Tuesday, 8 April 2014

History & Politics Trip to the USA: Day Two

by Will Wallace

The author, outside the White House
Monday 7th April 2014

Our concern about waking up early was completely justified. Our fatigue wasn't helped by the fact that the French students staying on our floor had occupied the showers. And our luck didn't end there, as the showers were bitterly cold - so much so that we struggled to function for about five minutes! Breakfast was provided by the hostel and consisted of muffins and waffles, which came as a slight culture shock to the more traditional, English Breakfast-ers among us.

Vietnam Memorial
We set off for a walk around the National Mall, initially passing the White House and Washington Memorial. As we walked to the Lincoln Memorial, we passed the various war memorials, including those commemorating the lives lost as a result of the Second World, Vietnam and Korean Wars.

We were particularly struck by the design of the Vietnam Memorial, as it had been a controversial conflict in which the US's involvement and tactics had been highly criticised. The memorial therefore had to be sombre and full of humility, rather than glory and victory - the structure was a V-shaped wall that was embedded into the Earth, symbolising the scar that the 18 year struggle left on the nation.

When we reached the Lincoln Memorial, we were reminded of its history as a place where Civil Rights marchers and anti-war protesters gathered to add their voices to Abraham Lincoln's cry for freedom and equality.

Lincoln Memorial
After a quick stop at a hot dog stand, we made our way to the National Museum of American History, one of the many Smithsonian museums in DC. The exhibitions ranged from the American Wars of Independence (which was a tad awkward for us as British tourists!) to the development of automobiles. Mr Lemieux found himself in his element when we came across a podium in the Presidential exhibition!
Mr Lemieux at the podium,
Presidential Exhibition, National Museum of American History
We ventured on to Union Station, as it was time for lunch and the station is chockablock with places to eat. Us Year 13 boys found a 1950s diner called Johnny Rockets, where we put our lives at risk by ordering a "Smoke House Double", which consisted of multiple layers of bacon, beef, cheese, onion and hash brown. Fortunately, though use of our legs became limited, we survived.

Holocaust Museum
As we arrived at US Holocaust Memorial Museum, I realised that I had left my phone at Union Station. However, my annoyance was was overcome by the most emotional experience had at the museum. All of us had been taught about the devastating events which saw millions of Jews, Roma gypsies, disabled and gay people condemned to death by Adolf Hitler's Final Solution. But nothing could prepare us for the highly personal journey through the numerous floors.

We moved on to another Smithsonian museum - this time, the National Air and Space Museum, which had the models of drones, air rafts and even the vessel which Felix Baumgartner jumped from. This was our last museum visit before we headed back to the hostel.  

National Air and Space Museum
The Year 12s chose supper: another burger joint, which we Year 13 boys were not overly chuffed about! The day proved not just to push our belts to their limits, but also served as quite an emotion- testing one. Off to Capitol Hill tomorrow.

"Smoke House Double" at Union Station

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