Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Washington, DC

From the Big Apple to the biggest car I've ever driven. This was our ride for the latest leg of our American adventure - a trip into Washington, DC. The truck belongs to the Hagen family, who are hosting us for the next couple of days.

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.

But, as the picture above will attest, we made it safely through the traffic and into DC. First stop, the White House (no sign of Obama).

From there, we hit the National Mall, a 1.9-mile long strip of grass flanked by huge museums and dotted with important American monuments. At its east end stands the Capitol building (above), where the lower House of Representatives and upper Senate meet.

At the centre of the Mall is the gigantic Washington Monument, a slender obelisk which soars into the sky surrounded by American flags at its base. It's the tallest building in the district - 555ft.

And beyond that, the Lincoln Memorial book-ends the Mall. Here it is, in the distance, beyond the reflecting pool and tributes to American soldiers killed in conflicts around the world.

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.

But no-one does trucks like the Americans.

1 comment: