In honor of our Independence Day, I’m going to reminisce a bit about the first time I visited our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. It was a last minute roadtrip I took my grandma on. We drove to Charleston, South Carolina just because I had never been and after visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, a few plantations in Charleston, I will never forget when I told my Mamaw about our final stop.
Neither of us had been to our nation’s capital before and my grandma was so surprised we weren’t just going home the same route we arrived. (Do you have your best southern accent ready to read the next sentence?) “Well, I never would have ever dreamed we wouldn’t go home the same way we came!” That moment alone made the entire trip perfectly priceless.
We checked into our Alexandria, Virginia hotel late, straight to bed we went, and we popped up bright and early to catch the metro into the city the next morning.
If you are planning a trip to DC, I HIGHLY recommend using the public transportation system. It’s inexpensive, clean, and fairly easy to figure out. (As I have learned from trips since this one, traffic in D.C. is horrendous!)
With only a general idea of the major must-see attractions, we set out on what would be (unbeknownst to us) a little over a 9 mile sight-seeing adventure. Everything is fairly close together – especially in the National Mall, but making your rounds can still rack up those steps on the ‘ol Fitbit!
First up, Honest Abe.
I present to you the Lincoln Memorial. A tad confused? Okay, maybe you’re not, but no joke, Mamaw and I were. All I could picture in reference to the Lincoln Memorial was the massive statue of our 16th President, but it was no where to be found! I guess what I never paid attention to was that the marble statue itself sits inside this fantastic piece of architecture, tucked away like a hidden gem, just waiting to be discovered.
Construction began in 1914, with Henry Bacon as the architect. The Lincoln statue was designed by Daniel Chester French and was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers. Located in the western end of the National Mall, directly across from the Washington Monument, the project was completed and dedicated in 1922.
Next stop, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, located just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial, which was created to honor the U.S. service members of the who fought in the Vietnam War.
As we headed toward the Washington Monument, we walked through the World War II Memorial. Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain, the memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush and opened in 2004.
At the eastern end of the National Mall, standing 554 feet 7 11⁄32 inches tall, is the Washington Monument, an obelisk built to commemorate our nation’s first president, George Washington. Excluding brick, it remains the world’s tallest stone structure, construction beginning in 1848. Due to lack of funding and war, the memorial wasn’t completed and dedicated until 1885.
Next, we continued walking east until we could see the Capitol building. Walking to the Capitol’s steps themselves would have meant an additional mile round trip, so we settled with getting at least a good look from afar.
As we headed towards perhaps the most famous address in the world, 1600 Pennsylvania, we couldn’t help but notice many roads were closed and hoards of motorcyclists, everywhere. What was going on? Well, as it turned out, the day we were visiting was particularly special because the Rolling Thunder’s Ride for Freedom was taking place. Rolling Thunder is an advocacy group that works to bring accountability for POW and MIA U.S. service members. Every year, they hold a demonstration in Washington D.C. to pay their respect to the fallen, and bring awareness to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It was a very moving event to witness and be in the midst of.
There she was, the official home and workplace of the President of the United States. I will say, I was surprised with how “small” the White House appeared and how it seemed almost out of place. In the center of a buzzing metropolis, there was this beautiful estate.
So far, Mamaw and I had walked just over 5 miles. With one more destination on our bucket list, we headed towards where we started, Arlington National Cemetery. Passing parts of the Smithsonian Institution and crossing the Potomac River, we were never short on beautiful sights.
Arlington National Cemetery is approximately 624 acres and is where the men and women of our nation’s conflicts have been laid to rest, beginning with the American Civil War, as well as reinterred soldiers from earlier wars.
The national cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington house, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s wife. The residence of General Lee still remains.
Within Arlington national Cemetery, you can find the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, a memorial at the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy, originally requested by his wife, Jacqueline. Mrs. Kennedy Onassis and the two children the couple lost are buried with the 35th President of the United States.
As we found out way through the winding walkways of the cemetery, we drew closer to the Tomb of the Unknowns. It began to rain. It seemed fitting. Such a somber place, the heavens should cry out for these lost men and women, God bless their souls. The Tomb of the Unknowns stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C.. In 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words: Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.
The Tomb Guards are soldiers of the United States Army. The first 24-hour guard was posted on midnight, July 2, 1937. The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since that time. Ansolutely nothing causes watch to cease. It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Tomb Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Fewer than 20 percent of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards. This attrition rate has made the Tomb of the Unknown Solider Guard Identification Badge the second least-awarded qualification badge of the United States military (the first being the Astronaut Badge). Fewer than 700 soldiers have completed training and been awarded this Badge.
As Mamaw and I walked through the cemetery, exhausted, feet blistered, somehow, the tiredness and pain didn’t seem to be so bad. We were surrounded by thousands that had given everything for us to be there that day. If that wasn’t the greatest reminder to appreciate everything we experienced – thigh chaffing and all, I don’t know what could be.
Have you visited Washington D.C.? Is it on your Bucket List Travels check-list?!