A Walking Tour of Washington DC

One thing, of millions of things, that was not specifically on my bucket list was a trip to Washington DC. Maybe I didn’t deliberately address the thought because it is just one of those things I never thought I would ever get a chance to do. When I finally went and found out how easy it was to get there I had to wonder “Why haven’t I done this sooner?”

I caught an early morning flight from Winnipeg, hopped a taxi to downtown Washington and checked into my Four Points Sheraton Hotel room by noon. Since the day was still young and the tourist attractions looked so relatively close I decided to take myself on a self-guided walking tour.

My first pit stop, however, was to fuel up at the Capital City Brewing Company with a cold unfiltered summer pale ale and a Barbeque Pulled Pork sandwich. With that tucked away I headed down hill toward the front lawn of the White House. From the Sheraton the White House was an easy walk of only 4-5 blocks.

I started in the front where you can get a better view than from elsewhere. That is also where the action is. Police cars, Chinese and Iranian tourists, protesters and just plain crazy people hang out in the front lawn. One anti-nuclear protester has been camping on the street since 1981 although technically since he had died a dirty hair wrinkled old woman had taken up his cause. If I was President my FIRST act would be to remove that eyesore from my front yard.

Since the front door is the northern entrance I snapped this image facing south across Pennsylvania Avenue. The statue is of General Andrew Jackson surrounded by the cannons he captured in Pensacola, Florida which were originality cast in Spain in 1748 and 1773.

Of the surrounding statues commemorating the Generals of the American Revolution one was of a Polish freedom fighter, one of a wealthy French nobleman, another of the French King’s official representative, and one of a Prussian Baron who helped organize American fighters. Only General Major Jackson was born an American. I guess that is why he became the sixth American President.

I walked south and rounded the east side of the house where a crowd was gawking into the back yard. On this side the fence was further away from the front entrance and the multitude of trees and shrubs of the South Lawn restricted the view of the back door into a narrow field. Thus the tourists had to jostle for position to get a clear unobstructed peek into the President’s south facing windows. The South Lawn is best know as the place the Presidential Helicopter lands.

The large field to the south of the White House, known as The Ellipse, is a scraggy looking area that is difficult to comprehend until you see it from the perspective of an aerial photograph. It is simply a big round patch of green grass. I wandered across the lawn expecting to find “Don’t Walk on the Grass” signs.

Turning south I could see the Washington Monument in stark relief against the blue sky. I had lucked into a beautiful warm summer day with clear skies. I stopped to listen to an American family arguing about whether or not it was worth walking all the way to the White House. After all, the father said, it appeared too crowded over there.

It was only after reaching the Washington Monument did I realize the four points radial design of the capital. The monument is the center and from this perspective you can turn four times, north – west – south – east, and see the most relevant attractions of Washington DC. The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and Capital Hill.

The kids didn’t seem as impressed with the 555 ft monument as they did with the 55 ft tree.

From the monument I walked west toward the Lincoln Memorial which at first glance seemed a hell of a long way off. On the way is the WWII Memorial and then the one third of a mile stretch along the empty Reflecting Pool which was drained to provide access for reconstruction.

The Reflecting Pool was the backdrop for Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. These steps are nearly as famous as the statue itself as Independence Day, Forest Gump, and countless other movies have been shot from this location.

As for the Lincoln Memorial I am not sure of how to describe it except to say no picture can do it justice. You have to see it. You have to be there. The hands, one clenched – one relaxed, and the eyes, serene and stern, give you the impression of a giant in both stature and character. This is a man – not a statue.

From here I looked at crossing the Potomac River to visit the Jefferson Memorial. If I had started in the morning I would have, but since the day was getting on and I still wanted to stop at the Smithsonian and end up at Capital Hill for sunset I decided to leave Jefferson for another day.

So I headed back to the Washington Monument as a short cut east to Capital Hill. The reservations for riding to the top of the monument had been booked since the day before so again I decided that would be something to do for next time. Besides I really didn’t like the thought of riding up to the top of this long thin claustrophobic structure with no visible support. What if Washington had an earthquake? I know, how ridiculous right?

Look up. Look way up.

I stopped at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum as planned and only then realized how hot is was outside. Even the big black female guard commented on how soaked my shirt had become from sweat. After a couple of hours of wandering the halls of aviation history I headed onto my final destination. Capital Hill.

As the sun set I watched the last of the stragglers taking pictures and gawking. One group swirling around on Segways seemed to be still full of energy. I was impressed at how easily even old ladies managed to maneuver these machines. A couple of these “too old to walk” ladies were zooming around like Formula One racers. Meanwhile I was dragging. I think if I come back with my wife I will book a City Segway Tour to be able to see it all and still have energy to go for dinner. I managed to walk the 12 blocks back to the hotel. On the way back I stopped at the Capital City Brewing Company for a few more cold beers and Brew House Ribs to finish off the day.

All in all I really enjoyed DC and having walked the distance I was able to get a true north, west, east, south perspective. During the day, however, I was continually surprised at how close the arriving airline flights were in relationship to Dulles and the Pentagon as they were turning final into the airport. Downtown Washington would be a tough place to defend.

Evolution of the Capital

Northern Trail

For all images of the walking tour of Washington DC see Travelographer.

Walking Tour of Washington DC

About John S Goulet

Air Transport Pilot, consultant, writer, blogger and photographer with 40 years in Professional Aviation.
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