By: Emma B. 

Often times I wonder what other people think.  

I wish I could read people’s minds, and feel what they feel. Not because I want to stalk people, or infiltrate on people’s privacy, but rather to understand and better empathize with people’s feelings. However, there are some places in the world where something like this is possible. Places that are either so infamous or so famous that everyone thinks similarly while visiting them.  

I believe that Washington DC is one of these places.   

It is one of the most well-known cities in the United States, and is literally talked about on the news every day. People often associate its politics and culture with the state of American affairs, and it contains some of the most famous museums in the world. However, as political turmoil consumes America, those who visit the city can often feel conflicted. When walking within the main parts of the city (the Smithsonian Museums, The White House, etc.), it can feel like walking through Disneyland for nerdy types. However, if one walks within the city blocks or rides one of Washington DC’s various subways, one will see the actual city of Washington DC. If one goes beyond the main attractions of the city, an entire unseen community begins to burst to life. 

Naturally, a place like this tends to draw people like me who adore history, and exploring new places. Furthermore, I had never been above the Carolinas until recently. The opportunity to go to Washington DC during my trip to Virginia was one that excited me greatly. However, it just as greatly concerned me. As a history buff, I was excited to take in and learn more about my own country’s history. However, as a liberal minded individual, I felt like I didn’t belong in my own Capital.  
There was also another caveat to my trip to Washington DC - due to the nature of the rest of my trip, I could only spend about a day there. This meant that a trip that is typically very spread out, had to be condensed into less than 15 hours. It was a feat to be sure, and combined with my conflicted feelings going in, I wasn’t entirely sure what to feel. Now that the trip has come and gone, I can confirm that the trip was a really insightful, really fun, and gave me at least some political closure. 

DC in a Day:  
Throughout the day, we were following a travel guide by as for what to do in 1 day. It was a pretty good guide, and helped us get around the city, so I recommend it. However, I will warn that the guide does not account for DC as a walking city. This is something many people often forget, but DC is not really a driving city. The traffic within the city is usually very well handled but many of the most important buildings and museums are blocks away from each other. As such, the city is best experienced by walking. That being said, one must also be aware that if you plan to walk, you should dress and plan accordingly. I’d also say, though I did enjoy my experience, I would not try to see the whole city in one day. Washington DC is not only the Nation’s Capital, but also a sprawling metropolis where people live. There are so many sights to see, that trying to cram the entire city into one day can prevent full experience. That being said, my trip was still a blast.  

It began early in the morning, due to Washington DC being about 3 hours away from Richmond, Virginia where I was staying though one may call it dumb to try and go from two major cities in one day, it probably was the closest I could get to visit the city before I graduate high school. The drive itself was also surprisingly simple. It was long, but the roads were well-handled and everything went relatively smoothly. Getting into the city itself was slightly more complicated. The primary mode of transportation around DC is, much like New York City, the Metro system. However, unlike what I’ve heard about New York, the Washington DC metro system is fairly decent. Despite this, it is very old and I believe holds a lot of leftovers from the late 80s. Although, I do think it’s cruelly unfair to judge an entire city based on its metro system. 

Anyway, after we got off the Metro we entered the city proper into a small business area immediately outside the heart of the city. Immediately, when I entered, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Solicitors approached us a lot, not that I talked to them. Still, it’s somewhat strange to be in the Capital of one of biggest countries in the world, and have solicitors and people walking their dogs and chatting with their neighbors. That’s something I think more people should remember when they travel. However, it may seem people always have to live somewhere, it just so happens you’re visiting it.  

After spending way longer than I probably should have, my Mom, sister and I eventually found our way to the Library of Congress. Before I went in, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but now that I’ve seen it, I can easily call it one of my favorite places in the world. I think I was aghast at how gorgeous it was.  

Every step I took was with shaky breaths. I couldn't be more excited if I tried, made more hilarious and pleasant due to the glances from bystanders. The Great Hall has a massive, double staircase that's made of solid marble. Yellow, white, and pale blue mosaics make up the walls and everything is lit in a heavenly, misty glow. The marble columns create their own maze of passageways that are almost impossible to explain without a map. The ceiling is made of beautiful glass panels that look blue or gold depending on the lighting. Paintings and statues are everywhere. They're practically baked into the skin of the building, with mosaics of every Greek goddess you could imagine decorating the halls. Every arch had gorgeous paintings above them, and even in the side rooms, the ceiling looked like it had taken centuries to make. The entire place feels like a mighty cathedral, but with books and knowledge everywhere.  

I saw several exhibits while I was there. One focused on Women’s Rights and made me and my mother tear up a little. Not only because it focused on Women’s empowerment, but because it did that while showcasing so much of feminist history. It was exceedingly powerful. Although, one could argue every historical piece in the building is powerful. From the Gutenberg Bible to Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, centuries of history are contained within the walls of the building. All of which are meticulously maintained.  

After a relatively short walk, my family and I grabbed lunch at the restaurant within the Air and Space Smithsonian Museum. The restaurant functions as a “Pick Your Own Lunch” style place, with numerous sandwiches, treats, etc. as opposed to ordering traditional. The sandwiches provided were very good, and it fits the Museum style very well.  

The Air and Space Museum’s reputation speaks for itself. It’s a beautiful museum, and though not exactly in my tastes, was very informative and entertaining. We did a VR Experience, and explored the history airplanes and space-ships. I also took my sister to her first Planetarium visit. I can also see why it’s the most famous, as it’s probably one of the most kid - friendly of the museums. However, from what I could tell, all of the museums have a kid friendly appeal.  

After we finished, we to the Museum of Natural History. The main building is connected a large dome entrance, with multiple floors. It feels like you’re walking into a scientific lab. It contained a myriad of fascinating exhibits, however the one of rocks and gemstones was probably my favorite. In particular, actually seeing the Hope Diamond was an experience in itself. However, I also enjoyed the exhibits on mummies and on various animals. As a whole, the Smithsonian museums I visited were very informative and entertaining. 

Finally, I went to the major sights of the National Mall. Though the guide my family and I followed said you could walk from the Natural History Museum to the National Mall, this is only a half truth. The National Mall entrance is right in front of the Natural History Museum. However, these are all very spread out over a large amount of space between the various memorials. This means that if you wanted to walk from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, it could take 15 to 30 minutes. As such, my family to a taxi cab to the Lincoln Memorial where we could see everything else easily.  

When I first got there, it shocked me when I realized how big it was. One of the pillars alone is the width of two people. The legs of Abraham Lincoln are the size of 3 small men. It’s a sight that can take one’s breath away. It’s a tourist destination that earns its reputation. As I sat on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial, I was in awe. I saw the setting sun against the water in front of the Washington Monument, and the sky was just starting to turn a soft orange. Still, despite the beauty, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking. I thought about the current political climate, and how both sides think the other is slowly killing the country. I thought about how as a liberal woman, I feel like I’m not wanted in political discussion. Yet, as I kept staring, I held onto a tiny flicker of hope.  

I looked out onto the water, and saw the Capital in the distance. I felt a desire to keep looking to the News, and no longer accepting complacency as an answer. I didn’t know what the real answer was, I still don’t, but I realized just how much of a wrong answer it was to be silent. As I left DC, I felt slightly more content. I realized, despite my liberal views, it is never a crime to be loud. If anything, the only real crime is staying quiet.  

Overall, I’d say my trip was very informative, very pleasant, and surprisingly fun given current events. Washington DC, though I wouldn’t try to shove all of it into one day like I did, I’d still say that one should see it. Not only because of the history it holds, but also because of the hope it can give. 

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