July 31, 2010

Philadelphia to Washington DC

July 5, 2010 -- On Day 3 of the Pennsylvania Triangle, I woke up early, packed up my belongings, and checked out of the Sheraton. As my car emerged from the underground parking lot I felt a pang of bittersweet emotions. Departing a hotel usually comes at the end of a vacation, though this triangle still had two more points on the horizon. Besides, I had the morning to see the historic sights of the City of Brotherly Love. :)

I found a parking spot on the street and made my way to the Independence Visitor Center. It proved to be a great place to get information and map out the highlights that I wanted to see. I was able to plot out a walking tour that would take me on a circle through the city and bring me right back to my car. I knew that no trip to Philadelphia would be complete without a visit to Independence Hall so I made that my first destination.

Independence Hall is a red brick building constructed between the years of 1732 and 1753. The Hall is adjoined on both sides by two smaller buildings: Old City Hall to the east and Congress Hall to the west. These three buildings make up a city block known as Independence Square.

As I stepped into Independence Hall, I was led by a park ranger first to the court room. I could feel history pervading the air and dripping off of the pumpkin-hued walls.

Then, I was taken across the hall to the Assembly Room. This was it! The room where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. I was standing in the very place where some of the biggest names in history signed there names to a document making America a country: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Samuel Adams... I became filled with awe and veneration. This was amazing.

Some of the other stops on my walking tour of historic Philadelphia included:

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier--sitting in Washington Square Park, it is a beautiful monument that features a perpetual flame.

The Liberty Bell Pavilion
--this symbol of freedom originally made its home in the Bell Tower Steeple of Independence Hall, though that space is now occupied by the Centennial Bell.

Franklin's Court
--a white silhouette has been erected on this site to show the place where Benjamin Franklin's house once stood. The courtyard also boasts the printing press, as well as a museum that features Franklin's armonica and 4-sided music stand.

Benjamin Franklin's Grave--it is said to be good luck to toss a coin on his stone.

Betsy Ross' House--a winding tour through the narrow corridors of the home of America's most famous flag-maker.

It was early afternoon as I finished up my walking tour. The heat was reaching 103 degrees so I decided to step into a shopping mall called "The Bourse" to cool off and have lunch before I set off on the road again.

I had the music of Stevie Ray Vaughn to keep me company as I made the two-hour drive from Philly to Washington DC. I was very excited to be heading toward this part of the triangle...

At about 3:30, I pulled my car into the underground parking lot of the Hilton Washington. A beautiful hotel set in the middle of Dupont Circle, a trendy area full of hip cafes, restaurants, and shops. I checked in and unpacked and heading back out on foot to the subway. Let me say that the Washington DC subway system is incredible. At the Dupont Circle station, I descended into the tunnels on a long escalator. My eyes followed the words of Walt Whitman etched on the walls around me as the escalator carried me down. The tunnels were cavernous and beautiful, the trains immaculate. I rode the RED line to Metro Center and transferred to the BLUE line to the Smithsonian.

I emerged from the tunnel at Smithsonian station to find Capital Hill looming before me, its great white dome gleaming in the sun. I turned around to discover the Washington Monument towering over the horizon line like a marble arrow nearly scraping the stratosphere. My first impressions of the National Mall were humbling to be sure. What grandeur! Wow!

Let me say that Washington DC is a place of optical illusions. In photographs, the highlights of DC always look closer and smaller than they are. I have seen the famous picture of the Washington Monument shimmering in the reflective pool hundreds of times and it always seemed that the pool and the monument were right next to each other. Not so. They are actually separated by a field the length of three football fields, a major highway, and the World War II Memorial. Needless to say, it was a long walk from the subway tunnel to the Washington Monument. The temperature was skyrocketing and, for the first time, I was feeling the pressure of the weather. My feet became leaden with each step as the obelisk began to dominate my field of vision.

Truly amazing! I was spellbound to be standing at the base of this familiar sight. Surrounded by flags, it is about as awesome a spectacle as one could ever see. I took the elevator up 500 feet to the observation deck and, through the hazy afternoon air, got an aerial view of the National Mall and all of Washington beyond it.

As I left the Washington Monument, I could see the Lincoln Memorial standing at the opposite end of the reflective pool. It was another very long walk, though the path is dotted with sights: The World War II Memorial--ornate columns surrounding an oval pool, its cool fountains filling the midday air with watery motion and sound. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial--the names etched on the long wall read like an encyclopedia of heroism, the sidewalk in front of the wall face littered with flowers, candles, dog-tags, photographs, and handwritten notes of love and gratitude. The Korean War Memorial--its silver/gray soldiers patrolling a pristine garden and a fountain inscribed with the words "Freedom is not free." I felt veneration and patriotism growing within my heart as I passed these places.

Then the Lincoln Memorial stood before me. An impressive sight! I climbed the steps, passing by crowds of onlookers, to stand beneath the great statue of a seated Abe Lincoln. He is an amazing presence, even in stone. His profound words adorned the walls around me and I was quickly swept up in the magic of the moment. This place is history. It is... America...

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life; you stretch out
your hand
against the anger of my foes,
with your right hand
you save me."

~Psalm 138:7