the Hubble Telescope, narrated by Leonardo Dicaprio. I’m pretty sure I watched the exact same film in the London Science Museum a few years ago but it honestly was an incredible look at space, soaring through images of far-off galaxies and dying stars that Hubble had managed to capture.
As Andrew is a massive ice hockey fan, it would have been rude not to go to an ice hockey game and soak up a slice of this American past-time. We went to see the Washington Capitols (Caps) against The Toronto Maple Leaves. Admittedly I wasn’t 100% clear of what was going on at all times but Andrew helpfully commentated, I drank a lot of beer, ate a chilli dog, chanted a bit and the Caps won, so all in all, I loved it. Although, I was disappointed not see the kiss cam in action or a notorious ice hockey fight break-out. Maybe next time…
Of course, the very best thing about Washington DC was spending solid, quality time with Hayley. My trip very much lived up to the fact that with the best of friends, you just pick up where you left off. I fell back into living with her like it was the most natural thing in the world and I was reminded of how lucky I am that her’s was the room next to mine in our first year halls. University and indeed, I, wouldn’t have been the same without her.