Day 8 - Washington DC  
   
    The US Capitol is one of the most well known buildings in the world.    
Minolta XD11 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 

Saturday morning dawned clear and bight, and David and I left the "Truman Show"-like housing estate at Gaitersburg where Ian and Sarah lived, and headed into the city on the Metro. We arrived at Union Station, and proceeded off to see the sights. First stop, a short walk down Delaware Avenue, was the United States Capitol.

The site for the Capitol was selected in 1791 by Washington DC planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who described the elevated east end of the Mall as a "pedestal waiting for a monument". After an unsuccessful competition was held to find a suitable design for the building, a design from a Scottish trained physician Dr. William Thornton was accepted in 1793.

Work began on the building later that same year, but construction was slow and laborious. The builders found it difficult to find labourers willing to work in the relative wilderness of Capitol Hill, and the sandstone used in the construction had to be ferried in from Virginia. By 1800 when the building was scheduled to be occupied, only the North wing was completed. Work did not recommence on the South wing until 1803, and by 1813 the two wings were finished, albeit with the central portion comprising only a temporary wooden walkway.

The building was nearly destroyed by a fire set by British troops in 1814, and work on the restoration of the two wings and completion of the central portion was recommenced in 1815. By 1829 the building was complete, capped by a low rising copper plated wooden dome.

By the mid 1800's the building had become too small for the Government's needs, and it was expanded significantly. In recognition that the existing dome would be out of place with the new larger building, plans were drawn up for a fire-proof dome built from cast iron. By 1863 the dome was completed and the Statue of Freedom was put in place at the top. The building at that stage appeared essentially as it does today.

 
   
   

The Capitol is especially picturesque when viewed from its manicured grounds.

   
 

Minolta XD11 with 24mm f/2.8 VFC MC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

   
 

Leaving the Capitol, David and I walked down Independence Avenue to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The National Air Museum was created as a seperate bureau of the Smithsonian in 1946, and twenty years later its name was changed to the National Air and Space Museum when a congressional act was passed to fund a building to house its collections. Tens years later, on 1st July 1976, the building was opened to the public. In its first two months of operations it welcomed over 2 million visitors.

The National Air and Space Museum is an amazing place, and was one of the places I most wanted to see in Washington DC. The building houses 65 of the 356 aircraft in the collection of the museum, including many of the most influential and important aircraft from the history of flight. For fans of aircraft, rocketry, or machinery in general, prepare to be amazed and thrilled by the exhibits you see in the museum.

 
 
 
 
The Wright 1903 Flyer, the world's first successful aeroplane.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji NPZ 800
 
 

Upon entering the National Air and Space Museum, you can look up to see some of the most historic flying machines in the history of the world. Dominating the entrance is the Wright 1903 Flyer, which on December 17, 1903 became the first powered, heavier than air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot on board. Piloted by Orville Wright, the plane flew for 12 seconds and 37 metres. Later that same day, Wilbur Wright flew for 59 seconds, covering 260 metres.

The 1903 Flyer was constructed of spruce and ash, covered in muslin. It was powered by a 12 horsepower, four cylinder engine of the Wrights' own design. One has to wonder if the Wright brothers had any appreciation of the extent to which the revolution that commenced with their invention would change the world.

 
 
 
 
Charles A Lindbergh's Ryan NYP "Spirit of St Louis".
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji NPZ 800
 
 

Beside the Wrights' Flyer was the Ryan NYP "Spirit of St Louis", the first aircraft flown non-stop across the Atlantic. On May 21, 1927, only 24 years after the first manned flight by a heavier than air powered craft, Charles A. Lindbergh amazed the world by flying non-stop from Long Island to Paris, France in 33 hours and 30 minutes. It was the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, and Lindbergh went on to become a worldwide celebrity.

The "Spirit of St Louis" was designed by Donald Hall under the direct supervision of Charles Lindbergh. It is a highly modified version of a Ryan M2 monoplane, and as can be seen in the photo above, lacked even a windscreen to be able to view directly in front. To look forward, Lindbergh was forced to use a periscope attached to the left side of the cockpit. The aircraft was called the "Spirit of St Louis" in honour of Lindbergh's supporters in that city who had paid for the aircraft.

 
 
 
 
The Bell X-1 "Glamorous Glennis"
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji NPZ 800
 
 

Adjacent to the Spirit of St Louis was the Bell X-1. On October 14, 1947, only 23 years years after Charles A Lindbergh made that first trans-Atlantic crossing, Captain Charles E. (Chuck) Yeager became the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound in the Bell X-1 aircraft.

Launched from the bomb bay of a Boeing B-29 Stratofortress at 7,000 metres, the X-1 used its rocket engine to climb to its test altitude of 13,000 metres, 13 kilometres above the surface of the earth. Here it reached a speed of Mach 1.06, being 1,127 kilometres (700 miles) per hour.

 
 
 
 
The infamous German V2 rocket.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 17mm f/4 MC W.Rokkor. Film: Fuji NPZ 800
 
 

Only a couple of years before Chuck Yeager's historic flight, German scientists had developed the world's first supersonic guided missile, the V2. Fired from occupied France, the V2's rained death and destruction on London until Allied troops advanced far enough into Europe to take their launch sites.

After the war, the US Government used German scientists and technology such as the V2 to advance its space program.

 
 
 
 
An Apollo Lunar Lander.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Kodak Portra 400UC
 
 

In 1969, only 66 years after the first flight of a powered heavier than air craft, Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to step upon the surface of the moon. The lunar lander and space suit shown above are identical to the actual items used in that mission. The display at the museum also includes a Lunar Rover motor vehicle, and a re-entry capsule. Visitors can even touch a sample of moon rock.

David and I spent literally hours walking the various rooms of the museum, admiring its incredible displays. There is no doubt that the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is an amazing facility, and is a must-see item on the agenda for any visit to Washington DC.

After leaving the Museum, David and I visited the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, across the Tidal Basin from the rest of the DC monuments.

 
 
 
 
The Jefferson Memorial is attractively situated across the Tidal Basin.
 
 
Minolta XD11 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala (desaturated)
 
 

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, can possibly be best described as a Renaissance Man. A political philosopher, architect, musician, book collector, scientist, horticulturist, diplomat, and inventor, he became one of the pivotal individuals in the creation of the United States. Coming to Philadelphia in 1775 as a Representative for Virginia to the Second Continental Congress, he had joined with the other representatives in reaching a decision about the future of the country, and in June 1776 he authored the American Declaration of Independence.

Following the revolution, Jefferson became Ambassador to France during a tense period prior to the establishment of a United States constitution, and upon his return he became Secretary of State to George Washington.

As President, Jefferson contributed to the massive growth of the United States, firstly through the Louisiana Purchase from France, and also through guiding the country towards the manifest destiny that lay before it, by encouraging the Westward expansion of the nation.

 
 
 
 
The interior of the Jefferson Memorial, including probably his most famous writing.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala (desaturated)
 
 

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial was designed by Russel Pope after the Pantheon in Rome, for which Jefferson himself had drawn inspiration when designing his family home, Monticello. In the inside stands a statue of Jefferson, surrounded by some of his most famous writings. Probably first among these is the excerpt from the American Declaration of Independence, which is shown in the photograph above, and detailed below:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident - that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We...solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states...And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

 
 
 
 
Detail from the Jefferson Memorial.
 
 
Minolta XD11 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

After leaving the Jefferson Memorial, David and I headed back to the Mall to reach the Smithsonian Metro Station. It was getting late, and we were meeting Ian and Sarah for a meal at one of DC's finest restaurants, Restaurant Nora. On the way we saw some wonderful views of the Washington Monument.

 
 
 
 
Washington Monument framed by bridge over the Tidal Basin.
 
 
Minolta XD11 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala (desaturated)
 
 
 
 
The Washington Monument.
 
 
Minolta XD11 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

It was about this time that I realised that my new cell phone was missing. I had purchased it two days earlier, in order to be able to keep in touch with home while I was away. A minutes thought reminded me that I had put it down beside me on a seat in the gardens of the Smithsonian Castle when we had been admiring them earlier in the day.

David and I walked briskly back to the castle. By now it was well after 5.00pm, and the doors were all closed, but after about ten minutes of walking around I located a guard who directed me to a manned security point. The guards admitted me, and proceeded to escort me down into a warren of underground corridors until we finally reached the lost property office. At this point I was thoroughly questioned, before a safe was opened and lo and behold, inside it was my cell phone! The guard seemed mightily unimpressed with me, but handed over my phone and David and I went on our way, with our trust in our fellow man fully restored.

 
 
 
 
One helpful, but very dubious guard.
 
 
Minolta XD11 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

We had a short trip up to Dupont Circle and then a pleasant wander through the streets to the restaurant while the sun set on another great day. We enjoyed an exceptional dinner at Restaurant Nora, a certified organic restaurant which is praised as one of Washington's finest. The restaurant is decorated with museum quality antique Mennonite and Amish crib quilts, and has a lovely atmosphere.The menu changes every day, but fortunately, on the day I was there they had soft shelled crab that was incredible. Between the brilliant food and some exceptionally fine wine, it was a truly memorable dining experience. Thankfully for my bank balance, David insisted on paying for dinner.

 
 
 
 
Next: Day 9 - Aberdeen and Washington DC
 
 
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