Having stayed in a lot of hostels throughout the world we had a level of anticipation of what to expect from the hostel (“Duo Housing DC”) that we had booked into as it has regularly been voted in the top 5 in the USA and was No. 1 two months last year, however after our stay there we and considering how much we paid for it we certainly question their status. Our uncomfortable creaky beds in an unventilated 12 room dorm cost us just over $90USD for 2 nights. Arriving to check in we were given an A4 page with size 10 writing full of the house rules for us to sign before we were allowed in the front door. I don’t have a problem with the house rules being spelt out, and many of them were common sense etiquettes when staying in a hostel, but the staff made the atmosphere feel like we were naughty little children, constantly watching over our shoulders. This combined with the multitude of signs around the hostel telling us what to do, what not to do and the punishment if we are caught doing/not doing something really suppressed the usual relaxed hostel vibe. The head manager made us feel like he was doing us a favour letting us stay in his hostel instead of treating us with the respect we deserved as paying guests. Signs in the bathroom stated that they could not guarantee hot water during peak times. Again, given their status and the availability of gas hot water in the USA this seems poor. Fortunately we had managed to organise a couple to couch surf with for 2 of the 4 nights we were in DC so we didn’t have to stay there the whole time.

On our first day we went to the top of the Post Office Tower for a view over the city and the main monuments and museums along the Mall. Ty got told off for pulling the safety wires apart to take photos despite the gigantic signs that he read telling him not to. nothing new there!
Relaxing in the sun by the Washington Memorial
Capitol Hill
Lincoln Memorial
The Mall is a beautiful wide open space 2 miles long and forms the main part of town for the presidential monuments, parliament and the Smithsonian Museums. All big ceremonies take place on the grass (we could see them deconstructing the inauguration platform) and it is regularly used by Washington residents for running, cycling and sports. We started at the Washington memorial which is an Obelisk, then wandered past the World War 2 monument and along the reflection pool (where Jenny and Forest were reunited in Forest Gump) to the Abraham Lincoln memorial. Lincoln's memorial is pretty awesome. The fingers on his hands spell out the letter 'A' and 'L' as he was a supporter of the rights of deaf children and sign language. Heading up to the White House we stopped at the Vietnam monument. I am particularly bad at history but it was shocking to see the 58195 names engraved into the wall. I also didn’t realise just how long the War had run for. Next thing we hear an almighty roar and the presidents helicopter flies low overhead. Exciting!

The White House looks a lot smaller in the flesh than it did in Independence Day, and security is pretty tight so you are only allowed up to the front fence (not around the sides). If we had been more organised Ty could have got us free tickets for a tour inside since he’s an American but we weren’t – ah well. We ended up having a great chat with one of the Park Rangers at the White House visitor centre who had actually lived in Waipuk for 3 months a few years ago. She was excited to talk to people who actually knew where that was! I didn’t realise that the President’s Oval Office isn’t actually inside the White House but in an extension block to the side. 

We headed to the National Museum of American History to finish off the day and I enjoyed looking through the exhibition about the first ladies as a lot of their inauguration dresses were on display. Michelle Obama’s first outfit had accessories with 86 carats of diamonds!
White House
Eek! Tarantula!
The infamous Hope Diamond
Day two we explored the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. We arrived at the insect section just in time for tarantula feeding. Shudder! I kind of wish we hadn’t gone into that section though as we saw some gigantic Central American cockroaches! Double Shudder! I really hope we don’t come across any of them on our trip! Then we walked up to the back of Capitol Hill, where we met random guy who told us a story about how he had been to NZ and met Alison Roe, who he had seen run the New York Marathon, and she took him on a yacht around Auckland Harbour with a bunch of All Blacks to show him off ‘cos he knew who she was but he had no idea who the AB’s were. Apparently she asked what had been the best part of his trip and he said Stewart Island and asked her if she had been to which she replied ‘sort of’. Interest aroused he said ‘what do you mean, sort of?’ Turns out her parents had been there and 9 months later she arrived. Classic!

Walking back to the hostel to be picked up by Russell (our couchsurfing host) we stumbled across a Chinese New Year parade which was a nice surprise. We spent the evening relaxing at Russell and Katie’s and Russell taught us a new card game called phase 10 which Ty delighted himself in thrashing the two of us. Panda - if you are reading this I think it’s a game you’re going to enjoy!

We had a bit of a sleep in the next day before heading to Capitol Hill to have a look around Congress. Lucky for us, since we were really disorganised, we were able to get walk up tickets and didn’t have to wait long to get on a tour, as the guide said from next Monday they have 40 extra guides employed as their peak season starts and runs until Thanksgiving.

The random guy we talked to yesterday suggested we visit the American Indian Museum and eat lunch in their native café which we did and tried some purple potatoes, red quinoa, yellow beets and buffalo. The buffalo was cooked pulled pork style and was really flavourful which was good as the rest of it was rather plain. We had intended to just pop in quickly but the displays were really good and we spent a couple of hours wandering around.

We cooked dinner for our hosts to say thanks for having us and since Katie had study to do and it wasn’t raining Russell offered to take us out exploring the capital’s monuments by moonlight. We drove up to the Washington Cathedral and the down to the lake to wander around the presidential memorials. Lincoln, Kennedy and Jefferson all have these grand, statuesque monuments which radiate power but poor Mason who wrote the Bill of Rights has been rather neglected with a round fountain and statue him lazing on a park bench. Russell said he doesn’t get many visitors!

We spent our last day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It was really interesting looking at the space pods from the Gemini space missions, Saturn rockets, mocked up nuclear missile rockets and old planes from the Wright Brother’s days. There was a big section about the Apollo mission to the moon, including their space suits, some of the rock that they brought back and the pod that they returned to Earth in. We spent much more time here than we thought we would need to and still didn’t manage to see everything! Ty was disappointed that the Space Shuttle and the Blackbird plane were actually stored at another hanger out by the airport and unfortunately by the time we figured that out we didn’t have time to visit them.

Right this has got long enough!

Next stop: New Orleans!
This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind....but looks like something wrapped in tinfoil!
The Jefferson Memorial at night
Martin Luther King Jr memorial

Debbie lee
02/17/2013 12:38am

Amazing, can't wait to go there. xx

02/18/2013 7:57pm

Hey Debbie, yea DC is a very cool place - you should definitely check it out if you get the chance :)


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