USA series: Washington Smithsonian Museums and the Capitol Building

Capitol Building

Capitol Building

Alex and I arrived in Washington last night after a 4.5 hour bus trip from brilliant New York.

It is a sunny Saturday morning and Washington awaits.  Today we will visit some of the Smithsonian Museums, The National Mall and the Capitol building located on Capitol Hill… now to wake up Alex and tell him the good news.

We begin our first day in Washington DC on foot, headed for the National Mall’s most prominent feature, the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument according to National Park Service:

“The Washington Monument is the most prominent structure in Washington, D.C. The 555-foot, 5-1/8″ marble obelisk honors the nation’s founding father George Washington, who led the Continental Army to victory, and then became the nation’s first president under the Constitution.”

Normally, we would be able to visit inside the Washington Monument.  Unfortunately its exterior is currently covered in scaffolding and access inside the Washington Monument is closed due to the earthquake in 2011.

1:00pm
We move on from the Washington Monument to the first of our museums that form part of the Smithsonian Museums.  The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex.  It is the world’s largest in that it consists of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities, the majority of which are located along the National Mall (between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capital Building).

We reach our first museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  There is no cost to visit this museum but we are required to pass through a security screening before entering.

The holocaust according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.

The Museum is a living memorial to the Holocaust, inspiring citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred and prevent genocide.”

Inside the Holocaust Memorial Museum, on your right is a small exhibition called “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story”.  Alex and I begin here before moving on to the permanent exhibition.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Permanent Exhibition according to Wikipedia:

“Permanent Exhibition

Using more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors, and four theaters showing historic film footage and eyewitness testimonies, the USHMM’s Permanent Exhibition is the most visited exhibit at the Museum. Upon entering large industrial elevators on the first floor, visitors are given identification cards, each of which tells the story of a random victim or survivor of the Holocaust. Upon exiting these elevators on the fourth floor, visitors walk through a chronological history of the Holocaust, starting with the Nazi rise to power led by Adolf Hitler, 1933-1939. Topics dealt with include Aryan ideology, Kristallnacht, Antisemitism, and the American response to Nazi Germany. Visitors continue walking to the third floor, where they learn about ghettos and the Final Solution, by which the Nazis tried to exterminate the European Jews, and killed six million, many in gas chambers. The Permanent Exhibition ends on the second floor with the liberation of concentration camps by Allied forces; it includes a continuously looped film of Holocaust survivor testimony. First-time visitors spend an average of two to three hours in this self-guided exhibition. Due to certain images and subject matter, it is recommended for visitors 11 years of age and older.”

The Permanent Exhibition is very complete and contains some quite graphic and disturbing photographs and film.

Once at the end of the Permanent Exhibition, you are welcome to visit the Remembrance Hall.

Hall of Remembrance according to Wikipedia:

“The Hall of Remembrance is the USHMM’s official memorial to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Visitors can memorialize the event by lighting candles, visiting an eternal flame, and reflecting in silence in the hexagonal hall.”

3:00pm
We make our way further along Jefferson Drive on what is a warm day and stop at the Smithsonian Castle for a late lunch in their café and a wander around their manicured gardens.

Smithsonian Castle and grounds

Smithsonian Castle and grounds

Continuing on we head next for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

National Air and Space Museum building

National Air and Space Museum building

3:30pm
Again, there is no charge to visit the National Air and Space Museum but we are required to pass through a security screening before entering.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum say this of themselves:

“The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum maintains the world’s largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts, encompassing all aspects of human flight, as well as related works of art and archival materials. It operates two landmark facilities that, together, welcome more than eight million visitors a year, making it the most visited museum in the country. It also is home to the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies.”

The National Air and Space Museum is large in that it covers two levels. 

National Air and Space Museum exhibits

National Air and Space Museum exhibits

Alex and I wander aimlessly around the exhibitions, as you do.

They even have rockets... man

They even have rockets… man

Look inside some cockpits

Look inside some cockpits

Also within the building is an IMAX and Planetarium.  Entrance to these shows requires the purchase of a ticket.  We pay our USD$9.00 each for our 4:30pm screening of “Journey to the Stars”, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.  I confess, this was so relaxing, I fell asleep for a portion of it.

5:30pm
The National Air and Space Museum has now closed and we exit via the front of the building which brings us back onto the National Mall. 

The National Mall.. I hope somebody has a ride-on

The National Mall.. I hope somebody has a ride-on

The National Mall is a rectangular grassed public parkland with gravel paths on either side.  Its size (as an example) from the National Monument (where be began our day) to the Capitol Building (where we are headed) is 1.8km in length.  Many museums of the Smithsonian are located along either side of the National Mall, with the mall really being the green centrepiece of the precinct.

Conveniently for us, there is an endless row of food vendor vans parked along one of the roads intersecting the National Mall. 

No shortage of food vendors

No shortage of food vendors

We grab an ice-cream from one of the many vans and find a shady spot to eat and relax before we make our way up the National Mall to the Capitol Building located on Capitol Hill.

National Mall complete with Capitol Building

National Mall complete with Capitol Building

Capitol Building panoramic

The Capitol Building

The Capitol Building

Capitol Building

Capitol Building

What the US Capitol Visitor Centre says about the Capitol Building:

“The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., is a symbol of the American people and their government, the meeting place of the nation’s legislature. The Capitol also houses an important collection of American art, and it is an architectural achievement in its own right. It is a working office building as well as a tourist attraction visited by millions every year.

Construction of the U.S. Capitol began in 1793. In November 1800, the U.S. Congress met in the first completed portion, the north wing. In the 1850s, major extensions to the North and South ends of the Capitol were authorized because of the great westward expansion of our nation and the resultant growth of Congress. Since that time, the U.S. Capitol and its stately dome have become international symbols of our representative democracy.”

While you can do a tour of the Capitol Building, I think Alex and I are a little late for the tour today.  Access is also restricted around the Capitol Building to the bottom of the stairs that lead to the several of its tiered balconies. 

Capitol Building up close

Capitol Building up close

No mind, we take our photos and some time to enjoy the view.

Capitol Building as the sun sets

Capitol Building as the sun sets

USA, USA, USA

USA, USA, USA

 

From the Capitol Building down the Washington Mall to the Washington Monument

From the Capitol Building down the Washington Mall to the Washington Monument

7:30pm
We are pretty tired and decide to get a taxi back to the Hilton Garden Inn before we head out again for dinner down 14th Street tonight.

Although there are plenty more museums left to explore, we are museumed-out.  To see all of the Smithsonian Museums would be quite a task and to do them justice, you would need to spend endless days.  The Air and Space Museum alone could take you a full day or two. Unfortunately this is time we don’t have but we have enjoyed the museums we have sampled.

Tomorrow we leave the museums behind and head instead to the qaint neighbourhood of Georgetown.[showmyads]

For previous USA series post see New York to Washington DC
For next USA series post see Georgetown, Washington DC