2009.10.05 Moonlight Monuments and Ben’s Chili Bowl

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Stephanie and I started the day by doing something we had never done before while traveling:  intentional exercise.  We laced up our tennis shoes and went for a jog down Connecticut Avenue.  This provided more entertainment than a jog around Tulsa can provide.  While making our way around DuPont Circle, we could hear the wailing of police sirens.  As a motorcade of police motorcycles came into view, we started to get excited.  Who was going to be driving right past us?  Could it be the President? It turns out that the 10 motorcycles were leading a police paddywagon.  Very disappointing.

We also saw a businessman riding a segway near DuPont Circle. He was wearing a suit and a bicycle helmet cruising down the sidewalk.

We took part in our complimentary breakfast at the Woodley Park Guest House.  Cold cereal, toast, and fruit were served.  We ate with a gentleman from England.  To our surprise, he stated he had never been to Oklahoma, so we invited him.  All Okies should be on the lookout for him – his name is Rupert.

 

The Woodley Park Guest House provides the lodging for this trip.

 

While I took part in the conference all day, Stephanie set out for the sights.  She spent most of her day at the American History Museum of the Smithsonian, and at the Old Post Office.  The things she talked most about seeing at the Smithsonian were the remnants of the original Star Spangled Banner (the flag which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to the song) and a stuffed dog and horse.

Interestingly, James Smithson never set foot in America.  He was a wealthy British man who wanted to spread scientific knowledge, so he left half a million dollars to the United States in his will to create a museum.  It was only after he died, that a Smithsonian Regent named Alexander Graham Bell went to Italy and brought his body to America.  Smithson is currently entombed in the Smithsonian Castle.

 

Stephanie ate a hot dog from a street vendor.

 

Stephanie also toured the Old Post Office building.  This is the second tallest building in Washington D.C.  This is a beautiful building by any standard, but the architecture used had fallen out of style shortly after it was built.  The result was that 10 years after it opened, there was a great movement to actually tear it down!  Lucky for us they did not.  While you can spend a good chunk of your day at the Washington Monument to get tickets to go the top, it is normal to be able to walk right into the Post Office and take the elevator to the top.  Stephanie did just that.  You can get great views of the city, as it sits right on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capital and the White House.

 

The Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

View of the Capital from the top of the Post Office Building.

 

View of the Washington Monument from the top of the Post Office Building.

 

The interior of the Post Office Building.

 

Don and I met Stephanie at the Old Post Office for a Moonlight Monument Tour.  We took the Metro subway from Woodley Park to within just a block of the Post Office.  The escalator at the Woodley Park station for the Metro is very, very long as it takes you underground.  Don had been to D.C. a few years ago with his daughter, and he believed he heard this was the longest escalator in North America.  Turns out he was close, but not quite.  The longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere is at the D.C. Metro, but it is at the Wheaton Station.  Maybe we will get a chance to check that out before we leave.

Our bus tour left from in front of the Post Office building.  One of the other passengers tried to check in for the tour with Don, but after Don told him he needed his money first, he went looking for somebody more official.

 

Two Patriots spotted at the Post Office! USA! USA!

 

We took the 3 hour tour with OnBoard tours.  Our tour guide was very informative.  She had lived in D.C. for 30 years and provided us with lots of trivia about the D.C. area.  We stopped at a number of monuments to get out and look around and take pictures, and drove past many more monuments, parks and landmarks.

Our first stop was the U.S. Capital.  What a beautiful building!  The Capital Dome, it’s most striking feature, had to be revised to be made out of cast-iron, instead of stone, to support the weight of the 15,000 pound statue sitting on top.

Everybody took lots of pictures, and there really weren’t very many tourists around at any of the stops we made.  We did notice that Stephanie and I were the only two tourists we saw wearing patriotic shirts.  I hope that is a mistake the other tourists will not make again, and we are glad to be an example to them.

Another stop was the World War II Memorial.  This was a breathtaking sight.  It is built at the end of the reflecting pool, located between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.  When it was originally proposed to be placed there, there was a lot of controversy, as it was thought it might not fit in well.  It turns out that it frames the area beautifully, and it is a great sight at night.  (As it turns out, most everything in D.C. is controversial, especially any new monument.)

 

The Washington Monument alongside a full moon. The pic is not perfect, but just imagine how great it looked.

 

After a short drive, we were let out to see the Korean Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Memorial, as they are all adjacent to one another.  I would have to say that the Korean Memorial was one of my favorites of everything that we saw.  54,000 Americans died in Korea, which is just 4,000 less than died in Vietnam.

The memorial is simple, with 19 stainless steel, larger-than-life statues of American soldiers walking in formation.  The 19 statues reflect against a granite wall which runs along the length of the memorial, turning the 19 into 38, which represents the 38th parallel, where the war occurred.  As gorgeous as all these monuments were at night, it does nothing but create a desire to see them in the daytime as well.  Several of the lights were out at this memorial, making it more difficult to take it all in.

The Korean Ambassador visits the memorial once a week and lays a wreath of flowers.  We didn’t see the Ambassador, but we did see several wreaths at the front of the monument.

We enjoyed our stop at the Jefferson Memorial.  It is very simple, highlighted with a 19 foot statue of the man, and features several of his most famous quotes and writings.  Looking out across the water in front, you can see straight to the White House.  The Washington Monument was originally supposed to be located directly in front of the White House, but that land was marshy and the monument would have sunk had it been placed exactly there.

We didn’t wrap up the tour until almost 10:30.  We didn’t exactly start on time at 7:00, and our group was pretty laid back when it came to returning back to the bus in a timely manner at each stop.  We were starving and were going to eat at a local pizza place suggested to us, but it was already closed.  So, we got directions from the tour guide to get to another place we had scoped out, which was open till 2am.

We rode the Metro to get there, and had to change trains at the L’Enfant Station.  Unfortunately, they were doing some maintenance on one of the tracks, so all trains going both directions had to share one track within the station.  After what seemed like forever, the train we needed finally arrived.  We rode the Metro to U Street and made our way up to street level.  We must say that the Metro is very clean and safe.  Kudos to D.C. for providing that for us.

Once we made it topside, we were ecstatic to see our destination right across the street – Ben’s Chili Bowl. I had found out about Ben’s while doing some research on places to eat while we were in town.  This place has been in business for 50 years and had a great history.  And when I found that TripAdvisor rated it the #26 restaurant in Washington D.C., that was good enough for me.

Back in the 1950’s, the section of U Street where Ben’s Chili Bowl sits was known as Black Broadway. Famous folks such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Red Foxx and Martin Luther King were known to hang out at Ben’s.  (I doubt that Red Foxx and MLK get referenced together all that often.)  Bill Cosby took his future wife to Ben’s on dates in the early 60s.

 

Stephanie and Don at Ben's Chili Bowl. Their food tastes great at Midnight.

 

We certainly hoped that the food lived up to the history.  Stephanie and I ordered the Original Chili Half-Smoke, which is their signature dish.  Don got a chili cheeseburger.  By this time, it was 11:30 and we were famished.  The Chili Half-Smoke is made out of some type of sausage, and covered in chili.  I enjoyed mine, but Stephanie was not as enthusiastic.  Regardless, it met the requirements of one of our cardinal rules of traveling – don’t eat anywhere you can eat at home.

Even at 11:30, the place had at least a dozen customers inside.  We were entertained by a homeless(?) lady dancing at the counter to the sounds of Stevie Wonder.

We easily grabbed a cab outside and we were back to Woodley Park in just a few minutes.  This was our biggest day of sightseeing yet, and we hope that tomorrow is even better.

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