Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DC: Out and About

“All the organizations in this book exist….All the rituals, science, artwork and monuments in this book are real.”

- Excerpt from the prologue of Dan Brown’s book Lost Symbol.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am no fan of the Lost Symbol. Infact I would recommend extensive editing. But this prologue kept me going and also piqued my interest in the “symbolic” city of Washington.
I have about a day to see what I can (and the weatherman predicts rain). So what I have done is prioritized. On top of my list are the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. That they across each other is a bonus. Armed with the Guide to Washington DC map (and it’s a very good one), my windcheater and camera I head out. Across the street is a bus-stop for the Connector bus. One dollar and I am headed to the Union Station which is the start point of all buses. It takes me about 20 minutes to get there.

I first head to the Supreme Court which is a street away. It is a huge white building I have seen so often in the movies. Past security, I walk down the hallway with busts of all judges. A debate is about to start and it is open to the public for hearing. Regrettably, I am short on time and head down stairs towards the exhibition hall. It has exhibits of how the first US supreme court room looked like.

My next stop is the Capitol, across the street. The security tells us to throw away all food and drinks on us. There are 2 tour groups of school children and they try to cram all the chocolates they can. I do the same! The inside is large hall of marble with various statues. I head towards the information desk to register for the free tour for the Capitol. The next one is due to start in 10 minutes and they hand me an ID sticker to paste on my collar. We begin with a short movie. It talks about how America began with 13 states uniting, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War. It tells us the Capitol was built but burnt by the British only to be rebuilt again as a sign of the country’s determination and belief in freedom.

Gary is our tour guide, and he takes us around the Capitol. We see the main hall with various paintings, a court room and various chambers and corridors. I am most keen to see the painting inside the Rotunda dome, with George Washington depicted as god and surrounded by 13 angels (representation the 13 united states).

There is a tunnel connecting the Capitol to the Library of Congress; a must visit on my list as I love books. It is a long marble corridor with frames showing its rare books. I enter into the main chamber of the Library and pick up the Visitor’s guide and a Library passport (one can get it stamped by the Info desk to mark the visit). The main hall is beautiful- the carving and painting making me feel as if I am in a grand room in Rome or Greece. There is also a room full of exhibits of the Maya civilization- their calendar, weapons, pottery and a number of odds and ends. There are touch screens where you can know more about the exhibits which interest you. I promise myself I shall return another day with more time!

I could have spent hours here but it is post lunch and I am hungry. I head to the Union Station planning to pick a sandwich and also look at its architecture. The Union Station in beautiful from inside and as soon as I enter I know I am going to spend more time here than initially planned. I stroll down the main hall to the area with a number of cafés and stores. Perched on a barstool I enjoy my coffee and muffin and watch the world go by!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Washington DC: First Impressions

Work has brought me to Washington DC for about 10 days. Though for most part my stay will be spent in office, I am determined to explore some parts of the city during the one weekend I have here.

My flight lands at the Dulles Airport at 3.00 in the afternoon on schedule. Clearing customs is quick and I am soon on my way to Washington Suites, my home for the week. I am lucky to arrive in good weather, the city having seen massive snowfall and extreme cold just the week before. As of now, it is crispy cool with the sun shining bright in a clear blue sky. The drive downtown is pleasant with lots of greenery around. I can spot the Washington Monument and Capitol from a distance. DC promises to be a pleasant stay; a picturesque city sans crowds and skyscrapers.

A 40 minute drive brings me to Washington Suites, located in the heart of the city. The friendly manager welcomes me with freshly baked cookies and I settle in. The suite is more like a one bedroom apartment, with a separate bedroom, living area and kitchen. All facilities are well equipped. I am glad, as being a vegetarian can limit eating options. Also, since there is no room service I know I will be cooking food occasionally.

Done unpacking, I do not want to sleep until late to prevent the jetlag. I decide to head out for a walk and pick some groceries from Trader’s Joe across the street. My jacket and ear muffs are comfortable for the evening cold and I stroll down the streets, admiring the old fashioned brick houses. Trader’s Joe is a delight as it stocks everything you might possible want in your kitchen- milk products, veggies, snacks, herbs, wines, meals-in-a-box…imagine my surprise when I find prepackaged Indian meals like chole and daal.

Not in favor of pre-packed, I pick up some veggies, bread, pasta and the like. For my dinner menu is some soup, salad and toast. I head back and get cracking. Done with dinner, my eyes are drooping. I hit the pillow knowing well that in about 10 hours time I need to be at work!