I wanted to do some sightseeing in Washington DC, so I left my Baltimore hotel early and walked up to Penn Station and caught the MARC Penn line to Washington Union Station. I had decided that the best way to see the sights would be to take a guided tour, and after a little research, I had chosen Trolley Tours, who run 2 sightseeing loops (Orange and Green) and a shuttle to Arlington Cemetery (Red Loop). The ticket price was reasonable and they have a stop at Union station. Trolley Tours are a “hop-on, hop-off” tour, with buses every 30 minutes. NOTE: This is not an advertisement or endorsement for Trolley Tours (paid or otherwise) – they’re just one of many good tour operators in Washington DC.
At Washington Union station, I boarded the first Orange loop bus for the day and the Driver gave a very good tip to the handful of tourists aboard his bus; the Capitol building has free guided tours from 09:00, Monday to Saturday. There is only a limited number of tickets available and it gets very busy later on in the day.
Armed with that advice, I left the tour bus at the Capitol Building and walked around the impressive structure with its famous dome. I’m often quite cynical about politics, but this building is awe inspiring. It its dignified and majestic. It makes you feel as if democracy is worth something, and this is the place that stuff gets done. I passed the rear entrance, complete with machine gun toting paramilitary security and walked around to the front courtyard. At this early hour, it was almost vacant and I was able to take some decent photographs without dodging other tourists. There was some heavy duty law enforcement standing around, but no one even hinted at discouraging photography.
I entered the lobby of the Capitol Building, and joined a short line. I snagged a spot in the next tour starting in 15 minutes and was soon ushered into a small theatre to watch a very biased and one sided history of American Independence and Democracy. It was sickeningly patriotic, but what was worse, was that the majority of the audience clapped and cheered at the end! After the movie, we were led on a comprehensive guided tour of the building, viewing statues of former presidents, ornate masonry and detailed paintings. I recommend the tour to anyone visiting, it gives a real feel about what Washington DC is all about.
When the tour was over, I exited through the lobby where I had started the tour about 90 minutes earlier, now crowded with long lines and tour groups waiting for tickets. I was glad I had taken the advice of the bus Driver and gone early! From the Capitol building, I walked down the National Mall; a wide grassy pedestrian mall in the centre of Washington with famous buildings and institutions on either side. From various Smithsonian buildings to galleries and museums. At the western end of the National Mall is the impressive Washington Monument; a white marble obelisk, which stands just shy of 170m tall, completed in 1884. Unfortunately, the monument was closed due to damage the 2011 Virginia earthquake so I walked on, towards the WWII memorial.
I spent some time soaking up the atmosphere at at the impressive Lincoln Memorial, before rejoining the sightseeing bus loop. The tour took me past many of the other memorials of the city, before depositing me in the down town area. I walked to the White House and joined the mix of curious foreigners, patriotic locals, aggrieved protesters and crackpot conspiracy theory preachers outside. In the park across the street, some squirrels frolicked in the grass, seemingly oblivious of the importance of the building nearby.
I climbed aboard the Green bus loop, which runs through the north-west of Washington, past all of the embassies, through Foggy Bottom (tee-hee) and into the historic Georgetown area. After returning from this loop, I had had my fill of historic monuments and buildings, so it was time to tour the Washington Metro system.
The District Of Columbia is so small, that Washington’s Metro system extents beyond its borders into Maryland and Virginia. In fact, the blue line runs from Largo Town Centre in Maryland, through the District of Columbia and out the other side into Virginia. All trains wear the same uninspiring brown and white livery, and are fairly generic as subway trains go. Rolling stock has been made by several different companies;
- Rohr (cars 1000 – 1299 – introduced in the late 1970s)
- Cars 2000 to 2075 – introduced in the early 1980s
- Cars 3000 to 3291 – introduced in the late 1980s
- Cars 4000 to 4099 – introduced in the early 1990s)
- CAF (cars 5000 to 5191 – introduced in the early 2000s
- Altstom (cars 6000 to 6183 – introduced in the mid 2000s)
Examples of all series of rolling stock are still in operation, although the next series of rolling stock (built by Kawasaki) is planned to replace all remaining Rohr cars (planned for introduction from 2014).
I entered the Metro Center station and boarded a Blue Line train. The Blue line train took me under the Potomac River and into Virginia. We travelled under the Pentagon and I left the train at Braddock Rd station. Braddock Rd is above ground and next to a heavy rail main line with Amtrak, freight and VRE trains passing by. I stayed and Braddock Rd for a short time, but due to the low photogenic nature of the brown and white subway cars, and the lack of any decent heavy rail action, I made my way back towards Washington.
I took the Yellow Line back to L’Enfant Plaza station, this time crossing over the Potomac River on a bridge, than passing under in a tunnel. As I took the escalators up out of L’Enfant Plaza station, I could hear some very boppy music echoing down. Just outside the station was an excellent brass band busking. The uplifting sound of the music had drawn quite a crowd, but I’m not sure if they were listening to the music or watching the drummer; he was HUGE!! He must have been over 150kg, and I wondered how his little stool supported his huge bulk! I listened for a while, and after leaving a donation in their collection plate, I decided it was time to leave Washington.
It was getting late as I waited for the MARC Penn line train at Union station. My train was an interesting mix of old single deck and modern double deck stock, hauled by an HHP-8 electric locomotive. I boarded a double deck car, and the train departed into the Washington Dusk. I decided to leave the train at BWI Airport station, and attempt to catch the tram back to Baltimore.
BWI (Baltimore Washington International) Airport is about ⅔ of the way from Washington to Baltimore. It has its own heavy rail station on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (served by MARC and Amtrak services) as well as a tram (light rail) link to Baltimore. There was a high volume of heavy rail traffic, so a stayed at the station for about an hour photographing and videoing trains. There was a good variety passing through, from high speed Acela tilting trains to 1970s vintage Amfleet stock hauled by old AEM-7 electric locomotives.
As the rail traffic started thinning out, I took the free shuttle bus from the railway station to the airport terminal and followed the signs through the sparsely populated building to the tram stop. It was late and I’d just missed a tram, so I had to wait about 20 minutes for the next. The journey back to down town Baltimore was uneventful, and as it was now completely dark, I could see very little out of the window. We passed by Camden Yards just as a Baseball game was finishing, and the almost empty tram filled with sports fans. I left the tram several stops later and walked back to my hotel.