A Day in DC

I decided to visit the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC, for spring break. However, since I have a great deal of work to do over the break, I decided to try and make this trip as short as possible. So I began this trip by taking the 11pm Chinatown buson Saturday night and returned to New York via a similarly late bus arriving in Manhattan in the early hours of Monday morning.

A return fare to Washington DC from New York is $35. Moreover, the bus doesn’t go to a stupid bus station, it drops you off in Chinatown!

…so my journey begins in chinatown in New York

…chinatown in DC doesn’t look too different.

My original idea was to take a later bus and arrive in time to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, many things conspired against this plan. First of all, the last bus to leave New York leaves at 11pm and, since there is very little traffic at this time of the night, it arrives in DC at 3am. Oh well… let’s try to find the Capitol building… hey mister traffic light, can you please point me to the capitol? thanks.

Ever wondered what the Washington monument looks like at about 4am?

…how about that Capitol?

the funny colour changes on the monument are caused by the way the water flows off of it… yes… it was raining when I got there.

A slightly different perspective on the WWII memorial, one of the newest memorials in the capital, dedicated in 2004. The structure that dominates the centre is an arch-gazebo-thing representing the pacific operations theatre. The pillars to the left and right each represent a state or territory. The wreaths are of oak and wheat symbolizing strength and… food, yum.

…and on the ground, a plaque to remind everyone of what the memorial is actually for.

here it is again, taken with a lens with a less absurd focal length.

…another picture of the monument… once the world’s tallest penis… er… structure. Until the Eiffel tower took the title in 1889

A duck! (if you weigh as much as a duck, then you must be made of wood, and therefore a witch… geddit?)

oohhh… here comes the sunrise…

except that there were too many clouds to actually see the sun rise, d’oh

This is the landing from which Martin Luther King JR delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Of course, when he did that, there were lots more people in front, and it probably wasn’t 7am.

And behind him, was the statue of the man who emancipated the slaves, the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The poor chap had to deal with the pesky american civil war… but for his troubles, he is credited with holding the union together

…and his very famous “four score and seven” speech… rather coincidentally, there are exactly four score and seven steps leading up to the monument.

This reminded me of that movie – “Team America”. You know, the easiest way to support the troops is not to go to war…

I like how all the signs have “United States” on the top, just in case you forget which country you happen to be in.

Oh, how I would like to have a tree named afer me someday.

Finally, 8:30am came around and something opened… the Smithsonian Institute visitors and information centre.

“what’re you looking at?”

there were many pretty display cases, but if I wanted natural history, I could always just go to New York (I do live there, after all)

so just a quick stroll down to road… oohh… what’s this, a monster truck. I wonder if it is a hybrid… it’d have a rather alarming carbon footprint otherwise

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! (this is just an indication that I am perfectly sane)

…and apart from the pretty buildings and monuments, this is pretty much the whole reason that I came here

just outside the enrance, was this funny looking thing, which looks a bit like a fancy back-scratcher for a very very large man with a very very itchy back

The Spirit of St Louis, named for the small town that supported Charles Lindbergh’s first ever transatlantic flight. Notice that it doesn’t actually have a windscreen… the budget was small, at about 15,000 and Lindbergh had to look through a periscope to see where he was going.

The Messerschmitt Me 262, the word’s first ever jet-figher plane… unfortunately came too late to change the tide in the war.

A scale model of the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers of the age of modern naval warfare. (or perhaps it was the real deal… in which case… it is a carrier for ants, and needs to be at least three times bigger…) Aircraft carriers effectively rendered Battleships, Battlecruisers and Cruisers obsolete.

Yay! more scale models (I used to make tons of these as a kid)

This is a “heads up display” or HUD. It was basically a very fancy gunsight which, on more modern planes, also shows you trivial little details like your bearings, altitude and airspeed

Medals of Honour (except they spelled “Honour” incorrectly)

The Zero… the bane of allied forces fighting in the pacific. More manœuverable than just about anything… until the P-51 mustang came along… and that was very late in the piece. The US simply relied on greater numbers to defeat the Japanese until then…

On top, the Messerschmitt Bf-109, the Luftwaffe’s word for “we kick ass”. These guys f**ked up allied planes in the early part of the war and, if it weren’t for the superior top-speed of spitfires, may well have won the war in the air. Below… the P-51 mustang by North American Aviation (now Rockwell), “Cadillac of the sky” benefited from advanced aerodynamics which made it faster AND more fuel efficient, giving it enough range to escort bombers for the full duration of their missions… which decisively turned the war in favour of the allies.

Model planes used to teach pilots how to identify theirs and enemy planes

This place is soooo cool. Most of these planes aren’t even models, they’re the real thing.

…and the one that started it all – the Wright Flyer, which made its first powered flight in 1903

This is the camera that they took to the moon.

…what I want to know, is where are the cupholders?

The Saturn V rocket, which would carry Apollo 11 to the moon. (this is a scale model, the real thing is a bit bigger)

The F-1 engines for the Saturn V first module. Interestingly, the engines for the subsequent stages of the rocket are named J-1, J-2, J-3 etc… these guys were manufactured by the same people who made the P-51 from a few pictures ago.

The Lunar lander. This is a life-size model… the real ones aren’t around anymore. The bottom half gets left on the moon, you see, so they’re a little tricky to retrieve, and the top half is discarded once its job is complete.

The American History museum was closed for renovations, so they moved some of the cooler items to the Air and Space museum temporarily. This is Abe’s hat…

…and Ed’s light bulb.

…and my hero – Kermit the Frog.

“there’s no place like home”

This is a Stradivarius… this one is interesting in that it is one of only 11 Stadivari which are decorated…

R2D2 and C3P0 from the Stargate trilogy

…a very old stopwatch.

This was a bit of a curiosity. An old typewriter. The caption is factually incorrect, and I must write to the Smithsonian about it when I get the time. It says that they arrangement of keys was to (1) prevent the typewriter from jamming (this is correct) and (2) also to promote faster typing (this is not correct, in fact, the very opposite is true, the arrangement is designed to slow down typists so that the typewriter wouldn’t jam)

Mold on exhibits is a museum curator’s nightmare… except of course, when it is this mold.

Some guy named Babe Ruth was apparently very good at baseball. (actually, he was a really really good pitcher… but he ended up stuck with the bat all the time because of the economic principle of comparative advantage)

This one belonged to Louis Armstrong

These were Muhammed Ali’s (the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay)

Just can’t get enough of George Washington’s stuff…

Who’s seen “Full Metal Jacket”? That’s the hard hat.

I kinda grew up watching M*A*S*H… this is the streetsign from the set.

…and this is the stopwatch from 60 minutes.

This is Jackie Kennedy’s gown…I think she borrowed it from the Elves

For some reason, some of the exhibits were covered. I can make out some experimental high-altitude test planes, and the famous Soyuz 19 -Apollo 18 dock.

The X-29, an experimental forward-swept winged plane. It was so unsable that it required a computer to keep it in the air, and if that computer malfunctioned, the pilot had to eject.

Another experimental plane, the HIMAT, designed to test the boundaries of agility in air combat, and a modern example of computer-aided design.

More computer-aided design, this time of a turboprop.

The North American Aviation X-15, experimental planes tested in the upper limits of the atmosphere. They, were dropped from a B-29 bomber after already attaining a very high altitude… then proceeded upwards. They, for all intents and purposes, got into space… and reached speeds as high as 6.7 times the speed of sound. The project ceased after 199 flights.

This guy will hit you before you’ve even heard it coming… why? Because it’s the Bell X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, the first plane to (officially) breach the sound barrier.

Speaking of firsts, just over 10 years after Glamorous Glennis’ supersonic (the name of Yeager’s X-1) flight, the Russians pulled a fast one on us and put Sputnik 1 into space.

Not to be oudone, about twelve years after that… the US put a man on the moon. Whoah… and here’s the heat shield of the Apollo 11 command module (named Columbia)

Apparently, there’s music on the moon as well. Maybe that’s what Holst was referring to with the whole “music of the spheres” deal

When I walked out, the rain had ceased… and the St. Patrick’s day parade was just getting started (a whole day before St Patrick’s day)

A pipe band… and here is its drum Major…notice the harp on his belt to indicate Irish origin rather than Scottish (which is what the style of bagpipes seem to suggest)

…and most of the parade was like this… costumes and Irish dancing.

..and some music. Irish dance music, rather than moon rock.

At least these kids coordinated their colours well… although the pink sneakers did kinda stand out.

…and what’s a parade without some pennyfarthings?

old meets new… a pennyfarthing and a segway.

A ridiculous green… thing.

Let’s play a game – see if you can spot the masonic symbol

I went on a very cool (free!) walking tour run by a company called DC by foot. The guy in the orange cap was our guide.

Aahh… the WWII memorial and the Washington Monument… which look quite different during the day. The monument is exactly 555ft and 5/8 of an inch high. The stone changes colour because they ran out of money as it was being built, then when they resumed, they had to use slightly different stone (but from the same quarry)

I’m about two weeks early for the cherry blossom festival. These were gifts to the US from Japan.

Our guide was a good laugh… here he is calling a payphone. (she’s a bit young for you though…)

The Vietnam Veterans memorial is peculiar… it was a result of a design competition whose winner was an architecture student from Yale (who got a B- for this very design). This half of it points towards the Washington Monument.

In the middle, it begins in 1959 and lists all the names in chronological order of being killed. The beginning and the end are in the same place… symbolizing: “shit, we’re back where we started” (the design wasn’t supposed to be political at all… but this somehow managed to slip through)

The other half points to the lincoln memorial. One half point to the man who made this nation, the other points to the man who kept it together… and vietnam… where did it get us? hmmm…. I sense another veiled political message.

Some more statues of soldiers… carrying an M16 assault rifle (man on the right) and an M60 machine gun (man on the left). Notice thatthe man in the middle has one dog-tag tied to his boots… because it would make it easier to identify the body in the event that the lower half becomes seperated from the upper half.

yeah… this view looks HEAPS different by day.

The federal reserve. Don’t like interest rates? Go throw some stones…

A statue of Simon Bolivar.

Something to do with Mexico… I think… the foreground is dominated by a black print on glass medium… oohh.. tricksy

The white house… from a distance….

…and from a bit closer.

This is what the lions at Columbia should look like…

…and the source of so many of the developing world’s ills…

The signs here were very helpful

oohh… my inspiration to photography… the National Geographic Society

The National Geographic museum had a wonderful photographic exhibition about frogs.

If I were ever homesick…

Washington DC at a glance…

Iwo Jima… apparently

The distinctive 108 degree angle between the outer walls can only mean one thing – a pentagon… but not just any pentagon – The Pentagon, where 1.9 BILLION dollars is spent wasted EVERY DAY. (did you know that a mere 1.5 billion dollars is all it would take to cover every sleeping site in malaria-endemic Africa for five years?)

A child is attacked by Washington DC’s viscious birds.

For a nation with a preoccupation with eagles, there sure are lots of lions in the capital.

A casual look down the mall in the late afternoon sun.

….and this is what the mall looks like from… the mall…

The Capitol… up close

The Capitol… up closer. Can someone explain to me why the flag was at half-mast? (16 March 2008)

The voice of america? right here?

Ready for lift-off? Washington DC’s metro system looks like some kind of spaceship accelerator.

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