Magnificent museums, wonderful art galleries, spectacular monuments and beautiful parks – Washington DC was a fantastic place to visit. In fact this astonishing city surpassed all our expectations. Before visiting we really only knew it was the seat of US power with landmark buildings such as the White House, Capitol and the famous Smithsonian Museum. We’d debated whether to even visit, but cruising friends convinced us it was well worth the long trip up the Potomac River. They were right.
Our first few days were spent walking and biking and just getting our bearings – DC is so much bigger and more spread out that you think. Thankfully, the Washington Channel anchorage, beside the east Potomac park, was very central. We enjoyed playing tourists; fighting crowds to get a glimpse of the White House, strolling along the grassy National Mall (site of anti-Vietnam war protests) and standing in the very spot where Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
Washington’s greatest attractions are its free to visit Smithsonian Museums – all 17 of them. There are some astounding exhibits on display including Edison’s light bulb, the Hope diamond, Judy Garland’s shoes from the Wizard of Oz, a 2000 year-old Egyptian mummy and the First Ladies’ inauguration gowns. The galleries contain fantastic works of art including Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir, Constable, Picasso and Warhol as well as some ancient Asian artefacts.
James Smithson was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland. In the late 1800s he donated four million pounds to establish an institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge” in Washington, despite having never visited the US. His generous legacy lives on in the wealth of displays exhibited in these beautifully appointed facilities which American philanthropists continue to donate to. There are some wonderful collections on show.
The most visited is the fascinating Air and Space (even busier than the Louvre) and we spent an entire day there ogling exhibits such as the 1903 Wright Flyer, Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis, Amelia Earhart’s Vega and the Apollo 11 module. There are many other museums in Washington as well such as the harrowing Holocaust Museum and the Spy Museum (full of James Bond memorabilia). Being a journalist the Newseum was a must do for me and we both spent hours there absorbing the fantastic exhibits including parts of the Berlin Wall and a graphic and moving 9/11 exhibit. When we tired of museums we’d jump on the bikes and go exploring or take a break in one of the many beautiful parks or gardens.
The spectacular monuments and memorials were well worth seeing. So much thought, effort and planning had gone into each one. The Martin Luther King memorial stood out for its fantastic gardens while the Roosevelt had memorable water features. The moving Vietnam War Memorial, Korean Memorial and the World War II memorials were all fitting tributes to those dark days. The wonderful bronze Einstein statue was quite stunning.
Arlington Cemetery was a must visit to see the Iwo Jima memorial. It was well worth the hard bike ride over the memorial bridge, flanked at the entrance with huge bronze statues of horses donated by Italy. Partway through our visit we were told bikes weren’t allowed in the cemetery so had to do the rest on foot – a hot hike up to the Kennedy graves and the tomb of the unknown warrior.
Every single day in Washington was a busy one – we didn’t want to miss a thing so kept on the move – our bikes proved worth their weight in gold. Ryan flew in from Spain for a break from Aschanti and it was great to have him in such an exciting and interesting city.
One of the highlights was the Gay Pride parade and festival……which took place over two days. Anything goes in Washington DC and it was all there on show…as the following photos show.
Weekends are when locals relax and it was a good time to visit the East Market in a gorgeous leafy residential area. The produce for sale was wonderful – fresh strawberries, asparagus, leafy greens, peaches, blueberries etc. We found an outdoor cafe and sat and drank coffee while a saxophone busker played to the crowds.
Fellow cruisers Carol and Pete on Jack Tar were anchored nearby and we had several sundowners with them – recapping our day’s adventures and sharing stories. It would have been easy to just stay on…but we need to keep moving north. We reluctantly pulled up a very muddy anchor and headed back down the river. It was great having Ryan to share helming on the long trip back down the Potomac!
Favourable winds provided brisk sailing back down the river and we made a quick run to Solomons – on the shores of the Chesapeake. With storm and tornado warnings in place we were anxious to be settled in a sheltered spot before the worst of the weather but our timing wasn’t good. We’d only just dropped anchor when the system hit and within seconds we had ferocious winds – the marina recorded 63knots and our instruments tripped out at 50. With it came driving horizontal rain and thunder and lightning directly overhead. It was very frightening for a while, especially as our main anchor hadn’t had time to set properly in the deep mud. Luckily we’d deployed a second anchor which held us. It wasn’t much fun but did blow through quickly and we came through unscathed.
All goes to show just how quickly things can turn nasty – and we’re still getting to grips with this unpredictable American weather!