The heart of a superpower: walking around Washington

Dec 06, 2023

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If New York never leaves the frames of films and thanks to this it is like our own, then Washington is the main newsmaker. Thousands of civil servants weave a web of world politics there, move pieces on the geopolitical chessboard and decide almost the fate of the Earth. In a word, today Washington is the Rome of antiquity. We invite you to take a walk through the heart of the superpower and catch the soaring spirit of global achievements.

How to get around the city

Washington is a very compact city. The easiest way to move around it, as well as around the surrounding area, is the metro. Its branches extend beyond the District of Columbia and into neighboring Virginia and Maryland.
Unlike the New York subway, where, as the heroine of the film "Jersey Girl" put it, there are only rats and homeless people, the capital's subway is a sight for sore eyes. The trains are fresh, the stations are neat, the traffic pattern is clear. The subway runs close to all of Washington's major attractions, as indicated on the map.

Washington DC metro map. W.M.T.A.
In order to take advantage of this delight, you need to get a special Smart Trip card. It is sold in vending machines at stations; you can also download the online application of the same name. The card costs $15. Anticipating your indignation, I’ll explain: the card itself will cost $2, and the remaining $13 will remain on the card to pay for trips.
Tolls in the capital's subway are unusual. Fixed price for travel only on weekends - $2. On other days, depending on the time and route, it can range from $2 to $6. You can find out exactly what your upcoming expenses will be, as well as get advice on the optimal route, on Trip planner WMATA . For those who will be traveling a lot, I advise you to purchase an unlimited pass for a day ($13 + $2 card) or for three ($28+2).

Security questions

As strange as it may sound, the city in which all the main government services of a superpower are located is not the safest place. Especially in the evenings. I’m sharing some local advice: there’s nothing to do in Washington in the evening. Firstly, all the main attractions are closed. Secondly, the likelihood of running into trouble increases significantly.
Washington is a typical administrative center. They work there, study there, but don’t live there. More precisely, they live, but they are students and poor. The cream of society settled in nature in neighboring Virginia, those who are simpler - in neighboring Maryland. I propose to follow their example and choose housing in these states not far from the subway line.
If you still decide to get a taste of metropolitan life, it is better to avoid the following areas: Washington Highlands / Bellevue, Columbia Heights / Mount Pleasant, Park View, NoMA, Brentwood. They are among the top crime news.

What to see

If the section above didn't send you into a panic that made you decide not to travel, you'll find that Washington is a nice, tidy city in daylight. True, for my taste, it is somewhat sterile. It is too correct and too “granite-marble”. Officialdom breathes from every building. There's nothing you can do, it's the fate of the capital.

National Mall

All the most significant sights of Washington are located within the National Mall - a single composition of parks and monuments. When viewed from the air, the alley looks like a cross: in the center is the Washington Monument, in the north is the White House, in the east is the Capitol, in the south is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, in the west is the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. Between the monuments there are parks, museums and the Botanical Garden.

National Mall. View of the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by the author
Walking along the National Mall is like walking into a hotel buffet. There is everything for every taste, all you have to do is choose and put it on your plate in the right order. Tired of state-owned houses, it will be nice to just walk through the park and be amazed at the impudence of the local squirrels. Not only are they not afraid of people, but they also persistently tug at their clothes, demanding treats.

Capitol

Let's not confuse the Capitol and the White House. You will feel the difference on the spot: you will be allowed into the Capitol, but not into the White House. The Capitol is the seat of Congress, the legislative branch of the United States. It was this building that Donald Trump supporters tried to storm in January 2021. Looking at the flimsy security of the building, you conclude: it’s not surprising that they managed to easily break through.

Capitol building outside. Photo by the author
The first stone for the foundation of the Capitol was laid by George Washington himself in 1793. However, the original building was burned by the British in 1814 and had to be rebuilt. The 88-meter dome attracts the most attention in the Capitol. It deceives millions of naive tourists with its whiteness: in fact, the dome is not stone, but cast iron and is carefully painted to harmonize with the rest of the building.

Capitol Hall. Photo by the author
You can admire the Capitol either by being content with an external inspection only, or by combining it with a visit inside. Which I strongly advise you to do. After all, this is one of the few buildings of the highest national importance accessible to tourists. The good news is that both admission to the Capitol and tours of it are free. Booking a tour is not necessary, but recommended. You can do this on the website . Guests are welcome from 8:30 to 16:30, Monday to Saturday, excluding public holidays.

Interiors of the Capitol. Photo by the author
The bad news: as Stefan Zweig said, everything that fate presents has a secret price. This price in the case of the Capitol will be lines to enter and careful inspection. You will not be able to bring water, food, and in the case of the Senate tour, electronic devices, even a camera. But this is an acceptable price to pay for the opportunity to view the austere and at the same time dazzling interiors of the Congress building.

Library of Congress

Like reaches out to like. And the best minds of the present sit next to the legacy of the best minds of the past, which is stored in the Library of Congress. In fact, it is the national library of the United States, uniting more than 38 million printed exhibits under the roof of its three buildings. And how many unique books would the collection consist of, if not for the terrible fires of the 19th century...

Library of Congress inside
But we have what we have. Take advantage of the free visit to at least walk through the Thomas Jefferson building, the oldest in the library. The third President of the United States was a great bookworm and is deservedly immortalized in the name of the building.

The White house

But with the next object on our list we will have to limit ourselves to an external inspection. And even then, very remote. You can’t just go on an excursion to the center where life-changing decisions are made, the most guarded building on the planet, and simply the residence of the President of the United States. For foreigners, registration is possible only through the mediation of the country's embassy. As you understand, diplomats are not particularly eager to burden themselves with work for the sake of our entertainment ventures. They did not respond to my letter asking me to facilitate inclusion in the excursion tour.

The White house. Photo by the author
132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 147 windows, 412 doors, 3 elevators, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases - this is the White House in numbers. It was and is the home in the literal sense of the word for all American presidents with the exception of the first, Washington, at the time of whose presidency the White House did not yet exist. Imagining during the tour that the US President is sleeping somewhere behind the wall, it becomes clear why the administration is strict in organizing tours.
The most famous room of the White House is the Oval Office, the president's workplace. It is said that its floor is covered with a carpet with an eagle holding an olive branch in one paw and a bunch of arrows in the other. In peacetime, the eagle's head is turned towards the olives, and in wartime, towards the arrows.

Lincoln Memorial

The majestic temple in the neo-Greek style somehow does not fit with the modest character of one of the most famous and popular US presidents, Abraham Lincoln. This is what the American public thought a century ago, but, nevertheless, the memorial appeared as it was intended. Proud, pathetic and symbolic.

Lincoln Memorial outside. Photo by the author
The building, erected 101 years ago, symbolizes the Union. There are 36 columns along its perimeter—that’s how many states united at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. In the center of the composition is a 175-ton, six-meter statue of a brooding president, whose gaze is directed towards the Capitol.

Lincoln statue inside the memorial. Photo by the author
Many epoch-making events in American history took place at the memorial. This included Martin Luther King's legendary "I Have a Dream" speech.

Jefferson Memorial

Another tribute to the memory of the most prominent sovereigns of the United States. Thomas Jefferson is the third President of the United States and one of the Founding Fathers. And for us, far from American history, there is a portrait on a two-dollar bill.
Americans definitely have difficulty choosing the right time to build cultural buildings. If the Lincoln Memorial was built mainly during the First World War, then the Jefferson Memorial was built during the Second World War. These two memorials also have a neoclassical style in common: both are reminiscent of Greek temples.
Inside the building you will find a bronze statue of the president. In his left hand is the American Declaration of Independence, for which Jefferson is best known. The walls are engraved with the sayings of one of the wisest men of the era.

Washington Memorial

As the Americans say, Last but not least (last on the list, but not least) is a memorial in honor of the first President of the United States, George Washington. In accordance with his role in the US gaining independence, grateful descendants went out of their way. And by 1884 they erected the tallest building in the world. The 169-meter obelisk remained like this, however, for only five years, until the opening of the Eiffel Tower.
The memorial, made of dazzling white marble, resembles a huge sword. Washington himself believed: “since the sword is the last means of ensuring our liberties, it should be laid down first as soon as these liberties are firmly established.” It's hard to disagree with this.

Washington Memorial. Photo by the author
The monument contains several Easter eggs that convincingly prove the natural ingenuity of Americans. On the western side of the monument there is a rectangular pond, made below ground level in such a way that the water remains untouched by the wind in any weather. The obelisk is completely reflected in this body of water. And on the eastern side of the monument are carved the words “Praise God.” Every morning the sun illuminates them, as intended by the architect.
After overcoming 897 steps or simply taking a ride in the elevator, you can get to the observation deck of the memorial. Admission is free, but a ticket is required. It can be issued day to day. Although the administration advises you to take care of this in advance and reserve your right to enter the memorial online . In this case, a service fee of $1 will be charged.

Washington Museums

Washington’s museums, united under the name Smithsonian, should be included in a separate category of must see Washington. First, because the 17 Washington Smithsonians are an endless treasure trove of history, science, art, and more. Secondly, because they are all absolutely free. If you want an enlightened nation, make knowledge accessible to everyone. I will only talk about the most important museums, but you can choose institutions to visit on your own on the website .

Smithsonian Castle. Photo by the author

National Gallery of Art

A museum where even one day is not enough. It houses one of the world's richest art collections. So abundant that two buildings had to be allocated to accommodate it.
The west wing houses a collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, works of the Dutch and Spanish Baroque, as well as works by American artists. The names of da Vinci, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Monet can plunge any connoisseur into cultural ecstasy.

Painting of Diana by Renoir. Photo by the author
The eastern wing houses the most famous and expensive artists of our time. Among them are Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Warhol. The museum also has a sculpture garden.

National Museum of Natural History

If a trip to Washington precedes a visit to New York, the next museum will allow you to save significantly on a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. Both of these institutions have the same specialization and rich collections.
The main halls of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History are the Geology Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, and the Dinosaur Hall. The former has one of the richest collections of precious stones and minerals in the world, among which large gold nuggets are displayed for public viewing and sinful dreams.

Tyrannosaurus Rex Wenkel. Photo by the author
In the hall of dinosaurs, the visitor will be reminded of our insignificance in the biological chain by 46 restored skeletons of ancient reptiles. Including Tyrannosaurus Rex, nicknamed Wankel. Virtual installations will help imagine the world of those times.

National Air and Space Museum

The dream of all children and the most interesting object for them in the entire tour of the capital. What about children, even adults will be transported in their thoughts to a fantasy world of flights and exploits.
The huge hangar houses entire aircraft models, including one of the darkest, the American B-29, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The fact that the nuclear page in human history may not be closed is recalled by two ballistic missiles, the Soviet SS-20 and the American Pershing-II. For many years they were aimed at each other.

Soyuz-Apollo spacecraft. Photo by the author
Militarism is being replaced by evidence of human genius in space exploration. In the museum you can find modules of the Apollo-Soyuz and Pioneer spacecraft and real astronaut spacesuits.

National Zoological Park

Another location from which it will be impossible to pull the children out. No joke: 2,700 animals of 390 species from different parts of the world. Since they are collected from different climatic zones, there are several trails for visitors: Asian, African, American, and so on.

A crowd favorite, the panda. Photo by the author
Every fifth species presented at the zoo is under threat of extinction. Local giant pandas are especially popular among visitors.

What else to see?

“The truth is out there” - to experience this, walk to the FBI headquarters. Since the days of the legendary "X-Files" this building has excited my imagination. There is nothing supernatural about it, just ordinary stone blocks. But the rest will be left to your imagination. Mine completed the drawing of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully still sitting in the basement office on a pile of documents. Unfortunately, only US residents or criminals, regardless of citizenship, will be able to get inside the building.

FBI building. Photo by the author
A complex approval procedure, again available only to residents of the country, also applies when visiting the US defense department, the Pentagon. However, you can only enjoy the unusual pentagonal shape of the building from the air. If you decide to go for a regular external ground inspection, you will see nothing but a huge stone wall. Thus, a foreigner should only spend time on the Pentagon if he has an extraordinary imagination and is able to draw in his head what is hidden from view.

Arlington Cemetery. Photo by the author
Much more benefit will come from a visit to Arlington Cemetery. This is a huge mausoleum where about 400,000 people have already rested. The cemetery was founded in 1865 and was intended to bury soldiers killed in the Civil War. Today, in order to reserve a place there, you need merit to your homeland. Mainly military and government officials are buried in the cemetery. Among the perfectly straight and meticulously maintained graves, the Eternal Flame stands out, burning near the burial site of John F. Kennedy.
From solemn gloom to celebration of life, we move to Georgetown University. It is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States. 12 heads of state of the world graduated from it, including Bill Clinton, who once visited Belarus.

Healy Hall, Georgetown University
It either contrasts or complements nicely that the ancient streets of Georgetown are filled with flocks of student youth. As a result, the most respectable district of the capital with all its old mansions in the New England style resembles a lively old man.

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