Tag Archives: district of columbia

USA 2019 – 16 National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 24 MAR 2021

There is such an incredible amount of things to see in Washington D.C. (even more so given my proclivity to all things historic, natural, and scientific) that it is near impossible to see everything unless you live there for at least a month. Thus, lists have to be made, and sights ordered in preference and importance, and this then is exactly what I had to sit down and do when first planning my three day stopover in the United States capital. As it stands, it is pretty easy to single out my biggest regret in terms of places NOT visited – the National Gallery of Art, one of the United States’ greatest art museums. That said, at least there is the small consolation prize of having walked through this institution’s playful Sculpture Garden – though I’m not sure if this makes me happy or just more sad at having missed out on visiting the real thing!

Sandwiched between the beautiful neoclassical West Building and the modern East Building of the National Gallery of Art complex, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is the most recent addition to the art museum, having opened its gates to the public in May 1999. It acts as an outdoor setting for exhibiting several pieces from the museum’s contemporary sculpture collection, and is anchored by a large central fountain which from December through to March is converted to an ice-skating rink.

Housing classic contemporary works like Roy Lichtenstein’s House I, Robert Indiana’s AMOR, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, the sculpture garden provides a small escape from the noise and the crowds plodding about the National Mall, where you can either amble through and discover work from names like Joan Miro, Tony Smith, Mark di Suvero, Barry Flanagan, and Roxy Paine (whose tall shiny Graft steals attention as you walk in), or simply sit down with a coffee and admire the view from a table at the artfully decorated outdoor Pavilion Cafe.

USA 2019 – 15 United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 23 MAR 2021

Situated on the grounds of the United States Capitol, near Garfield Circle, lies the oldest continually-operated botanic garden in the United States – the United States Botanic Garden. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, the botanic garden houses an incredible variety of both local and exotic plants, including specimens and seeds that can be dated back all the way to the South Seas exploration of the Wilkes Expedition.

The striking glass and aluminum curves of the gigantic Lord & Burnham greenhouse demands attention, and while you can enter the United States Botanic Garden through the imposing stone facade of the the main conservatory, a lot of people end up in the botanic garden by following the green (and associated tranquility) of the National Garden, which lies on the Botanic Garden’s west border. In addition to the odd sculpture or two that finds itself exhibited in this space, this outside garden includes a regional garden of plants native to the Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont, a rose garden, a butterfly garden, and the First Ladies Water Garden, a water garden in memory of the First Ladies of the United States.

Then there is the Conservatory itself. Housed in the stunning, aforementioned greenhouse, the Conservatory is divided into separate rooms, each simulating a different habitat. Rooms included in this list are The Garden Court, Rare and Endangered Plants, Plant Exploration, Orchid House, Medicinal Plants, Desert, Hawaii, Garden Primeval, Plant Adaptation, Jungle (which is by far the largest room, featuring an elevated catwalk to walk above the jungle canopy), Children’s Garden, and Southern Exposure. The end result is a wide array of many small collections of interesting plants, and I have to be honest, I did break out in a broad smile when I stumbled across the small collection of our local fynbos on display.

The United States Botanic Garden is a wondrous space. Compact enough that it doesn’t take too long to wander through, but filled with so much colour and with such varied plant species (with the odd sculpture and mural thrown in) that you can’t but help meander through with a peaceful mind and even broader smile on your face. Easy to recommend if you are looking for a little break from exploring all that history that is housed along the National Mall!

USA 2019 – 12 Wiseguy Pizza in Chinatown, Washington DC (2019-10-26) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 19 MAR 2021

After a very long day out on my feet, having walked through and taken in the Smithsonian National Zoo, the Union Station, the United States Capitol, and the beautiful Library of Congress, it was time to head back to the Hampton Inn on the edge of Chinatown and rustle up some supper before sitting down and resting my feet for the next day’s just as epic sightseeing adventures.

Similar to the previous evening where I had tucked into the simple but delicious oven fired fare of Fuel Pizza and Wings over at the Capitol One Arena area, I once again had am insatiable hankering for American style pizza. Unlike my experience of Japanese cities at night, I honestly didn’t feel particularly comfortable or safe walking around Washington D.C. by myself in the evenings, but having located Wiseguy Pizza just down the road from the hotel via Google Maps, I pushed aside these misgivings and ventured out on a dusky mission to get some grub into my stomach.

And just as well that I did. Old world, authentic New York style pizza fired in old school deck ovens at 287°C, featuring and incredibly varied array of toppings and of course that delightfully stringy cheese that the Americans use on their pies. Pizza and cheesecake aside, the little eatery has classic music accompanying the relatively vintage feeling decor, with everything working together to craft a very cozy and warm spot to visit.

USA 2019 – 11 Browsing in the Library of Congress in Washington DC (2019-10-26) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 18 MAR 2021

Standing as the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, and billed as one of the largest libraries in the world, the Library of Congress, with its collection of millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts, is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition to that, thanks to the incredible history, architecture and art held within, the Library of Congress also just so happens to make for an incredible visitor and tourist experience!

Originally housed within the U.S. Capitol building itself, the ever expanding need for space for both the Capitol functions and that of the library itself, means that the Library of Congress needed to move and itself expand quite often, leading to the current state of affairs that has the de facto national library of the United States stretched across three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. as well as a conservation center in Culpeper, Virginia. The Library states that its collection is universal, and as such is not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, meaning that it includes research materials from across the world, covering more than 450 languages!

I got to visit the unmissable Library of Congress’ main Thomas Jefferson Building, the oldest of the three Capitol Hill buildings, having been opened to the public (following eleven years of construction) in 1897. Recognized almost immediately on opening as a National Monument, the Jefferson Building contains some of the richest public interiors in the United States, and is a compendium of the work of classically trained American sculptors and painters of the “American Renaissance” period. Mind you, the incredibly majestic, Italian Renaissance styled exterior is just as eye catching, especially given the wonderfully detailed The Court of Neptune Fountain bronze sculpture collection that fronts the building.

I walked to the Library of Congress via the underground tunnel that connects the US Capitol to the library, and on arrival in the building I was treated to the most incredible visual experience. Classic colour, patterns, art, and design wherever you look, from the patterned marble floors right up to the vaulted ceilings. The historic art murals are incredible to look at and move between, with so much to spot around you that you literally don’t know where to even begin looking!

The alcoves of the main hall of the library are packed with incredibly interesting displays and exhibitions of various parts of American literary history, and down the quieter halls you will find even more displays, like the one on comic book art that I stumbled upon at the end of my wanderings. Looking down on the incredible main reading room is an absolute visual treat, and it is no wonder then that there are probably more tourists taking pictures than scholars carrying out research!

USA 2019 – 09 The Metro and Union Station in Washington DC (2019-10-26) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 23 FEB 2021

We obviously don’t really have any true underground rapid transit metro subway here in South Africa (unless you count the 15 km long underground stretch of the Gautrain network as one), meaning then that my first interaction with the Washington Metro and its now six lines, 91 stations, and 188 km of route, really did bring out a good and proper smile from me. What can I say, I enjoy experiencing transport engineering.

Engineering aside, an added bonus is definitely that many of the older Metro stations, designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese, are an absolute visual delight to behold, a perfect example of late 20th century modern architecture with aspects of Brutalist design (thanks to the heavy use of exposed concrete and repetitive design motifs) mixed in with Washington’s de facto neoclassical architectural style through the stations’ imposing overarching coffered ceiling vaults. (Additionally, in an effort to lighten up these rather grey and stoic spaces, the metro stations themselves all tend to feature different art on the mezzanine levels above the fare machines, generally visible as you move to exit any station). It must be said that the stations have a pretty good signage system, seem to run pretty much on schedule, and pleasingly proved super easy to use – even for someone as navigationally challenged as myself!

One of the jewels of the system is the massive Washington Union Station, a major train station, transportation hub, and leisure destination all rolled into one. Opened in 1907, the incredibly busy Union Station is an intermodal facility, home to Amtrak and its rail network as well as servicing the MARC and VRE commuter rail services, the Washington Metro (which is how I ended up there), the DC Streetcar, intercity bus lines, and the local Metrobus busses. It is worth noting that it was only in 1988 that a headhouse wing was added and the original station renovated for use as a shopping mall, thus giving the station its current and very distinctive form. So, given its prime location as an intersection of so many travel options it is no wonder then that Union Station ranks as one of the United States’ busiest rail facilities and shopping destinations – with over 40 million visitors per year!

Due to Union Station’s proximity to the United States Capitol (just five blocks away), architects Daniel H. Burnham and Pierce Anderson worked hard to make this station a massive grandiose architectural triumph, incorporating an incredible array of neoclassical and Beaux-Arts style influenced elements to bring their vision to life – from the triumphal arch entrance, the 26 interior centurions looking down upon you, the six colossal exterior statues by Louis St. Gaudens (modeled on the Dacian prisoners of the Arch of Constantine), to the great vaulted spaces such as those of the Baths of Diocletian, as well as of course the inclusion of expensive materials such as marble, gold leaf, and white granite in the finishing.

Fronted by the Columbus Circle plaza and its impressive fountain, the Washington Union Station with all its architecture, commerce, and people truly is a spectacle to behold – even if done while sitting down and munching on something as mundane as a food court Johnny Rockets burger. Sigh, stupid South African Rand to the US Dollar exchange rate!

USA 2019 – 07 Fuel Pizza and Wings at 600 F St NW in Washington DC (2019-10-25) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 10 DEC 2020

So after a very successful day of on foot architecture, memorials and sculptures sightseeing for my first day in Washington DC, my now very tired feet were urging me to pick my way back to the hotel, but more importantly before that, find something to eat considering the fact that I hadn’t eaten the entire day – and for my first night in Washington DC I knew very much exactly what I wanted: America-style pizza!

So I slowly worked my way up along 6th St NW and just before I reached the Capitol One Arena (which was a hive of bustling, hay-fuelled horsey activity thanks to the grand Washington International Horse Show about to kick off – which unfortunately I wasn’t able to secure tickets for), I bumped into something looking particularly promising tucked away on the bottom floor of a very interesting looking building marked as the former Oriental Building Association headquarters – Fuel.

Fuel Pizza & Wings as it turns out is a small franchise that started up in 1998 by a couple of New Yorkers who found themselves living in Charlotte but in need of some really good New York-style pizza. They eventually found the perfect location to start in an old funky 1930’s gas station and fast forward 20 years, the team now have four locations scattered around Charlotte and two in Washington DC – one of which I had now perchance stumbled upon.

This particular Fuel eatery is themed around the 1930’s racing circuit and goes for a relatively industrial, minimalistic feel to it. Aesthetics, bar, and wings offerings aside, pizza is what I was there for and thankfully Fuel delivered exactly what I wanted. By the slice, cheese dripping, crispy thin based pizza heaven. It sounds stupid of course because we have plenty of good pizza options back home in South Africa, but admittedly there is something a little different about how the American ingredients influence the final product.

USA 2019 – 06 The World War II Memorial in Washington DC (2019-10-25) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 DEC 2020

At the opposite end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, on the site where once stood the Rainbow Pool, now sits the World War II Memorial, a memorial of national significance that serves to honor Americans who served in the armed forces and who survived World War II. Opened by George W. Bush in 2004, this compact and open memorial sits in a relatively central space on the National Mall and offers yet another space for self-reflection and remembrance among all the surrounding tourist bustle.

The memorial consists of 56 granite pillars arranged in a semicircle around a plaza, with each pillar inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states of 1945, as well as the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory and Territory of Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are two large arches at either end of the plaza, the northern arch inscribed with “Atlantic” and the southern one with “Pacific”, with the plaza itself giving way to a fountain lined pool. The walls include many reliefs of war-related scenes, as well as numerous historical quotes taken from the period. (Interestingly, the memorial also includes two inconspicuously located “Kilroy was here” engravings, acknowledging their symbolic role played among American troops).

On the west side of the plaza is the Freedom Wall, a block of granite set with 4084 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war, and with an inscription that reads “Here we mark the price of freedom”. Given its sunken level and central position, the memorial allows for views of both the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, whilst the ever moving water creates a space to sit down and quietly reflect on these terrible events that forever stained human history.

The World War II Memorial is by no means a grandiose memorial nor one that screams its ideals at you, but as with the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial it does the job of making you think about and to remember this period in the hopes that it never need be repeated.

USA 2019 – 05 The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC (2019-10-25) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 01 DEC 2020

Like the nearby Washington Monument, or the Statue of Liberty, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Eiffel Tower, or even our beloved Table Mountain, the incredibly special Lincoln Memorial is one of those iconic landmark pieces that filmmakers are able to (and often do) use so that you immediately know just exactly where in the world this story is currently taking place. As such, the opportunity to experience such an incredibly important American landmark in person was enough to make me giddy with excitement!

Of course, the Lincoln Memorial is a lot more important to the fabric of American society than just a landmark. The memorial honors Abraham Lincoln, the 16th and perhaps greatest of US presidents, a statesman and lawyer that before his assassination in 1865 managed to lead the nation through the American Civil War, earmarked as one of the country’s greatest moral, constitutional, and political crises, and in doing so, succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy. In short, the memorial serves to symbolize his belief in the freedom and dignity of all people, and as such has featured prominently in almost all campaigns for equality (especially in terms of race relations) across the broad spectrum of people that call themselves American.

The architect commissioned for the job was Henry Bacon, who went on to draw inspiration from the great neoclassical temples, with the end result being this incredibly beautiful and stoic Greek Doric temple which contains an exquisite and large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln (designed by Daniel Chester French and carved by the Piccirilli Brothers) flanked by excerpts from both his second inaugural address and his Gettysburg address. Clad in Yule marble quarried from Colorado, the structure is surrounded by 36 fluted columns, above which are inscribed the names of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.

Shuffled off to the side is a TINY little gift shop, while below the structure is a small underground museum, which delivers some history about Lincoln as well as the memorial itself, expanding on in particular its role as a race relations center. Stretching out in front of the memorial, all the way through to the World War II memorial, is the Lincoln Reflecting Pool, a massive canal of still water that completes the design and turns the whole affair into this really special space of self-reflection that has a certain air of tranquility about it – despite the overwhelming hordes of tourists that make the pilgrimage to see this very important piece of American history!

USA 2019 – 02 Strolling around Downtown and Chinatown in Washington DC (2019-10-25) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 05 MAY 2020

To be clear, most people probably wouldn’t enjoy going on holiday with me. I don’t want to go somewhere to relax – my life is relaxed enough – so instead I go somewhere to see as many new things as what I possibly can. Case in point, after arriving at the Hampton Inn and stowing my bags, I immediately changed into my comfortable walking shoes and headed straight out the door onto the streets of Washington D.C. (Jet Lag? To be honest, to this day I still don’t actually know what that is.)

Now I don’t have any real experience with cities. I have never lived nor worked in a city, so a visit to a proper city is always a big visual treat for me. (For reference, my nearest city is Cape Town, which beauty aside, is not a particularly big one – i.e. it counts, but it also doesn’t really count). Of course, I also don’t plan anything ever anyway, so my first Washington D.C. mission was a simple one. Get a visual idea of where I am, take a photo of the street name so I should be able to make my way back to it, and then just head off in a general direction until I get tired.

The general style of downtown Washington D.C. is in a word stately – so many amazing, massive government linked buildings clad in this amazingly solemn stone, standing upright and staring down upon you. The city is seemingly lined with trees and littered with small parks, almost all of which feature at least one stone or bronze statue celebrating some historically once relevant citizen like Edmond Burke or Samuel Gompers for example.

My initial foray into Washington D.C. started in the Chinatown district with its decidedly Asian-influenced twist on primarily Western architecture, before opening up into the more classical buildings of the Mt. Vernon Square area, as I slowly picked my way down the big avenues towards Lafayette Square, The White House and the National Mall area in general.

Honestly, I was a little in heaven. The scale of the buildings, the historical nature of most of the things around me, and the fact that on weekends the city itself grows quiet – literally the perfect place for me to be meandering through on foot. So, so many interesting buildings and statues to stop and take photos of, so so many things to go back and look up on the Internet once I eventually made it back to my hotel room following the setting of the sun and thus end of my walking adventure.

These are the photos grabbed at the start and the end of this great big circular walk that took me all the way to the White House, Albert Einstein, the Washington Monument and back again! (The rest are still to follow in blog posts all of their own…)