24.05.2013 - 24.05.2013
If there's one place to go in the USA to get your fill of history, it's Washington DC. It's bursting at the seams with monuments, cemeteries, memorials, and museums that all have something unique and memorable about them. And as if that wasn't enough, we just happened to be there for Memorial Weekend. Us, and 400,000 bikers rumbling into town on the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle pilgrimage.
Our first stop was Arlington Cemetery. Walking up the road from the car park, you start to understand just how big this place is, and just how many people are buried here. It's actually really shocking and leaves a sour taste in your mouth. How old were most of the young men buried here? The white headstone markers stretch on for so long, that in the end, there are too many to comprehend.
Arlington Cemetery at Memorial Weekend
Further up the track, past the countless graves, lie another few people, who no doubt draw hundreds of thousands here every year. Here lies JFK, his wife, and various brothers. Up above the grave, on a hill overlooking the cemetery, stands the house where JFK stood not long before his death, declaring it to be a place that he could stay forever.
The grave of JFK
After this sobering visit, it was time to see the memorials including the Lincoln Memorial, which we'd seen the night before. You might think seeing the same memorial twice within a few hours would be a little mundane. Not so Lincoln. He sits on his gigantic chair, staring ahead as though seeing into the future, but clearly preserving the past like its captured there in stone. Just climbing the steps gives you a feeling over being somewhere truly special.
Lincoln on his seat
Outside, in the bright sunlight, we chatted with some of the hardy souls who had ridden their motorcycles halfway across the country to be in Washington for the weekend. Most seemed to be veterans and you have to admire their sense of camaraderie, and their dedication to honour those who never made it home from the mess that is war.
Lincoln's view - all very Forrest Gump
Next up, the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. What I loved about these memorials is that you can't possible feel nothing, or shrug your shoulders at just another monument. The thought that has gone into them is incredible, from needing to be big enough to fit all the names on the walls, to staring back at your own reflection in the Korean memorial, shadowed by the soldiers trudging along behind you.
Korean War Memorial
The last stop on our sightseeing tour was the White House, which was something I'd been really looking forward to. It didn't disappoint either. Both the famous building and the crowd gathered outside it, particularly the tent where a woman has been staying and protesting for years. She wasn't there when we were, having been hit by a vehicle recently (.....) but someone was protecting her things. We got the obligatory photo outside the Whitehouse and ticked that one off our list.
The White House
After our morning tour, we had the afternoon free at Washington Mall to discover the Smithsonian. It would take a week, I'm sure, to make your way around all of the museums on offer. We chose two, the Natural History Museum, and the Space Museum. We fought our way through the crowds at the Natural History Museum to see the Hope Diamond, but it was the Space Museum that really fueled my imagination. Wandering around amongst rockets and hubbles and space capsules and lunar landers, it was truly awesome. Just knowing that what we were seeing had been to space and back was very cool. I really wanted to touch one but I didn't like my chances of getting away with it. Still, even without touching, I was like a little kid, so excited. Put the Space Museum on your list of things to do if you're heading Washington DC way.
The Space Museum at the Smithsonian
When we finally got back to our hotel, by now much more educated than when left, there was still enough time in the day to head into Alexandria's King Street for dinner. Once again, we were struck by the sheer number of motorcycles lining the streets. After a very enjoyable dinner with our Kiwi tour mates, we walked back along the riverside to our hotel, blissfully exhausted.
Rolling Thunder Motorcycles in Alexandria