Saturday, July 14, 2012

Washington, Direct Current

It isn’t every day that I get the chance to visit the nation’s capital, living all the way across the country as I do. However, I have been to Washington, D.C. twice before, once with my family when I was ten, and again on an eighth grade field trip. I definitely didn’t think I would be bored, since I was returning to D.C. at an entirely different season than either of my previous trips. I was expecting blistering heat, but was startled to wake up to the sound of rain beating on the roof. Based on the morning’s weather, Christine and I both decided to wear jeans. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be pretty warm after all, but with the assistance of air-conditioned museums and buses, I managed just fine.

After a three-hour bus ride, everyone was grateful to tumble out of the buses onto the sidewalk of The National Mall. We were given maps, instructions to stay in groups of four, orders banning us from taking public transportation, and set free into The Mall. I really wanted to revisit the National Museum of the American Indian, as I’d visited it eight years ago and loved it.

When I was younger, instead of taking my sister and me to Disneyland or shipping us off to summer camp, my parents took us on road trips throughout the western third of the country to see various National Parks. This definitely shaped my love and reverence of nature, but it also somehow translated into an interest in the culture and history of different Native American tribes. Funnily enough, the movie played on the way to D.C. was Avatar, which I thought tied in nicely with a visit to a museum about Native American culture.

The buses had dropped us off at the National Museum of American History, so we had a long trek into the opposite corner of The Mall to find the museum. The walk felt long, but there is also something rather spectacular about looking behind you and seeing the Washington Monument and a bit of the Lincoln Memorial peeping out from behind it, and turning around again to see the Capitol building looming in front of you.

The Washington Monument
The Capitol as viewed from the center of The Mall
On the way to the museum, we detoured through the sculpture garden, which was a nice change of pace to something quieter and more reflective than the masses of people traversing the main streets of The Mall.

A piece from the sculpture garden
Ivette hangs a wish from the Japanese wish tree
When we arrived at the National Museum of the American Indian, we stopped at the cafeteria and Clara and I bought ourselves some lunch. I remembered the cafeteria from my previous visit, and I had wanted to eat there again. The meals served there are supposedly traditional dishes from the different geographic regions of the U.S. I bought fry bread, a staple food of several different tribes. I ate tons of fry bread with my family on our trip to the Grand Canyon several years ago, and I became a little nostalgic during lunch. The food was pricey, but I personally felt like it was worth it to get a break from dorm food and eat something that I wasn’t likely to get any other time at this trip. Rest assured, we didn’t go there just to eat food. We visited an exhibit called Our Universes, which featured displays explaining the way that various tribes felt about the natural world. I wish we could have spent more time there and seen more exhibits, but we only had three hours and we wanted to see the Capitol building.

The ILC girls in front of the American Indian museum
A Native Hawaiian canoe
A Lakota buffalo hide
We didn’t go inside, but we walked around the side of the Capitol building facing The Mall and took lots of pictures. I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be a Congresswoman and go to work inside a building that looks like it belongs in ancient Greece, but I suspect that if it were me, I’d be pretty excited. The architecture in D.C. is truly something, and it’s pretty cool to look out the window of the bus and see white marble edifices with thick stone columns, arches, and domes dominating the rest of the buildings.

Clara and Ivette in front of the Capitol
Our D.C. experience next took us to Georgetown. We were dropped off at campus, and although we weren’t given an official tour, we were free to wander around within the home area. The majority of people walked down to M Street to shop and get food, but we’d had enough of walking and stayed near campus. Elliot, one of the RCs, gave us handouts with a self-guided tour, so we checked out a few of the buildings along with going to dinner at a campus restaurant, The Tombs. Apparently the restaurant is extremely popular with the college kids, as the food is good but not too pricey, but we were lucky to find it relatively empty. There was one rowdy table that had racked up a $150 alcohol tab by the time we arrived at the restaurant around 5 PM, but we weren’t sitting anywhere near them so I wasn’t alarmed. As it turns out, the RCs also decided to eat there, but we didn’t really talk to them or anything so I didn’t feel too weird.

Everyone was worn out from the trip, so the bus ride back was pretty quiet. There is something magical about traveling by coach down the highway in the nighttime, watching the lights whip by, listening to music, and having random conversations with your seatmates about whatever pops into your head at that moment. I think that most people were glad to get off of the bus when we got back to UPenn, but for some reason I really like long bus rides with groups of other students. The whole day was amazing, from The Mall to Georgetown to the bus ride, and I’m so glad that Summer Discovery plans these events for us. I’m sure that Ocean City next Saturday will be as fun as New York City and Washington, D.C. have been.

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