We had a day to spend in Washington, D.C., and the obvious thing to do was see all those epic white buildings from the movies, right? There’s one place to find them all, and that’s D.C’s National Mall.
No – not a shopping centre, soz guys. It’s actually a national park, home to capitol (government) buildings, memorials and monuments (more on the difference between them in a bit), museums and general sites of interest.
The National Mall actually takes up a lot of space, and if we were walking around for our sightseeing adventure, we’d probably have spent most of our time just aimlessly strolling around and miss half of the important stuff. Thankfully, there’s a two-wheeled way of cramming in as much as possible into a short space of time…
FYI, I think that American flags shot is literally one of my fave photos I’ve ever taken. The colours, the movement…definitely popping that one in the photo bank for general America blog posts. The second one is probably one of the most unflattering ones I’ve had taken. Must improve ‘looking fabulous on a bike’ posing skills.
After rocking up in Washington, D.C, we tumbled out of the TrekAmerica van into probably one of the hottest days I’d experienced in my life. Seriously, I swear I went a bit lobster-like despite my liberal application of factor 50 within…ooh…fifteen minutes. We headed over to Bike and Roll to get kitted up and go for a free-wheeling adventure across the city.
Aside from the odd jaunt on an exercise bike in the gym (rare), I hadn’t actually ridden a proper bike since a trip to Centre Parks while I was at Uni. And boy, was it pretty ungraceful. To start with, I had my seat up way too high and wobbled all over the place, and had no idea how to use the brakes. Which is a pretty helpful thing when you’re whizzing through a busy city.
But I totally get what people when they compare things to ‘like riding a bike’ – within a little while, I was much better at controlling the thing. Although I did still struggle a bit with corners. Some of the others in the group were experienced bikers, and some had barely ridden – it’s a relatively easy ride and you don’t need to be a regular cyclist to enjoy it.
Smithsonian Institute Building – aka ‘The Castle’
‘Hey guys, that building looks like a castle! Oh…I see…’
We didn’t actually have far to ride before hopping off our bikes. Just down the road, in fact. You can’t ride through the Smithsonian Institute Castle gardens, so we hopped off to push and check out the stunning greenery and flowers. Seriously guys, this is a BEAUTIFUL building that I need to Instagram forever.
The first of all the Smithsonian buildings, it’s home to the administration offices and information centre. Basically a super helpful starting point if you want to explore the National Mall museums. There’s even an amazing interactive map – you tell it where you want to go and it’ll give you directions there. Useful, eh?
The Washington Monument
Here’s a thing I learnt about the Washington Monument – it really is as big as it looks in Olympus Has Fallen (well, til it falls down, anyway). As we were on bikes, we got to check it out from farther out and up close, which would take up a lot more time if we were walking. Once we rode up to the Monument, our guide looked after the bikes for us and let us walk up to get within touching distance.
The Washington Monument was built after the death of George Washington (makes sense), but intended to symbolise his ideals rather than as a site of rememberance. And that’s when we learnt the difference between a monument and a memorial, even though it can be a little blurred. Basically, mostly, a monument is built to commemorate a notable person or an event. Whereas a memorial is a structure built in remembrance for a person who has died.
So now you know!
The White House
Annyoyingly but understandably, it’s not possible to get that close to The White House unless you go on an official tour. However, it’s obviously pretty much a must-see building if you’re doing some D.C. sightseeing. If you want to get a good snap, make sure you’ve got your zoom lens.
I waved in case the Pres happened to be looking out the window and spotted an ant-sized blob with pink hair and decided to ask me to hang out, but apparently he was off on his hols at the time. Boo.
Also, how neat and well-mowed is the garden? Jealous. (sometimes I have wonderfully adult thoughts)
National World War II Memorial
I’d never envisaged myself getting excited over war memorials, but the ones we saw in the States were actually so amazing. Architecturally, the National World War Two Memorial was probably one of my favourite sights on the tour.
There are 56 granite pillars, each commemorating soldiers who fought and lost their lives from all 48 states, as well as eight other districts/territories who were alongside America during WW2. In the centre, there’s a huge pool and fountains, with two 43-foot arches at either end inscribed with ‘Atlantic’ and ‘Pacific’
It’s such a grand and beautiful landmark, honouring those involved in World War Two so well. I found walking around the memorial a pretty moving experience, and one I won’t forget in a hurry.
The Lincoln Memorial
We also got to check out the Lincoln Memorial, built in rememberance of the 16th President of the United States. The steps lead up to a statue of the man himself, which is rather massive. From the steps, you can also get a pretty amazing view all the way to Washington Monument.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is another sight that actually really impressed and awed me. Obviously, it was built to commemorate those who served in the Korean War, between 1950 and 1953.
Within a triangular green space, there are 19 stainless steel statues. When these are reflected in the wall that runs alongside the memorial, there appears to be 38 soldiers in total – representing the 38th parallel, the dividing line of North and South Korea during the conflict.
One thing that just blew my mind about the war memorials is how special the designs are – more awe-inspiring than the standard column, and definitely worthy of a visit. Apparently it’s beautifully uplit at night too, although if I’d had some beers, I’m not sure how I’d react to the strangely realistic statues…
After returning our bikes, we got the chance to check out some of the museums in the National Mall. Obviously, our first stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Because nature is pretty cool.
Not gonna lie, most of my visit to the Natural History Museum was filled with ALL THE DINOSAURS. They have an IMAX cinema showing 3D films, and obviously I got myself into one of the Dinosaurs 3D shows. It was really awesome, although unfortunately two hours on a bike meant I ended up snoozing through the last ten minutes. Whoops.
Other than dinosaurs, the whole museum is pretty epic – including a giant elephant in the entrance hall called Henry. Oh, and it’s not a model – this is a genuine elephant. The biggest elephant ever killed by man, in fact (which makes me quite sad). It took taxidermists 16 months to prepare Henry for the exhibit.
Exploring Washington, D.C. by bike was definitely a really good way to see lots in a short space of time. I feel like it’s not necessarily the kind of place I’d imagine myself spending a majorly long time in, but I loved ticking the famous structures off the ‘bucket list’ and learning more about such an important US city. Plus, the weather was insanely glorious, which made riding about in the sun and seeing all the clean, white city sights even more awesome!