USA Coast to Coast, The Ultimate Road Trip. Part 2
4th - 8th July 2014
It was the 4th of July and we were within spitting distance of the capital. Just a two hour drive and we’d be in the heart of Washington DC and what a place to be for the party of the nation. Two days earlier we hadn’t held out much hope for finding any accommodation with in cooee of the city. Then Liam suggested using his Hyatt reward points that were doing nothing but gathering dust. After a short phone call we had a room booked on the 10th floor, just a five minute walk from the National Mall. How lucky was that.
Driving to DC on the freeway was easy, the hard part was negotiating all the streets that were blocked off when we arrived. Jennifer, the voice of our i pad's map app, did a fabulous job of constantly re-routing us. She’s a clever girl and never gets the shits no matter what gets thrown her way.
After check-in we hot footed it down to Constitution Ave and secured a good spot to watch the parade. There were thousands of people out and about and just about as many law enforcement officers which included out of state police, national guard, air force, army, secret service, metro and city police, K9 divisions and the list went on.
Cops were on foot, on bicycles, in hum vies and in the air. Streets leading to the city centre, high target buildings,memorials and the National Mall were barricaded with police vehicles and buses.Nothing and no one was going to take down DC that day.
The parade went off without a hitch, There were dozens of marching bands both military and civilian, floats with all sorts of themes, troops of homegrown performers and ethnic groups in traditional costumes.
There were flag bearers, baton throwers, gymnasts and roller skaters It was a real melting pot of culture and history and everyone involved was proud to call themselves an American.
After the parade we mooched down the National Mall for a look see and were surprised that people were already staking their claim on the vast lawn area around the Washington Monument and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Remember Planet of the Apes? Abe’s memorial played a prominent roll in the movie.
It was a pretty hot day and it would be a long wait until the fireworks later in the evening, but these folks came well equipped with sun tents, deck chairs, coolers and whatever else they needed to enjoy Washington’s biggest outdoor party.
Then of course there was that other party just one block away on the lawns of The White House. But that was for invitation and Dept of of Homeland Security approved guests only.
All you had to do was show up in your Sunday best. And best of all it was a BYO nothing at that little gig. As our invites had obviously got lost in the mail we adjourned back to the Hyatt. It had been a long time since either of us had put our feet up in such fancy digs, and we were going to enjoy it while we could.
At 9pm the sky above Washington exploded into colour. We joined the throngs who were camped out on the grass and had a great view. Although it only lasted 17 minutes, an odd number we thought, it was excellent but not a patch on Sydney’s NYE spectacular over the harbour. I guess we have been spoilt over the years. The crowds all day long had been extremly orderly and polite, no pushing or shoving. We had great time being part of the carnival atmosphere that engulfed the city that day. And now we can say “been there, done that”.
Whilst still in the neighbourhood we drove back into Virginia on the other side of the Potomac River to visit the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. This site honors the 184 people whose lives were lost at the Pentagon and on board American Airlines Flight 77 at 9.37am on that tragic day in 2001. Each victims name has been inscribed onto a stainless steel plaque on their memorial unit, a cantilevered bench with a lighted pool of flowing water beneath.
The park is quite lovely with Crepe Myrtle trees planted around each memorial and it is clear that a lot of thought went into the design. Each unit is positioned to distinguish where the person was at the time of the attack. For those on board AA 77 as you read the persons name on the elevated end of the bench you are also looking in the direction from which the plane approached the Pentagon and for those who were inside the building, reading their name gives you a view of the Pentagon. God rest their souls.
Our next stop was out near Dulles Airport at the Steven F Udvar Hazy Centre which is an annex of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. It’s a huge complex which houses many many fabulous exhibits of air and spacecraft that are way too large for the DC museum. Oh and these aren’t mock ups they’re the real McCoy. Included in the inventory was the Enola Gay, the B52 Super fortress that on August 6th 1945 dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima Japan. For those of you out there with a passion for anything to do with flight put this place on your list. We spent hours checking it out. Call us kids but we love that kind of stuff.
Leaving the museum just as the doors closed we took the freeway up to Germantown, Maryland. Rush hour traffic was in full swing and we were pretty glad that we made it to our hotel in one piece. Time for some R&R.
Up and at ‘em next morning we were off to Pennsylvania Dutch Country to visit the Amish. Ever since watching the Harrison Ford movie Witness many moons ago I’ve always wanted to see how these people live. Not too sure if Liam did, but then he really didn’t have much of a choice. So off we went.
A fairly large concentration of Amish families live in the farmlands to the east of the town of Lacncaster PA. Spread out through 28 states the largest population is in Iowa. Known collectively as the ‘plain people” the Brethren, Mennonite and Amish are all part of the Anabaptist sects who were persecuted in their homeland of Switzerland and settled in this area in the 1700’s. Speaking German dialects, they became known as Dutch from the word Deutsch but they are not Dutch at all as the name implies.
We quickly learnt that there are many different beliefs within the Amish community. Some families live by the traditional rules of their sect whist others like the Mennonites and some Brethren learn toward a more modern style of living which means having electricity, televisions and cars.
But we were more interested in getting amongst the horse and buggy types. The smaller towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse, interesting name for a town we thought, seemed to be the centre of Amish activity in these parts.
Our first big clue that we were in the right place were the tell tail dollops of horse poo dotting the sides of the roads.
And the second, well that had to be the bearded men in straw hats and the dark clothed bonnet headed women, many of whom walked rather than rode in buggies.
The Amish as a general rule are very reserved, private people who don’t mix with those outside their sect. Some are happy to smile and wave for the cameras, but most are not and hide their faces.
Because of their separation from the modern world they have become a big tourist attraction. These days there are van tours of Amish working farms, shops selling Amish made goodies especially quilts and furniture, as well as buggy rides and even home stays. For someone it has become quite a lucrative business.
We, just like other curious “English”, that’s what non Amish are known as, jumped on the bandwagon and signed up with an authentic looking outfit named Aaron and Jessica’s buggy rides for an hour long toddle through the countryside.
As we trotted along our Amish guide openly chatted about the ins and outs of Amish life. He touched on religion, home life, schooling, taxes and where and how their make ends meet. There are two main sources of income. One being corn growing, the majority of which is sold for stock feed with only a small amount harvested for human consumption. The other is the dairy industry and it’s associated products. He explained that Amish farms are worked in the traditional way.
The crops he said were sown by man, horse and plough and of course, being strict in their ways, they had no electricity as the grid is directly connected to the outside world. But on the other hand they are permitted to have a kick arse generator, solar panels and gas for heating, cooking, lighting and refrigerators. Freezers are not permitted as they are a tad too close to modern living and may have a roll on effect to wanting more electrical appliances.
Another unexpected surprise were the modern homes, with nice big BBQ’s straight out of the Home Depot catalogue. These places would be hard pressed not to blend into any middle class American suburb.The Amish may have traditional values but traditional living? Who are they kidding! Where were the wood choppers and the woodchoppers sons? In our minds their lifestyle seemed a little contradictory to say the least.
We left the buggy tour quite disillusioned and headed down the road in search of an Amish auction we’d been told of that also served a good take away lunch
And wow was the place pumping, especially the parking lot. It was wall to wall horses and buggies. The auctioneer was going hell for leather, he could could have easily got a job at Southerby’s, and the buyers were buying. Wicker baskets and wooden mailboxes were walking out the door. We gave lunch a miss, instead investing in a.few home made pastries which looked delicious.
From here we decided to take the back roads through the corn fields in the hope of snapping a few Kodak moments and we weren’t disappointed.
Info : Steven F Udvar –Hazy Air & Space Centre. Location: Chantilly VA, (near Dulles airport). Ph 703 572 4118. Open daily 10am – 5.30pm , except Xmas day . Admission FREE. Parking $15, 10am – 4pm (after 4pm Free). GuidedTours: FREE, Mon- Sat, inquire at welcome desk. Imax Theatre $6 for seniors Other : Gift shop , McDonalds, Coffee shop.