We have ended our trip along the US Westcoast and have arrived on the Eastcoast. We landed on the 2nd of January in Baltimore. Thus we have left a rather mild desert winter and have arrived in the middle of some of the worst winter weather they have had in this area for years. Not as bad as in the northern midwest, but the minus 15 degrees celsius we have already experienced did feel rather cold on our cheeks!
It snowed heavily as we arrived and went to pick up our new rental car. We were glad we had “upgraded” ourselves from the previous car in California, so this time we are driving a four-wheel drive. Not a huge american model, but a modest one. It is absolutely fine for us. And much more comfortable on snowy and icy roads.
Anton had some trouble with the time adjustment this time. He was tired and moody, without admitting that anything was wrong. In the days prior to our flight he was a bit cold and snotty, so the following morning, after our drive from Baltimore to Washington, we decided he should stay in bed at the hotel, under the covers and watch some cartoons. Alexandra volunteered to stay with him. My mother and I went for some sightseeing in downtown Washington DC.
We took the train and jumped off by the Smithsonian Museum. I very large area with plenty of gigantic, impressive and pompous buildings, housing some of the finest museums in the US. Every building has its own “theme”: Air- and Space Museum, American Indian Museum, American Art Museum, Natural History Museum, American History Museum and much more. There is a long list of museums, all managed by the Smithsonian Institute, which is administrated by the american government. Quite a bit of research is made in the various institutes of the museums, and all the museums are in fact like national museums.
We walked through the Smithsonian area and towards The Capitol Hill. I have always wanted to see Capitol Hill and The White House. And now I was finally here! Capitol Hill was somewhat smaller than I had imagined, but apart from that it was really a beautiful and impressive sight to see. The sun stood low on a crisp and clear blue sky and added a red-ish tone to the entire complex. Unfortunately it was biting cold and the wind was merciless. So we did not really enjoy the walk on Capitol Hill and headed down towards The White House. It is a rather long walk. A couple of kilometers at least. The wind did not get any better as we walked through the denser part of downtown. It was howling around the corners of the buildings.
Minus 15 degrees celsius is no fun in windy weather, but finally we arrived at The White House. Well, you do not get really close these days. But we did manage to shoot a few good pictures of the little building. I realize that the iconic house that you always see in the medias is in fact just the residence of the First Family. On both sides it is vastly expanded with wings and corridors. The West Wing is where the Oval Office is. The office of the President. Unfortunately no guided tours are currently open for foreigners, so we had to just admire from a distance. Nevertheless my fascination is intact! It must be really special to work in those buildings!
After our visit to The White House we went for a warm cup of coffee, and then back to the hotel. Enough sightseeing for the day!
The following day the outside temperatures had not changed much in Washington DC. So we went to the Smithsonian American Indian Museum, which seemed like a good place to start. Had we had a bit of knowledge beforehand, we might have enjoyed the exhibitions much more. But we have personally seen much more interesting and engaging displays and exhibitions in Victoria, Canada covering the same topics. It was not nearly as interesting and considering that Smithsonian is the leading museum in the country, it was disappointing. There is plenty to see, but the build-up could be better. We did not stay long. We were all excited to go next door, to see the Air- and Space Museum.
And this was a great and pleasant surprise! The enormous building contains exhibits covering the air- and space industry from the very beginning up until present day. THAT was engaging! For days Anton had been talking about rockets and now he got to see them. Plenty fold! The next few hours we immersed ourselves in Apollo-missions, moon-cars, space-stations and much, much more. We got a really interesting and detailed view of the history of air- and space travel. We saw that here in the US it is encouraged to think BIG and out-of-the-box, in contrast to my native Denmark. They must have had big dreams, back in the early days, to be able to walk on the moon in the late 1960’s!
The only things we could not get to see in the Smithsonian buildings of downtown Washington DC was the space shuttle and the Concorde. There simply is not enough room for those attractions in the buildings. Instead they are exhibited in a giant hangar near Dulles International Airport, about a half hour drive from Washington DC. So the following day we went to the airport to see the space shuttle. Up until last year the collection contained “just” a test shuttle. A shuttle that had only been used in the early tests of the space program. But last year they got to show one of the space shuttles that has been used in most missions ever in space. Discovery completed an impressive 39 missions before retirement in 2011. Standing there in the mighty hall, lit up by spotlights on a dark background, it actually looked a bit “tired” and used. But with 238.539.663 kilometers flown, over a total of 365 days, 22 hours and 39 minutes I do not find it strange that it could use a bit if paint!
It was completely overwhelming to stand there, underneath the wings, or in front of the nose of a vessel that has played such a great role in world history. Discovery is THE REAL THING! Not that a test shuttle is not important, but there is something different about seeing the equipment that has actually been used in orbit. And even though I am not an american, I did feel very proud, on behalf of the human race, that there are people willing to go through many years of education to become engineers, technicians and astronauts. Followed by endless training programs. And then embark on very dangerous missions, from where some did not return, just so that we can all use our cell phones, use the internet, watch TV and navigate through traffic by GPS. And with time, through various future space missions, we will achieve even more. It impressed us all and filled us with great respect!
This became the “finale” of my mothers first visit to the US. After a quick burger in the museum cafeteria it was time for her to get on a flight back home to Denmark. For 16 days she followed us. We all really enjoyed the time we spent together, and we hope that we could contribute to a positive first impression of the US. It took her many years to get here, but who knows? Maybe more US visits await her in the future?