By Elizabeth Sias
I’ve always loved traveling and exploring new places. I have fond memories of trips to the United Kingdom, as well as Florida, California, New York, Arizona, Wyoming and many more states with my family when I was younger.
Until two weeks ago, it had been six years since the last time I flew on a plane. It felt wonderful to finally feel the rush of the plane speeding down the running during takeoff on my way to Washington, D.C. with a friend.
Traveling is a fantastic way to learn about places away from home, meet new people, try unfamiliar food and simply experience all that life has to offer. Washington was no different. The amount of history the city has to offer about America’s past is far more than anyone could see in just five days.
We certainly tried, though. We woke up early our first day to spend the morning and much of the afternoon walking around the National Mall, the Tidal Basin and the Reflecting Pool to see the monuments and memorials. The map definitely looks much smaller on paper—it took us around four or five hours to see them all, from the menacing stone obelisk of the Washington Monument to Abraham Lincoln’s powerful presence in his massive temple and the giant dome structure to memorialize Thomas Jefferson. The three appeared much larger in person than in photographs.
It was also on this walk we viewed the somber Vietnam War Memorial and World War II Memorial and read powerful quotes etched in stone in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
The next day, we took a tour of the U.S. Capitol led by Senator Al Franken’s staff. Inside, we saw the old Supreme Court Chambers, the Rotunda, the former Senate Floor, as well as the current House Floor—which seemed much smaller in person than on TV! Next we headed down the street to the Library of Congress, which was by far the most beautiful building in D.C. Photographs cannot do the paintings and murals and windows and statues and columns and even the stone floor justice.
Afterward, we still had time to take the Metro to Arlington Cemetery, where we saw the Marine Corps War Memorial, the statue memorializing the famous photograph of the Iwo Jima flag raising. We continued our trek through rows and rows of gravestones and up a hill to finally reach the grave of Robert Kennedy, his family and the Eternal Flame.
And of course there are all the museums in Washington. We spent one day visiting several of them, including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of American History.
Of course, we had already been to the National Air and Space Museum and National Zoo earlier in our trip. And the National Archives is where we saw the original hand-written Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
On our last full day, we had a tour of the White House grounds where we saw the Rose Garden, Sasha and Malia’s playground, the kitchen vegetable garden and much more. The last stop of our trip was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’ve never been to a museum quite like it. Being there was a haunting and powerful experience, and I’d encourage everyone to visit.
As much as we were able to cram in to our short trip, we couldn’t see all Washington, D.C. has to offer. Five days, two sore feet and one sunburned face later, I was on a flight back to Minneapolis, excited to go home, but not ready to leave. I definitely want to return someday and explore the city more. But first, I have a long list of other destinations in mind.