Back to 19th century at Washington DC

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Although the trip to DC had a dash of adventure and a touch of nature, I really enjoyed the visit partly due to my affinity for history and few other surprises. International Student Organization (ISSO) of Cornell organized this trip. 283$ for transport, accommodation for 3 nights sounded very reasonable, and I bought the tickets before it was sold out in hours. As usual I was the only one from my group, and thus got a better opportunity to interact with multinational people.

Day 1 (28th March): Aquarium at Baltimore
We left Ithaca at 7:50 AM in a Swarthout coach. The group had an amazing time sense – except for one occasion everyone was on time to the minute. This was very impressive and saved the frustration during such organized group tours. After a brief stop at Clarks Summit for breakfast we reached Baltimore around 1.30 PM. We were at Baltimore’s famous tourist spot called Inner Harbor where the piers has been converted to hold various cafes, aquarium and few other attractions. I asked my co-passenger R, a MBA student at Cornell from Brazil to be my co-traveler as well.

We had a 3 PM ticket to visit National Aquarium which gave us ample time to have lunch and roam around. The Aquarium was divided into 3 buildings with most of the underwater animals in Pier 3 Pavilion, Dolphins and Jellies in Pier 4 Pavilion and few land animals in the Glass pavilion. They have done a good job in attracting visitors – they have a plethora of displays ranging from tiny toads to the giant turtle. We went to Pier 4 first where I took pleasure in watching colorful creatures, corals, giant octopus and sharks in open ocean section. Jellies section in Pier 4 too was quite a treat to senses. The peculiar colorful and colorless creatures looked splendid.

We then proceeded to glass pavilion next where I witnessed the cutest animal feeding ever. A staff was feeding different kinds of fishes in the tank and used impressive techniques to feed each kind in a sequence. Sting ray was the cutest, it felt like the fish was just pocketing the feed.

Best viewed in 480p or above :

We then made way to Pier 3 where Dolphin feeding session was supposed to start at 5 PM. The way Dolphins reacted to staff and entertained crowd was captivating. There weren’t any major acts like I had seen in TV but as this was the first Dolphin pool I had been to, I thoroughly enjoyed it even though the show for only few mins. After dwelling into virtual underwater world for 2 hours we headed to DC in the bus. We stayed at international hostel which was at a stone’s throw from most of the major attractions in DC. Hostel itself was neat with all the required facilities for a frugal traveler. After dinner R and I visited the White House. I was rather surprised to find out that we were allowed to be so close to the White House, given that it is the residence of one of the most influential person in the world.

Day 2 (29th March): National Mall
We left for White House in the morning and a tour guide accompanied us this time. I am grateful to him as he made the visits all the more interesting just by his narratives. He directed the driver to take the bus around on important streets and kept listing most of the buildings lining them. I liked the buildings in DC which are architectuarally beautiful compared to the ones in NY where most of them are glass ones. The Embassies, IRS, FBI were few of the buildings we passed by. We were dropped off at a park near the White House. Almost all the historic buildings in DC are in and around National Mall (national park). National Mall is situated between Capitol on one side and Lincoln Memorial on the other and has the tall Washington Monument in between. Smithsonian museums and various other memorials are either lined on the border of the Mall or situated nearby. The White House falls to the North of the Washington Monument.

A rather funny incident happened near the railings of White House. Someone had left their pink backpack unattended and police were making futile efforts to find its owner while people kept their distance. After spending some time we went to visit series of memorials. First stop was the Jefferson memorial. Cherry blossom trees lined the entrance and guide told us that they were shy of only few days from blooming fully. Apparently these trees were gifted to US from Japan before WW2. The next name in the itinerary was the Franklin Roosevelt memorial. I was surprised to know that although FDR was physically handicapped (due to Polio), he served three terms of Presidency. His efforts during Great Depression and World War was quite heroic. The guide also mentioned that FDR was a true people’s President in the sense that people connected with him and looked at him as a fatherly figure. We then walked along the Tidal basin to Martin Luther King memorial, followed by the Lincoln memorial. As Lincoln stood for the union during the Civil war, inscribed on the frieze above the colonnade are the names of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death along with the dates on which they entered the Union. Above this on the attic frieze are inscribed the names of the 48 states present at the time of the Memorial’s dedication. There is a reflecting pool between the memorial and Washington monument. Unfortunately for us there was no water then. R and I made use of the time available to visit Vietnam and WW2 memorial nearby.

After lunch R and I visited Smithsonian air and space museum. DC has this unique feature that many of its museums, memorials and other attractions are free and few have guided tours as well. Most of the Smithsonian museums are huge and have a lot of ground to cover. I personally didn’t enjoy air and space museum much except for the simulator ride. It was an overload of information and required a lot of time. I watched documentary on the journey to space in IMAX at the museum. I retired to bed after the dinner with my cousin who came down from College Park.

Day 3 (30th March): Library of Congress, Capitol and Natural history of museum
Our group had a reservation for the tour of the Library of Congress (LOC) in the morning. After a brief video about the library we were taken for the guided tours. The LOC is considered to be the most beautiful building in DC. DC has essentially a mix of ancient European and Egyptian architecture. The Great Hall in LOC was exquisite with carvings, statues and mosaic.

A (a fellow student at Cornell, from Iran) and I were together for the rest of the day. We first went to tour the Capitol and found it really impressive. We started with our tour after spending an hour and a half in the queue. We first saw a movie and then had a guided audio tour which consisted of the visit to three rooms: the Crypt, the Rotunda and finally the old house chamber. Rotunda room was amazing with statues around the room and 6 large oil paintings of American history. Each state is allowed to send 2 statues of the persons they think are important and these statues decorate the rooms of Capitol. New to this country, I really felt good learning about their history. I am impressed by those great people who were responsible for building a FREE nation.

A and I then went to Museum of Natural History, which is largest among the Smithsonian museums. Being a nature lover, I enjoyed this museum a lot. I especially liked the crystals, gems and minerals sections which had huge range of bizarre displays. One fact mentioned in the museum stood out and left me thinking. It said that more people have traveled into space than have ventured into the deep sea. After enjoying the visual and factual treats we went to American History Museum. As it was nearing the closing time, we didn’t spend much time there. We had dinner at a Persian restaurant and retired for the day.

Day 4: Supreme Court
Few of us went to Supreme court to witness an actual ongoing hearing. Even here we had to wait around for 2 hours to stay in hearing room for just 3 minutes. I however had the opportunity to sit for the whole hearing. I stayed for a couple of 3-minute sessions, post which I came out, as I couldn’t really understand the argument being made. Apparently it was a case about a Patent from Marvel Enterprises. The  experience was one of a kind. A and I then visited the Museum of American Indian History. But once again in the interest of time we had to leave early.

Covering most of the places in DC, I had walked at least 15 miles. This was a rather brave way to celebrate first year anniversary of my leg fracture.

Nikhil Navali

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