Our American Experience 3. Washington DC – City of power and elegance!

After New York City, DC (as they call the Washington DC) was a pleasant change! The contrast is sharp – DC has no skyscrapers (what a relief!!!) and roads are broad and clean. There are lots of open spaces, greenery and more sensible tourist attractions.

We started from our hotel in New York City by about 8.30 am. The journey from New York City to DC took us through Delaware and New Jersey. It was a slow and relaxed coach ride. During this journey we introduced ourselves to fellow tourists in the group. We reached DC by about 2 pm. Lunch was at an Indian restaurant called as “White Tiger”.

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, “the District”, or simply D.C., is the capital of the USA. The centres of all three branches of the U.S. federal government are located in the District, as are many of the nation’s monuments and museums. Washington, D.C., hosts 176 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States (OAS) and many more.

The National Mall (a peculiar name for a large, open park area) is in the centre of the city. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Pier are located near the centre of the mall, south of the White House. Also located on the mall are the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II Memorial at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Directly south of the mall, the Tidal Basin features rows of Japanese cherry blossom trees that originated as gifts from the nation of Japan.

Our first sight seeing stop was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian Institution is an educational foundation chartered by Congress in 1846 that maintains most of the nation’s official museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. The U.S. government partially funds the Smithsonian, thus making its collections open to the public free of charge. The most visited of the Smithsonian museums in 2010 was the National Air and Space Museum located on the National Mall. This holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It was established in 1976. Here we could see and touch the moon rock, see aircrafts (as they had evolved), including the first aircraft in history made by the Wright Brothers and lots of space modules and rocket models. This museum is one of the best which I ever saw.

Model A of Wright Brothers

When we came out of this museum, it had started raining. At this point, Ms Carrol, our Guide joined us. She is a old women who has a passion for history and is very knowledible. She first took us to the US Capitol Building. The Capitol building is marked by its central dome above a rotunda and two wings, one for each chamber of Congress: the north wing is the Senate chamber and the south wing is the House of Representatives chamber. Above these chambers are galleries where visitors can watch the Senate and House of Representatives. It is an example of the neoclassical architecture style. The statue on top of the dome is the Statue of Freedom.

Infront of Capitol Building with our guide Ms Carrol and Tour Manager Ms Navaz Meherji

Next, we saw the White House from outside. The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States.

In front of the White House

The next stop for us, after the White House was the Lincoln Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial is an American memorial built to honour the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The central hall of the monument contains the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. Abraham Lincoln remains to be the most loved president even today.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

Our next stops at were two war memorials – Vietnam Memorial and Korean Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a national memorial in Washington, D.C. It honours U.S. service members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War. Stone for the wall of this memorial came from Bangalore, and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. Inscribed on the walls are the names of servicemen who were either confirmed to be KIA (Killed in Action) or remained classified as MIA (Missing in Action) during the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Stone for the wall of this memorial came from Bangalore, and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality

The Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates those who served in the Korean War. The memorial is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea. When reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The take away from our visist of Washington DC was the opportunity to have a glimpse of the history of this great nation. I am really impressed with the ideals of freedom, equality and enterprise which the American nation holds in high esteem. This has made them produce great minds, build a great political and administrative system and become the most powerful nation in the world. We checked into Hotel Marriot Greenbelt, Maryland and were relieved to have our dinner at the hotel itself (otherwise, we would have gone again to an Indian restaurant and returned late in the night!).

Our American Experience 2 - New York, The City of Sky-scrapers!!

Our stay in New York City was arranged at Beekman Tower Hotel, 3 Mitchell Place. This located very near to the UN HQ. Though a bit old (a heritage building), the room allotted to us was spacious and had a pantry. We checked in by 7.15 p.m. However, by 7.30 p.m. we were in the lobby of the hotel for a trip to an Indian restaurant for dinner and some sight-seeing in NYC.

The Indian Restaurant which we visited for dinner was “Salam Bombay” located on Greenwich street. Food was OK and ambience was also OK.

Thereafter we visited the famous “Time Square”. Time Square is full of dazzling lights. One can see lots of youngsters with bubbling energy and lots of street entertainers. We soaked in the lights of Time Square and came back to the hotel by 11 pm. We were tired due to long journey but there was no ‘jet lag’. We had a good night’s sleep.

Times Square

Time Square, New York - This brightly lit place is ever bustling with people.

Next day i.e., on Saturday, 6th August 2011, we got up very early – by 5 a.m.    We got ready and had our breakfast in the hotel. This was our first American breakfast. It consisted of breads, fruit juices, fresh fruits, a dish of spinach and baby carrots (tasty!), boiled potatoes, scrambled egg, cornflakes, tea and coffee.

We got into our coach and we met all other members of the tour group today. Many had come a bit late and were not with us when we visited Times Square last night.

On our agenda today was a guided tour of New York City. JJ, an African American was our guide today. He was pretty informative and also humorous. Our first stop today was at “Ground Zero”. The World Trade Center complex stood on the site until it was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The place is being rebuilt as a memorial and commercial real estate. In this context, it appears that execution of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011 has gone well with Americans.

Thereafter we drove past Central Park and came to the ferry point for boarding a ferry to Liberty Island for our ‘meeting’ with Statue of Liberty.  The Statue of Liberty is a world famous symbol of freedom, given by France to the United States in celebration of friendship. The statue is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who bears a torch and a tabula anasta (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue has become an icon of freedom and of the United States.

The Statue of Liberty is a world famous symbol of freedom, given by France to the United States in celebration of friendship

After our return from Liberty Island, we grove through the ‘Fifth Avenue’, a high street with outlets of all the premium brands one can think of! We also saw the ‘Wall Street’ and passed by some Church Buildings before coming to the Indian Restaurant “Yuva” for our lunch.

Brooklyn Bridge, another symbol of New York. This is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States.

After lunch, we proceeded to the “Empire State Building” (ESB). The ESB is a 102-story landmark in New York City. It is 1,250 ft (381 meters) tall. It stood as the world’s tallest building for 40 years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower was completed in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the ESB once again became the tallest building in New York City. The ESB has one of the most popular outdoor observatories in the world, having been visited by over 110 million people. The 86th-floor observation deck offers impressive 360-degree views of the city.

The 86th-floor observation deck of Empire State Building offers impressive 360-degree views of the New York City.

The Empire State Building also has a motion simulator attraction, located on the 2nd floor known as the New York Skyride. We also experienced this Skyride.

One more impressive thing about ESB is their elevators which are really fast. 80 floors were covered in 18 seconds!!!

Our next stop was Madame Tussads, New York. As we had already seen Madame Tussauds in London, this one did not appear to be special. Incidentally I was wearing the same shirt now which I wore when we visited the Madame Tussauds, London. So, my photographs with Obama (statue) both in London and in New York has me wearing the same shirt!!!!

(A moment with the Obamas!!!! in Madame Tussauds, New York)

The next stop was for dinner at the same Indian Restaurant “Salam Bombay”. Thereafter we went to Rockefeller Center which is a complex of 19 commercial buildings covering 22 acres. We went to “Top of the Rocks” observation centre on their 67th floor and saw the lighted NYC in the night.

View from “Top of the Rocks”

When we returned to our hotel in the night, we met Mrs Gayatri and Mr Pradeep Nalkoor.  Pradeep is my cousin who is now settled in the USA. I was meeting Pradeep after nearly three decades. This meeting was highlight of our day in the NYC.

With Gayatri and Pradeep Nalkoor