Going “Postal” in DC

Here we go! First post…well other than the intro, but that hardly counts…

I just so happen to be doing this first post from Washington DC. That means that I get to start with something I am well practiced at: Travel Blogging (See Wonder & Wanderlust).
Mom had a conference here and I figured I’d just tag along. You really can’t pass up a free hotel room in a city you’ve always wanted to visit! And I have always wanted to go to DC. Despite being Canadian I’ve always had a strong (slightly odd) fascination with American Presidents. As a child one if my favorite Disneyland attractions was the Hall of Presidents. I had an Abraham Lincoln coloring book. Add that to an unnatural love of museums and DC becomes my ideal vacation spot.
I should note that I’m a little behind due to needing to set up the blog site & find time to write. So Day 1 wasn’t actually today but who cares, the info is still there!
We left Edmonton on the 00:15 red-eye flight. We’d gone straight to the airport from my cousin’s birthday party and hadn’t done the proper naps needed to prepare for overnight flights. I say this for my sake, not mom’s…she had no trouble passing right out on both the 4 hour flight to Toronto and the 1.5 hour flight to Washington. I honestly think she sleeps better on planes than at home. I was a struggler however; despite solid attempts I probably slept under 2 hours. We arrived at the Ronald Reagan Washington Airport at 10:30am local time. I’m assuming we were stuck in the older part of the airport. Hopefully the American capital doesn’t let the run-down stucco walls of our terminal be the first thing foreign dignitaries see. While gathering our bags I made sure to check out the group of strapping young men who couldn’t have been anything other than hockey players. We later found their pictures on the Washington Capitals’ website as boys attending the rookie camp.
A cab took us out to our hotel in Bethesda. In case you don’t know where Bethesda is (and don’t worry I didn’t either) here’s a map:
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Basically it’s a suburb of Washington. Mom’s meeting were at our hotel, hence the location choice, but they didn’t start until tomorrow so we dropped off our bags, brushed our teeth & headed back to the city. There’s a metro station conveniently located a block away from the hotel. It takes about 20 minutes to get right into the middle of the government/monument/museum/tourist center. We hopped off at Union Station.
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Here’s where Istart throwing facts at you. I can’t help it; I just want you to learn as much as I do! Union Station opened in 1907 and cost over $25 million to construct. Today it is visited by over 40 million people each year. The design would be considered Beaux-Arts but pulls aspects from many different style & time periods, such as the greeks. Early Americans were quite obsessed with the Ancient Greek & Romans. Colonial buildings with Greek column portico. The eagles of the Roman legion as their national symbol. And stone centurions scattered all over Union Station. Architect Daniel Burnham placed realistic Roman soldiers around the building (both outside & in)…but a bit too realistic. When the station first opened ladies were known to faint at the sight of the Romans in traditional battle dress, aka naked or in very short skirts. Large shields were carved and placed in front of each soldier to preserve the modesty of women right up until today. I know I was thankful for it, because who wants to see half-naked muscled men who can’t open their mouths & negate their looks?
Anyway, the station is quite large and grand (though not a grand as Grand Central). That’s a difference between American & European train stations: Americans make them about form, while in Europe it’s about function. Not to say that there weren’t some exquisite stations in Europe, Budapest and London come to mind, but the interior is all about getting people where they need to be. Train travel is more of a novelty here in North America so we approach the whole thing with a slightly exaggerated sense of grandeur.
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We wandered about a bit then grabbed a quick lunch at Potbelly Sandwiches. This is a national chain, started in Chicago in ’96, that reminded me of Quinoz (with toasted sub sandwiches & hot peppers) but with more charm. I had a simple turkey sandwich that was delicious, but warning: the hot peppers are definitely hot!
Right next door to Union Station is the National Postal Museum. I was psyched to visit my first Smithsonian, as the museums were one of my main reasons for visiting Washington. It was opened in a joint venture between the United States Postal Services and the Smithsonian in 1993. This was a single level museum, which was a nice way to break myself in. Even with that it would be crazy for me to try to tell you about everything in the museum. Instead I’ll do a brief overview with highlights or fun new facts…at least I think they’re fun.
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The Postal Museum has a few side exhibits (one currently relating to the Hindenburg & Titanic tragedies) but mainly consists of four permanent parts:
1. Binding the Nation – This gallery gives a glimpse into mail in colonial America. Did you know Benjamin Franklin was the first PostMaster General of the USA?
2. On the Road – Here we learned how mail moves or has been moved in the history of American letter delivery. One display focused on the Pony Express. Interestingly, “Pony Express” was the name of one company that became synonymous with the service (much like I call all tissues Kleenex). There were many companies that did mail delivery by horse & the actual Pony Express only existed for a couple of months. It was also terrifically expensive! To send a
1/2 oz of mail cost $5, which is equivalent to $75 today!
3. Systems at Work/Customers & Communities focuses on the mail today and modern changes in the postal system during the 20th century. Such as the Zip Code! Zip (or Zone Improvement Plan) Codes were only introduced in 1963 as a way to allow quicker, more accurate sorting. And I learned where the zip code number come from: The first number in the 5-digit code represents the state (or group of states). The 2nd & 3rd digits represent the Sectional Center Facility, aka the building where the letters go for processing, sorting & distribution. The final 2 digits are the area of the city or the village/town.
4. Postal Inspectors: The Silent Service – Postal Inspectors investigate crimes against the mail. This can involve mail fraud, theft of mail or crimes committed using the mail. I learned that the Unabomber got his name from the fact that he targeted UNiversities and Airlines…UNA…
After finishing at the museum Mom & I went for a wander. We had no particular destination but headed towards the large dome towering above the rest of the skyline. DC actually has building height restrictions that ensure that the Capitol building continues to be the tallest in the land. It might be good that it’s so noticeable because the Capitol building it’s also the geographic center of Washington. The city is divided into 4 quadrants based on a central meeting point at the center of the building.
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The US Capitol is the meeting place of Congress and the legislature. It’s where all of the important decisions for America get made! We didn’t go inside, but it’s not my nation’s capital..I did go inside the legislature when I was in Ottawa.
At this point the heat and a lack of sleep caught up with us. We caught the metro back to Bethesda and just had dinner at the hotel. Mom’s meetings started early in the morning and I was tuckered out so that was the end of Day 1.
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Love &Luck,
Kris
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