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The wonders of the District of Columbia

District of Columbia Wonders

On the north bank of the Potomac River, the capital of the United States of America, Washington D.C. was named appropriately after our first president.  The city was initiated by the Residence Act of 1790, calling for a permanent federal city to be created in a square 10 miles on every side.  Since it was not part of any state, the district was called the Territory of Columbia, which was a poetic reference to our country at that time.  The district was formally created, planned and begun under the Organic Act of 1801, but the capitol building itself would not be completed until 1868.  Although the city has had numerous residents living in its area, they have had no voice in the Congress until the Twenty-third amendment to the Constitution in 1961.  Up until then, they had a non-voting Congressman and no senators, and no chance to vote for the president until the 23rd was passed, giving the city 3 electoral votes.  It is under the authority of the Congress, and originally mandated by the First Article of the Constitution, making the district separate from the rest of the states.  The 3 main branches of the government are located there, as well as 174 foreign embassies, the World Bank headquarters, the Organization of American States, Pan American Health Organization, Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The first session of Congress was held in Washington November 17, 1800.  The city has seen much damage over the centuries, burning, looting and destruction of many buildings including the first construction of the capitol building; however, it stands today, as a monument to the tenacity, hard work and foresight of our early Americans.  The population of the city has grown over the years as the government itself has grown and expanded needing more people to fill the many positions needed to do the work.  The District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973 provided the city with a mayor and city council, to handle the every day needs of running a city.

Before Washington became the capital, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia; the first being in 1774, when citizens or delegates were brought from the 13 colonies to decide the fate of their constituents.  The Second Continental Congress convened from 1775 until 1781, when the colonies won their battle with the English crown.  Next, the Congress of the Confederation was created and met in Philadelphia until June 1783, in Independence Hall.  That month disgruntled soldiers that fought in the war mobbed the Hall insisting payment for their part in the war.  Congress called on the governor of Pennsylvania to send in the militia, who refused, since he himself was sympathetic with the soldiers.  The congressmen fled the city, and went to Princeton, New Jersey, arriving on June 21, 1783. Congress was then convened in Annapolis, then Trenton, then New York City, where it remained until 1790 with the passage of the Residence Act.  Alexander Hamilton was instrumental in getting a compromise where the new federal government would pay for the war, and Philadelphia was chosen to be the capital, for ten years, until the official city could be built.

In 1856, Constantino Brumidi began painting murals and other paintings in the Capitol.  The hallways of the Senate side first floor depict the greatest times in the history of our country. Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, John Fitch, Louisiana's cession, animals, natural flora and bugs native to the country are shown, with areas left empty for any future events that would be painted in.  Some that were added include; the Challenger crew, the Lunar landing and the Spirit of St. Louis.  Brumidi painted the underside of the dome called the Apothesis of Washington which took 11 months and his suspension in the air 180 feet from the floor.  Washington is encircled by 13 maidens in an inner ring with Roman and Greek gods and goddesses in a second ring. Started in 1878, the Frieze of U.S. history is around the bottom of the dome, showing a history of our country in order it occurred, all in paintings.  Starting with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus going until the flight of the Kitty Hawk.  It was finished in 1953, with Filippo Costaggini painting after Brumidi, then Charles Ayer Whipple and finally Allyn Cox. Within the Rotunda, paintings tell of the various stages of our history; on the east are 4 paintings showing the main events of the discovery, on the west 4 paintings showing the beginning of the United States.  The eastern paintings show Pocohontas' baptism, the Pilgrims leaving the ship Mayflower, discovery of the Mississippi and Columbus' landing.  The western side shows the Declaration of Independence, surrender of Burgoyne, surrender of Cornwallis and Washington resigning his commission.

The National Statuary Hall Collection also stands proudly in the Capitol representing the 50 states with 2 statues each, honoring people in their histories.  One of the most distinguished is the bronze of King Kamehameha of Hawaii weighing 15,000 pounds.  Leading up the west front of the Capitol building are 365 steps representing every day of the year.

There are over 275 listed things to do in this marvelous city, and it would take great plans, money and time to do many of them.  It would behoove you to find out what is in the city, what you want to do, and the amount of time to do them all in the amount of time that you do have.  With numerous free places to visit, explore and enjoy, you can see a lot of the city's monuments, buildings and museums for nothing and save your money for the ones you have to pay to visit, and eat at some of the finest restaurants in the country.  Many of these establishments are run by chefs and they want to impress you with their own personal culinary delights.  Be sure to stop at one of them and try the local fare, as well as some of the great seafood that is fixed here.

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District of Columbia tours

 Tours in the District of Columbia

Just as Washington D.C. is the capitol of our nation, it is also the capitals of tours.  This is the city that was created to represent a government of the people, by the people and for the people; an unheard of philosophy that no other country had ever tried or type of government that succeeded.  We are the youngest of countries, but we have a history that is richer and deeper than any other country on this earth.  We have gone from a colony of 13 individual, independent territories into the greatest power that has ever existed on this planet.  We are the biggest melting pot of ethnicity in the world.  And it all is visited upon in this city, where millions of people come each year to see and experience some of that exciting aura.

You can walk, hike, bike, segway, ride a bus, ride a limo, ride a boat, ride a trolley, ride a motor coach, or take a cab; if you can hail one.  There are a plethora of tours available to help you see each and every fantastic building, monument or garden in this amazing city.

One of the bike tours takes 3 hours to complete that goes through the National Mall and along the Potomac River. You can take a cruise on the Potomac and have an exquisite lunch or dinner as you have the rivers view of many historical important structures that line it.  The city at night is most awesome and you'll get a spine tingling thrill that this is your capitol, your city; where all the workings of the government are taken care of for you by your representatives that you vote for.  Less crowds, more lights and the aura spreads through you like new blood boosting your energy to the limits.

You can hop a trolley and spend the day or 2 days viewing the Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, National Cathedral, the Mall and Georgetown.  The list of memorials will astound you; Washington National, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam, FDR, Iwo Jima, Jefferson, WWII, and Einstein.

You will visit Freedom Park, the White House, Arlington Cemetery, the awesome Awakening Sculpture like some giant from long ago rising from his sleep, much like our history.  See where our laws are really decided at the Supreme Court, the Titanic Memorial, Library of Congress, the House and the Senate where our laws are started as bills and then become laws in our Constitution. Be mesmerized at Ford's Theater where Abraham Lincoln was so brutally and cowardly shot from behind.  Visit the FBI building, the Pentagon, the National Cathedral, Taft Memorial, the National Archives building, the Holocaust Museum and the waterfront.  Spend some time in Union Station recalling or daydreaming about the millions of congressmen that came to their capitol for pleasure or business or voting a bill into law.  Visit the Japanese-American Memorial, Kennedy Center, the Capitol Arboretum and the dozens of Capitol buildings.  See where Richard Nixon became involved in the worst scandal of an American president at the Watergate Complex, get excited at the Naval Observatory and much more.  Any of these can be done through a tour company or you can do it all yourself; although strict planning would be the best advice.

A fantastic place to visit is the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum where you see what every president looked like. Stand face to face with every man who sat in the office of the Presidency and see how you measure up.  Or take the Lincoln Assassination Walking tour that takes you past Andrew Jackson's statue, the U.S. Treasury Building and continues down Pennsylvania Avenue to Ford' Theater where the greatest tragedy to befall our country before 9/11 occurred.

For the staunchest among you, try the Georgetown ghost walking tour, along historical streets, Victorian homes and well kept lawns and gardens as you hear the quiet whispers and eerie sounds of the deceased who still haunt this city unable or unwilling to leave.

Taking the old Town Trolley tour will allow you to see it all slower and with on and off stops, you can take your time and enjoy the sights completely.  See the Union Station and Smithsonian Postal Museum, the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court and Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the American Indian and the U.S. Botanical Gardens, Jefferson Memorial and George Mason Memorial, FDR's memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, Chinatown and the Grand Hyatt, Lafayette Square and the Decatur House, National Museum of History and the Washington Monument, Georgetown and the Old State House, National Museum of Natural History, Newseum, Washington Welcome Center and Ford' Theater, the National Cathedral, Kalorama, Adams Morgan and the National Zoo, the White House and Visitor's Center, National Archives and the U.S. Navy Memorial, National Geographic Museum and the Mayflower Hotel, Dupont Circle, Woodrow Wilson House, the Textile Museum and the Phillips Collection.  This all takes about 3 hours normally, but you decide how long since you are doing the tour.

There are bus tours that include an experienced guide that goes with you all the way, on and off the bus.  You ride from exciting exhibit to wonderful exhibit in the comfort of a bus and take the short walks as your guide will give you all the best information available and some that aren't included in the tour books.

At the end of March you will not only enjoy the magnificent beauty of the cherry blossoms, but the week long festivities are equally awesome; all the while floating on the breath of cherry blossoms smelling so marvelous.  There is a parade with all the related shindigs, lights, marching bands and incredible sounds.
This is a very special year to visit Washington as it celebrates the greatest president of our time; Abraham Lincoln. Festivities will run through the entire year of 2009 as we commemorate and celebrate this wonderful man.
Being celebrated the month of March is Black History, with workshops, films, exhibits and program honoring these great men and women that have given so much to their country and co-patriots, all the while being smeared and vilified as second class citizens.  Visit the African American War Memorial and Museum where you can learn about the USCT, African-American soldiers that served during the Civil War.

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Things to do in the District of Columbia

Things to do in the District of Columbia

While the imposing, impressive majestic monuments and memorials are superb to view and visit during the daylight hours, they are magnified, towering and transcendent at night when the special effects of lighting not only enhances the magnitude of these striking shrines but the spirit that emanates from them will enthrall you to the end of your days.  Representing the finest qualities of a people and their development into a great and caring nation, these historical creations reflect the often times difficult transition from beginning to now.  Walking through the city is a daunting task and only the sturdiest should try; but it is an everlasting experience that will create stories to tell your grandchildren by the fireside at home or camping.  Walking allows you to stop and think, let the details, the processes that made a particular event occur sink into your mind and overflow into your heart. This land was made for you and me.  Our forefathers shed their blood, cried buckets of tears, and poured out the sweat like it was 100 in Florida, with 100 percent humidity.  Not just for themselves, or their children or even their own glory, but for the persistent idea that they could and would make a difference in this country, in this world.

The Smithsonian Institute creates the image of a sandstone castle; until you realize that it contains 19 museums and the National Zoo.  The best way to investigate the wonders of these museums is to walk, talk, take your time, indulging yourself to take in the best the institute has to offer.  Another breathtaking work of art is the National Gallery of Art; believed to be one of the most important and loved museums in the world.  The west building houses relics from the 13th to 19th centuries, and the east is dedicated to the contemporary and modern works.  Paintings include; Modern and Contemporary Paintings and Sculptures, Spanish, American, British, Northern European 15th and 16th century paintings, Italian 13th - 16th century paintings, French and Italian 17th and 18th centuries and French 19th century paintings.  Sculpture includes; European 14th - 19th centuries and the West Building Sculpture galleries.  Prints and drawings on paper, photographs, decorative arts, and the incredible architecture of the buildings themselves; including the Sculpture Garden.

Another incredible museum is the one for International Spies.  This is your chance to see, hear and join in the secret world of spying which is considered to be the second oldest profession in the world.  Become part of a "mission" as you learn about the enthralling details of the spy game.  As you start, you will become a recruit in Spy School 101 and receive training from your training officer about the many tales given by former intelligence officers.  Since you are visiting the spy capital of the world, you will see 25 of the most infamous places in the last 65 years, be part of an interactive mission and learn all about this mysterious division of the government.  You will see and handle over 200 gadgets related to the spying business and find out about the earliest times of these undercover operations.

The White House itself is probably one of the most visited places in Washington, as visitors want to see the place where the President resides and much happens. The lines are long, but the sights worth it.  You might be lucky enough to see the President as he hustles along taking care of national business, but don't count on it.  The reflecting pool of the Mall is a great place to sit and relax or picnic.  Many of the monuments and buildings are within walking distance of this and most don't cost anything to see.  Another free venue is the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens along the Anacostia River where you will see thousands of plants, flowers and birds in the last marsh in the capital. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, originally used to move goods to the Potomac, is a 185 mile canal finished in 1850, going from Maryland to the district.  It is a favorite to walk or ride and enjoy the beautiful weather and sights.  If you are interested in the making of our money, you can visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that lets you walk past the machines that print our currency.  The Voice of America allows you to visit them and you can see a movie about their history and see the newsroom and other offices.

There are many fine examples of American patriotism to see and love. The Library of Congress is an awe inspiring example of the fortitude and foresightedness of this country; amassing 532 miles of shelves, 115 million pieces and 7000 entered every day.  Or the 555 foot Washington Monument obelisk giving you a ride to the observation deck for the most incredible view of the city.  The freshly renovated National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum are ready for the throngs of adoring people to view the majestic architectural appearances newly redone that include; a double curving staircase, vaulted galleries lit by natural lighting, porticos, skylights and other magnificent designs.

Originally the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress, the Hillwood Museum and Gardens now contain the greatest collection of imperial Russian art located out of Russia.  Another venue, not quite so well known as the other monuments is the Albert Einstein; where it has been said that by standing in a particular spot in front of the memorial and whisper, you will hear an echo.

At 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, you will enter the most important building of our nation, the National Archives; where you can actually view the Declaration of Independence, the 1297 Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights.  Walk softly down the hallway of the Public Vaults, traveling back in time to the early days of our great country.  See letters written by George Washington, telegrams by Abraham Lincoln, an 1823 copper plate with the Declaration of Independence on it, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.  There are 5 public vaults, garnering their motif from the Preamble to the Constitution; We the People - family and citizenship records; To Form a More Perfect Union - law and liberty records; Provide for the Common Defense - war and diplomacy records; Promote the General Welfare - frontiers and firsts records; To Ourselves and Our Posterity - future records.  What an inviting place to visit.  Just imagine, viewing records of how your ancestors came to this country or perhaps pieces of paper written by someone in your family tree that you never knew existed.  Check it out and be wonderfully surprised.