Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The White House and Final Thoughts on Washington, D.C.

Our trip to Washington, D.C. was a short one. 1 full day and 2 half days and this was the last half a day, a Monday morning. We always find it tricky doing touristy things on days where we're travelling too, it has to be well co-ordinated and preferably something nearby. With that in mind we held off checking out of the room in order to take a walk to nosey at the White House and to grab some breakfast.

The General Andrew Jackson's statue in Lafayette Park and White House

The White House was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel and even though the building itself turned out to be smaller than we'd imagined it to be, we could see it most of the way, such is the road layout of this purpose built capital city.

16th Street NW Washington DC

Road to the White House

The walk took up past quite a few random buildings and the odd statue, things that aren't hard to find in D.C., for instance, this is a view from our hotel room window:

Rhode Island Avenue Northwest

I was happy to find the National Geographic Society building because I have a chronic case of nerd.

National Geographic Society Building Washington DC

We became slightly more pass-remarkable than usual as walked past a Church of Scientology, seriously like, as if the old religious institutions weren't bad enough. After that the White House was looking a bit nearer and within a minute we'd walked through Lafayette Park and joined a few other tourists in sticking our noses through the railings to get a better view of the place. Quite a grand little building, though much smaller than I'd imagined.

The White House

White House and Fountain Close Up

We didn't stay too long and headed slowly back, only yards away from the grounds of the White House sits Concepcion Picciotto's anti nuclear protest.

Concepcion Picciotto's anti nuclear protest

Back in Lafayette Park we took a closer look at the General Andrew Jackson's statue.

The General Andrew Jackson's statue

Norngirl, even without anything but her animal magnetism, managed to make a friend of a Squirrel in the park.

Friendly Squirrel in Lafayette Park

And there were plenty more looking on from the trees.

Grey Squirrel

We then made our way back up another street and had some breakfast in a coffee shop before checking out of the hotel and finally finding a bus that came when we needed it which took us to Union Station.

Washington DC Union Station

Where we caught our train... destination, New York, New York.

Here are my final thoughts on Washington, D.C:

Basically I found it to be a strange city.

The place is seemingly purpose built for government and smooth running of a country but yet it seemed to us to be a capital that you'd not really want the rest of a country to be like because it's not really a city that functions like a regular city. Maybe that's the point?

On the whole it was a pleasant trip but I have to admit I left it slightly tainted with strong images in my mind of seeing a high proportion of homeless people. That and bus timetables that may as well have not existed.

Washington DC is a capital city that I found was lacking a heart and soul compared to most other capital cities I've visited. The culture is there in the form of museums and sports, but for me it seemed to lack a connection - something human and vibrant rather than oversized buildings with empty streets. Most cities I know come to life on a weekend but Washington was an exception.

The simplest way I can describe it is that Washington DC is just like one big front end 'anywhere in the world' government office building - a place that is pretty empty outside of office hours and seemingly there to be functional at minimal expense on the inside, yet on the outside extravagant and grand, styled enough to try and impress stakeholders when they visit.

There is enough there to see if you want to visit specific buildings, mainly the Smithsonian museums and see the monuments but I think if I lived there I'd get pretty bored and annoyed very quickly. It is somewhere I'd visit again for another couple of days but not somewhere I'd stay for a week or more. The northern parts of the city seemed the most 'alive' but there wasn't much to write home about. So yes, a strange city, I guess this is largely due to it's functionality but surely it can't be that tricky to try and bring some life into a capital city, planned for federal use or otherwise.

A place to visit but probably not to stay - though saying that, our hotel room was probably the best on our trip... go figure.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Monuments and Memorials at Night

On our second day in Washington DC we went on a tour called 'Monuments by Moonlight' that was run by Trollytours. It was maybe a bit pricey for us for a tour ($31.50 each even with the on-line reduced price) but in the end, with the luck of it being dry and having a clear night sky, it turned out to be worth it. The tour turned out to be pretty cool, there were very few of us on the tour on the night we took it (the night of the Superbowl). We took in a lot of the sights of Washington DC including a quick jaunt over the river into Arlington, Virginia to the Marine Corps War Memorial where we also got a great look back over the city.

Washington DC at Night

I got a bit snap happy with my camera, here are some more of the photos I took of some of the more famous memorials and buildings that we saw:

The Capitol Building
Washington DC Capitol Building at Night

The Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial at Night

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial at Night

The Washington Monument reflecting in the Tidal Basin
Washington Monument Reflection by Night

One of many water features at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Waterfall

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial at night

Part of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
National symbol at Roosevelt Memorial

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial at night

Abraham Lincoln Statue at the Lincoln Memorial
Abraham Lincoln Statue

Carved Eagle at the Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial Eagle

Close up of the Abraham Lincoln Statue
Abraham Lincoln Statue Close Up

Carved Words on the Wall of the Lincoln Memorial Building
Lincoln Memorial Words

Korean War Veterans Memorial - very eerie at night, these statues are bigger than your average human.
Washington DC Korean War Veterans Memorial at night

Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington
Marine Corps War Memorial at night

Marine Corps War Memorial - Up close
Marine Corps War Memorial close up

To finish off a nice ending to the day, our very informative driver was even kind enough to drop us home outside our hotel where we ordered in a late dinner of sandwiches from a diner.
Oh yeah, and if you're the only person in North America who didn't know, the New York Giants won the Superbowl - not that I care much about American Football (sorry!) but it was to prove helpful in filling some time the next Tuesday in New York.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Walking around Washington DC

Smithsonian Institution BuildingAfter an evening of the unexpected on day 1 in Washington DC, day 2 of our visit started off the same way but ended nicely.

So following a good sleep in a bed that didn't bend my spine in strange places (unlike our one at home that does), I woke up as if I'd got up at lunchtime. My body clock likes going to this time zone, it's the only time I can get up at 7.30am and feel like I assume most 'morning' people do *shakes fist at morning people*.

With me wide strangely awake and a little hyper, and Norngirl not so much so (caffeine hadn't yet kicked in), we spent the next half an hour or more stood waiting on a bus. This was getting to be an all too familiar ordeal. Eventually it came and it took us within sight of the route it had taken the night before... only to then be caught in a one way system that circumvented the place we wanted to be. Realising this, we got off at the nearest available stop - by the agricultural department - we wanted to be outside the old Post Office, ah well. So we made our way across the mall and had a look at the Washington Monument.

Panorama of the Washington Monument and Mall

We knew where we were going but stopped to check the sign for later to see which of the buildings was the museum we were going to. Before we'd chance, we were approached by a guy who was trying to sell free maps (one of which we already had) to tourists. This seemed to be a big thing in Washington DC, there were an awful lot of homeless people and it seems their main source of income is anyone who looks like a tourist. As bad as it feels to say no to someone trying their best to emotionally manipulate you into buying something you don't need nor want, we did say no thanks and got the 'ah you didn't do anything wrong' guilt spiel. I tend not to give money to homeless people. It might sound harsh but in the UK I put money into official charity boxes instead where it might be spent on food and shelter and not on the cigarettes and alcohol that plenty of homeless folks seem to have on their person. At least that way the money can be used constructively to help even if it doesn't address the immediate needs or wants of a person on that individual day.

All that aside, we made our way along the path past another homeless person who was wandering the lawn who shouted something at us, the other few tourists or another homeless guy that was indecipherable that didn't sound friendly. We quickly moved on to find our way to the Old Post Office.

Washington DC Old Post Office Building

Washington DC Old Post Office Building Tower

We had planned to go up the tower to take a look but the place was deserted and by the time we found a sign stating which entrance to use, we were already running behind schedule so gave it a miss. Afterall, we didn't want to be towed for idling... in this usually warm winter it just wasn't cold enough for us to stay there for long.

No Idling Sign

Instead we walked past the FBI building where a very enthusiastic lady from out of state sung the praises of Washington and told us how she'd been up the old post office tower before... at least someone was having a good time in this city!

FBI Building Washington DC

Next we found civilisation as we walked past Ford's Theatre. Norngirl was amazed that I didn't know the reference as to why it was an infamous location, ah well, I knew a matter of seconds afterwards that it was the theatre where Abe Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

Ford's Theater Washington DC

The streets were still quiet but we soon discovered the population of Washington DC appeared to be having brunch. So we joined them and had brunch.

It was a quick brunch though for our itinerary had us down to be at the Verizon Centre to watch the Boston Bruins Vs Washington Capitals. I'll be putting together a separate post on our 3 hockey games from the trip (so I'll put a link here once I post it near the end) but for now, here is the cool inside of the Verizon Centre, a cool place to watch hockey!

View from our seats at the Verizon Center

Finally having found something happy to do we were in better spirits and walked down the hill to the mall where we saw a few more sights along the way.

Sights like this place that I can't find the name of and that I didn't know what I was looking at at the time...

Some buildings in Washington DC

And the Capitol Building... from this angle, nestled in a construction site.

National Mall maintenance in front of the Capitol Building

Our destination was the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, the one with this big piece of modern art outside it that reminded me of the road system in this city.

Ad Astra Sculpture

And here is me taking a photo of the national mall through the reflection of it in the windows of the museum.

Reflecting Washington DC

The National Air and Space Museum was awesome, I especially liked the space exhibits. I could have stayed in there the best part of the day but we only had a couple of hours until it closed. From seeing yourself through a live thermal heat camera to a simulation of a NASA moon landing there was plenty to see and do.

There seems to be something about ice hockey and museums that makes for a fun day - like our awesome day in 2010.

After leaving the museum it was getting on a bit and the sun was starting to set.

Washington Monument No Parking

The evenings entertainment for us was a monuments by moonlight trolley bus tour but to get to Union station we had 2 buses to catch - we waited for 5 minutes before opting to walk it to just catch the 2nd of the two buses and we walked up to Chinatown. Hard to miss Chinatown in Washington DC, the start of it looks like this:

Washington DC Chinatown

In that time, our bus didn't pass us so it was a good choice. It wasn't such a good choice to leave that bus stop after 10 minutes and walk to the station. Our bus went past us about half way. Ah well, at least we knew we'd get there on time + the place looked pretty in the twilight of a cloudy dusk and into the dark of the late evening, so walking, although bad for Norngirls hip, was a nice way to see the city a bit more.

Anyway, before too long, there we were at Union Station and in time for our tour with time to grab some food in the station's food court.

Washington had grown on me a little but there was still much to see that day, albeit in the dark... on the Monuments By Moonlight Tour...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Washington Didn't Compute

Washington DC was the first stop in the USA for our recent 13 day trip to the US, it was a strange place that is hard to describe but since we flew there I'll give it a try.

View from the plane window

Norngirl is getting her feet wet with that as well as even posting some of our photos and as we were together the entire trip except for one day, I'm going to approach these posts from a slightly different angle though no doubt we'll overlap, even with the pictures in some cases.

So if you'd like to read what we did on our first day in Washington from Norngirl's perspective: Welcome to DC: Day 1.

This is my memory of the day:

We woke up far too early. I sat in Belfast City Airport with a black tea in one hand and twitter in the other. Norngirl and I are tetchy in the mornings and so we were both waking up on a mixture of caffeine and trying not to annoy each other though I kinda failed by a combination of not listening and at other times being too manic when talking about Irish League football. Ah well.

We eventually boarded and after a quick but comfortable BMI flight with a quick read of a complimentary paper or two (wow though, how much do real papers suck compared to the Web, it's been a while since I read one - even the cartoons and sports sections sucked) we were looking out of the plane window at a sunrise filled with vibrant hues of Red and Orange over London.
Touch down soon followed and we collected our bags, switched terminals and before too long had boarded our Virgin Atlantic flight to Washington.

I'm not one to usually plug companies but I love flights on Virgin Atlantic planes that have been recently kitted out with the on demand entertainment systems, combined with the free sky bar it makes the flight something I look forward to as much as some days of our holidays.
On this flight I managed to squeeze in 3 and a 1/2 movies (reviews to follow separately at some point). Sadly there wasn't much to see out of the window as a big blanket of low cloud was seemingly covering most of the coast.

As you can imagine the time flew by and before I knew it we had reached our destination but before we'd even reached the terminal building, I couldn't help but notice what a bizarre little layout they have at Dulles International Airport.

You see the majority of gates appear to be in rectangular buildings completely seperated by aprons from the main terminal building so no walkways between them, just some monster truck sized passenger vehicles called a Mobile Lounge.

This was the first time I'd seen let alone ridden in one of these things. It was a comfortable ride but they're weird looking things, like something from a Gerry Anderson show such as Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet. Norngirl had decided at this point that it was as if we'd landed on a moon base. Which made us laugh even more when we reached the main terminal building after our lounge had docked and we entered a room with swirly modern art hanging from the wall and ceiling. We'd seemingly landed in another world. It soon seemed all too familiar though as we stood in the queue at immigration.

Once through the airport we were boiling, it was cold and wet outside but that didn't stop me asking Norngirl to get me an iced tea whilst she bought her coffee.
Carrying bags whilst wearing a thermal coat... you get the picture, I was boiling.

We got the bus into Washington DC and got off at L'Enfant Plaza. The bus we wanted was sign-posted on the bus stop we got off the 5a at but the one that was already there let someone on but we didn't have change and needed exact change according to the signs so went to get some and that bus had driven away by the time we got back. We then watched the bus we needed pull up and it's driver had a smoke outside the bus. We waited for it to pull up to the stop, it did, didn't open it's doors and drove off. We were stood in the rain thinking 'Riiiiight'. After a while we decided we needed to make a move. So we headed to see if there was anyone alive in this city. The place was totally dead except for the other lost tourists and we were carrying our bags and feeling very tired. Eventually after watching another bus we kinda assumed that the bus did a loop and maybe that the signposted stop was just an alighting stop and not one for boarding... though as a tourist how you're meant to know this deserts me.

First views of Washington DC

So yeah, we eventually found a stop at 7th and SW Maryland Avenue and waited for the bus.
We were joined by another 10 people and we all stood there for a good 40 minutes before any of our buses showed up, an attempt to hail a cab proved unsuccessful.

The rest of the crowd eventually got on other buses and we waited... and at last our bus arrived... followed by another. We were not happy bunnies though we did manage a laugh at the fact public transport was as bad here as back at home. On the plus side, the ticket machine was broken and so the driver let everyone on the route without a card board for free.

We made it to our hotel which was pretty funky and contender for the best I've ever stayed in.
Norngirl put together a little collage of photos I took of our room on her post. The motorised entrance way curtains we're a sight to see, I just wish I'd taken a photo of them.

Relaxing in the hotel in Washington DC

Settled in, we headed for food close by and found a Mexican restaurant. We did get food but the lady who served us didn't seem to want to give us sides with our meal or ask if we wanted a desert, in fairness the meal we got was pretty filling, maybe it was for the best. I do suspect it was our accents that led to some confusion though, ah well.

A short walk for supplies completed the day. With a whole trip ahead and the confusion of the day in my head, I joined Norngirl in bed and dropped off to sleep with my mind dreaming in surreal yet vivid randomness, my mind attempting to piece it all together.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Movie Review - The Graduate (1967)

Film: The Graduate (1967)

I'm not really sure why so many people rate this movie so highly. Perhaps I missed the point?

I'll start with the good parts - I thought it was well filmed and well acted. The use of clever camera angles and strange shots combined with the great Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack were the highlights of the movie. Sadly for this movie, in my view, that does not a good movie make. Beneath all that gloss is a romanticised Jerry Springer-esq story of people with too much time and money who haven't the foresight or sense of what to do with it. It was almost like the characters or script was somehow void of imagination, maybe that was the point but if it was, why would we want to watch it?

By showing us the depths a bored teenager (who must been a joy to be around during his studies) and a bored housewife will go to to be bored with someone else because of the situations they find themselves bored in before realising they're still bored... it's just, well... boring.

I wasn't alone in being underwhelmed. Half way through the movie the other four people I was watching the movie with had become bored by it too (they were also all watching it for the first time) to the point they had given up paying attention to it and merrily chatted away. I probably should have done the same but I tried my best to give it a fair chance.

I think if we'd have been alive and old enough to have seen this movie when it came out in 1967 we might have been more impressed by it, maybe for the novelty value. As children of the 80's however, I think we've been a little more desensitised to this sort of thing - did you see the TV we grew up watching? We were teenagers with Channel 5 on our TVs in our bedrooms. Need I say any more? To summarise; anyone who is shocked enough to care about the story line or who finds the Graduate a master piece for some other reason I'm clueless about, should just be thankful Mr Robinson wasn't 'meeting' both Carl and Ben at the same time whilst also murdering the odd neighbour or two as a coping mechanism to deal with his drug addiction from a prior life of crime that resulted in his witness protection relocation to the suburbs.

Maybe there was a message to do with some deeper meaning to life, love and the issues of growing up (or something) somewhere in there - but if there was, I missed it. I found it to be like watching reality TV without the unintentional comedy or ridiculous moments of revelation that might put you at unease or question yourself.

I think my main thing that disappointed me was that I just felt like I didn't care one way or the other for any of the characters. I tell a lie, I did feel sorry for the passengers and bus driver at the end.

This movie had a plot but a plot all about not a lot, just some dysfunctional wealthy folk swapping body fluids.

Score 4/10

Per the The A.L.I.N.I Movie Review rating scale:
4 = Could have probably done without watching it but meh, it was meh.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Flying Away for a While

For the next two weeks I'm on some crazy concept called 'annual leave', oh yeah! Long time no see you juicy slice of sumptuously awesome time.

With a proven inability to stay still for very long without getting bored, our break from work isn't going to be two weeks in the sun or a chilled stay-cation. Luckily for us, our hard work and saving over the last couple of years means we're able splash out to take another trip state-side. Weather permitting, this time tomorrow we'll hopefully be visiting a chilly Washington DC.

As you can probably guess, we're not heading for the weather, but we are heading there because of the weather - the cold weather making this time of year the time we can afford to visit :)

Ever since our first taste of New York, which we enjoyed ever so much, we've been eager to get back and do everything we didn't get time to do the first time. Curiosity also got the better of us and in order to see a bit more of what the East Coast has to offer, in this trip we've planned to visit 3 cities: Washington (not the one in Tyne and Wear), New York (new is always better) and Boston (not the one in Lincolnshire). The majority of our time will be spent in New York but we're eager to see what these other two famous cities have to offer.

After not knowing quite what to expect in the US the first time, this time I'm much more relaxed and excited by the anticipation of the trip - not least because we're heading to see more NHL games! I can't wait to see and experience lots of new things and enjoy choosing our own adventures.

Catch you all the week after next!


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