Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Patriotic Travels

"When it comes to the American dream, no one has a corner on the market.
All of us have an equal chance to share in that dream." - JC Watts.

The Capitol at dusk

As a kid, I listened in awe when we learned about the founding fathers of our nation. I remember thinking these were great stories, but surely they were fluffed with non-truths. As I went through high school and college, my interest in the history of the United States grew. I found myself becoming jealous of kids who got to go on field trips to visit the nation's capitol. I read history book upon history book, scouring the pages to learn more about how our country came to be. I longed to visit the many cities so instrumental to the development of our country... Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC to name a few. 

After years of wishing, hoping, and waiting I was finally given the opportunity to visit the nation's capitol last week. It was my own fault for it taking so long - so many times I had planned to go, but life always seemed to get in the way. When my job asked if I wanted to go for work, I didn't hesitate - I said yes immediately! I took a couple of extra vacation days to visit friends in the area and to squeeze in as much site seeing as possible! Sadly, even a week didn't seem long enough. Guess it means I have to go back, right? :-) Here are a few of my favorite bits of architectural wonder for the week.... more to come!

Home of the EPA
This stunning building was completed in 1934, and is part of the neighborhood known as the Federal Triangle. Once also housed the Post Office after they vacated the Old Post Office Pavilion (below). 

Old Post Office Pavilion
A gorgeous building in the Federal Triangle completed in 1899. It was only used for a short time as a post office before lawmakers started demanding that it be razed to make room for a rail depot. The building survived, and is now federally protected (although privately owned by the Trump Group).

One of the halls of the IRS
Stunning, isn't it?

Arlington Memorial Bridge
This blogger has a thing for bridges, and this one is a beauty. Completed in 1932, this bridge spans across the Potomac River, bridging Arlington with Washington, DC. It is flanked on the eastern end by two golden statues (which you can see by clicking here). I long to bike over that bridge, and hope to do so on my next visit.

The Supreme Court Building
This building is surprisingly young, having only been completed in 1935. Before that, the court had no permanent location to call home. Sadly, the facade of the was being renovated, leaving us with the faux view above. 

The Carnegie Library
Funded by a donation from Andrew Carnegie, the library was dedicated in 1903 and was used as a library for over 70 years. The building now serves as a high-end event venue (one I was lucky enough to be invited to while I was in town).

Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Completed between 1871 and 1888, this ornate building stands directly next door to The White House. Although formerly used to house the Departments of State, War, and Navy, the building currently serves as office space for employees of the executive office and White House. It was once called a "monstrosity" - and I can see why. It is a beautiful, but seemingly out of place when compared to the rest of the capitol. Anywhere else, though, it would be stunning. 

The White House
Much smaller than I expected, the White House was constructed between 1792 and 1800. It serves as not only the home of the President of the United States, but also as a meeting room, guest room, event venue, and executive office. Amazingly, the building has been the home of every President since 1801. Wonder why it's white? The home was significantly damaged and charred following a fire in 1814 set by British troops. When reconstructed, the building was painted white to cover the charred sandstone. The white color was well liked, and has been maintained with every renovation and upgrade.

The White House - South Lawn
This is the President's backyard. On the day of our visit, we were lucky enough to be there on the same day that Barack Obama was honoring the Baltimore Ravens for the Super Bowl. You can read more about that event here.

Our President's Secret Service Agents - not being so secret up on the roof of the White House.

And so my love for our country has been renewed, and the excitement I have for American opportunity and dreams has been rekindled. I have sooooo many more pictures to share with you, and even more stories to tell! Alas, it's time for bed. Hope you've enjoyed the pictures so far!

Until next time...

--- Becks

Monday, June 10, 2013

Most Hollowed Ground

"On the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, 
with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses of Stars of David.
 They add up to only a fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom."  - Ronald Reagan

And.... I'm back! After yet another week of travels, I am happy to say I am home safe and happy. This trip to Washington, DC was a combination of both work and pleasure - I took advantage of the opportunity, and added vacation days so I could meet up with friends. Plus, having never been there before, I really wanted to make sure to visit a couple of landmarks while I was in town. So often I travel for work and never see past my hotel room - it was time to try to enjoy it!

After an arduous redeye flight from the west coast, I arrived in Virginia early Sunday morning. One of my best friends lives nearby, and happily offered up her sweet husband to pick me up (she's 9 months pregnant - she deserved to sleep in!). I was overcome with the beauty of her small town in Virginia, and she was eager to show me around. The next few blogs will cover my various adventures in DC (in no particular order) - this was my first visit to the nation's capitol, and I'm so lucky to have great friends to show me around and schedule amazing tours for me to see!

Entering Arlington Cemetery

My first stop was suggested by my friend - it was a trip to the nation's most hollowed ground: Arlington National Cemetery. Located on over 600 acres of land formerly owned by Robert E. Lee's wife's family, the Cemetery has interred over 400,000 men and women on its lands. With the rare exception, each gravesite is marked with a simple white headstone, typically emblazoned with a symbol of the interred's faith.

Thousands of perfect rows of grave markers - quite a sight to see!

Although DC was pretty hot and humid that day, my very pregnant friend braved the hills of Arlington to show me two of its most famous burial locations. Our first stop was atop the hill to see John F. Kennedy's grave. Flanked by the graves of his loved ones (his wife and two of his children), the JFK gravesite is a fitting tribute to such a beloved President. The eternal flame atop of he and Jacqueline's graves burns as steadily as it has since the late 1960s. 

Opposite JFK's grave is a semi-circle marble wall marked with famous JFK quotes. As both a bibliophile and a lover of JFK, I was excited to see the memorial. I had only ever heard of the eternal flame and had no idea how big or marvelous the overall gravesite would be. What a touching tribute! The below is my favorite quote of all of them. 

Ask not what your country can do for you...

After paying our respects to JFK, his wife, his children, and his brothers (Robert and Ted), my friend and I made the descent to another very moving memorial - the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. What was unknown to me before my visit was that the sarcophagus contains none of the entombed. There are currently 3 soldiers buried at the site - an unknown soldier selected at random from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The honored soldier from World War I is located directly below the sarcophagus - the soldiers for World War II and the Korean War are under the slabs to the right and the left respectively. I am so grateful that my grandfather made it home safely (albeit as a Purple Heart) from the Korean War). There was an unknown buried under the center slab for the Vietnam War, but he was later identified via DNA testing. That grave remains empty to this day and is more symbolic in nature.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers

Guarding the Tomb is a special guard (or group of guards) - an honor that is considered to be of the highest order of the US Army. My friend remarked that these guards are highly dedicated, constantly keeping watch over the tomb in even the most horrible weather and circumstances. 

We were lucky enough to time our visit to the tomb just in time to witness the Changing of the Guard. This symbolic act is performed every 30 minutes during the summer (every hour during winter), and is one of the most (if not the most) popular events in the cemetery. The guards perform this act with supreme military precision - not even the cries of a tantrum-throwing toddler was able to throw them off what they were doing. 

After watching the changing of the guard, my friend and I slowly made our way back to our car parked at the visitor's center. I know people don't often consider visiting cemeteries when they are away on vacation, but I have found that some cemeteries are worth the time. The Arlington National Cemetery is a must for any visitor to the nation's capitol. The men and women buried here sacrificed so much for our freedom - it is only fitting that we pay our respects to them. We must never forget that the freedoms we enjoy have come at a cost, and only the people buried here have ever had to bear that burden for us all. God bless them!

Until next time...

--- Becks