A Chapter Closes

I’m writing this from the airport in DC, though I am unwilling to shell out six dollars for internet so by the time this is posted I will already be in Milwaukee. Why you needed to know all these details, I’m not sure.

This is where my blogging draws to a close, at least for the time being.  As some of my astute readers may have noticed, this blog is called Spokane – D.C. – Milwaukee – Marburg, implying that the journey isn’t quite over. I won’t continue blogging at school because I don’t think I can make that kind of a commitment during the semester and also because I don’t think it’d be a very interesting blog. It’s not hard to come up with new posts when you’re somewhere new and exciting and every day is a mini-adventure. But though Milwaukee is many things, it is not new or exciting and thus does not lend itself to blogging.

So hang tight for a few months. I’ll leave for Marburg, Germany at the end of February and will probably start posting a little bit before then. I may post sooner than that if there are developments in my life related to my upcoming study abroad, but don’t get your hopes up.

Thank you for coming along – I know I’m not spectacular at this whole blogging thing, but I think I’ve learned a lot about it and I hope to do an even better job in Europe.


The Last Day and Some Superlatives

Now, to wrap up my DC journey.

Yesterday was it – our last chance to explore this city and ensure that we left with no major regrets.

The first stop yesterday was the Holocaust Museum. This was something I had wanted to do the entire time in DC but I had never heard significant interest from other people and really didn’t want to go alone. But it turns out that there were a few other people in the house who had really wanted to do it as well, so we seized the moment and went.

There’s not really a lot to say about the museum itself. Which isn’t meant to imply at all that it’s not worth seeing or not a good museum – far from it. But, it is exactly what you think it is: moving, heartbreaking, horrifying, fascinating and even at times hopeful. In terms of its quality simply as a museum, I think it was very well done. It unfolded very logically and you leave with a strong idea of how discrimination and scapegoating of Jews and other marginalized peoples warped into mass murder.

One thing I liked about its setup is that as you move between floors, you would always cross on walkways with glass walls that let the natural light pour in. I’m guessing it was a deliberate design. These walkways give you a chance to take a deep breath, collect yourself and prepare to descend once more in the darkness of the exhibits—a darkness that is both literal and figurative.

The Jefferson Memorial, on the side not obscured by construction.

After the museum, we headed to see the Jefferson and FDR memorials. I had heard a lot of great things about the Jefferson Memorial; a lot of people have told me it’s their favorite of the monuments and memorials. It’s located on the Tidal Basin south of the Mall and the walk there is quite pretty, curving along the water and lined with trees.

I have to say though, I was not quite as enamored with the memorial as it seems everyone else is. A lot of it has more to do with the setting than the structure itself. They are currently doing construction on the pavilion in front of the memorial so there were both a lot of loud noises as well as ugly machinery marring the view of the structure in front of the water. Additionally, it’s quite close to the Reagan airport, so there’s a lot of ambient noise from airplanes coming and going. Adding the throngs of tourists into the mix, the memorial becomes anything but a peaceful place. I’m sure it would be lovely at night, and of course would be much better when the construction is over, but for now I’m not so sure what the hype is about. Which is weird to type, since it means I know have enough of a basis of knowledge about to DC to have strong opinions about memorials.

After the Jefferson, we walked around the basin to reach the FDR memorial. I had also heard a lot about this one as an often-overlooked but very pretty memorial. This one definitely lived up to expectations. It’s very different from the other memorials because it’s not just a single structure. It’s a series of water features, statues, stone walls inscribed with quotes and other elements stretching along a long path. You don’t just visit the FDR memorial—you explore it.

If you like water features, you'll love the FDR memorial.

It’s broken into four parts for each of his terms, and the quotes and features of each section are particular to the events of thatterm. So, the section pertaining to the Great Depression and the New Deal has statues of worn and weathered men standing in line waiting for aid, and the section pertaining to World War II has quotes specific to his thoughts on war. It’s all very lush and peaceful (much less heavily trafficked than any other memorial or monument, probably because it requires more walking to get to).

Now that the last of my adventures have been dutifully reported and tied up, I’d like to reflect on the highs and lows of my time in DC. This isn’t meant to be any sort of authoritative list for you to shape your own future visit to DC around; it’s just a way of drawing some final thoughts from this trip,

Favorite Monument/Memorial: I have to say the Lincoln Memorial. I know this isn’t a very novel choice, but it just seems to have the best of everything. It’s a beautiful structure with massive historical significance (so many important speeches and events have happened there). It also has a terrific view of the mall, and, as I experienced myself, is a lovely place from which to watch the sunrise.

Favorite War-Themed Memorial: Definitely the World War II memorial. It’s a very classic style, compared to the Korean and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials, but that gives it a timeless feel: it doesn’t feel dated by the style of any specific era or like it’s making a statement. It’s got huge pillars and fountains and also provides a great view of the Lincoln Memorial. I recommend visiting just after sunrise J

Least Favorite Monument/Memorial: The Washington Monument is cool to look at from the ground, but I don’t think going to the top was really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to pay for tickets, you just have to reserve online or stand in line really early in the morning. But it doesn’t really offer anything special. You go up to the top, you look through little dirty windows at the city, you go back down. I suppose if you like heights it’d be cool, but I’m kind of indifferent to that.

Favorite Smithsonian: American History by far. I’m not a history buff per se, but this museum just had so many fascinating exhibits and neat holdings, like the actual Star-Spangled Banner or Dorothy’s ruby slippers. It’s a museum of American culture as much as it’s a museum of American history.

Least Favorite Smithsonian: I didn’t enjoy the Air and Space Museum much, but that has more to do with my personal tastes. I don’t really like science and engineering when they get technical, nor do I have much of an appreciation for technology and “how things work.” So all the exhibits on planes and flight were much too dry for me. The space side was better, though.

Favorite Thing That Wasn’t Free: The Newseum. You know why.

Favorite Restaurant: I’m sure DC is a foodie’s heaven…if you have the money. I didn’t, so we didn’t do a lot of eating out. But, there was one place we kept going back to, and that place is Good Stuff Eatery. It’s a burger joint, but more like 5 Guys than McDonalds. The burgers are handcrafted and juicy, the fries are creatively seasoned, and the milkshakes… ah, the milkshakes. It’s possible that more than anything, I’ll miss late night runs to Good Stuff. If you are ever in DC, go there. It’s worth every penny.

An Evening with the Army Band

I have two more full days left in DC. Two! It’s hard to believe and very bittersweet. I have had an incredible time here, but I am excited to start a new semester at Marquette. I have gotten so much from this experience though, and I feel very lucky to have participated in this program. Any Marquette student reading this who is thinking about the Les Aspin program – DO IT.

Tonight a few other students and I headed out to the Army Band concert at the Sylvan Theater, which is an amphitheater at the Washington Monument. I had been looking forward to this for a couple weeks because its selling point is a performance of the Overture 1812 – complete with actual cannon fire. I mean, how could I miss this?

The Army Band in action.

The entire show was phenomenal. I was a little disappointed because a few of the musical selections were also played at the Army Band concert on the Capitol steps that I attended a couple weeks ago. But the new material definitely made up for it. I don’t consider myself much of a musical connoisseur nor do I have any specialized knowledge, but it all sounded beautiful to me, and in a perfect setting too – among a crowd of people beneath the Washington Monument on a pleasant summer evening.

I don’t consider myself to be passionately patriotic, but it was hard not to get caught up in the patriotism of the night. There was a medley of tunes associated with the different major US wars (Revolutionary, Civil, WWI, etc.) as well as a medley of the service songs of each of the branches of the armed forces. As each song was played, audience members who had either served in the given branch or who had family members who had stood – it was quietly poignant moment.

The performance of the Overture itself was FABULOUS. Again, I qualify this with saying I have no ear for music, but the piece is just so complex, sweeping and ebullient. I had never appreciated how perfectly that song builds to its climax – you keep thinking it’s about to take off and then it tones it down again, leaving you on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable peak.its hard not to have a big grin on your face at the end of it because it’s so bombastic and exhilarating. The cannons certainly helped with this feeling. It seems to me that if I couldn’t be here for the 4th of July, this is the next best thing – I can’t imagine another event being so perfect for summer in DC.

Capitols and Cupcakes

It’s been a whole week since I updated – sorry! Nothing particularly exciting has happened. We’ve been taking it easy our last couple weeks. Perhaps a bit too easy, thought. Now we’re sort of overwhelmed with all the things we’d like to squeeze into our last week.

Mother Joseph, prayin' and stuff.

I went on a second Capitol tour on Thursday. My roommate Liz, who is a congressional intern, was doing it for the engineers in the apartment who otherwise have no chance to visit the Capitol, and I liked the idea of getting to see the building again at a slower, more personalized pace. I got to see parts of the Capitol that my first tour blew past, like the old Senate Chamber or the original Supreme Court. Granted, much of the pieces in those rooms were replicas, but it was still interesting to see them recreated. I also had a chance to seek out two statues of interest as part of the state statues collection. The first was Father Marquette, which we naturally took a group shot of. The second was Mother Joseph, AKA Providence Health Care’s mascot. Sort of.

Today we ventured into Georgetown. This was something I really wanted to do, because I feel like we’ve done a lot of sightseeing related to specific sights and locations like the monuments and museums, but not a lot of just wandering and seeing parts of the city. I had heard Georgetown described as a “posh” district and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The streets are lined with tons of preppy, hipster stores like Urban Outfitters, Lacoste and Ed Hardy (bleh). There were also tons of restaurants and artsy stores. It’s definitely a great place to window shop.

The line of people willing to stand in line for a half hour to pay $3 to devour a morsel of deliciousness.

No visit to Georgetown is complete without stopping by Georgetown Cupcake, or at least that’s what every visitor to DC is told. We certainly weren’t willing to doubt that wisdom, and so we dutifully got in line, which stretched down the block. We probably waited about a half hour, which is standard. Recently the bakery got its own TV show on TLC in the vein of shows like Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes. I have no familiarity with the show, but there were plenty of people seeking autographs from the bakery’s owners and various workers. We made sure to take a picture with one of the employees for posterity’s sake.

The cupcakes themselves definitely lived up to the hype. I had a Mint Cookies n’ Creme cupcake – mint Oreo icing and bits of cookie in the cake itself. It was pretty fantastic. I have a Chocolate Birthday Cupcake awaiting me later tonight, which is a more traditional chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing. Other flavors included Key Lime, Toffee Crunch, Chocolate Peanut Butter… basically, they have a ton of flavors and it’s all ridiculously delicious. Certainly if you’re not already jonesing for a cupcake it’s probably not worth waiting in line, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth and some time, you really can’t go wrong.

Our haul.

Mint Cookies n' Creme. It took approximately five minutes two eat: four minutes of admiring its cupcakey goodness and one minute of cupcake devouring.

DC Moments

The Supreme Court

Thursday’s mini-adventure: the Supreme Court. Like the Capitol, it’s a building I walk past often but one I hadn’t yet visited.  We had a small chunk of time that day, and I wanted to make sure we seized the opportunity. Apparently after August 6, the courtroom will be closed for cleaning—and what’s the point of visiting the Supreme Court and not actually seeing the court?

There aren’t official tours at the court, but they do have a 25 minute lecture on the history of the court which is given within the court room itself, so that’s your opportunity to actually see the room, besides getting to poke your head in for a few seconds.

The lecture was much more interesting than I expected. I learned a lot about how the court itself works, in terms of proceedings and who sits where. During the lecture we sat in the benches on the public gallery, where average people can sit during hearings if they’re lucky enough to snag a seat.

I was amazed at how small the room was. I suppose the name “Supreme Court” just conjures up such images of grandiosity—I expected marble floors and majestic columns, nine seats sitting on an elevated platform… It was a lovely room, to be sure (sorry, no photos allowed) but much more intimate than I would have thought. I would guess the public gallery seats no more than 75. It definitely seemed very reminiscent of the era in which it was built (the 1930s) – a neoclassical style (columns, marble, etc.) with more modern accents, like rich carpeting, deep red drapes and dark wooden furniture.

One thing I thought was interesting about our trip is that while we were there, sitting in the courtroom, Elena Kagan was being confirmed by the Senate. When we got home from the court, I checked the news and saw she had been accepted to the position. It just seemed kind of cool that as that was happening, I was sitting in the very room in which she would soon be deciding cases—a very DC moment.

Army Band on the steps of the Capitol.

Another very DC moment: on Friday evening, I went for a walk with a couple other students, just wanting to get some fresh air. As we were walking around the Capitol, however, we heard the beginning of the national anthem and found the Army Band orchestra at the steps of the Capitol, getting ready to begin a concert. We quickly abandoned our walk and settled in with the dozens of other people (how do they find out about these things??) to listen to the show. The night’s theme was movie scores, so there were plenty of recognizable tunes, including Disney and Sound of Music medleys. I call it a DC moment become that seems to be very typical of this city in the summer – a lot of random events and concerts to stumble upon, taking advantage of the pleasant evening temperatures.

This morning was an adventure of a different kind. A group of us had decided that we would like to go see a sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial so we settled upon this morning to go. One complication of that is the Metro does not start running until 7 a.m., so we would have to walk the whole way (3 miles). But, we were feeling intrepid, and so off we went at 4:30 in the morning. It was really interesting to see such a familiar location (the Mall) at such an odd time. Everything was deserted and quiet, but in a peaceful way, not an eerie one. The World War II memorial was especially lovely at that hour, I thought – it was softly lit, and the only sound was the murmur of the various water features.

We made it to the Lincoln Memorial around 5:30 a.m. (right on schedule!). It was so neat to be there with so few other people. Granted, seeing the sunrise from there is not an entirely novel idea; there were probably 20 or so people there with us. But compared to the hundreds that are crawling over it during the day, it’s kind of special to be able to stand in front of the statue of Lincoln and not have to be disrupted by throngs of tourists.

Lincoln Memorial at an ungodly hour.

That’s the real value in seeing DC at sunrise, I think – you get a chance to enjoy all the popular monuments in a very personal way. The sunrise itself wasn’t anything spectacular, in my opinion.  But sitting there in the quiet of dawn on the steps of one of the city’s most popular and recognizable spots was a special experience, and I’m glad I did it.

Another upside of the sunrise trip is that we were able to get in line for tickets to go up the Washington Monument. They release same-day tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at 8:30 a.m., so people usually line up in advance. We got there around 7:15 and there were already maybe 30 people in front of us. But the line quickly ballooned behind us to probably 100 people, so I’m definitely glad we got in line when we did. I’m not sure what to expect from the tour, but hopefully it’ll be fun and the view will be nice—we specifically timed it to happen around sunset. And thus our day will come full circle.

Some more pictures:

World War II Memorial

Shortly before sunrise


The memorial as the sunlight hits it.

If you've been here, you can appreciate that the lack of people in this shot is pretty impressive.

The line for Washington Monument tickets. Someone should have gotten up a little earlier!

Capitolizing on an Opportunity (har)

Inside of the Capitol dome, featuring the Apotheosis of George Washington.

I went on a Capitol tour on Saturday which is pretty much the most blog-worthy event of the weekend (my best friend Jenna came down and while we had a lot of fun, it was more in just enjoying each other’s company). I was pretty excited for the tour because I had not yet been inside the Capitol, unlike most of my fellow interns, who are congressional interns and thus known the Capitol intimately (they even give tours themselves!). So I was particularly glad Jenna was coming to visit, since that gave me an excuse to go on a Capitol tour.

We made tour reservations online, and after checking in and receiving our official tour stickers we waited for our tour time to roll around. The first thing we had to do was sit through a short film on the history of the nation and of Congress. I was expecting some sort of America! Yeah! propaganda, but it was actually a pretty well-made film and I could see it being fairly helpful for people for whom high school civics classes are a distant memory.

After that, we were sorted into lines and given a set of headphones that amplified a microphone connected to our respective tour guide. It’s a pretty smart system – you can always hear your guide even if you’re not up front, and it eliminates distractions from hearing other nearby tour groups.

The Capitol dome used to only be as high as the lip just above the painting. And it is a painting, not a relief - it was deliberately painted to look three dimensional. Ooh!

The tour itself wasn’t very long or extensive, which is probably good for some people but I would have liked to have seen more. But getting to see the Rotunda is probably worth doing a tour alone – very spacious, pretty and historical. One aspect of the Capitol that’s kind of fun is that every state gets to place two statues of prominent natives of that state in the Capitol. I know Wisconsin has a Pere Marquette statue (Marquette University’s namesake) but I didn’t see it. I did see one of Washington’s, Marcus Whitman, whom I had never heard of. I have since learned he was some sort of missionary/explorer (his statue wears a coonskin hat, naturally) for whom Whitman College was named. Apparently Washington’s other statue is Mother Joseph – wish I could have found her for my mom!

I didn’t pay as much attention to the tour as I probably should have. I’ve just gotten so used to being able to see DC at my speed (I haven’t done any sort of tour since I’ve been here) that I like to wander and take time to look at things, but you don’t really have that luxury on a Capitol tour. But I did absorb some tidbits, like the fact that the Capitol Dome used to be much lower (see picture above) or that there is a tomb beneath the Capitol intended for George Washington, although he isn’t actually buried there (neither he nor his family wanted it).

The tour was definitely worth it. It was nice to finally step inside a building I walk past almost every day, and to do so with my intern hat taken off – I could just be a gawky tourist and not care about looking like I’m a seasoned DC veteran.

Capitol Rotunda (this isn't a very good quality picture, sorry)

Statuary Hall (not all the statues are located in here, but a bunch are).

Marcus Whitman. I bet he speaks authentic frontier gibberish!

Misc. Photos

I’ve been keeping up with posting pics to facebook, but I realize not all my legions of fans are following me there (hi mom and dad!) so I just wanted to offer some miscellaneous photos that don’t quite fit in with other posts.

Headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce (where I work - although I don't actually work at HQ)

The White House! Which is right across from headquarters

I like to take sunset pictures.

Hey, it's a sunset.

Golly, it's another sunset.

President Garfield never looked so good.