Updated: Aug 12
Dark clouds had ominously gathered over the capital. We had travelled through the Washington traffic for over an hour in the rain to get to the very nerve center of American government. But, whilst the weather was not ideal for touring and exploring, the real storm clouds were settled that day over the President himself in his iconic home. This was the time when Trump reigned over the White House. As it happens, we did see him pass by, en route to his helicopter for a rally of his fan base in West Virginia, in a procession of four imposing black limousines, police cars and motorbikes with lights flashing, plus a fire truck and an ambulance. However, we were unable to see his expression through the blackened glass or even ask him how Stormy his day was. He had just learned that his former campaign manager had been found guilty of hiding away $60m and his personal lawyer had just pleaded guilty to 'compensating' a pneumatic porn queen. Not a good day for POTUS. Stormy times for Donald.
Meanwhile, Washington dazzled around him. We were just captivated by how much there is to see. To our surprise, Washington is a treasure of beautiful parks and the most spectacularly bright white sights. It is just so thrilling to see for yourself the buildings that have become legendary from our years of being news junkies.
First of all, everything is huge. And very white. The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol are just enormous. And all around are parks, vast expanses of lawns and mirror lakes which make it idyllic to meander around. Everywhere are statues; Lincoln, of course, dominates, but other late Presidents all have their shrines, from the Founding Fathers Jefferson and Madison to more contemporary leaders Roosevelt and Reagan.
And, of course, there's the ubiquitous Martin Luther King. It seems that MLK is the lightning rod for America to expunge (expurge in UK English) itself from the iniquities of its near history. Every town has an MLK road; there are MLK bridges and MLK statues galore. So it is inevitable that on the banks of the Potomac river stands a magnificent stone image of the great man. It is actually a wonderful work of art. It is as if a cheese cutter has been taken twice to a mountainous piece of rock, dividing it into three segments, with middle section hewn and made to slide out towards the river - and on the face of this is a bold carving of an authoritative MLK. The words explain: 'Out of the Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope'. Great stuff.
The Lincoln Memorial is breathtaking, not just in its size but also in its namesake's imperious grandeur, as he looks down the long Reflecting Lake (like Hampton Court in the UK) towards the Washington Monument, the world's tallest stone structure, an obelisk of 555 ft. It does, of course, have an elevator, but this IS America.
The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial statue
Lincoln's view of the Washington Monument from his imperious seat
Sadly, Lincoln was assassinate on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, ironically just as the Civil War was ending. An actor, John Wilkes Booth, aided and abetted in his planning by a clutch of other Confederate sympathizers, went into the box at Ford's Theatre, where the President and his First Lady Mary were enjoying an Easter performance of 'Our American Cousin. As Booth fled by jumping on to the stage, allegedly breaking his leg in the process (although some say he injured himself falling off his trusty steed), and scrambling onto an awaiting horse he had hired earlier that day, Lincoln was carried out, mortally wounded, and found sanctuary in a boarding house opposite, where he died the next morning. Booth was hunted down to a barn in Virginia and killed on April 26, shot in the back of the head from close range (again allegedly - but never let the truth get in the way of a good story) like his earlier victim. We visited the theatre and the house opposite where Lincoln died.
The Ford Theatre auditorium
Booth's view as he shot the President
As you drive and walk around Washington, you will find many magnificent, neoclassical edifices built in the French fin de siècle style. They sit well amongst the many other monolithic, more minimalist government buildings and show clearly the impact that Europe had on the original architects as they set about creating their vision of the most stunning capital city in the world.
Trump's hotel is just one example, a faithfully restored former Post Office built in 1899.
The Trump International Hotel
The White House looks almost apologetically modest set against this glorious setting of such wonders. But, as one of the most famous houses in the world, it still gives a thrill as you see it for the first time, both from the back and the front, whichever is which.
The White House
But we saved the best till last. No trip to DC is complete without a tour of the Capitol. This imposing home of the Congress and its neighboring Library of Congress encapsulate all the magnificence and extravagance the architects could conjure for the most important building in the post independence capital and in America itself. To enter the Rotunda beneath the imposing dome is to enter a political holy of holies as the Senate and the House of Representatives do daily verbal battle on opposite flanks. A rose between two thorns.
The library is a veritable gem. Marble pillars, balconies and floors that you would expect to see in Rome or Florence, Italy.
The Capitol, where Congress me
The Speaker had a busy day that day dealing with POTUS antics
A glimpse of the ornate and expansive Library
In conclusion, Washington is a must-see tourist delight. Wide open spaces with world-famous icons at every turn. We were so looking forward to it and were in no way disappointed, even as the rain fell on our parade. Now we have left both DC and Virginia, taking our bus 250 miles north today with the faithful Mini in tow, through West Virginia and Maryland (even taking in a few miles of Route 66) to Pennsylvania on our way to Niagara. This is fun. And the sun is shining.
Here are a few more pics of places we took in...
The Jefferson Memorial
The Roosevelt Memorial
The Pentagon showing the very side that the 9/11 plane hit
Some of the 400,000 graves at the 600+ acre Arlington Cemetery, once a plantation owned by Confederate General Robert E. Lee
And finally - the truly amazing and deeply moving Iwo Jima memorial