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Touring the US East Coast - Day 2

Written By:
Alain Kasteleyn
February 3, 2014

Here we are, the first full day in Washington DC, and there’s a whole city to explore! As always the day starts at about 4.30am, due to the time change and the fact that the old body clock can’t keep up! A couple of coffees set us up and we’re ready to start the day properly.

Business first though, and we have arranged a breakfast with Kristi from the Kimpton Hotel group. It was interesting to discuss the hotels that they have and to realise that they are all unique and very individual in how they operate. The Palomar Hotel is actually quite big, whereas Hotel Rouge down the road is fairly small with quirky rooms. Then there’s The Monaco Hotel, which is situated pretty much next door to the Obama’s at The Whitehouse, and is a former post office, completely protected and classed as a historic building. We arrange to visit these places on the following day, and get on with enjoying the breakfast.

So, back to Washington DC; we decide to head out and walk round the city as it does seem very ‘walkable’. The roads are arranged in a logical order. Numbered roads (1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue and so on) run north to south, Lettered roads (A Street, B Street and so on) run east to west, and then diagonally there are roads named after the various States (New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue…). Quite simple really!

We leave the hotel, head east along P Street and then join Connecticut Avenue and head southeast to central DC. The big surprise was how European the place is; there are no sky-scrapers, lots of quite old buildings and traffic signals that give pedestrians the right of way over cars at all the big junctions. All in all quite easy and enjoyable. Please don’t forget it’s still minus five degrees with a wind chill on top of that, but that’s another story!

After 20 minutes we arrive at The Whitehouse. This is a beautiful building that actually looks in good order despite being destroyed many times in various movies! We all know the view of the façade of The Whitehouse from television, but to see it for real is quite something else. It’s fairly small, with a small garden at the front, and with all the snow around it kind of looks a bit grey and camouflaged. We took the customary photos, observed the protesters opposite making use of their freedom of speech, and then headed down the road towards The Mall.

No, we’re not heading back to London! The Mall in Washington DC is a two mile stretch of park land between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building (the Capitol houses the senate and congress where all the political stuff takes place!). It’s actually a huge park area right in the middle of the city, and the wind is howling straight through it! Good idea to wear layers, scarves, hats and gloves!

The Mall is surrounded by lots of museums, which form part of the Smithsonian Institute. And the best bit – they are free to enter! Fabulous, you could spend days here checking out all these places! We opt to see the National Air and Space Museum, and head through the park passing the Native American Museum, African American Museum, various art galleries and the Smithsonian Institute itself. There’s something here for everyone, and we suddenly realise we are not spending enough time here in Washington DC. Never mind, we’ll just have to return in the future! Hopefully in summer time!!

The National Air and Space Museum was amazing; there were actual rockets that were used in the American space programme, real de-commissioned nuclear weapons, historic planes and lots of exhibitions charting the Apollo moon landings, exploration of Mars and development of space stations. This one place was worth a day on its own!

We left the Museum and headed towards the Capitol building, which is huge. The rule is that no building in Washington DC can be higher than the Capitol, hence no sky-scrapers. It really does dominate the whole city, and it was impressive to just stand and look at the place. We continued and slowly made our way back along The Mall towards a Metro station, which would take us back to the hotel. Public transport turned out to be easy and cheap, and is in fact a good way to get around when the walking gets too much.

After freshening up at the hotel, chatting and laughing with the staff, and a quick glass of wine we headed off for dinner. We chose a restaurant called ‘Rice’, which is located on 17th Avenue. This is a Thai restaurant, and was pretty busy. The food was excellent, and very tasty, and certainly comes with our recommendation! On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a typically American bar and had a beer. The place was full of television screens, and quite busy. There was a good atmosphere, but the day had taken its toll, and we were exhausted!

We headed back to The Palomar Hotel, into the warmth, and had a really good night’s sleep. The first full day was fantastic, and we were loving Washington DC!

**Alain’s top tips of the day**

  1. Tips! (Gratuity, service…) This can be a confusing area. The USA is a place where tipping is customary and expected.
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