Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two Hours in DC

If you had two hours - only 120 minutes - in Washington DC, what would you do? That was my dilemma yesterday. My job sent me there for the day to attend a seminar, and I left on the 5:08AM Amtrak train, arriving at Union Station at 7:20. I hopped on the Metro and arrived at the seminar site at 7:45. With 15 minutes to kill, I walked from Federal Triangle to the Washington monument, its soaring white obelisk magnificent against the cerulean sky. As I walked back to the Ronald Reagan Building where the seminar was, I began thinking about what I would do at 3PM when the seminar ended. I would have about two hours before needing to head back to Union Station to catch the 5:50 train.

Our Nation’s Capital is probably my favorite city. There is so much to see and do. So what could I do in two hours? The American History Museum was right across Constitution Avenue from the Reagan Building. Then there is the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, or the National Gallery of Art, all wonderful. I could catch the Metro to the Zoo, or head over to the Museum of the American Indian, or the National Botanical Garden.

Or I could do a walkabout, a sort of urban hike. What if I told you that it was a beautiful late fall day, with cool but comfortable temperature and the bright hues of autumnal colors? Would that influence your decision about how to spend your time? It did mine, and even if it sounds dorky, the walk is what I choose over all of those other grand options.

In two hours in peak walking condition, I can cover about 9 miles if I don’t have to stop for traffic or sight seeing. I am not in peak walking shape right now but could still easily walk 8 miles under those conditions. But I would be stopping to look at things and, of course, for the legendary Washington traffic. So maybe 5-6 miles was more realistic. During breaks, I plotted out a route, and after the seminar, I pulled my running shoes from my daypack and laced them on, business shoes consigned to the darkness of my pack after a full day of use.

I headed out towards the Washington Monument again, hoping to go to the top, but the tickets were sold out. From there, I walked down the Mall to the amazing World War II Monument. I went there with my late stepfather in 2005, and will always remember how moving it was to visit this long-overdue memorial with this proud WW II vet.
Next stop – the Jefferson Memorial, my second favorite monument in DC (and actually my favorite until a few years ago). As I walked along under the cherry trees, I remembered the day a few years ago when I was here when the Japanese cherries were at their absolute peak blossom. It was like walking through a forest of soft pink, and was incredibly beautiful. Yesterday, I was treated to the autumnal yellows as their leaves were changing color.
I lingered at the Jefferson Memorial for a while, savoring the architecture and the views back to the White House. Then, I started walking along the west side of the Tidal Basin, and reached my current favorite spot in Washington – the fairly new Franklin Delano Roosevelt Monument. Unlike the others, this Memorial is not a single spot, but essentially a journey through FDR’s presidency. Just like every other time I’ve been here, I was so moved by some of the displays. I find it a very emotional place, this tribute to a man long gone when I was born, and the artists and designers have done an incredible job with it.
Next on my walking tour was the Lincoln Memorial, also always inspirational. This man, like FDR, saved our nation in a very perilous time. Now, I had a decision to make, and a difficult one at that. I had wanted to cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge and go into Arlington National Cemetery to see the Kennedy gravesite, but had run out of time. I could still cross the bridge and catch the Metro there, or I could swing through the Vietnam War Memorial and walk back to the Federal Triangle Metro stop. The latter was a longer walk but I choose it because the Metro ride would be shorter, and I didn’t want to risk missing my train. Plus, it was my older brother Chris’s birthday yesterday, and he is far away right now. So I could honor him by visiting the Vietnam Memorial on his birthday. I am thankful that his name is not on the dark, black wall, but am sure that some of his comrades’ names are.

My walk ended with me hoofing it back up the Mall, past the WW II Memorial again, past the Washington Monument, and back to the Federal Triangle stop. As it turned out, I had plenty of time, as the train was 45 minutes late. Combine that with a snails pace due to some kind of trouble for the first 15 miles of the trip home, and I arrived home nearly at 10PM instead of the planned 8:15. But it was a fun day, and a nice little walk in our Nation’s Capital. Oh, what more I could have seen with just one more hour!

That is how I chose to spend my 120 minutes (actually it was 110 because the seminar ran late) in Washington, DC. What would you have done?


  1. Ah you were in my neck of the woods. Washington is a great city to walk around in. I should go there more often!

  2. I was going to say I'd go to the Botanical Gardens, but your itinerary sounds better. One of the things I miss about living in Richmond is being able to take D.C. day trips.

  3. Hi Karen and Les - it is my favorite city, and I love being just two hours away (well, 4 hours if the traffic on I-95 is hellish). I love walking around there.

    I love the Botanical Gardens, Les - it is a well kept secret and just incredible.