Having really enjoyed our previous North Carolina train journey, we were excited about the ride ahead. Just before 9am the train pulled into the station at Burlington and I managed to lug our bags up and onto the train and we got settled in for the ride. Our scheduled arrival in Washington wasn’t until maybe 5pm so we had all day to enjoy our rail trip – a nice way to travel. The train made regular stops as we worked our way north out of Nth Carolina and over into Virginia. The landscape as we worked our way up into Virginia was great – there were some great waterways in Virginia that feed out into Chesapeake Bay – the largest being the Potomac River. Around Quantico VA there was a large Marine base right on the edge of the river. We had some good waterways / bridges that we had to cross – all very cool. Would have enjoyed some more time looking around this wider Chesapeake Bay area, so maybe on a subsequent trip – we just like areas around the water. The train made good time and pulled into the central Washington DC Station – Union Station at 4.15pm. We had to fight our way through the masses to get through the station and find the Metro line that we take us ‘up town’ towards where we are staying. With tickets purchased we had to effectively push our way onto the Metro, bags and all and get cosy with everyone off for the 4 stops we needed to travel. Getting off at Farragut Square we only had to walk 3 blocks up town to the hotel where we were staying – very handy. That evening we headed out for a bit of a walk to do some orientation and came upon the National Geographic building / offices, which includes their museum. It was too late to go in today, but one for Carol to come back to. Even this short walk around in the early evening was giving us a really good vide for Washington DC.
Saturday morning we were up and out – we had some places to see and some more orientation of the city to sort. We headed down towards the Washington Monument – the monument, an obelisk was finally completed in 1885 after a very stop start history. It was at that time the tallest structure in Washington DC. It stands 555 ft high and interestingly it was constructed of 2 varying types of brick so when you look at it you can see the lower part is in one, and the taller section is in a slightly different tone of brick. From the monument we headed into the National Mall area – the home of the Smithsonian. We started by going to the Smithsonian Castle where they have info on all the museums in the area. The castle – which was the first museum for the Smithsonian was built in 1849 – the Smithsonian being formed in 1846 from the funds of an Englishman scientist James Smithson who never actually came to the US but asked that his wealth be donated to the forming of a museum in the US – very generous. At the castle there is a display from each of the museums so you can get a taster of what you want to view.
For me, first off was the Air and Space Museum so I headed from the castle down the mall (which is in effect a large parked avenue area) to the Air and Space. Unfortunately the museum is currently in the midst of a major renovation (7-year project) and over half of the displays are closed off whilst the renovation work takes place – emm, disappointing. That said, the place was buzzing with people – the museums are all free to enter, so a really popular spot at weekends especially when its cold outside, to come and look around. The Air and Space Museum had a load of interactive areas aimed specifically for kids. I’d expected the museum would take me 6 hours or so to explore, and maybe if everything was open to view, it would have, but even in it’s cut back state it still took Carol and I the best part of 3 hours to do the museum justice (key planes on display include the X-1 Sound Barrier breaker, Spirit of St Louis and the Apollo Lunar Landing Module. One interesting display for me was one of the huge propellers that is mounted on the wall, and which comes from I think it was the Boeing Wind Tunnel – it was huge and very impressive – and in the wind tunnel itself, it had 2 of them side by side.
From Air and Space, we wandered up to Capital Hill and had a good look around the grounds and fountains here – big impressive complex. From there it was a long walk back to the hotel, and it was getting dark by the time we got back – load of steps having been covered today. Sunday dawned fine so we again headed off early and started by headed down and around the White House area. There are just so many amazing old, big buildings dotted everywhere around Washington DC – great. Not catching any glimpse of Donald at the White House we wandered up to the National WW2 Memorial – a very impressive monument. There was loads to take in – the memorial was opened in the early 2000’s and was a nice tribute. The monument sits at the eastern end of the Reflection Pool so we wandered along it to the imposing Lincoln Memorial that sits atop the west end and then looks our and across the Potomac River and over to the Arlington area. There were loads of people around but we had a good look around including the little museum that sits a floor below the main statue. Moving back down from this area you have the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – a long wall with the names of those that lost their live in this conflict. A little memorialed out, we wandered back up to the National Mall area and found the American History Museum – another impressive museum. We just spent our time looking around the ‘On the Move’ display which chronicled the US changes in transportation from ship, rail, to road. Today saw Chinese New Year celebrations taking place so we headed up to the Chinatown area to catch up on some of this. Carol and I then went our separate ways – I headed off to the US Navy Museum and Carol headed for the Botanical Gardens and a couple of the galleries in the area. Another big step day completed.
We kept things going on Monday by heading off early and getting down to the Natural History Museum for opening time at 10am. We had a good look around the amazing collection of gems that they are currently displaying, and covered off the other main museum displays. From there we headed uptown to the Washington Convention Centre where the Washington DC Auto Show was on for 2 weeks so we had a look around some great classic cars, but also all the new releases from all the main car producers – very impressive (but not one Skoda to be seen anywhere). It was dark again by the time we made our way our and headed back to the hotel – a load more steps having been covered again today. On Tuesday Carol and I headed off in separate directions – Carol had art and National Geographic on her agenda – for me I was going in search of planes. I got away early heading up to one of the Metro stations and riding it as far as it would take me out to an area called Wiehle-Reston (I guess it was an outer suburb of Washington but the area was city like). From there I had to connect with a bus to take me over to the Chantilly area where the Dulles International Airport is located. My trip took me a bit over an hour, but saw me arriving at the entrance to the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Centre of National Air and Space Museum (connected to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum like its big brother), which is based to the side of the airport. Udvar-Hazy is a billionaire aircraft lessor who donated a load of money for this amazing facility to be established, and had the complex named in his honour – wow.
The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum opened in December of 2003 and it was amazing. They don’t have the largest collection of aircraft (they have around 200 main pieces on display), and they certainly don’t have one of every type of aircraft, but they had a great mix and they had an amazing way of displaying their collection with something like 100 aircraft, missiles and spacecraft handing suspended from the roof of this very large complex (the main complex / hanger covers 6 football fields and is then supported by the space hanger that juts off to the side of the main hanger. You can walk the main floor and then you can go up 6 floors to the upper board walk which runs pretty much the entire length of the main hanger to view the craft hanging suspended, at eye level – very cool. Even with all the aviation museums I have been so lucky to see with our time away, this museum presented me with some real gems in the form of an amazing collection of some experimental German and Japanese aircraft from WW2, and a flying wing – very cool, and something to give me a real buzz to have seen. Additional the museum is home to the original Enola Gay B-29 Super Fortress, an Air France Concorde, and one that I didn’t think I would be so in awe of was the Space Shuttle Discovery displayed in its raw state showing the wear and tear of its space travel – was amazing to be up close to this (we’ve seen a couple of shuttles now, but now had that natural patina finish that the Discovery displays here at this museum.
A trip to the gift show saw me laden with the museum book (there were 3 books I wanted and had to scale my choice back to just one for now), and that it was time to think about heading back towards Washington DC (I spent the batter part of 4 hours with my jaw dropped going around this amazing complex – and reflecting on just how lucky I’ve been to have such an amazing experience visiting such museums – thank you Carol for supporting this. The bus and then the train saw me back into the Metro station in Washington (frustrated with the Metro card experience and cost incurred, but I was back). I no sooner got back to the hotel and made a cuppa and Carol messaged to say she was finishing up at the National Geographic Museum so I headed over there to meet up with her and we found ourselves somewhere to have some dinner and respectively reflect on all we had seen and experienced today. Wednesday started off cool but fine and saw us heading back uptown with bags in tow to get to the Metro station back over to Union Station for us to get to the Greyhound depot. The Metro was crazy busy through to the first stop – we were packed in like sardines, but then it thinned out a little and we had room to move once again. We found our way up and through the station – they are big complexes in their own right with shopping malls included etc. With tickets in hand it was time to move again, with our time in Washington DC coming to a close. I probably didn’t have high expectations for this city but I have to say the city vibe was great – the city is big with over 630,000 in the wider DC area, but it was good to get around, people were good, there wasn’t too much homelessness for the most part – maybe they are in some of the outer areas? There’s loads to see and do, and considering the likes of the Smithsonian related museums are free to view, they are amazing facilities to have available for the traveller. There’s more we could have done and seen here, but we were thankful the winter weather was kind and supported all the walking around Washington that we undertook. Certainly a place to recommend and explore some more – some other time.