With all the political turmoil and unrest following the 2016 Presidential Election, Washington, D.C. might me the last place you’d want to take a day trip. However, the criticism and negativity surrounding the institutions that come to mind when you might think of our nation’s capital shouldn’t cloud an opinion of the city itself. Having never been to D.C., despite having lived less than two hours away for my entire life, I was struck by the openness and positive atmosphere and by the rich, vibrant, diverse culture. It truly captivated and moved me, especially given the current political climate.
So, armed with an open mind, my boyfriend and I set out explore one of his favorite cities; it was his Valentine’s Day gift to me. And, just as he surprised me with the trip, the city surprised me with all the inspiration and emotion I found while visiting a few select sites.
“Washington, D.C. has everything that Rome, Paris, and London have in the way of great architecture – great power bases. Washington has obelisks, and pyramids, and underground tunnels, and great art, and a whole shadow world that we really don’t see.” – Unknown
After finding a parking spot, we walked along the water past the FDR Memorial, ducking under the barren-branched cherry blossom trees. Across the water you could see the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, both standing tall and pristine with their sleek lines and marble facades. Being President’s Day weekend, and a Saturday, it was crowded with people. Most were walking around reading the quotes etched into stone, but others were doing the typical tourist things: ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ah-ing’ at the statues, taking photos, and just enjoying the scenery.
I too was guilty of acting like such a tourist, though I try not to, but I couldn’t help it. There was something about stepping up to the Lincoln Memorial that took my breath away and made me emotional, especially when reading the words of the Gettysburg address, feeling the weight of the history it made, and realizing how Lincoln and all the other historical figures of this city shaped the life and country in which I live today.
From there we walked down the national mall, stopping briefly outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before traveling up it, past the Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, American History Museum, and the National History Museum. In between we found The Corner Bakery Café, where we stopped for lunch, before moving on to the National Gallery of Art.
“What’s past is prologue.” – William Shakespeare
All the buildings have such magnificent columns and house so much history, not only in their contents—like the National Gallery of Art’s famous paintings and the National Archives’ iconic documents—but also in their architecture. More than anything I was struck by the blending of traditional and modern styles of the different, magnificent and gigantic buildings that composed the National Mall. And although we only went to a few of these buildings, my legs felt the miles that we walked along them and up-and-down their stone staircases. Each step brought me closer to more history than I had ever encountered in a day.
In today’s political climate, I’m grateful that it hasn’t affected the history and culture that’s shaped our capital and our country. Outside, walking along the dirt paths back past the Washington Monument and Smithsonian museums, I smiled. There were families picnicking on the lawns, college kids throwing Frisbees, street musicians covering iconic songs with violins and saxophones, food trucks lining the streets, and people enjoying the sunshine. It was authentic and real, which is not something you always get in a city that’s characterized by corruption and politics.
Even though the future is largely negative and uncertain around politics and D.C., I’m comforted because I know there’s still hope in the United States’ citizens and their attitudes. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the city; this may be my first, but it won’t be my last trip to my Nation’s Capital.