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Travel Talk – Washington, D.C., offers more than politics (March 11, 2015 issues)

With the recent release of the third season of Netflix’s popular show, “House of Cards,” I’ve been thinking about our nation’s capital. Washington DC is one of my favorite cities, not just in the US but among all the cities I’ve visited. While I may not appreciate the tactics of men such as the show’s main character, Frank Underwood, I love the gravitas and spirit of this city. With so much to see between the many Smithsonian museums (which deserve their own article) and the numerous monuments, it can be hard to prioritize your visit. Here are some of my must-sees as well as a few places that the eighth grade field-trips don’t visit.
The two most obvious are the White House and the Capitol building. The White House is usually a quick stop because you just walk along Pennsylvania Avenue and then stop for a photo. If it’s a nice day, you can walk from there to the Capitol, or take the metro, or just make it a different visit because you will need more time there. To get a tour of the Capitol, you must make a reservation in advance.
You can either book this independently through the visitation center’s webpage or you can contact your Representative or Senator for a reservation. You will want to do this in advance. I highly recommend taking the tour. You could see Congress in session, but you will certainly see some of the artwork that is donated by states or that is part of the Capitol’s history. You will also learn more of the secrets and stories of this important building while perhaps gaining a greater respect for the dedication of some of our nation’s congress-people.
Once you’ve seen the White House and Capitol building, I believe that the monuments on the National Mall (the grassy area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument) are the next most important stops for any new Washington visitor. From the Capitol, you can walk along the Mall to the Washington Monument and from there to most monuments, though it is farther than it may look!
Once there, you can go to the top to see the entire city since it is the tallest point in DC, aside from a communications tower. There is a fee to reserve tickets to the top in advance, though same-day tickets are free.
Directly across the Reflecting Pool of the 555foot obelisk is the Lincoln Monument which feels like a Greek temple dedicated to the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. On one side of the Lincoln memorial is the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial. On the other side is the haunting Korean War Memorial where a bronze soldier will stare at you from almost any angle, and beyond that, between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials is the World War Two Monument.
Across the street from these monuments, you will find yet more monuments, including my favorites. First, there is the newer Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial where a “stone of hope” has been chiseled out of the “mountain of despair.” From there, you can continue to walk along the Tidal Basin to the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial which memorializes all four terms of his presidency and the changes of the US during that time. Continuing along the basin, you will lastly come to the Jeferson Memorial which will inspire you with some of his most powerful quotes that capture the American spirit.
After fitting in all of the obligations of those new to Washington, it might be time to visit some favorites of the Washington insiders. Two of the more unique areas in DC are Dupont Circle and Georgetown. Both areas are excellent places to find dessert, dinner, drinks, or just to wander around. Dupont has an almost European feel, which could be due to its proximity to Embassy Row. There is also a unique book store and bar, Kramer’s Books and Afterwords, in Dupont Circle. Georgetown University is beautiful, but the area itself is a great place to visit. Again, you can find a number of delicious restaurants here. If you have a sweet tooth, go to Georgetown Cupcakes to choose from delicious homemade cupcakes from classic flavors to new twists.
While learning your way in a new city can be confusing, DC makes it easier than most cities. It’s built on a grid and many streets follow numerical or alphabetical order, so you can always countdown streets to your destination. The metro is also easily navigable and if you do have trouble, a metro worker is usually on hand and will be happy to help you. Furthermore, most locals are not DC natives and are willing to help lost travelers. However, I have one major piece of advice for anyone using the escalators in the metros during DC rush hour: don’t stand on the left side of the escalator. Nothing angers a late Washingtonian more than being held up in the escalator because a visitor is standing on the wrong side.
No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, DC is a great place to visit. It’s a great experience to see many of the monuments and buildings in person and to feel the power that resides in our nation’s capital. Even if you don’t like politics, there are some wonderful sights and unique areas to visit in this fast-paced and always-changing city.