Washington DC: Top 10 Greatest Moments

I love lists. Half of my time spent online is wasted reading lists. I’m a real sucker for neatly packaged articles on single topics. I may be what is wrong with America.

Speaking of America, did you know I visited our nation’s capital recently? No? Well, let me sum it up for you in a list.

It was actually very hard to narrow it down to just 10 best experiences in Washington DC, but here they are in no particular order.

  1. As we approached the National WWII Memorial, a WWII Honor Flight was assembling for a photograph at the same time. I did not get a chance to look at the memorial because I was transfixed by the Honor Flight veterans before me. There they were, about 25 vets from Colorado, real life war heroes, visiting a memorial in their very honor, perhaps for the first time. I wanted to know every single one of their stories, but my feet were glued to the sidewalk, tears streaming down my face, as a group of children shook hands with them one by one, thanking them for their service. I will never forget that moment.

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2. Our first “official” stop in DC was the Founding Farmers Restaurant, a project of the North Dakota Farmers Union. Being NDFU members and also generally starving, it seemed an appropriate place to begin. It was a busy place, a fun atmosphere, a nice menu, and served great beer. I had the salmon and it was fantastic, but I was blown away by the corn bread. It’s a little corn bread cake baked and served in a little cast iron pan. It was sweet with bit of corn in it, and it literally melted in my mouth. I’m not even kidding: melted.

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3. The National Cathedral is an overall sight to behold, its size, height, detail, and grandeur almost unreal. I’ve never before seen anything like it outside of a book. For a few moments, I felt transported to Europe and the great cathedrals dotting the landscape there. I started photographing all of the windows, but eventually realized it would be an all-day affair if I kept it up. There were way too many to study and document. So I ordered a book.

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4. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial starts out quite unassumingly, with a tiny sliver of a wall and a couple of names, then grows, inch by inch, into an unbearably tall wall with thousands of names from top to bottom, names belonging to those who gave their life in the Vietnam War. It was staggering to imagine the many thousands of families, of grieving parents, brothers and sisters, friends, extended family, and communities suffering the loss of a single loved one. Times over 58,000. I ran my fingers over hundreds of names along the length of the wall, feeling the chiseled edges of each name between tiny sections of smooth granite. Then I found a last name, “Peace,” and I knew I was meant to find it in all those thousands of names.

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5. We got an extra-special capitol tour through Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s office. We went a few places the regular tours don’t go, including the Senate Appropriations Committee Room, the (Democrats) Cloak Room, and the Senate Floor. No photography was allowed in these areas, so I’ll set the scene. The Cloak Rooms are narrow L-shaped rooms tastefully decorated with some sofas and phone cubbies where senators can relax and get out of the view of the cameras. The Senate Chamber was a smaller-than-anticipated room with an actual aisle dividing the Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats sit on, obviously, the left side, and the Republicans, the right. The desks are the original desks from the first senators, but the chairs are custom made for each senator. Fun fact: each political party has its own secret stash of candy located out of the view of the C-Span cameras.

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Hallway in the Capitol

 

6. The most unexpected memorial on the Mall is the Korean War Veterans Memorial. It’s not one of the big ones featured in all the tourism books, but, as silly as it seems, I felt connected to it because I’ve watched every single episode of MASH. There is a granite wall, similar to the one at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with hundreds of pictures etched into it of soldiers from the Army, Air Force and Navy, the medics, chaplains, everything. The pictures are scattered across the panels, depicting the rough terrain of Korea. Aside from the wonderful visual and beautifully executed symbolism, I was most touched to see a group of people from Korea on a guided tour, a silent ‘thank you’ radiating from their little huddle.

 

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7. I love military ceremony. I once attended a Naval Ball and seriously considered officer’s training as a result. The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery was in my top three things to see in DC and it did not disappoint. How long can one girl stand a watch a soldier walk back and forth? Forever. The sun was in my face and I felt safe and warm, hypnotized by the soldier’s perfectly timed slow march, the clack of his boots at the turns, the precision with which he moved his gun from one shoulder to the other, the anticipation of the next turn, all framed in a spectacular green and blue backdrop. The crowd was totally silent, solemn.

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8. Camera in hand, we hit the Mall after supper at the Founding Farmers Restaurant on the first night in DC. I was minding my own business, taking in the sights, surprised by all the trees and crowds and runners and by the size of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and I turned around and saw an almost full moon rising behind the Washington Monument. It has long been a dream of mine to capture a moon rising on camera, but never have I actually been holding a camera in my hand at the moment it happened.

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9. If I don’t show up at work someday, it’s because I moved to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and I am gardening there. Mount Vernon is a gardener’s (and a photographer’s) paradise. Two large, enclosed gardens sit on either side of the property, one for flowers, another for fruits and vegetables. The gardens are divided into sections with rustic brick walkways and trees trained as fences in between. It was drizzling the day we toured, making everything greener and brighter than usual. I was in so much heaven. So. Much.

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10. I have so much respect for Presidents of the United States. No matter how good or bad their terms in office are, they work so hard and make difficult decisions that affect a lot of people for better or worse. We requested and were granted a White House tour and four security checkpoints later we were standing in the White House, in the very halls that many a president had walked before and continue to walk. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, all of them. The White House is beautiful, inside and out. Even as we exited, I couldn’t help but comment that we were standing on the White House lawn!

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Bonus: The Library of Congress gift shop felt like home to me. I wanted to buy all the books and all the postcards and journals and stationary and t-shirts and bags. It was a reader’s paradise. I bought myself a bag I will be proud to carry always. It says, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” (Francis Bacon)

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