After spending the previous few days seeing sights relatively close to the hotel, Wednesday was the day we decided to branch out a little and see a little more outside of the National Mall area of Washington. To that end, I was very thankful that my friend Heather was available to help get Mom and me around.
Our first stop was just on the edge of the area we’d already seen, the Jefferson Memorial. It sat by itself across a small pond from the Washington Monument. It’s also an area that is highly prized during the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which had been going on while we were visiting, but the unseasonably cold weather had prevent the blooms from showing their stuff…but a few trees were finally starting to break through. The monument itself, much like the others, was a huge construction with carved quotes on the inner walls, all facing a giant statue. Jefferson looked out over the water and towards the Washington Monument, and I imagine on a warmer day it would have been lovely to just sit on the steps and watch people on paddle boats. But that was not this day.
We drove out afterwards to see Arlington National Cemetery. It was a somber walk/roll through the grounds on our way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Seeing a place like that on television and seeing it in person is a much different experience. The gravestones stretched out as far as the eye could see; some were just soldiers, while others included their families. Some markers had small rocks on top of them, signifying someone had visited. I came across one that must have had a dozen stones lining the top and found out later it belonged to Joe Louis. We made it up to the Tomb in time to see a ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony, which was quite a sight to behold. The honor and tradition in such a ceremony spoke loudly of the honor it was to be a part of it, no matter how many times the soldiers had stood guard before. The Tomb itself overlooks the entire city of Washington and is very peaceful.
As we walked back to the Visitor’s Center, I noticed a group of Vietnam veterans walking together; I imagined they were visiting friends, or perhaps just paying their respects overall. I wondered what when through their mind when they were in such a hallowed place. I’m sure their emotions were quite strong, whatever they were. I had no military experience whatsoever and there were moments I felt like I could just burst into tears at the gravity of it all.
The final stop of the day was the National Cathedral. It’s way off in another part of town and, though it’s large and quite majestic, you don’t see it until you’re right up on it. What struck me is that it’s just as big and ornate as cathedrals like Notre Dame and felt out of place in this country. It felt older than absolutely everything else, like it had been air-dropped from Europe. As I walked inside, my ears were instantly full of the rich, echoing sound of the organ. We were just in time for a demonstration, apparently, and as I walked to the back and marveled at the stained glass and rich detail the melodic tones washed over me like a baptism. It was wonderful. Once they finished, I even got to walk up and see the organ itself…which was WAY more complicated than I expected. But a testament that nothing that beautiful is easy.
The rest of the afternoon was restful; Thursday promised to be another busy day of museum hopping.