Officaldom in Washinton DC

Travel review by Brenda Daniels

Like many South Africans, the closest I get to the American culture is through the many Hollywood films I enjoy watching. But a recent trip to Washington DC allowed me to see a small part of the USA in stereo – that is, with and without the movie lens.

On my first hot and sunny DC day I set off from our hotel with just a few dollars and a camera in my pocket. Not very good when it comes to reading maps I decided to walk in a straight line and then when I’d had enough, to simply turn round and retrace my steps. The turning point came when I reached a sign that stated “This is the most famous address in Washington DC”, after which I encountered a large white building behind a fence. Despite the desperate condition of the White House at the end of the film White House Down starring Gerard Butler, the state building I saw before me looked well-kept and pretty. And the few police personnel on duty outside the barriers looked calm and relaxed. Concluding that this attraction was indeed the intact office of President Obama I freely took photos before heading back.

The White House, I walked in a straight line from the hotel and happened to walk right to the President's home.

The White House, I walked in a straight line from the hotel and happened to walk right to the President’s home.

The next day my husband and I enjoyed a tour of the National Cathedral, a beautiful, Gothic structure, complete with a bell tower and enormous organ. Famous statesmen, artists, architects and war heroes are represented in this well-maintained church, from Martin Luther King to Mother Theresa and many others in between. Although not a science fiction fundi by any means, like many theatre goers old and young, I did enjoy Star Wars. So it was with great interest that I learnt that none other than Darth Vader features as one of the gargoyles ensconced upon this marvellous edifice. We didn’t actually get a view of him though and had to take the guide’s word for it; perhaps he was on the dark side.

The National Cathedral, where there was a Darth Vadar Gargoyle.

The National Cathedral, where there was a Darth Vader Gargoyle.

Many action-type films like The Interpreter and the teen First Daughter feature mysterious secret service agents and ear-piece-clad bodyguards who invariably race around in blue-light brigades, leaving excited onlookers in their wake. We got to experience this first hand while strolling through the quaint suburb of Georgetown later the same day. Loud sirens stopped shoppers in their tracks as a cavalcade of cop cars and black 4x4s hurtled down the street, pulling up to the kerb right next to us. Bodyguards leapt out of the vehicles and cleared the path for a very important looking general to walk into one of the shops. Starbucks.

Phew, I didn’t know their coffee was that good!

The secret service or CIA or something like it, escourted to Starbucks.

The secret service or CIA or something like it, escourted to Starbucks.

Walking cities: a travel post

Travel post by Brenda Daniels

Earlier this year A Feast of Tales featured a review of the documentary The Human Scale. We mentioned that the film discussed the growth of cities, their emphasis on urbanisation and the motor car, and the resultant erosion of people contact and public life. The film also listed a number of cities around the world that had tried to reverse this trend by introducing kilometres of cycle lanes and by changing roads into pedestrian areas.

I have visited four international cities this year: Washington DC (USA), Munich (Germany), Beijing (China) and London (England). What follows is my own brief experience of these cities as a pedestrian (and in one instance as a cyclist), and how the conditions of that experience affected my enjoyment of the city.

Walking in Washington DC

I visited Washington DC in January – perhaps not the best time of year to judge this city’s pedestrian-friendly places. My husband and I stayed in a hotel very near Ford’s Theatre, the place where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Our trips to this museum and the natural history museum passed no vegetation or pedestrian areas. Whilst the roads were quiet and I never felt unsafe when crossing them, I felt the real chill of the winter weather on the concrete surroundings and didn’t enjoy the lack of atmosphere. I rate this third place on my “walking” scale out of four.

Brenda Daniels wrapped up in Washington DC. Photo: Bruce Daniels

 

Brenda Daniels wrapped up in Washington DC. Photo: Bruce Daniels

Walking (and cycling) in Munich

After much persuasion my husband eventually consented to us hiring bicycles on our March trip to Munich. Well, he loved the cycling so much he left me in his dust (metaphorically speaking), as he raced along the miles and miles of VERY SAFE and well-laid-out cycle tracks in the city. Munich is a beautiful, historic, character-filled place and is full of properly regulated walking and cycle tracks, as well as large pedestrian areas in the city centre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to visit many times in the future. I give it second place (only very close behind first place) on my “walking” scale. 

Brenda Daniels lagging behind in Munich. Photo: Bruce Daniels.

Brenda Daniels lagging behind in Munich. Photo: Bruce Daniels.

Walking in Beijing

May was a lovely time of year to visit this VERY busy city. We went to some lovely monuments and palaces that were set in vast gardens with waterways and beautifully interesting trees. These public places were full of locals enjoying the outdoors. However, getting to these tourist attractions meant catching the underground train and walking many kilometres (I think we did 12 in one day) along VERY busy roads. At one stage of our walk, while trying to decipher a Chinese SMS on my mobile phone, I fell headlong INTO the road, leaving a fair portion of my elbow skin on the tar before making it back to the hotel.

My overall impression of Beijing: very busy roads with LOTS of traffic. It gets fourth place on my “walking” scale.

Taking a break in a small not so busy area of Beijing

Taking a break in a small not so busy area of Beijing

Walking in London

London is the ultimate when it comes to my “walking tourist” experience. Even catching a bus (that uses biofuels) to Hyde Park on a busy August day was a pleasure; from the top deck of the bus we got to see flower-bedecked pubs, bougainvillea-clad restaurants, and topiary-decorated hotels. Hyde Park was beautiful. Wide, flat pathways, lined with huge oak trees, miles of flat, soft grass, the odd monument (Albert to be precise), and a tea stop at Lake Serpentine, all made walking in this city of cities a real delight. My favourite, London gets first out of four on my “walking” scale.

Bruce Daniels heading out in Hyde Park. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Bruce Daniels heading out in Hyde Park. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Environment-friendly bus. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Environment-friendly bus. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

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