If there was one place in DC that I had to go, other than the toilet as a natural reaction to things as we all have to (you can laugh now), it was the National Ar and Space Museum. Being fascinated by planes and rockets and such, this place was a mecca for me and the first stop on our long sixteenth day in DC. Again we didn't start out particularly early but we did make it out of the hostel earlier than on other days which was an achievement in itself we reckoned as we talked on the way to the subway station by the DC United Stadium named after Robert F Kennedy.
A short trip to the Smithsonian stop on the metro line left us almost directly in front of the Air and Space Museum. A quick security check and sign announcing that they were open until 7:30pm rather than the usual time of two hours earlier reassured me a I reckoned we could be caught for time in this museum, the world's most popular. And it ain't the world's most popular due to the security guards I can tell you that. I've become used to security checks at doors over here, not that I agree with a lot of them or see the point in some of them but they there and this isn't my country so I can't dictate that they should or should not be. Anyway being so used to them I slipped off my belt, got ready to put my camera through the machine and such only for the security guard to verbally slap me with, "sir, you're not listening, no belts or cameras, walk through". So I could just walk through with this stuff then? Seemingly so. Well I did anyway and you know what, he was right, I wasn't listening and it is only now hitting me that many Americans aren't either. The reason is that so many are sick of hearing about terror threats, alert levels and stop here, undo your belt, stick out your tongue to show if you're lying, type of things that are going on. An automatic reaction has entered the consciousness and I'm not even American. So there, it was automatic, I wasn't listening.
As for the museum itself, well it really is something else. Planes hang from the ceiling, the Mercury capsule stands encased in perspex alongside a Gemini capsule. To think that this capsule opened it's door in space to allow a man to float around outside was a thought worth remembering as I gazed at the switches, the tiny area to sit in, the control column and screens. A mobile phone has more computing power than this I thought...some watches too. Plenty of satellites and probes were on display including the Voyager probe, a test model of the one that is now in deep deep space way past our solar system. The lunar module was on show and this itself made me excited for this thing was up there on the moon, or at least was a full model or ground test version of it. In fact most were ground test vehicles so you were looking at the real thing, at the one that would go up if the other couldn't. It doesn't get a lot more real than that and yes, it was big.
You can walk through a Skylab test vehicle to see the first US space station, look into a 747 cockpit (they chopped off the front of a 747). I could go on and on but really you get the picture. Oh and there were missiles there too, ICBM's like the SS20 from Russia and the US Minuteman. There was the Sidewinder and the Exocet missile. Basically there was an awful lot of stuff, all of which was fantastic.
The idea for the day was to go and see the Air and Space Museum before then going to the National History Museum which Andrew, our well dressed friend from Leicester, had recommended. Time had run against us though, the Air and Space Museum separating Donal and I to the point that finding each other was only facilitated through sheer luck. We had walked for so long through this massive museum that we were tired and in need of something to eat fast.
It wasn't going to be fast though as we walked up through Georgetown, home of old Victorian style houses, the George Washington University, the Watergate Hotel and a lot of embassy and diplomatic houses. Eating in this part of town was said to be good and easy to find, something that had evaded us so far in DC and looked once more to be doing the same. We walked through leafy streets, quiet in this evening time towards a building I should have recognised. The sign gave it away, it was the Watergate (and if you plan on staying, it's closed till 2009 for renovations). We walked around it finding a lot of shops and such, not belonging to the hotel it seemed, which suggested to me that the place was now apartments and some are. As novel as it was to stumble on this place, food was not being served so we carried on, I pointing to the river side and in the opposite direction to where we were walking, as a possible hunting ground. Admittedly we did have to walk quite a bit but we got there. The sun was going down as we turned around from the direction which would have brought us straight back into central DC, frustration beginning to tell as cyclsists and joggers passed us. They weren't hungry you see.
We finally made it to the riverbank and found a nice restaurant there that is owned by the farmers union of...I think it was Nebraska. A union owned restaurant with good prices and some nice looking plates in front of happy looking customers sounded good to me. It sounded especially good after looking at the prices in the other places clustered in this circle under what were probably luxury apartments. High prices should have been expected though - there were boats docked at the side of the river and they weren't rubber dinghies or inner tubes either.
Our waitress it had turned out, had spent a night in Dublin airport on her way to Paris and had heard that Cork was a lovely place. In fact, anyone who did care to comment on our home city, always seemed to have heard only good about it which does make one proud. I suppose, when you are away from home, thousands of miles away from home, you tend to look more favourably at your homeland and iron out the mistakes that are so much more obvious when you are actually at home. Someone once said you become more Irish when you leave Ireland and I have to agree.
Oh and the food was wonderful, the burger was delicious as the waitress recommended it for my dangerously empty stomach and the dessert was tempting. So much so that she managed to sneak a bit out for me to taste but I really had no room left.
After taking pictures outside the entrance to the Watergate Hotel we went on home. The next day I was determined to be up at the crack of dawn in order to get a tour of the Captiol Building. I'm not that good at getting up early but this had to be done...when would I be back to do this again?