Whenever I have a friend come into town who has never been to Washington, DC, my favorite thing to do is to take them on a driving tour of the monuments. First off, I am not a big people person so the crowds during the day drive me crazy. Luckily at night, there is hardly anyone around. Secondly, the monuments are absolutely beautiful at night. Below is a picture of Pennsylvania Avenue which takes you right up to the Capitol Building. Lining the avenue are federal government buildings, from the Old Post Office to the National Archives. This is federal government worker central.
Heading down to Constitution Avenue, we drive parallel the National Mall. For those of you who do not know what the National Mall is, it is not a shopping center. The Mall is the term used to describe the open national park area that starts from the steps of the Capitol building and leads all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, a distance of approximately two miles. All along the National Mall, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, there are the Smithsonian museums. This link will take you to a map of the National Mall and show you exactly where all the museums are as well as the lovely outdoor skating rink. The museums are simply spectacular. Starting at the Capitol, past the reflecting pool, you will find the brand new National Museum of the American Indian on your left and the East wing of the National Gallery of Art to your right. And straight down on either side are The National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, The American History Museum, the African Art Museum, the Holocaust Museum and the funny round Hirshorn Museum. You could spend days wandering the Mall and still not see everything there is to see. And these are just the museums on the National Mall. There are even more museums in DC.
From the Capitol steps, if you look straight down the great expanse of the Mall, you will see the Washington monument. And beyond it is the Lincoln memorial. To me, seeing the Washington monument during the day does not excite me. It is a tall pointy white building that does not show itself to great advantage during the day. But at night, this funny thing becomes an architectural marvel and a thing of beauty.
Behind the Washington Monument, there are the war memorials. There are three very different memorials for three different wars. World War II, The Korean War and the Vietnam War. The World War II memorial is an amazing sight at night. It is really a plaza with a rainbow pool and 56 granite pillars surrounding it which represent the unification of a nation at war. There are two large pavilions that mark the north and south sides of the plaza. They symbolize the two important battle theaters of WWII, the Pacific and The Atlantic theaters. There is also a Freedom Wall with 4,000 gold stars to honor the more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives during the conflict.
Vietnam Memorial Copyright by doclam01 available via Flickr. com
The Vietnam War is now world famous as the winning entry of at the time, a 21 year old architecture student. Two long black granite walls which grow in height into a large angle, the corner meeting at the two walls highest points. The memorial bears the names of 58,000 servicemen killed or missing during this conflict. I have been to this memorial many times since it was built in 1982. Whether I see it during the day or night, in crowds or alone, this memorial always moves me to great sadness, cocoons me in a silent peaceful mourning for those whose names grace this beautiful monument.
The war memorials seem to be situated in such a way that they point to the Lincoln memorial. Like some kind of ancient Greek temple, the large seated statue of Lincoln is surrounded by 36 columns. There is even a bookstore on the first floor.
This night time drive through the monuments would not be complete if I didn't take you by the Jefferson memorial and the tidal basin. A little domed building holds the bronzed statue of Thomas Jefferson but more importantly some of Jefferson's most famous phrases are etched into the walls. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..."
If you are planning to come to the DC area, now is the time to come for at this particular moment in time, the cherry blossoms have begun to bloom. And all along the tidal basin where the Jefferson monument sits, the hundreds of cherry trees that line the banks of the tidal basin are beginning to wake up. Delicate snow white and pink petals are blossoming on branches that have been bare too long. Within a few days they will all burst forth to unveil a great canopy of fragrant cherry blossoms. Walking along the basin promenade, under the boughs of spectacular color, you will fall in love with our nation's capital.