Having a whale of a time in Washington D.C.
Having spent a month lazing around in Seville, we decided that it was time to start doing some serious travelling again. After much discussion and perusing of our (increasingly battered) world map, we decided on America, partly because it’s a country that is high on both our lists, and partly because we wanted to see it before winter sets in!
The flight from London was fabulous, the first long-haul flight I have actually enjoyed. We flew with United Airways and were extremely impressed. The crew were professional, courteous and helpful, our section of the plane was mercifully quiet, and the food was good. We will definitely fly with them again.
So, eight and a half hours later we landed in Washington D.C. This is my first visit to the U.S., and although Pete has been a couple of times before to visit family, he hasn’t really done much in the way of touristy stuff here. We wanted a relatively gentle introduction to the east coast, and figured that D.C. would be an easy city in which to get our bearings. It was a good choice! We loved it immediately, and soon decided to extend our one week stay to two.
The first thing that really struck me here was how strange it was to see places in real life that I’d seen forever on TV:
a) Pete, with the Washington Monument way in the background. Most people recognise it as the monument which was built in honour of George Washington, the country's first president; me, I remember it from the movie Mars Attacks, where the aliens play spaceship ping-pong with it before finally knocking it over!
b) The Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln was America's 16th president, and the first to be assassinated. He reportedly had a premonition of his own death, and some people claim to have seen his ghost in the White House.
c) The Capitol. The dome is cast iron and weighs 8,909,200 pounds. (I have it on good authority that the only thing holding it up is all the hot air from Congress!)
d) Me, as close to the White House as I was gonna get (and desperately in need of a hair cut!) We wanted to do a tour, but apparently you need to book well in advance. Oh well... shoulda done my homework, eh?
There are, of course, cultural differences, and even though we all speak English, it soon became clear that we are not necessarily talking the same language all of the time! Accents have been a problem for me, especially in situations where I am unable to see the speaker’s face. I never did overcome this problem, so station announcements on the Metro remained an incomprehensible babble. Happily this was not a problem because a) Pete understood what was being said 99% of the time, and b) each of the Metro trains had maps, and the stations themselves were clearly signed.
Further lingo lessons learned include:
- Do not ask for a ‘jam donut’ in bakeries ‘cos you will confuse the server. They’re jelly donuts here!
- Asking to have your ‘fringe’ cut may lead your hairdresser to have convulsions through laughing so hard. “They’re bangs”, she told me, between bouts of hysteria. (Has anybody written a UK English - American English dictionary? That would be most useful!)
On the whole, though, our British dialect received a positive response. We got chatting to a guy on the Metro, who said, “I love your accent. It’s cool.” After a short pause he continued: “You guys say ‘telly’, right?” He found this very amusing. Shame I didn’t get the chance to tell him about goggle boxes, boob tubes and idiot boxes. (Who knew that synonyms for the word ‘television’ could be so entertaining?)
People are also a lot more obvious about their political affiliations here. There are souvenir stalls where you can buy pro-Obama t-shirts, like these... or, the other side of the coin: “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for McCain and Palin”. There are political souvenir shops all over the place, and you can pose to have your picture taken with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Prez. I didn't think this sort of thing would ever catch on in the UK, but apparently I was wrong!
As to be expected in a big city like D.C., there is a lot to see and do. Highlights we particularly enjoyed included:
The Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian comprises 19 museums, 9 research centres and a national zoo - and they are all free to visit! We saw the Air and Space Museum, The American Indian Museum, and briefly popped into the Natural History Museum because I wanted to see the Hope diamond. (It's supposed to be cursed!)
The Hope Diamond weighs 45 carats, and is said to bring death or madness to its owners. The Smithsonian refute this claim, however, 'cos nothing weird has happened since they've been in possession of it. Yet.
DUCWs (or ‘ducks’) are old military vehicles which are capable of travelling on land or through water.
Although they are called 'ducks', they are really 'DUKWs'. The name comes from the model naming terminology used by General Motors: D indicates a vehicle designed in 1942; U means 'utility'; K is for all-wheel drive; and W indicates two powered rear axles. I think 'duck' is nicer!
I was most disappointed to find out that they couldn’t fly, but I wanted to go on one anyway. I think this was the perfect city tour for us. It lasted an hour and a half, took in all the major sights, and included a paddle along the Potomac River. Our captain was a friendly and enthusiastic guide, and interspersed his facts and figures with some really appalling duck jokes, like this one:
A duck walks into a drugstore and says, "Give me some Chapstick."
"How are you going to pay for that?" asks the clerk.
"Oh," the duck replied. "Just put it on my bill."
This is George Washington’s estate in Virginia, which has been kept in its original condition and opened to tourists. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours, wandering through the house and gardens.
Silly, I know, but I got to eat a hotdog at one of those 50’s themed restaurants where they play Buddy Holly records and the servers all wear old-fashioned uniforms. I loved it, even though it was tacky in a ‘Happy Days’ kind of way.
So, America is off to a great start for us. I can really see this being the highlight of our trip!
More very soon,