Wednesday, 28 May 2014
But more about them - and DC - later. Let me rewind.
We left New York behind after an unforgettable three days, catching a train out of Penn Station bound for Washington. It took us the best part of four hours to reach the capital, although the departures board at Penn showed how much further some other folks were travelling. Chicago, in particular, is a long old poke.
Raindrops streamed across the carriage windows and an increasingly thunderous sky enveloped us as we closed in on Washington's Union Station. On such occasions, a friendly face at the destination makes all the difference and waiting for us outside the main concourse was Tim Hagen, a family friend of Rachel's from years back.
For me, this was a first meeting with Tim, his wife Elizabeth and their children Ryan and Rachel, but after about five minutes, I couldn't remember what it had been like to not know them. That's how warm their welcome was. Big smiles and even bigger hearts, you know the sort of people I mean.
And so to the truck, which the Hagens let us drive from their house to the nearest Metro station. This was quite a leap of faith, given that I'd not driven on the right-hand side of the road before, rarely worked with an automatic gearbox, and certainly never clambered into the driving seat of a vehicle so imposing.
All around the Mall swarmed a myriad schoolchildren, bussed in from all over the region to take in the sights of the capital. Each school had kitted its students out in tour t-shirts, so as one gang in yellow descended on the hot dog van, another green army poured down the front steps of the National Museum of Natural History.
These chattering masses turned The Mall into a giant schoolyard, so we side-stepped the museums, which were creaking at the seams with exuberant kids and bedraggled teachers.
Just as New York acts as a magnet for international visitors, a visit to Washington seems to be a rite of passage for young Americans. We found this to be the case in Australia, too. School parties descended on Canberra, the capital, and the rest of the world made a beeline for Sydney.
Perhaps that's why London is so inimitable: it's the first place tourists flock to, yet it's equally iconic and important to us English.