03.11.2014 - 07.11.2014 20 °C
I think I left Toronto just in time - there was just a twitch of snow, so light I thought it was a few small leaves floating about, a couple of days before my passport turned up. The news came through and I swooped on the Greyhound site (so much cheaper than any other departure option) and booked a ticket through to Washington that evening. I guess travelling overnight on Greyhound has a certain mystique, as people hear Greyhound and think drunks and losers. Apart from the fact that it wasn't actually a Greyhound bus and the shocking state of the Buffalo station, it was fine. I had a double seat to myself for most of the way, with a teenage bloke joining me for about an hour at one stage, and they served up some most excellent fried chicken at one of the stops. The only real problem was getting through the border, at Peace Bridge. It must be a regular smuggler's route - they very calmly and very politely searched everything I had, and that of many other passengers. It caused quite the delay. Don't think it was smugglers, more likely they were bored and just looking for something to do as it was very quiet. At least they confirmed that I really have lost my passport - just as well, as I don;t know what sort of questions it would have led to if they found it.
After a 45 minute stop in the Transit Authority in Washington and we were off again, on another non-Greyhound bus and I was in Washington at 1:00 (p.m.). As we drove in, I realised that my only real images of Washington are of grand buildings, but the drive in was quite nondescript. Matters changed dramatically when we hit Union Station - it is just down the road from the Capitol so had to be built in suitable style. Here's the wikipedia description:
Classical elements included the Arch of Constantine (exterior, main façade) and the great vaulted spaces of the Baths of Diocletian (interior); prominent siting at the intersection of two of Pierre L'Enfant's avenues, with an orientation that faced the United States Capitol just five blocks away; a massive scale, including a façade stretching more than 600 feet and a waiting room ceiling 96 feet above the floor; stone inscriptions and allegorical sculpture in the Beaux-Arts style; expensive materials such as marble, gold leaf, and white granite from a previously unused quarry.
Unfortunately, there are bits falling from the ceilings, so they've installed a heavy mesh, which meant no photos were possible, except for the clock - which is famous for having a mistake on its face.
I was there for a few days, so had a good walk around the centre, several times as I planned one sight-seeing thing a day, and then off to work. First up was the National Building Museum, which sounded like it would be just my thing. It was certainly in the right sort of building
Unfortunately, in terms of exhibits, it fell a bit flat. There was some Lego, a room with little mock-ups of designs - it looked so boring I didn't pay to see the exhibits. I was amused watching a teacher run through an alphabetical list of do's and don'ts in the museum for his wee (all of about 5 years old) charges - somehow, in his alphabet, E comes before D.
This post is really about the also-rans of my visit to Washington - in the next, I present my highlights. I was very impressed at the scale of the Mall of Washington and the government buildings generally, plus there's the Smithsoniam (sadly, my top of the list museum, American Art, was closed for refurbishment). I must confess that I had trouble identifying some buildings - I just took pictures of those which really caught my eye, as well as a few monuments (and I have one of them which I have not been able to identify - its plaque was blank). Of course, I could identify the White House, not that I could get very close (I was a wee bit surprised to see that despite its size and having an even bigger guesthouse across the road, the President had to put up a tent to deal with the visitors (I was not invited) and the Capitol, at the other end of town:
That last photo might be a bit hard to identify - it is an intake for the air-conditioning for the Capitol. From there, you look straight down at the Washington Monument (where they were expecting 800,000 odd people for a free Veteran's Day gig featuring Eminem, Rhianna and Springsteen).
That last one is a monument to celebrate fire rescue dogs. Up next to the White House, I really liked the Eisenhower Executive building, with its odd protuberances, and was surprised at the Reagan Building (because it fits in so well with its surrounding buildings but is actually only 20 years old - there had been a plan to have a building there all along, but the workmen making the other buildings found it a useful place to park, and the habits stuck, for decades). Quite surprising alongside these major buildings, is the former lock-keeper's cottage, which is just across Constitution Avenue from the White House, and is built according to a completely different scale and aesthetic.
As you drive up Constitution Avenue, the buildings are just huge - the point is to create an idea of the immense power of America, and it works - apparently, as official visitors are brought into town, they're driven along the intimidation route, just to get them in the right frame of mind before meeting the President.
And then there were just a few random buildings around I needed to snap - an art gallery near the Eisenhower Building, the infamous Watergate Hotel, looking a bit sad (the fact it was raining didn't help), the Organisation of American States Building (who knew this organisation even existed? It isn't about the states of America, but the nations comprising the American continent), Judiciary Square (where the local courts are and then some unidentified randoms