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Washington DC – the American Experience, or is it?


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By John Joyce

Like the Vatican, Washington, District of Columbia is in one country but operates independently. It has an international flavour and appears un American with its numerous Italian and Greek monuments. Yes, another of those second best overall places to live in the US, after Salt Lake City. Washington is an ideal vacation destination for a partner who refuses to go on cruises or sightsee. Just give them a copy of The Smithsonian Associate Magazine and enrol them in 'Campus on the Mall' with its many profound lectures and seminars. I learnt that in 1791 George Washington appointed Frenchman Pierre Charles L'Enfant to develop a plan for the city. It has a impressive metro system which makes getting around easy. Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle and L'Enfant Plaza become familiar station stops. Any city with a metro system promotes musical buskers and a fashion consciousness. I could not pin down a Washington accent or speech pattern. Possibly the neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia stifle such individualism. Washington residents have no vote in Congress or as the bumper stickers read "Taxation without Representation. " At the weekends, Washingtonians read the Sunday edition of the New York Times and visit the Delaware Beaches or the Royalist area of Annapolis. There are two rivers and three airports to know about depending on your mode of transportation. The Potomac and Anacosta Rivers, Ronald Regan Washington National Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI). Most cities have a cathedral and a train station. Both of which along with the local art gallery are worth reconnoitring. The train station is first on my list to scout even if it is closed as in Whitehorse. "I went down to the station with no suitcase in hand" might wail a blues singer up on Shaw-U Street. Going to the station gives me a purpose plus I can say "where is the station" in five languages. It is so romantic to gaze at the city names on the departure boards Jacksonville Charlotte Raleigh Tampa Orland and watch lovers meet or family bid their adieus. One quickly observes that railway travellers are usually nationals of any country and not foreigners. Union Station is modeled after the Roman Baths of Diocletian. With 96-foot barrel-vaulted ceilings and 22-karat gold inlaid coffered ceiling with three concourses. Perfect film sitting for one of those 1920 gangster shootouts! When I arrive in a new city I try to obtain the travel information items as soon as possible. Within minutes at an airport, bus, or boat terminal I am rummaging for "Best Bets" and free maps. I then seek the Visitor's Information Centre usually located in the heart of the city - downtown. The DC Chamber of Commerce Official Visitor Information Centre is in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Centre (ITC). Here one of the Historical Societies Members may give you a two for one walking tour ticket. Within 20 minutes of being in Washington one learns the names of the monuments to visit however at the information centre there are pamphlets and maps on Beyond the Monuments. Places such as, Lafayette Square Adams Morgan and Southwest. The one Monument I enjoyed was the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, on an island of the same name. Reminds me of Ottawa River and the Parkway. Lafayette Square is pleasant prologue before visiting the White House. I learnt on train to Galway that the architect of the White House was James Hoban,(1762-1832) an Irishman, who studied architecture in Dublin. It is claimed that Leinster House, in Dublin was a dry run for the White House. The title of the thesis would be "sight seeing by trolley bus". For years I have sat on theses lunging amphibious looking buses with hair blowing and Hungarian being spoken loudly around me. For Washington I suggest not to use them but visit most the attractions by walking, regular bus or metro. Getting around by bus is difficult with any city served by a metro. Just try it. Locals deny the buses exist and always point you to the metro for any destination. The bus numbers, routes, and times are closely guarded secrets, placed in an envelope at your christening. Yes I admit it with an extra day, I would find a away of getting to the Delaware Beaches.

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