Our Nation’s Capital

Did you know that Greyhound bus services intentionally over books bus routes to protect against buses not filled?

Neither did I.

Flash back: It’s Thursday night, and I’m ready to take the 10 p.m. bus to New York City and after that, to the nation’s historic capital. Only, two bus drivers don’t show up for work so we were forced to take the 1 a.m. bus instead.

We must have had the worst luck in the world because our bus broke down at 2:15 a.m. on the Mass Pike. Coupled with the reality of sitting next to four obnoxious African Americans for 6 hours, it was safe to safe to say we were already off to a rough start.

Inside the National Postal Museum.

These people were shouting profanities at the driver and passengers, shouting inappropriate lyrics, and trying their hardest to rap like Lil Wayne. One of them had his hands down his pants while sleeping and the rest of them were drunk and smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. The funniest line of the night, though, was when the 4’11” midget of the group asked the bus driver not to treat him like a child because he was a grown man. Except he wasn’t so grown after all.

We finally made it to the Washington D.C. at 1:30 p.m. and immediately dived into its exciting history. Our first stop was the National Postal Museum. Here I saw the special Fire and Ice exhibit headlined by commemorating the Hindenburg fire disaster and the Titanic ice tragedy. In this museum, I saw the postal service from its inception including the sparkly postal mascot, Owney.

Detective McDevitt, our tour guide.

After check in at Capital View, followed by drinks and dinner in downtown D.C., I made my way towards the History on Foot walking tour that chronicled the events of April 14 1865, the day President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, led by Detective. McDevitt. The tour guide was an overzealous local actor who took his job very seriously. He lectured to us about the night’s events with such riveting detail I was reminded of my 7th grade history class. In total, the tour lasted about two hours and covered just less than two miles. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in learning about John Wilkes Booth and the conspiracy to destroy the Union by eliminating the Union’s leaders.

The Capitol building is humongous. There are hundreds of rooms, offices, and old meeting spaces used by the Supreme Court and House of Representatives. This building was clearly built to last. The rotunda is adorned with eight oil-on-canvas paintings depicting the American Revolution, all done by John Trumbull. It also has a meticulously painted wrap around fresco of the events of America’s history.

While standing below the Apotheosis of Washington, I got the chance to marvel at Constantino Brumidi’s work – I’d been hoping for this moment since I read The Lost Symbol. Ever since my time in Italy, I’ve taken a serious liking to Italian renaissance art. This piece was very similar in style, anyway.

At Capitol Hill, I saw the House and Senate chambers and statues donated to the building from each state in commemoration of the original 13 colonies, among other things. Massachusetts’ statue is Sam Adams (1722–1803), who was widely considered the father of the American Revolution. Adams led the protests in the 1760s over the Sugar and Stamp Acts, as well as the 1773 Boston Tea Party. After war broke out, he slowly nudged other leaders toward a decisive commitment to independence.

Library of Congress Reading Room.

We took the underground tunnel from the Capitol building to the Jefferson building, otherwise known as the Library of Congress. Oddly enough, my first thought was Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. My second was Robert Langdon in The Lost Symbol when they both stepped foot into the beautiful room. Literally every square inch of the library is painted or floored in some form – be it a painting or colored tile. Lots of marble in this building. I saw one of the first editions of the Gutenberg Bible and the Mainz Bible as well. The latter had been passed down for nearly 300 years before it was donated to the library.

Also on display was the Civil War exhibit with artifacts, clothing, documents, and Thomas Jefferson’s expansive library featuring some original books. There was another exhibit on North America’s inhabitants before it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 as well. Each can be viewed digitally on the Library of Congress website.

Walking through the Capitol and into the National Mall area, I discovered many other picturesque moments of the Capitol building and others of similar architecture. Interestingly, most buildings show off tall Corinthian columns. That’s a great way to tell what a major tourist attraction is if you’re new to the area.

At the National Archives, I saw the original Bill of Rights, Declaration of Iindependence, and American Constitution. When I was here, I thought about incredible it was to see documents written 250 years ago on parchment still somewhat legible. I asked myself, how did scribes maintain perfect handwriting? What happened if they made a mistake? Surely it wasn’t as simple as pressing the delete button like we do.

The Magna Carta, which was the foundation of our constitution, is also on display here. It was a gift from the British. It isn’t the original Magna Carta from 1215 but the one on display originated in 1297. Seeing this and countless timepieces from America’s history was easily one of the best parts of the trip. There was jus so much to see – from the documents that spell out the history of our freedom to the audio transmissions of WWII and declassified files of the Cuban missile crisis. The National Archives are a can’t miss attraction even if you only have a few days.

I was slightly amused when we emerged from the edifice to see a man selling one-dollar Gatorades. Thing is, he was talking intensely, as if he was mad at us for not buying his Gatorades which are cheaper at the drugstore anyway. I have an inside joke with my friend about this one now.

Leonardo’ Da Vinci’s only work in the Western Hemisphere, Ginevra De Benci.

At the National Gallery of Art, I saw the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in the western hemisphere. An oil on wood portrait of Ginevra De Benci, one of Da Vinci’s very early works, and is usually dated as c. 1474, a time during which Leonardo was still with Andrea Verrocchio. The painting had a front and back and drew a solid crowd. I also looked at some of Raphael and Titian paintings during my visit. As I said in the past, my time in Italy opened my eyes to Italian renaissance artist so it’s expected that I spent most of my time in these areas.

Sorry modern artists, I stayed away from your pieces in the east building because I hate it. In addition to renaissance works, there were incredible landscapes painted by American artists on display. I’m a big fan of these paintings, too so I spent the rest of the time I had in this area.

The National Museum of Natural History was much more fun than I thought it would be too! I saw real dinosaur bones and got a three dimensional look at the evolution of life on earth. I had a hard time imagining what it would be like to walk around with dinosaurs even with their bony carcasses right in front of me.

The Hope Diamond, the world’s most expensive diamond is on display here as well. I’ll never be able to afford it, but at least I was able to get close to it. By the way, did you know Ohio and Illinois and Kentucky used to be covered with water? Just one of the many things I learned during the trip.

Unbelievably, my second night in Washington D.C. was over after this.

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