Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Catchup - part, four Washington DC

When we arrived at our hotel in Crystal City, we found the whole place filled with motor bikes and big hairy bikers were everywhere. We had arrived on the Sunday before Memorial Day, which was on Monday 27 May and the bikers were there to do the annual Rolling Thunder parade at Arlington Cemetery to honour the fallen. Many of the bikers seemed to be Vietnam vets and so besides patriotism, had a strong personal reason to join in the parade and honour the fallen.
This picture is from the newspaper  Boise Weekly archives and shows a part of the huge parade.

 Memorial day is an important holiday in the USA and along the route we had seen flags in unexpected places in honour of the event.

This patriotic vehicle was parked on a road bridge, whilst work was stopped for the Memorial Day weekend and is typical of the importance this day holds for Americans
We ate that evening in a really packed Chili’s, recommended by the hotel staff, where they do an amazing Chimichunga, so large a doggy box is mandatory for a person with a normal appetite.

Day One
The next day we took the subway to start our tour around the many Smithsonian institutes that abound in Washington, starting with the zoo.
Suprisingly, to me, in the land that gave the world commercialism, there are no adverts in this subway.  The London Underground and the Paris metro are covered in ads on every flat surface wherever they will stay put.
 At the entrance to the zoo is the widest zebra crossing I have ever seen. It did not seem to work too well since cars were queuing over it due to heavy traffic and you had walk around the vehicles.

The Mother of all Zebra crossings. 
This is only half of it, it stretches the same distance the other way.  The Grandson (TG) is very keen on big cats and he like nothing better than a visit to anywhere that is involved in their protection and survival. Washington's Zoo is not just there to display exotic animals, the Smithsonian contributes to restoring and protecting endangered species and so they have a breeding programme for many species. It is also one of the places you can see a giant Panda.  We strolled around taking trying to see as much as possible.
I have seen job interviewers use that look, when you are asked to take a seat.

..and I-a-ia-I will always love yoooo...

Darn teeth ain't what the used to be, caint seem to get through this bark

And for my next tune...

Come any closer with that camera bud, and you'll have two black eyes.
After the zoo, we took the subway to the centre of Washington. We first went to the Spy Museum, where TS and TG went on a spying tour, taking on a secret identity and uncovering information in a short interactive adventure.

The rest of us walked around the museum which has a lot of espionage related exhibits and a series of interactive displays. Whilst there was a lot of serious stuff about real spies, there was also a lot of James Bond memorabilia on show, including one of the old Bond cars with all the gadgets.  Not being much into cars, to me it looked nothing like the kind of car I would buy, but people were drooling over it as if it were special.   It was so low down, you would not be able to see far ahead for safe overtaking and the suspension was slung so low, it would not be able to get to our house owing to it grounding on the speed bumps we have to slow down traffic. The seats looked really uncomfortable, forcing your legs to stick straight out in front of you and it did not even have a rear seat!  The museum made me think of the old Mad Magazine strip, Spy vs Spy and sure enough there were some books on sale in the gift shop.

When we had finished there, we walked around the Mall area to look at the various famous buildings, including one which is painted with whitewash and which looked a lot smaller and more crowded than it does on TV.

A white house, imaginatively named The White House
Naturally we stopped for the obligatory photo shoot.
By the end of the day, we were foot sore and exhausted and we had not seen as much as we had planned. We went back to the hotel and bathed our feet.

Day Two
The next morning it rained, but was clear by the time we arrived in the museum area, it was dry. We visited the Smithsonian Space museum and we separated to look at the different things that interested us individually arranging to meet later.    I wandered around entranced by all the billion dollar boy’s toys on display. I touched the moon and looked at the various exhibits, finding the exhibit for the Voyager missions particularly interesting since I had only recently done a talk for the science group that I belong to on the Voyager Missions and it was still fresh in my mind.
A replica of one of the Voyager satellites
One of the things I spotted after that was a replica of the Sputnik satellite, the first ever man made object to go into orbit.  
A replica of Sputnik 1
Unless you lived through that time, you could not understand the shock and amazement that Sputnik produced, particularly to the American public at large. Launched by the Soviet Union, it essentially came out of nowhere news-wise and Russia, a largely peasant society, makers of low tech machinery built like tanks suddenly leapt into first place in the space race, beating the US and British into space. Everyone in the West believed that the Russians were not as technically capable as America or Britain, yet suddenly there was this beeping noise coming from space! Suddenly the idea we had been fed that the soviets were not very capable, turned out to untrue and the cold war became more threatening.  If they could send a satellite into space we must now all be in reach of their missiles.

Incidentally, yes, I did say the British and space together in the earlier sentence. Around that time and for a few years after, we were ahead of the US in rocket science. The Blue Streak and Black Knight programme was progressing well and we had solved a major problem that still plagued NASA. News reports had been like a comedy, every time a well publicised launch was filmed at Cape Canaveral, the rockets either blew up on the launch pad or blew up a few hundred metres in the air. Not a lot of publicity went into the British launches so we only saw the successful ones, but our researchers knew why the USA were having problems, but it seems we did not pass that on immediately, if at all. What was happening was the sheer volume of sound produced by the rockets was rattling any riveted components apart. Traditionally aircraft fuselages were riveted together and so were the earlier rockets, but increasing the rocket power created a new problem with that kind of construction. We had stopped using rivets anywhere in our designs and were getting regular successful launches and eventually the USA also solved the problem. Almost immediately and in step with the traditional British government's policies of short termism, our government cut the budget to our space programme and so dropped Britain out of the space race, just as we were getting somewhere. Now we have to pay other countries to launch our space hardware at whatever price they wish to charge us, instead of the other way around. It has been shown that if government made decisions on the toss of a coin, they would be right more often than using their own conclusions.
A Replica of the Messenger satellite, currently in orbit around Mercury
A small Model of the Hubble telescope

I had not realised quite how big the Hubble telescope really is.  This is a full size test mockup and the young lady walking by managed to provide a sense of scale to my photo. The bottom of the telescope is the huge cylinder in the background.

Not everything there was high tech
Some of the exhibits were of very old technology and both the Wright Brothers bi-plane and the Bleriot monoplane were present in the flight section. Both being firsts, the Wright Brothers being the first powered craft to fly, taking off and landing at the same height or higher, being the definition of a proper flight at the time. Bleriot was the first to fly across the English Cannel and arrive in a different country at the other side. 
Just an aside, when I was very young, I worked with a man who had sailed on the Queen Mary when he was younger and he had Orville Wright's autograph.   I was astounded when he showed me.  History suddenly got shorter, because up until then, to me the Wright Brothers were something from the dim and distant past, and here standing in front of me was a man who had actually talked to one of them.

Day three
The next day we intended to visit the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial but we did not make it. The Monument had been damaged in the Virginia earthquake of August 2011 and was still being repaired, so was off limits and covered in scaffolding.

The Washington Monument being inspected and repaired

This gives you some idea of the scale of this monument, when you realise there were five stages like this at different heights.
After walking past this, we arrived at the WWII monument which is at the opposite end of the reflecting lake that stretches up to the Lincoln memorial.

Whilst this memorial is open, the Lincoln memorial site was being refurbished too, so you could not walk along the end of the reflecting lake. After all of yesterday’s walking and the long trek we had taken to get this far, we were beginning to feel the strain, so we decided to call it a day for the Monument and just took pictures via telephoto lenses and let the camera do the walking.

The Lincoln memorial
Unfortunately it was too dull to see the huge statue of Lincoln inside.

We returned to the museum area and visited the American History museum where we saw the orginal Star Spangled Banner, which is huge.  There was a lot to see, but we took no photos.  After that we headed for the national Archives.  On the way we passed the Roosevelt Monument.  Roosevelt, knowing what huge monuments the USA were likely to build, expressed a wish that any memorial erected for him after his death would be just a simple stone block with his name carved on it.  His wish was carried out in 1965 on the twentieth annivesary of his death, when this modest monument was created.

Around the corner at the National Archives building, we found about half of the population of America's school's queuing, so gave up and went to the Natural history museum instead.  There, amongst other interesting exhibits, such as the inevitable T Rex, we saw the Hope Diomond and both female members of the family immediately wanted one just like it.
What else would you expect to find in a natural History Museum?
The Hope Diamond
 By around mid afternoon, we were too tired to go anywhere else and so went back to the hotel and rested until it was time to eat.

Day Four
The following day we went back to the National Archives early, but still had to queue behind another horde of school kids in orange shirts, but only one school in front of us this time, not most of America.
You are not allowed to take photos inside, so I only have this shot of the front of the building.

 Inside we were able to see the Declaration of Independence and all the other famous documents, including an original copy of the Magna Carta. When I say original copy, I mean a copy made at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. This ancient document is the basis of English law and we were a bit surprised to find an original in the USA, but it seems that the founding fathers derived many of the fundamentals of the American Constitution from this much earlier document. After seeing these documents, we returned to the Natural History museum and had a further look at the exhibits we had not seen and TS bought TBH, his mother, a set of paste earrings modeled on the Hope diamond.
It was very hot that day and we came back to the hotel early, less tired on our feet but too hot to walk further. We went back to Chili’s for our evening meal and found it much less crowded and did not have to wait long for a table.   This was our last day in Washington and the next day we would set out for home.


  1. I've never been to DC but would really like to see it. I notice nobody mentioned George Caley in the flight section. Wouldn't do to admit that a Brit was way ahead of them. OK so his was a glider - but it flew! And half a century earlier than any Wrights. /rant

  2. The museum acknowledge that he contributed a lot to avionincs and was the first to make it into a science, but don't forget,unlike most other pioneers he never actually flew himself.

  3. Fascinating commentary on Washington, Snafu. I have been, but didn't see half as much as you did. Lovely to get all the details. Not sure I would have the stamina to walk around the Smithsonian, so nice to read much about it here.