On March 19th, 2011, I landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but it was not until I saw the Washington Monument, its tip piercing the clear morning sky, through the rear passenger window that I fully understood I was in Washington D.C. Months of planning with my parents, the head of my high school's Social Studies department, and the dedicated and efficient individuals at WorldStrides helped me have the experience of a lifetime.
My travel group consisted of nine of my classmates as well as a separate group from Kansas, with whom we met up shortly upon arrival, and we were all provided with WorldStrides name tags so that we could identify one another when not together and thus avoid getting lost. Our first destination was Arlington National Cemetery, where we saw the solemn "changing of the guard" ceremony before visiting the Kennedy burial plot. I was awestruck by the cemetery's size; it seemed an ocean of stone.
We next saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Its Memorial Wall helped me better understand the scope of the war and its casualties and made me realize that the war still impacts people today. As night approached, we visited the Lincoln and Korean War memorials, and the darkness complimented them well, as it imparted a sense of beauty and majesty upon them that would otherwise be lost in daylight. I therefore highly recommend visiting these and other memorials at night whenever possible.
The next morning began with a tour of George Washington's home, Mount Vernon. While it was interesting to see Washington's resting place as well as the slave quarters and the kitchen, the highlight of the visit was the breathtaking view of the Potomac River at the rear of the estate (the tour itself felt rushed because of the protectiveness of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which maintains the estate).
I would like to say that the day went smoothly after that, but the actions of the Kansas group almost made us miss our appointment at the Washington Monument (tickets to go inside are free, but they must be procured in advance). While I and a few others headed towards the monument, the Kansas group disappeared, and after a few minutes of being unable to contact them, I learned that they went to the World War II memorial, which was not on the itinerary. Fortunately, we regrouped in time to keep the appointment.
An elevator inside took us to the five hundredth floor, which contains a quaint museum exhibiting the monument's history and also has four viewing windows, one on each side of the monument, offering a 360-degree view of the city. It was great for photographs, but the moment was spoiled somewhat because of maintenance work being done on the Reflecting Pool.
We ended the second night with visits to the Jefferson, Marine Corps, and Franklin Roosevelt memorials. The FDR memorial is an expansive, outdoor memorial divided into sections corresponding to FDR’s presidential terms. The Marine Corps memorial, based on a photograph of the American flag being raised during the battle of Iwo Jima, creates the illusion of the flag being raised if circled from a distance.
Following a brief tour of the Capitol, I spent the last day of the trip at the Smithsonian Museums of American History and Natural History, completely immersing myself in the exhibits. Overall, it was a pleasant end to a highly-anticipated and worthwhile trip. Washington, D.C. is a beautiful city that exudes history and pride through its attractions, and it definitely should not be missed.
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