Semi Finalist 2010 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I had never been on a train before, but at 8 AM on a Wednesday morning, the scene was hectic. Crowds of business people with Bluetooth devices glued to their ears, college students with iPod headphones drowning out the morning buzz, and everyday commuters with newspapers curled in their hands all awaiting the friendly female voice on the loudspeaker to announce that our train from Penn Station in Baltimore was boarding.
I had never been on a train before, but at 8 AM on a Wednesday morning, the scene was hectic. Crowds of business people with Bluetooth devices glued to their ears, college students with iPod headphones drowning out the morning buzz, and everyday commuters with newspapers curled in their hands all awaiting the friendly female voice on the loudspeaker to announce that our train from Penn Station in Baltimore was boarding. Rule number one of train travel: when that gate opens, crowds of passengers become like a mass of people in the running of the bulls, pushing as if their lives depended on it.
My spirits were high on that 31st day of March, and I was genuinely excited to see my nation’s capital for the first time. I gazed out the window as the city and graffiti and houses flew by until I slipped into a sleepy daze.
The train squealing to a stop awoke me. And as my mother, father, and sister filed off the train and through the loading deck, I entered a vision from the movies. Union Station was ostentatious, lavishly strewn with ornate carvings and life sized statues. Not to mention how huge it was; there was a shopping mall inside the station, it was that big. For all of those arriving by train in the capital of the free world, there would be no disappointment.
We stopped at an orange and green booth that boasted: “Old Town Trolley Tours: Washington DC’s Best Sightseeing Tour.”
“You picked a great day to visit,” chirped the young girl working at the booth. “They moved up the peak day for the cherry blossom festival to today.” After purchasing four one-day passes to get on and off around the city whenever we please, my family settled on the trolley and I got my first view at the city. For anyone who hasn’t already, I highly suggest visiting DC during cherry blossom season. I had underestimated the beauty that these tiny flowers exuded. But what was more captivating than one flower was the whole compilation of the trees throughout the city. It was as if they had stored their splendor for 351 days of the year and then graced the world with their magnificence for a mere two weeks, all simultaneously choreographed to emerge on the same day.
The tour guide began to talk about the history and design of Union Station. Halfway through the tour, I realized that almost everything in Washington DC is symbolic. For example, on the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain outside the train station, the Native American facing the west represents the new world and the elderly man facing east represents the old world. Most visitors just pass by these statues without even glancing at them. But statues are like snowflakes: each one is unique. Did you know that on a statue of a horse, you can tell how the rider died by looking at the horse’s feet? Or that before the White House was rebuilt after a fire, it was pink? So many details of history go unnoticed every day. The congressmen on their way to work drive by and probably don’t know that 15 of the Smithsonian Institute’s 19 museums are in DC. Tourists snap 20 pictures of the Lincoln Monument without realizing that the columns were purposely built crooked to avoid looking crooked.
That’s why it takes more than one day to see the capital, just like it would take more than 600 words to describe it.
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