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Wondrous Washington: Where history beckons

Washington D.C. is a history buff’s delight. If you are looking to spend a day in museums and historical monuments, Washington is a must tick on your travel list

Washington D.C., the capital of the U.S., is possibly one of the most important cities in the world. If you expect it to be a concrete jungle teeming with chaos and people, here is the big surprise! The first things that greet you are well-planned roads, tree-lined avenues and the laidback atmosphere. The city is an architectural marvel with stunningly beautiful masterpieces jostling for your attention.

When planning a trip…
You will need at least two days to cover the “must see” places in Washington D.C. Browse online and draw-up a broad list of places. Since the U.S. National Park Service manages most of the historical monuments and memorials, check for national holidays. If you are a large family or travelling on a budget, look for hotel deals online. Most hotels accommodate up to 4 people in a suite.

The Must Sees…
? The Smithsonian Museums
Your visit to D.C. is incomplete without a visit to The Smithsonian. Considered to be one of the largest museums in the world, The Smithsonian has 19 museums covering natural history, air and space, art, design, architecture and sculpture. If you are travelling with children, don’t miss the National Air and Space Museum. Whether you are a fan of Amelia Earhart, Wright Brothers or the first Moon landing, the museum has its fill of historical treasures and is an exhilarating experience for kids and adults alike. While entry is free, there are fees for shows at the I-MAX theatre/ planetarium.

Make the Most…
If you are a museum enthusiast and would like to cover all 19 galleries, keep at least a day in hand. Most museums are open between 8.30 am-5.30 pm. Before you start doing the museum rounds, visit ‘The Castle’ – the administrative building of The Smithsonian. ‘The Castle’ chronicles the history of the museum and also has a bookstore/café. Catch a show at I-MAX or the planetarium. It is an audio-visual treat. Check the website http://airandspace.si.edu/ for information on latest schedules and shows. Before you make the trip, visit http://www.si.edu/Museums/ for details on various museums. You can easily get lost in the history and beauty of these museums. As the museums are not located in the same area, plan your agenda logistically.

? Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial & Washington Monument
All these monuments are in close proximity to each other, so you can visit them all on the same day. Calling the Lincoln Memorial a tribute to Abraham Lincoln is an understatement. Viewing the colossal edifice with its marble columns and a huge statue of Lincoln is a humbling experience. On a clear day, the view of the Washington monument, the Capitol and other structures from the Lincoln Memorial is stunning.

If you are expecting the atmosphere at the World War II Martyrs’ Memorial to be sombre and morose, you are in for a surprise. The simple structure with its huge central fountain, fresh flowerbeds and open design redefines the meaning of a memorial. The Washington Monument, dedicated to George Washington, towers over the city. You can ride up the elevator for a breathtaking 360 degree view of the capital.

Make the Most…
Entry to Lincoln/World War II Memorial is free. However, check for operating timings. While there is no fee to visit the site of the Washington Monument, you will have to pay a nominal fee of $1.5 per person to enter the monument. The monument is closed on July 4 and December 25. You can pick up tickets at the Information Centre located nearby or book online at http:// www.recreation.gov. Advance online booking is recommended.

? Jefferson Memorial and Franklin D Roosevelt Museum
These memorials, which are situated on the banks of the beautiful Potomac River, are in the midst of lush green trees and gardens. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, dedicated to the third President of the U.S., is a beautiful poetry in marble. A standing statue of Jefferson looks on at the White House. The walls are engraved with pithy inscriptions. The atmosphere inside the monument is serene and the inscriptions thought-provoking.

You will have to take a short walk along the Potomac River to reach the Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial. The exquisitely landscaped gardens, waterfalls, rock structures and engravings will render you speechless.

Make the Most…
Entry to both monuments is free. Try visiting these memorials at sunset. The lighting at Jefferson Memorial is a visual treat. Spend some time walking along the Potomac. Against the setting sun, the view of the river and both the memorials is worth a Kodak moment. You also get a different view of the Washington Monument from here.

The Capitol, Senate & the White House
The Capitol, the seat of political power in the U.S, is an omnipresent structure in the city. The House of Representatives and the Senate are located here. Don’t miss the replica of the Statue of Freedom at the visitor’s centre. The original is on the crown of the Capitol dome. If you are lucky, you may see the entire Senate session in progress.

Although the White House feels like a midget in the midst of other towering historical monuments, you immediately sense the aura of power and importance surrounding the building.

Make the Most…
There are free guided tours of the Capitol between 8:45 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The Capitol is closed on Sundays. Visit to the Capitol and Senate could take up to half a day. It is advisable to book a tour in advance so that you can plan the rest of the trip. You can visit http://www.visitthecapitol.gov/ to make reservations. The visit to the Capitol includes a documentary and guided audio-tour. Carry your passports if you would like to witness House proceedings. You can collect special passes after completing the Capitol tour. Read up the information booklet before you visit the Senate. You will be able to appreciate the proceedings better. Visitors are allowed to tour some parts of the White House. You will require special permission from the Indian Consulate to make the trip. Photography from outside the White House is permitted, but only for short durations.

The best time to visit Washington is between July and September. If you are on a tight schedule, an old town trolley tour is a good alternative. You can cover important places in a short time.

Food for thought
There are strict security checks at some of the places, especially the air and space Museum and the Capitol. If you are carrying food/drinks/snacks in your bag, you will be asked to throw them away. Washington can be an expensive city to dine in. Look for a hotel that has kitchenette/microwave. Carry ready-to-eat food, which can be easily heated up in the room. The Union Station, the city’s metro hub, also has a multi-level mall. The lower level has an excellent food court that also serves Indian cuisine. The food is hearty, tasty and easy on the wallet.

Etc. Etc.
If you are in D.C. for a couple of days, slow down the sightseeing pace and enjoy the city’s beauty. Plan a drive at night for a fabulous view of the lit-up monuments. Add Mount Vernon, the birthplace of George Washington, a stroll along the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Pentagon, Holocaust Memorial Museum, Georgetown for fabulous dining and shopping, JFK Centre for Performing Arts, the National Archives, the Woodrow Wilson House, the Shakespearean Company and the Spy Museum to your itinerary. Get ready to soak up some history.

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