Before I start, I thought it appropriate to remind you that this is not a political blog (for a little more information regarding my typical focus, click here). For a long while I found myself preoccupied with the concept of political journalism. The thought of reporting on the front lines of history with a notepad in hand held an undeniable appeal, and indeed this is a dream that hasn’t entirely been abandoned. With Rory Gilmore as my idol (Owen Jones coming in a close second) and events unfolding every day, my political fascination persists.
Nevertheless, the future of my journalistic pursuits in this area remain unclear, and for our purposes, irrelevant. Whilst politics is a discipline that engages my academic interests, it is in sharing tales of my travel adventures that I elicit the most satisfaction. As such, rather than throw in my two cents on our most recent diplomatic disaster, I decided the adoption of a slightly different approach was more apt. With this and recent events in mind, today’s destination is none other than Washington D.C. Perhaps, in allowing ourselves to be transported back in time to a snowy week in February, the power of language will enable us to truly ‘make America great again’, even if it is only momentarily.
When people say that everything in America is big, they’re not joking. The buildings, the queues and most importantly, the portions; the USA is a giant’s playground. Visiting the country’s capital on a school trip earlier this year, food became a key priority for the twenty teenage girls involved. Our second night in the city witnessed our arrival at an Italian family favourite, Buca di Beppo. Red leather booths and celebrity photographs on the wall hiding behind a set of double doors on Connecticut Avenue, this restaurant is a must. Even without the included insight into the bustling kitchens on entry, this is an establishment that deals only in family size. With servings of cheese plentiful (both the dairy product and the cringe inducer), this was a wonderful start to our culinary adventure. Rest assured however, the fun didn’t end there. Choking down black coffee on Capitol Hill in a desperate attempt to blend in with the Starbucks fuelled twenty-somethings shuffling papers on the run and munching on bagels the size of my head, if there’s one thing America does well, it’s food.
Having crossed one American dream off the list, it felt only right to embark on a spot of shopping. Male teachers having safely set up base at a nearby café, the next four hours was a blur of dressing rooms, bags and aching feet. Although I can’t deny there’s never any harm in indulging in the odd purchase (or for one of my friends I’m certain mistook herself for Carrie Bradshaw with a card without limit, a hundred or so), I had much more fun talking to the people I met along the way. Feigning modesty at the compliments directed our way (‘What? My accent, cute? Don’t be absurd!’) whilst secretly trying ever so hard to channel our inner Keira Knightly and stand that little bit straighter was an adventure in itself. Though we aren’t all on a first name basis with Queen Liz, despite numerous enquiries suggesting otherwise, it’s difficult not to get wrapped up in the affection. I’m not advocating that we all succumb to those pesky British stereotypes, there’s more to England than fish and chips and Kate Middleton’s floppy hats, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a little pride in your culture when others are able to appreciate its beauty.
Having shopped and eaten our way through the capital, the next logical step was to seek out a few laughs. In a fairly fabulous surprise, we discovered that we would be attending a comedy show at the Kennedy Center. For most, such an event was entirely novel. Having no experience of comedy (other than a front-row seat to the antics of our teacher duo), our metro carriage was charged with excitement. They say that through travel we are able to broaden our horizons and challenge our preconceptions, embracing new opportunities that you’ve never considered before. Honestly? I haven’t entirely made up my mind with regards to an adventure’s ability to change your life but I can assure you of one thing; if you haven’t yet attended a comedy show then do so, quickly. It wasn’t moving or particularly inspiring but it was, without doubt, unapologetically hilarious. Never in my seventeen years to date have I laughed so determinedly or for so long. I won’t try and pretend that it wasn’t awkward. With the language on stage as foul as it was amusing, avoiding eye contact with our teachers whilst both parties tried desperately hard to suppress the giggles was a struggle in itself. Nevertheless, it was a night of humour, magic and memories that truly brought the house down, let’s just hope a certain Presidential elect doesn’t have the same effect on his not so humble abode.
For anyone that knows me, my laborious relationship with walking is no secret. Possessing little love for physical activity, the prospect of a five hour walking tour in arctic conditions didn’t exactly have me jumping for joy. However, despite having little feeling in my toes and blisters for the record books by the end of our expedition, it was surprisingly remarkable. As wonderful as our culinary adventures and comedic encounters were, there’s nothing quite like exploring a city on foot. Washington D.C and it’s skyline that boasts as much history as it does potential can only be described as unique. I’ve seen a few landscapes in my time, from the high rises of Hong Kong to the minaret scattered skies of Istanbul, but it’s difficult to deny that America’s capital was pretty special. Perhaps it was the infamy of it, the dome of Congress building as imposing as it appears in episodes of the West Wing. Or maybe, the sheer size of these political institutions was enough to inspire a little awe amongst the Cotswold-residing English girls high on caffeine and excitement. Either way, I’m impressed.
Regardless of the spectacle and movie-magic, Washington is a city with a sombre side. Our trek witnessed selfies at the Monument, gasps at the National Archives and a genuine appreciation for history at Lincoln’s statue. However, it was our visit to the memorials dedicated to the remembrance of the Vietnam and Korean conflicts that wielded such poignancy. Tasteful is perhaps the wrong adjective, to reduce such locations to a comment on decorum seems a little lacking in sensitivity. This being said, I want to reiterate the principle. It cannot be simple to construct structures with such signifcance and thus to do so with such grace and artistic dignity is commendable. The inscriptions on black stone and the nineteen steel statues brought the wars that we had only studied in the classroom to life. Our pursuit of the theme led us to West Potomac Park and a physical salute to Martin Luther King. Reading the words that inspired a community on walls surrounding a statue of the individual himself was a sobering experience. After exploring the the darker side of the past, popping in on Barack and succumbing to frostbite, it was time to call it a day. Warmth trumping walking (excuse the pun), our motley crew piled onto the metro. Our teacher’s booming voice attracting the chuckles of numerous Americans as he identified us as the school students we were, we arrived at our hotel, style suitably cramped.
Washington was a combination of wonderful adventures. Perfecting our walk-and-talk in the halls of Congress, braving the snowpocalyspse at the National Mall and initiating a love affair with tater tots, my American experience was pretty spectacular. As our time in the capital came to an end, and we hopped on an Amtrak to NYC (details of which are soon to follow), it was difficult not to get caught up in the magic I’d just experienced. Standing in coffee queues with political interns, taking photos on a Senators’ balcony and walking in the footsteps of heros has its effects. So, whilst there is something to be said for a bit of realism, I’ve come to realise that it’s alright to let a place like Washington inspire you to give it a shot. After all, if an orange faced bigot can do it, then so can we.