1 June 2016

The Nation's Capital

Washington DC, Maryland

It didn't take us long to get from Shenandoah national park to the big smoke. This is the first big city we have explored in the US. When we booked our RV park, I'm positive that she said that we couldn't come in before the Tuesday but when we got our confirmation, it said Monday, so we went on Monday and the site we were given had been vacant all weekend - go figure. Who want's to be in DC during Memorial weekend anyway, it would have been bedlam. There was a war parade the afternoon we arrived but we decided not to brace the crowds. Even our neighbours who had come specifically for the parade, didn't stay until it finished. Memorial Day is like our ANZAC Day.

There is only one RV park in DC and it's huge. So far, it's the most expensive we have paid, it's out in the suburbs but it's the only one around. It's supposed to be a ten minute trip to the metro station but invariably takes longer, then it's another half an hour by train to the city. The transit system is pretty easy to use and we decide to drive to the station instead of waiting the extra time for a bus. You can use your transit card to pay for the car park as well as your train trips, which is right next to the station. The Archives station is on our line and brings us out right near the National Archives Museum which isn't far from the National Mall.

The National Mall

The National Mall is a rectangular area right in the middle of the city, dotted all around it are various memorials for influential people and various wars of the last century. We run into Greg and Kathy who are parked across from us in the RV park and join them walking down the mall visiting the Washington Memorial, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Greg served in Vietnam, so they want to spend more time there and we move on. The sun is hot but we go via  the White House, look at the Capitol from afar as it was under scaffolding and go into the National Air and Space Museum. It was a humid 28°C and hot when you stood in the sun. On another day we visited some of the other memorials such as Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial, and Korean War Veteran's Memorial. Other museums we visited were the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the News Museum and the International Spy Museum. While most of the museums here are free, the last two you have to pay for.

The Washington Memorial
WWII Memorial
WWII Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

There is a wall with all the names of the soldiers that died in the Vietnam War. In front of the wall are flowers and envelopes that say “read me”. Inside are stories from people who have been affected in different ways, a granddaughter, a soldier. I read a number of these and it really gave me a personal and different perspective on the war. I didn't bring my good camera in as we are doing a lot of walking and it's pretty heavy. I don't know if it's the humidity, but there seems to be a haze on my lens which I try and fix in Lightroom. There are so many school groups here, I think we picked a bad time to come.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial
Washington DC Memorial
Korean Veteran's Memorial
Franklin Roosevelt Memorial
There were many of President Roosevelt's quotes on the walls
the White House
We talked about getting tickets to tour the White House but you have to go through your Consulate if you aren't American. Unfortunately we didn't do anything about it as we were unsure of the dates we would be there.

Engraving and Printing Museum

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Federally printed money was needed to pay for the Civil War, so in 1862 the first notes were made by six workers. The workload is now shared with another bureau in Fort Worth Texas. Coins are made elsewhere.

Here are some interesting facts:
  • The same company has had the contract for the paper for over 100 years, which isn't paper, its a combination of linen and cotton
  • It takes 2 weeks to print US currency
  • They now have a magnetic strip and watermark - took them a while...
  • Only the notes higher than $1 & $2 have colour (why do they even still have these?)
  • The green and black ink is like peanut butter, I would say golden syrup
  • They will never change to polymer like the rest of the world
  • They are adding a raised bit for blind people to read
  • A $1 note lasts 5 years
  • A computer checks for errors and rejects 2% of the stock which is shredded and sent back to the paper manufacturers to remake into note paper
  • The building is 27 acres - we only saw two areas but they apparently have four floors of printers. The printing rooms aren't that big, what do they do with the rest of the space?
  • This building used to print postage stamps, bonds and a lot of other highly sensitive things, but they don’t anymore
  • We were looking at 5 stacks of $20 bills, each stack had a value of over 6 million dollars
  • Money isn't legal tender until the serial numbers have been validated

The National Air & Space Museum

The usual plan stuff

There were some interesting exhibits, but maybe we weren't so enthused as we had been to the Air Museum in Seattle.

U2 Spy camera, it can resolve features of 2.5 feet from 19 miles high

Showing the air traffic over the US at midnight and again at 8am
Some interactive displays that let you see water levels, temperature etc around the world

The Archives Museum

An impressive building

After taking half an hour to get in, there was another huge line to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. We didn’t need to see it that badly, so we left.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum

To see the permanent exhibition you need a ticket. You can either book them weeks ahead, stand in line at 9am or sit by your computer at 6am - we did option 3 and printed them. There are limited numbers of tickets and you are given a time to enter. It was incredibly crowded with a number of school groups as well as tourists.

The rest of the world were warned, but did nothing
In 1939, 936 Jewish Europeans went to Cuba to seek refugee status but were not allowed to disembark. Cuba already had more Jewish refugees than they could handle and two other boats arrived at the same time. Unbeknown to the passengers, their landing passes had been invalidated just after they had left Hamburg. Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands all took some of the refugees, the rest were returned to Germany and died in the holocaust. I'm ashamed to say that Australia's response was that we didn't have a racial problem and they didn't want to introduce one, so they didn't take any Jewish refugees.

They talk about how the German's introduced their radical policies. Polish schools were closed, Jews were banned from all other schools, dismissed from their jobs, banned from certain professions, their businesses and property were confiscated, their civil rights were restricted. Then in 1942 they began deporting them to the concentration camps - not just from Germany, but also from the countries they invaded - France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Poland.

While we have seen many movies about the holocaust, this museum covers so much more and gives you a lot more to think about. It was excellent.

The News Museum

There is a section that has many of the front pages of significance over the years.

Some of the front pages - War, Titanic disaster, Moon Landing and the end of the Vietnam War

The Pulitzer Prize Photographs are from 1947 to the present day – this is not a photographic competition, it is capturing moments of significance. Around the room are full sized pictures of the prize winners and a story about each one. In the middle was an interesting film with interviews of the prize winners talking about their photos.

The Flag Raising at Iwo Jima, Japan
The grim headlines
The 9/11 section tells a story of a photographer who was killed when the second tower came down. His friend found his camera and had the pictures printed. There is news footage and journalists' stories that was really hard to watch.

3D IMAX film on D-Day

Lindsay loves WWII movies, so it wasn’t surprising that he wanted to see D-Day at IMAX. We went to Normandy last year, so it was good to see another perspective which filled in a few more pieces of the jigsaw. Neither of us knew about the 2,000 mile German Atlantic Wall which ran from the French/Spanish border on the west to the top of Norway. It cost billions of dollars and didn't secure the front. We also didn’t realise that without the help of the Resistance, the invasion may not have succeeded. The Resistance were instrumental in blocking the Germans from getting to the coast by blowing up bridges and wrecking train lines. While you don't have as many things flying at you as the IMAX movie from space, it was still used 3D effectively to entertain us. We really enjoyed it.

The Spy Museum

Governments have always wanted to know what is going on in other countries. This museum takes you from the middle ages to about the sixties. I would have really liked to see some new things.

After seeing a short film, we had to choose an identity to assume and try and remember our names and other information we are given. Later on, we are tested. I got everything right, but am told not to be complacent as it’s difficult to sustain an assumed identity and you can easily be caught out. There is no way I could have lived this kind of life.

I loved the story of how two American women catch a soviet spy. They narrowed their list down to three people and asked them how they would go about becoming an international spy. The other two answered in a way they expected but the real spy was actually stumped.

There was a James Bond section and it was after seeing facial recognition in one of the movies that the CIA went about creating their own. Many of the Bond films were playing which we skipped as we have all of them anyway.

There are many stories of American spies in other countries and spies from other countries in America. They often use misinformation to fool the enemy. There are interactive displays that test your ability to spot potential risks or spies. On the whole though, we were both a bit disappointed with this museum. It was interesting but not worth the admission price.

We catch up with Greg and Kathy a number of times for drinks and dinner. You don't need to meet a lot of people on the road, just the right ones, and they certainly fit into this category. We hope to see them at Lake Tahoe next year.

As of 4th June 2016, the train system is being overhauled and will have disruptions for the next year.

If you are in DC when the schools are visiting, it can take half an hour to get into some of the museums because of the security measures. All bags are scanned and everyone has to go through a metal detector. The only drink that can be taken in is water and you may be asked to drink it in front of them.

Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park

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