On the dawn of Donald J Trump’s inauguration, I ventured to the US capital for the first time. I had just three days to acquaint myself with a city I felt I already knew thanks to TV shows like The West Wing, House of Cards and, more recently, Designated Survivor. Happily, I found a Washington DC with far more going for it than just politics.
DAY ONE: Street food and selfies
One of the advantages of arriving at “sparrow’s” in an international city like Washington DC (courtesy of SAA – via Dakar, Senegal) is that once our bags were stowed and we’d freshened up at the affordable and utterly delightful George Washington University Inn, we could hit the ground running. Probably the best defence against jet lag is a full day in the open air in a city where walking is easy and enjoyable – a treat when you come from car-obsessed Jo’burg.
First up, naturally, was a wander down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House, past the International Monetary Fund building, the Renwick Gallery (part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum), and the impressive Eisenhower Executive Office Building. While you can usually pre-book a White House tour in advance of your visit (through your embassy) for some reason foreigners weren’t getting the nod ahead of my visit, possibly due to preparations for the change in administration. So the best we could do was stare through the black bars and take a selfie, along with everyone else.
After gawking at the Washington Monument obelisk while taking in the impressive National Mall that stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, we elected to take a tour bus and hop on and off at will. We chose City Sights, which proved a sad disappointment as they’d closed without warning in advance of the following day’s public holiday, leaving us stranded except for our handy SmarTrip Metro passes. (Note: if your trip falls on a public holiday, rather book on the day to see which operators are bringing their A game).
The city loop, however, was a pleasure, taking in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, US Capitol, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, the White House (again), National Archives, Smithsonian Castle and Union Station. The trip helps first-timers to the city get the lie of the land and is well worth the US$24 per person (US$69 for 48 hours). An added bonus of a day spent in the heart of DC are the fast-food carts which line the streets. Do try the Chilli Dogs, which are a triumph of on-the-go cuisine and far better than frequenting one of the 90-odd Starbucks operating in the city.
We’ll be sharing more on Bouwer’s journey so look out for Day 2 in this 3-day series.