National Museum of Natural History
On Saturday evening I got a taste of how changeable the North American weather can be; having had two days of glorious sunshine a storm system rushed in and stayed with us for two days. Sunday was spent in the hostel, watching the windows waiting for a break in the rain. While we hoped for change, the few of us who hadn’t braved the weather exchanged tastes in T.V. watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother, Parks & Recreation, Community and Battlestar Galactica. I think I probably watched more hours on T.V. in one day than I had since the start of the year. It was also a good opportunity to do some further planning and research and set myself up for my next two destinations of Philadelphia and New York. There was also some interesting developments between hostel guests; Brett and Liam who had arrived in the U.S. together had decided to go separate ways, with Brett returning to the U.K. and Liam continuing on with their initial plan. It just goes to show that as amazing as travel is, it’s not for everyone.
The next morning I woke up to find that the rain had finally stopped and decided I would try and make my way to Georgetown. However, upon leaving the hostel I was caught in the face with the gale-force winds and due to my confident belief that I would get three months of uninterrupted sunshine I hadn’t packed a jacket. Fortunately, I happen to be in D.C., home of the free museum. Everyone had been telling me how good the National Museum of Natural History is, so I figured that I could escape the weather in there. As I’ve said previously, the museums are vast and you can easily lose yourself in them for a day.
I started off in the Ocean Hall which had an obvious similarity to the British Natural History museum with an North Atlantic Right Whale model hanging from the ceiling. This isn’t quite as impressive as the Blue Whale, but this was made up for by the preserved Giant Squid which, in it’s dried condition had a strong resemblance to the aliens from Independence Day.
From the Ocean Hall I walked through the Hall of Mammals, not really bothering too much to read anything as I had seen a lot of the specimens out in Kruger National Park and found my way to the Hall of Human Origins. I found myself interested in the different perspective given on humans in the U.S. In European museums there is a lot more focus on the cultures that have shaped the modern world, where as here there is a greater emphasis on the origins and development of the human species. I even learned that humans share 60% genetic similarity with banana trees.
From here I continued to the Hall of Dinosaurs, enjoying the reconstructed skeleton selections.
Looking through the fossil collections, in particular those of the ammonites and trilobites reminded me of my once held desire to be an archaeologist. What happened to those hopes and dreams huh?
This was only the first floor of exhibits and there was still plenty more for me to see upstairs.
On the second floor I spent most of the afternoon looking through the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, being pushed and pulled by school-children and tourists alike as I tried to get yet more of an education.
The museum also holds on of the most comprehensive collections of meteorites in the world, which gave me yet more information on the U.S.A.’s history with space; If I was any good at remembering information I would probably be an expert by now. Once I had enjoyed enough “rocks and stuff” I found myself in the Hall of Bones, which is the strangest collection I have ever seen and yet one of the more fascinating. With skeletons from various fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals, many exhibits explained how the specifics differences between them had come about, highlighting similarities and redundant features. I found myself engrossed with the skeletal systems of birds, an interest I never realized I had until now.
Finally I found my way to Titanboa; one of the most important fossil discoveries since the T-Rex. The Titanboa measured somewhere between 15 and 20 meters in length and was capable of eating the large crocodiles that existed at the same time.
After this, I checked the time to find once again I’d spent over five hours in the museum and decided it was time to pick up something to eat and head back to the hostel. I’d been told by a good friend of mine to pick up a burrito from Chipotle, and having found one at Union Station I can only hope to one day have as much fast food choice in the U.K. as there is in the U.S.
Georgetown & More Monuments
I woke up to find that the weather had returned to the rich vein of form I had been used to. After grabbing some pancakes and a quick cup of tea in the hostel, I headed down to Union Station to find a post office as I had a 12″ LP I needed to send home, which I managed with relative ease and at a low cost thanks to the very helpful USPS staff. Once I was finished there, I headed down to the Metro and made my way to Georgetown.
Guidebooks and other travellers alike had told me that it was one of the suburbs to check out while I was in the area and it was a nice place to walk through but it didn’t have the same “local feel” that Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle had. This was probably because Georgetown was on the map and people knew about it and were talking about it. After checking out the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal I found my way down to the Watergate complex and the Potomac river.
I eventually found my way back to the Lincoln Monument and decided to visit the monuments I had missed on my earlier visit to the National Mall. I first ended up at the Martin Luther King, Jr monument and enjoyed reading the quotes carved into the granite, getting a better understanding of his message to the world.
I found myself on the shore of the aptly named Tidal Basin and followed an occasionally submerged path to the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial which was unlike all the other Presidential monuments as it was spread across the basin shore, contained more than one statue, several water features and lots of quotes carved into the walls.
My knowledge of American history is incredibly bad, but I felt that having seen these two monuments I was significantly more aware of the way influential figures had shaped the country. Once I had finished admiring the Roosevelt memorial I had one more left to cover, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Similar in style (just about) to the Lincoln Memorial; the domed building contained a bronze statue of Jefferson and four quotes in each corner offering an overview of his beliefs and his legacy.