Washington, DC — Brain City USA!

Washington, DC is synonymous with many things, but higher learning is probably not one of them. Being the centre of government and federal administration for the most powerful country on the face of the planet, you would expect it to be populated with a lot of smart people — whether they be politicians, lobbyists or senior civil servants but the statistic that took me aback, I have to say is the revelation that Washington, DC, is the home to around 100,000 PhD’s — roughly the same as Los Angeles, a city with more than twice its population!

I was visiting Washington, DC recently (you invariably have to include the ‘DC’ bit so people don’t confuse it with the state of the same name located in the Pacific Northwest) as part of a small travel agent fam trip that I had organised in conjunction with United Airlines who operate a non-stop direct service to the US capital. There were 10 of us in the party and of the nine of us who were travel agents, only one had ever visited the city before and that was over 20 years ago! Despite having visited the States on at least 40 occasions since 1976 (bicentennial year as it happened) — also on United Airlines — I had never managed to find a compelling enough reason to visit this part of the vastness that is the United States of America and having just spent a couple of action-packed days in the region, shame on me because I was blown away by what the city and its near neighbours Baltimore and Annapolis have to offer and which I’ll recount over the course of my next couple of blogs.

Washington, DC, is a great city to walk around, particularly if you want to visit the major monuments and although the city has a metro system, it can often be easier to use Uber and in my experience, the costs are modest, when compared to Irish taxi prices. My suggestion would be to start at Arlington cemetery where you can visit John F. Kennedy’s grave amongst many other notable figures in history (The Robert E. Lee memorial is located just behind) and walk East along Memorial Avenue and across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial from the steps of which you can see along the length of the famous Reflecting Pool towards the less well-known World War 11 Memorial and just a couple of hundred yards further behind that, the Washington Memorial — the huge 555-foot high obelisk which dominates the Washington skyline in almost all directions. Built mainly of granite band marble, the obelisk is the world’s tallest man-made structure made predominantly of stone and was built to commemorate George Washington, the country’s first president. Building of the obelisk commenced in 1848 and wasn’t completed until 40 years later in 1888, work having stalled for a number of years in between, due to a lack of funding. To the left of the Lincoln Memorial (looking East) is located the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — the two long walls of polished black granite, honour in chronological order, the names of the more than 58,000 service members who died in South-East Asia, including Vietnam. The Veterans memorial is located forward and to the left of the Lincoln Memorial as you face East, looking towards the Washington Monument. Beyond the Washington Monument and still walking due East, you eventually come to the Capitol Building, located on Capitol Hill, by walking along the National Mall. Although some of these monuments are closer than you think and certainly not the walking distances apart that some local guides would have you believe, you will still need to be wearing sturdy walking shoes or runners as the miles can accumulate easy. To give you a sense of scale, Arlington Cemetery is approximately four miles walk to Capitol Hill, assuming no detours!


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