Tag Archives: Washington DC

Washington DC: Their Nation’s Capital

Saturday 20th September – Sunday 21st September
Washington DC, USA

Cycle touring, the National Mall
Washington requires a lot of energy to explore. In New York, the blocks are small – here, the huge government buildings and monuments means it can feel like it takes an age to walk past just one building! 

We visited Washington in 2009, on our honeymoon, because it had a nice symmetry with the fact that we were married in Washington Old Hall in Tyne & Wear, England, the ancestral home of George Washington.  However, we only had a couple of days in the city on that occasion and – after living it up in New York for several days and walking miles – we didn’t really feel that we had made the most of it.  

So this time we went for a different tack:


We spent a great few hours on Saturday cycling and exploring some of the monuments and great buildings in the centre of the city.

[photos, from the top: The Capitol; Martin Luther King Jr Memorial; Lincoln Memorial with reflecting pool in the foreground]




We also continued exploring on Monday before our train to Atlanta, visiting the Supreme Court building, followed by a walk to the White House. 

Being a law geek (and having a patient husband), I was interested to know more about the workings of the US Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, the term does not re-start until October, so we could not watch an actual session.  However, we attended a short talk by an intern, presented in the actual court room, and watched a video featuring past and present Justices, from which we learnt that: 

– in addition to cases relating to interpretation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court can hear disputes between states, such as New York v. New Jersey in 1998, which apparently related to which state owned (and was therefore entitled to the income arising from the gift shop on!) Ellis Island;

– the Justices always sit in order of seniority, even at dinner, and have a rule when debating cases (which is always done entirely in private) that no Justice may speak for a second time until they have all spoken once (in order of seniority, of course); and

– the Court hears between 80 and 100 cases a year, between October and May, and then its decisions are handed down in June.  The attorneys on any given case are strictly limited to only 30 minutes’ of “oral argument” each on their assigned day to appear before the Justices, which generally consists of answering questions and which is enforced to the point of the advocate having to stop mid-sentence if he sees a red light appear.  It would be entertaining to see a similar rule enforced in the UK…  

Our favourite fact, however, was that the room above the court room is used (on non-sitting days only!) as a recreation room and basketball court for the building’s staff – perhaps inevitably, therefore, this room is known as The Highest Court in the Land!

[photos, from the top: The Supreme Court building; spiral staircase in the Supreme Court building; the White House]




Foodie Sunday, Georgetown and U Street
Our apartment in DC had a kitchen, so we were able to cook for ourselves on a couple of evenings and we had a living area to watch TV in. However, on Sunday we decided to experience some of the excellent food options available in the city. 

We started at a leisurely (and tasty) pace with brunch in a local restaurant in Georgetown. Later on in the day, we headed to U Street to experience the most famous food in DC. The Half-Smoke at Ben’s Chilli Bowl (which we presume is an attempt to see how quickly you can cause the onset of indigestion) consists of a sausage in a roll, with onions and mustard and covered in chilli.

“The Bowl” was first opened in 1958, when the area was known as ‘Black Broadway’. Early customers included Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King Jr. Bill Cosby was a regular and its fame was sealed when Barack Obama had lunch there, ten days before his inauguration in 2009. The diner still has the original counter, booths and stools and it doesn’t feel at all ‘starry’: a sign behind the counter reads, “People who eat free. Bill Cosby. President Obama/family. And No One Else.”



News item of the day
While reading the Washington Post, we learnt that Washington DC would like to become a “real” state (called “New Columbia”), with its own senators and full representatives in Congress. (As the District of Columbia, it currently has a unique position as a special federal district, not a state.) However, the federal government is against this as it fears that such a new state could hold them to ransom, e.g. by refusing to send out its snow ploughs in winter!  

It’s an odd thought that the capital area is subject to “taxation without representation” (the old rallying cry of the pre-Revolutionary American colonies, leading to the signature of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776); equivalent, I guess, to Westminster not having an MP but being administered directly by Parliament.  (It was also strange to think of the need for snow ploughs, as the weather was beautifully warm during our visit!)


Washington DC: National history and Nationals ballpark

Wednesday 17th September – Friday 19th September
Washington DC, USA

Although there is a huge amount to do in DC, we managed to have a relaxing five days there. We stayed in an apart-hotel in Georgetown, a very nice suburb of Washington (which is actually older than the city itself).  On the first evening, we ate a wonderful meal at a restaurant called Unum, which was literally at the top of our street, including a starter featuring basil ice-cream.

Smithsonian Museum of American History, Washington DC
One of the best things about Washington is the multiple Smithsonian museums (which we learnt were named for an English guy called Smithson who never even visited the US, but who promised to leave a large legacy to the US government if they named an institution of learning after him – some good fundraising there!).  


They are all free, and there are way more of them than anyone could cover during even a two-week stay, so on Thursday we chose to focus on the Museum of American History.  Even that one venue is too big to cover in one visit, so we decided to take a free, ninety minute highlights tour with a docent (a volunteer), which was an excellent introduction to the various exhibits.

The crowning glory of the museum is the actual flag about which The Star-Spangled Banner was written 200 years ago (see Simon’s previous post), which is thirty feet high and was originally forty feet long.  It is now somewhat shorter (and is even missing one star) as sections were cut off and given as souvenirs to various dignitaries in the 1800s!  Seeing it tied in neatly with a theme of our trip so far, as the flag was made in Philadelphia and flown in Baltimore, and is now displayed in Washington. Photos of the flag itself were not allowed, but the picture above shows the artwork at the entrance to the exhibit.

Washington Nationals ballpark, Navy Yards
Unfortunately the Nats were playing away while we were in Washington, so we were unable to see a game here (though we did see the team play back in New York, at the Mets). However, it gave us an opportunity to do an ‘access all areas’ tour of the Nats’ ground. This included visiting some of the best seats in the park, in the Presidents’ Suite (not actually where the President sits when he comes to games, but the suite features photos of all the Presidents that have thrown a ceremonial first pitch, back to William Taft in the early 1900s). Tickets for this area, right behind home plate, include access to an all-you-can eat restaurant, which includes a view of the room where press conferences take place and of the indoor batting cages (so you can watch players warming up before they go and play or keeping warm in the even of a rain delay). 

The tour also included a visit to the home dugout: 



Finally, we were given a chance to throw a pitch in the home bullpen (where substitute pitchers warm up during the game).  It was brave of everyone to stand so near to Simon, given that he has never thrown a pitch before! The tour was great fun, and was made even better by some very excited Nats fans on the tour with us!

Quote of the day
“When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of the summer afternoon on a riverbank we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”
President Dwight D Eisenhower [from a display in the Presidents’ Suite, at the Nationals’ ballpark]