Wednesday, 9 April 2014

History & Politics Trip to the USA: Day Three

by Will Wallace

Tuesday 8th April 2014

Martin Luther King Memorial
Today started with an incredible development: the showers were lukewarm! Our breakfast was overshadowed by the exciting day that lay ahead: guided tours of Congress, Ford's Theatre and the International Spy Museum, as well as a visit to the MLK and FDR Memorials. The weather was a great improvement from yesterday, meaning there would be no rain to struggle through. However, before all of that, there was something that needed doing before we climbed Capitol Hill...

We had a quick detour to Union Station, where I rushed into Johnny Rockets to try and  retrieve my lost phone. Thankfully, it had been handed in and was returned: this was, in my view, nothing short of being a miracle. We split into two groups led by Mr Lemieux and Miss Rickard (I was in the latter), and went through the surprisingly quick security check at Congress.  

US Capitol building
We were led around by a guide called Douglas, a jolly nice chap - but he did consistently refer to the fact that we British had burnt down his beloved Congress in 1812. We were shown the rooms that once housed the Supreme Court and House of Representatives, and the Basilica (which, from Saturday, will be under restoration). Once the tour had ended, we gained access to the Senate Chamber's viewing gallery. 

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I did recognise the two senators giving speeches on the issue of equal pay for women: John Thune from South Dakota and Tom Harkin from Iowa. Thune accused the Obama administration of pushing legislation that wouldn't help women, but would gain the President's party, the Democrats, a few more votes in the November midterms. Harkin spoke of how there was institutional discrimination against women in the workplace, with the median average income in male-dominated and female-dominated careers being far smaller for the latter.

the dome of the US Capitol
As we regrouped outside, we walked on to Ford's Theatre, the site where President Lincoln had been shot and killed whilst watching a production of Our American Cousin. The theatre housed a museum in which we learnt about Lincoln's presidency, his leadership during the Civil War and the background of the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and his co-conspirators. 

Lincoln's box at Ford's Theatre - site of his assassination
For lunch, we came across a waffle house across the road, appropriately called "Lincoln's Waffles". Needless to say, the food was cracking - however my order, of Banana Waffles with sausage and egg, though nice, was probably a tad sickly. This should have been expected though, given that we're in a country famed for its fat-filled nosh! 

anti-deportation protest, Washington DC
Our next stop was the International Spy Museum, which chronicled the history, development and contemporary purpose of espionage. Much of this centred on James Bond, but there were many interesting real-life gadgets (such as an gun disguised as an umbrella). When a small group of us emerged at the end, with the rest of the group ten minutes behind, we sneakily set off to find a McDonalds, in pursuit of a McFlurry. On the way we passed a hippy woman who was loudly declaring that "Capitalism is over ... European socialism is on its way". I tried to give her a high-five, but missed my opportunity. 

Roosevelt Memorial
We returned to the hostel for a chance to rest our legs, before heading for the Martin Luther King Memorial. on our way there, we passed an anti-deportations protest, which I promptly joined in on! Once we marvelled at the MLK statue, we continued to walk around the Tidal Basin, beneath the cherry blossoms, to reach the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This was a highly symbolic memorial, marked by a waterfall feature designed to represent the difficulties of his presidency which had been affected by economic depression and world war. 

We continued to walk around the basin, passing the Jefferson Memorial on our way. Today, us Year 13 boys chose the destination for supper: Va Piano. We were told by the front-of-house man that the idea of the restaurant was that we would reflect, make use of all our senses in order to fully enjoy their menu of pasta and pizza. The same man approached us later in the evening to sing Happy Birthday to James Portlock, who is celebrating his 17th tomorrow. Speaking as a musician, I can honestly say that his voice was absolutely incredible.  
Serenaded at Va Piano

On our way back to the hostel, we passed a homeless man selling newspapers who, upon realising we were British, asked us to say "hello" to his girlfriend, who he described as having "crazy hair ... lots of bling bling" and riding in a pimp mobile. Apparently he was describing our Queen Elizabeth II... off to the Supreme Court tomorrow.

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