The White House & More

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May 202009

The White House in Washington DC

The photo above was taken last evening and is filling in for the photo I would wish to have here. The reason I have no morning photo of the White House taken this day is that we were not allowed to carry "ANYTHING" with us for our tour of the White House. No cameras, no phones, no combs or brushes, no cosmetics, basically, you come with the letter from your Congressman and your I.D., anything else and you will be refused entry into the White House. The tour is self guided and allows you to linger to your heart’s content. While on first blush this sounds better than being ushered through like so many cattle, the narrative is absent and so the history that one might learn of is left to reading a book about the details once you’ve departed this historic home. Although, the Secret Service staff on hand watching over the rooms are absolutely friendly and will answer most any question. Only problem here is that you must overcome your awe and compose a question. Until you have been through the White House yourself, you cannot imagine how amazing it truly is that the average person and even a visitor from another country has access to the White House.

The top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln the evening he was assassinated

After our tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue we hopped a subway to DuPont circle and visited the Textile Museum, then back to the National Mall to the Smithsonian American History Museum where I photophgraphed this top hat worn by President Abraham Lincoln the night he was assassinated.

The U.S. flag that flew over Fort McHenry that inspired our national anthem

Also in the same museum is the Star Spangled Banner, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyric what would become our national anthem. After a couple hours in the American History Museum our next stop was the Museum of Natural History, but they were closing early which afforded little opportunity to see very much. Caroline and I will be returning to D.C. in September and have this museum at the top of our list for sights to see.

The Jefferson Memorial on the tidal basin in Washington D.C.

Our visit to Washington D.C. was not going to be complete if we didn’t walk around the Tidal Basin and visit the Jefferson Memorial. With sore feet we took the long slow walk over the Mall to the basin circling it over the rest of the afternoon. After visiting the Jefferson Memorial we next took in the Roosevelt Memorial and as night fell we were walking past and reading the names on the Vietnam Memorial.

The U.S. Capitol at night in Washington D.C.

Once more we pass the White House, look up the street to see the U.S. Capitol at night and drag ourselves to our hotel – spent.

 Posted by at 10:52 am

The Nations Capitol

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May 192009

Inside the chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C.

From Pennsylvania Avenue over Constitution Avenue passing Benjamin Franklin in front of the Old Post Office we cut between the Smithsonian Museum of American History and the Museum of Natural History turning left on to the National Mall and walked straight ahead towards the U.S. Capitol Building. We swung left around the Capitol and approached the steps of the Supreme Court. Once inside we were first in line for the 9:30 orientation presentation by a clerk of the Supreme Court in the Supreme Court Chamber – we were stoked.

Detail inside the Library of Congress in Washington DC

Across the street we arrived in time for the 10:30 tour of the Library of Congress. With my mother in-law in tow this trip is about bang-for-buck and it was long ago decided that it is better to spend a little time to see a lot than to use our time immersed in granularity. The tour was fantastic, giving us enough history about the building, its uses, and opportunity to see the major highlights including an original Gutenberg Bible. After nearly two hours in the Library of Congress it was time to take the underground tunnel over to the U.S. Capitol building.

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

Upon reaching a security desk and showing a letter from my Congressman regarding a tour of the Capitol we had scheduled, I explained that we were looking for the Senate dining room. Thanks to my exuberance and mentioning how my great uncle Ken Burke was with the Secret Service as Chief Inspector at the White House starting with the Roosevelt administration through Johnson’s time in the Oval Office, the three of us were given badges to seek out the security desk on the Senate side of the Capitol – we were allowed to travel unescorted. At the Senate reception desk we learned that we could eat on the Congressional side as it was my Congress John Shadegg who’d arranged our tour. We could not believe our luck when the lady offered us badges to use the Senate elevator to go to the Capitol Subway to catch a ride to the Rayburn Building – again, unescorted. We were ecstatic by now. Our tour of the Capitol was led by Sara, an aid to our Congressman.

Jutta Engelhardt, Caroline Wise, and John Wise under the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington DC

Our tour was fantastic. We visited the chambers of the Old Supreme Court, the Old Senate Chamber, the geographic center of Washington DC in the Crypt, Statuary Hall, the Dome (see picture of the three of us above with all of our stickers and badges for visiting the various places we were able to tour in the Capitol), we were even taken into the House gallery where we caught the tail end of a vote and were able to see Nancy Pelosi and a number of other Representatives we could recognize. Sara made our day – a special thanks to Congressman John Shadegg’s office.

The day still had a lot more in store for us. Our reservation to enter the National Archives was still more than an hour away when we finished with the Capitol so we visited National Botanical Garden and then walked across the Mall to a side entrance into the Archives and within minutes we were standing in front of the original Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Magna Carta.

The Washington Monument at sunset in Washington DC

After many a mile walked on now very tired feet we still had the energy to walk to China Town for dinner. Since it was still relatively early afterwards, we were still not about to waste perfectly good daylight and decided we’d take a leisurely walk down towards the Washington Monument and then pass the White House for a sunset view. By now our feet were in serious pain. We’d been walking the better part of 14 hours covering countless miles and were ready to call it quits for the day.

 Posted by at 9:22 am

Williamsburg – Mt. Vernon – D.C.

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May 182009

Caroline Wise and Jutta Engelhardt - prisoners in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Up early in Colonial Williamsburg for some peace and quiet and found these two crusty hags in the stockade; I can only imagine the depths of their lurid crimes. The old town just isn’t what it used to be. It was soon time to head up the York River, skip over the Rappahannock River and finally trace up the Potomac to Mt. Vernon to visit the honorable George Washington’s home.

Mt Vernon - home to George and Martha Washington

Our first President scored being one of the early land owners in America to be able to choose where to put his home. On a hilltop overlooking the Potomac River, while not beach front on Kauai, but if you had to live in the Eastern U.S. close to work so the horse and buggy might get you somewhere in a reasonable amount of time, well then, George Washington picked a mighty fine location. The perfect weather we are having this afternoon have the three of us thrilled that the next stop is Washington D.C.

The World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

Our hotel is but a few minutes walk around the corner from the White House. After check in and parking the car for the next three days, as we will stick to getting around by foot and subway, we are off and soon walking by the home of Mr. Barack Obama on our way to the National Mall. In front of us we pass the Washington Monument but we are striving to reach the Lincoln Memorial before sunset. Just before reaching the reflecting pool we come upon the new World War II Memorial. Last time Caroline and I were here, construction was still a year away. The finished Memorial is beautiful and fits between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial as though it was always meant to be here. The sun set as we stood below the towering Mr. Lincoln sitting in watch, looking over the nation’s capitol.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

 Posted by at 4:40 am

Jamestown – Williamsburg

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May 172009

The bed Stonewall Jackson died in at Fairfield Plantation in Virginia

We departed Fredericksburg, Virginia early in the morning and took a random small road in the general direction of where we wanted to end up. Not too far from town we stumbled upon a National Park sign pointing us to Fairfield Plantation where Stonewall Jackson died after he was accidentally shot by his own men during the Battle of Chancellorsville. The bed above is where the General died on May 10, 1863.

Continuing down small back woods roads we meandered through the countryside before meeting up with the James River Plantation road that would take us to Jamestown, the original English settlement that was the beginning of what was to become the United States. It was almost 20 years later when the first Pilgrims would arrive and establish the second successful English colony. The day was gray and a light drizzle with occasionally heavier rains clouded our day but lent an air of what it might have been like here, next to the river. On days like this one, the early colonists must have wondered why they were trying to live on this swampy land surrounded by Native Americans who were not appreciative of the intruders. Below is a photo of the wetlands surrounding the original settlement.

The wetlands surrounding Jamestown, Virginia

Next stop was in Colonial Williamsburg. Middle Plantation, established in 1632, was the area that in 1698 would become known as Williamsburg, and later the capital of the Virginia colony, after the decision that Jamestown was not a suitable location. In 1693, the College of William & Mary was established here and was where Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler would be educated along with Chief Justice John Marshall, Speaker of the House Henry Clay and 16 signers of the Declaration of Independence. From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg served as Virginia’s colonial capital but during the Revolutionary War the capital was moved to Richmond as it was considered easier to defend.

We had dinner at the King’s Arms followed by a lantern tour of the historic district, before sitting down at 9:00 pm for a harpsicord concert at the old Capitol building. The Capitol building of today is a recreation of the original 1705 building that was destroyed by fire in 1747. It was rebuilt but did not survive much past the American Revolution. This building is where the House of Burgesses would meet, including members George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason – tonight it was our turn for a visit.

The Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

 Posted by at 12:18 pm

Virginia is for Tourists

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May 162009

Jutta Engelhardt, Caroline Wise, and John Wise on the Virginia border

Late last night Caroline arrived in Baltimore, Maryland where we picked her up and took a short 54 mile (87km) drive to Frederick, Maryland for the night. Today we drove southwest to Front Royal, Virginia to join the Skyline Drive National Scenic Byway in the Shenandoah National Park – Shenandoah is Native American for Daughter of the Stars. The curving winding road over the mountain ridge took us up above the clouds and back down below. Along the way we spied a fawn lying in the grass, gazed over beautiful vistas, and enjoyed the wildflowers. Off the mountain we drove over to Charlottesville to visit Monticello – the home of our third President and principal author of the Declaration of Indepence, Mr. Thomas Jefferson.

The Skyline Drive at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and paralleling the Appalachian trail did not disappoint, it surely stands out as one of the dozen most scenic roads in America. With 75 overlooks and a 35 mph speed limit the guide books that suggest allocating 3 hours to this route do not allow an adequate amount of time to truly appreciate the drive.

Tree lined stretch of the Skyline Drive Scenic Byway in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

As we arrived in the Charlottesville area we signed up for a tour that would take us by bus to the grounds of President Jefferson’s home later in the afternoon. To pass the time until then, we took the advice of the ticket agent to visit James Monroe’s home – Ash Lawn-Highland. Sadly for us, there was a band playing a mix of jazz and contemporary music for a wine tasting that was happening on the grounds this day. The loud music along with a tour guide who spoke far too fast and tried to include too much information for a tour that was trying to push us through the house in 15 or 20 minutes made for a frustrating experience. We left before the tour was over and were kindly given refunds by the gift shop staff – a big thanks to those ladies for their understanding.

Monticello, however, was perfect and as with other locations we find so enchanting it turned out we had not allocated enough time to adequately visit this mountain top home. Not that this is a lament, we make note that this is one of those places we plan on returning to someday in the not too distant future.

Monticello, the home of the third President of the United States, Mr. Thomas Jefferson

 Posted by at 9:22 am