America 2017: Day Twenty-One (10 November)

And I’m proud to be on this peaceful piece of property.
I’m on sacred ground and I’m in the best of company.
I’m thankful for those thankful for the things I’ve done.
I can rest in peace;
I’m one of the chosen ones:
I made it to Arlington.

– Trace Adkins

Friday 10 November

Washington, D.C.

Today is the halfway mark. Twenty-one of forty-two days in the United States are now in the books and what a memorable three weeks it’s been: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas/Grand Canyon, Denver/Colorado Springs and now the United States capital, named for this country’s most famous military officer, Virginia’s George Washington.

Fall has definitely arrived on the east coast – the temperature barely reached five degrees (Celsius) today, and whilst it was mostly sunny, the wind was occasionally very cold. Considering the weather has apparently been wet and dreary here over the last couple of days, we can’t complain. A few extra layers, and we were good to go.

We were at Union Station right on 9:00am and boarded the first hop-on-hop-off bus leaving from Washington’s transport hub. Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial, where we boarded another bus that shuttled us across the Potomac River into the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington once belonged to Robert E. Lee, a former US Army engineer who became commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. When he seceded to the Confederacy, his family left Arlington, moving deeper into Virginia, and the sprawling property was seized by the United States government.

Eventually, Arlington became a military cemetery, and is now perhaps the most hallowed ground in America. Many famous Americans are buried here: John F. Kennedy, Audie Murphy, William Howard Taft and Lee Marvin to name just a few. There are hundreds of thousands of gravestones, and it is a timely reminder that America, like Australia, is still fighting a war in the Middle East. Arlington House has been restored to resemble how things looked the day Robert E. Lee left for Richmond, capital of the Confederate States of America, and is a fascinating place to visit. Another historical wrinkle: Lee’s wife, Mary, is a descendant of George Washington.

It’s Veteran’s Day here tomorrow, a day celebrating both the armistice of the First World War and those who have served the United States in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, and with lots of military personnel in the city, our visit to Arlington was particularly poignant. It’s always an emotional place for me to visit.

Our first stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which sits high on a hill with a postcard-perfect view of Washington D.C. across the Potomac, and is protected every hour of every day by men from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, better known as the Old Guard. On the hour, they change the guard, a moving ceremony that we watched as the bells rang eleven times, just twenty-four hours’ short of the armistice celebration.

After the ceremony, we walked down to Arlington House, which is undergoing an extensive restoration project and will soon be closed to the public for around eighteen months, and on to John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, where his wife, brother and other members of the family are buried and commemorated. The vice president, Mike Pence, will be at Arlington tomorrow for Veterans Day commemorations.

Back across the river in the District of Columbia, we visited the Lincoln and Korean War memorials before walking along the Reflecting Pool, past the Second World War memorial to the newly-opened African-American Museum, where we ate burritos from a food truck in the sunlight, with the Washington Monument (closed to the public until 2019, after it sustained some damage in a recent earthquake) in the background.

The afternoon was occupied by walking around the White House. We saw the south and north lawns, but couldn’t get particularly close on either side due to the enhanced security measures in place, even with President Trump out of town. It’s quite confronting to see law enforcement officers armed with assault rifles, patrolling back and forth. A sign of the times, I guess, but definitely a sad one.

After walking past Ford’s Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War, we visited the United States Capitol. The iconic building was at it’s spectacular best in the sun-drenched afternoon. As far as architecture goes, I think it’s my favourite building in this city.

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Washington D.C.’s Metro – fast and clean.

We took the Washington Metro (subway) home and went via Safeway to stock up on food. A big hockey game tonight with the hometown Capitals squaring off with their arch-rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins. Beef stir-fry for dinner with beer, chocolate and hockey? Sounds about perfect to me.

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Home!

Early to bed tonight, because we’re up early and off to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the climactic Civil War battle, tomorrow.


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