Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Great American Adventure: Part Two

Washington: Capitol City Capers

Ok, this is the second time this post is written, because the Blogger app has no effing auto-save feature. This means that I woke up at 3.30am for nothing, and a whole night's work was just wasted. Spent a lot of time crying and have sworn more time than I have in the last five years combined. 

So bits of this post will be more or less descriptive than originally intended. I just really wanted to get this post up as soon as possible while the memories are relatively fresh. 

Behold my bloody dedication. You are welcome. 

Day One:

After being picked up by my father and brother from the airport, the first order of business was heading to the hotel, Hotel Harrington, for a much needed shower to wash off all the airport/airplane gunk. After that it was around 11am, so we went looking for brunch, and ended up at  Ollie's Trolley, a burger joint right around the corner.  

Sis and I split a bacon and cheese burger, which was surprisingly good! Although I did prefer their crab cakes, which my brother had. Not a bad first impression for food in the USA. 

So after that quick brunch, it was time for some sightseeing! First off, we headed to the National Museum of Natural History, which I was really excited about, because I was expecting to see exhibits shown in Night At The Museum!

There's little Rex. With me still in my glasses and wearing my sister's clothes, because my luggage hadn't yet been delivered to the hotel. 

But that was the only character from the movie we found! Which was pretty disappointing because it was nothing like how Ben Stiller showed us. 

There was no Teddy Roosevelt, no Sacagewea, no capuchin monkey, no miniature cowboys and indians, and no giant squid. Just a lot of things on Geology and Biodiversity, which I suppose is what natural history should be all about, but wasn't interesting enough to catch my fancy. 

Afterwards, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Art, conveniently located nearby, as all the Smithsonian museums are. Went there because brother is now a self-professed art lover, after taking a compulsory Art History paper for his course. 

Photographs were not permitted in certain parts of the museum, but even where they were, I didn't wanna take any pictures anyway, because I found it somehow disrespectful to take pictures of paintings, and it could not compare to viewing the artwork up close. I have no similar reservations for taking pictures of sculptures though. 

Now I'm not an art freak, but I do admire how some people long ago put years of their life into painting a single canvas. I have no use for abstract paintings, because I have a sneaking suspicion that those people simply cannot paint well, but were either important enough or had good enough PR, that everyone was desperate to suck up to them and pretend they were amazing pieces. 

I love artworks about people. Never portraits, but of people interacting by gesturing or talking, or of a distressed or laughing subject. You know, pieces that emote human emotion; and I take pleasure in guessing what their stories are and what emotions they want to convey. 

You pick up clues from things in the background, such as color and shadow, but I try not to read too deeply into other objects. Brother says dogs are supposed to symbolise loyalty and obedience, while cats are supposed to symbolise cunning and distrust. I say, maybe the artist just had a personal preference of house pet, and we shouldn't think everything had hidden meaning. 

Scenaries are nice to look at too, but you can only take so much of paintings of sea and sky and flora (barely saw any on fauna), before they all blend to become a fuzzy blur. Which actually happens to every painting after a while. At this point it was 4+pm local time, and all my adrenaline had left me and I was close to toppling over from sheer exhaustion from all my travelling. I ended up flopping down on every couch they have in each room to appreciate larger sized paintings, as we moved through the museum. 

At any rate, the museum was huge, spanning four blocks, and it closed at 5.30pm so there was no way we could see it all, so we cut out for an early dinner. 

Brother took us to Merzi, which was a fast food Indian joint, where I split a naan bowl with the sister, topped with beef, chickpeas, veggies, spicy masala, and yogurt chutney. 

And damn was this gooooood! The pulled beef was juicy and the sauces were rich, so every bite was a party in my mouth. It admittedly photographs horribly though, but don't let that fool you! Probably the best damn fast food I've ever tasted!

After that, we headed back to the hotel, where I immediately fell into a three hour nap, then reluctantly got up to wash my face and change, before having a blissful, much-needed eight hours of sleep. 

Day Two:

Parents and the brother had some matter to take care of at the US Consulate, so that left the sister and I to entertain ourselves for a few hours. After munching on some toast and omelette from their leftover breakfast, we decided to head out and explore on our own for a bit to enjoy Washington architecture. 

Washington is beautiful. 

It's where all the state department buildings are located, such as the Federal Trade Commission or Deparment of Justice or the Federal of National Archives above. The Capitol city is full of imposing ivory stone buildings with carved panels and Grecian columns. The effect is very regal and stately, which cements the impression of the US being one of the world's most powerful countries. 

We walked around for half an hour, before the sister got too worried we would get lost, so we did a u-turn then went browsing in the 3 storey Forever 21 store near the hotel. Didn't end up getting anything, because soon after we had to meet up with the rest of the family, and it was off for more sightseeing!

We walked to the White House, but you could only glimpse a section of it from far away from the gate, because (obviously) it was not open to visitors. After that, it was onto what I was looking forward to seeing most in the whole of Washington: the statue of Abraham Lincoln!

But first, we passed by the Constitution Gardens, and this pair of ducks were swimming close enough to touch, which kept tipping forward into the water, and it looked so funny we spent a good 10 minutes just laughing at them. The building in the distance is the Washington monument, that's unfortunately under maintenance until sometime next year. 

"Bottom's up!" 

(Bonus points if you got the Aristocats reference!)

And there we go. The Lincoln Memorial. The landmark shown in so many movies that it was pretty awesome to see it in person. According to postcards, it looks much better at night when the monument is all lit up, but this was pretty cool too. 

What else can you say? It's a huge marble statue of Abe on a huge marble chair, and its located in yet another stone building with Grecian arches. Lets move on. 

Lunch was at the Malaysia Kopitiam on M Street, because my brother thought my mother would enjoy it. We had mee siam, assam laksa, mee mamak goreng, nasi lemak, and char koay teow; which I ranked in that order of tastiness. Make no mistake, the place was expensive, and tasted nothing close to the Malaysian food I know and love. 

There was barely any spiciness to the dishes, seemingly replaced by a liberal use of sugar. The end effect becomes hugely unappetising. I sincerely hope no American is turned off Malaysian food by this place. 

Alrighty then, we then headed off to another Smithsonian, this time the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space, because I thought it would be the most interesting museum of all, out of those we haven't visited. Because there's nothing to do here but visit monuments and museums.  

This is my sister and I (yes she's younger but taller), with the famous red airplane once flown by Amelia Earhart, though obviously not the one she went missing in. 

The museum was pretty cool because we were told it displayed actual artifacts. Which means we saw among others, the actual Apollo spacecraft and got to touch an actual moonrock. That was the 'space' part; for the 'air' bit, there were many missiles over two storeys high, and of course various planes used in different occasions. 

Once I was told they carried fighter jets, I was insanely excited. I have a soft spot for weapons of mass destruction, like jets and tanks and missiles. There is just something about that kind of dangerous raw power that's so exhilarating to look at, and imagine what it must have been like to shoot one of those things. 

...I worry for myself sometimes too. 

But to my immense disappointment, they removed all the guns from the fighter planes, so that exhibit immediately lost its charm. Overall though, I did really enjoy this museum, as it was a refreshing change from the other two museums which we visited. Maybe because I skipped past most reading exhibits and only focused on interesting artifacts. I did not need to know that astronauts drink their (recycled) pee and poop in a revolving faecal chair though. 

After that, we went back to the hotel to recover for a bit, then it was dinner time!

A thin-crust and deep-dish pizza at Pi. You know, because pizzas are generally circular, and the wifi password was the first 7 digits of the Pi formula teehee. I love silly wordplay things like that. 

It was my first time ever having a deep-dish pizza, and based on this alone I wouldn't think of getting it again. It kind of tasted like eating a big glob of pasta sauce on pizza dough. 

Both pizzas were sub-par. It just was cheese and a few herbs, without much flavour from the sausage/chicken toppings we ordered. I have tasted much better pizza back home. 

So I guess we just didn't have any good luck with food today. Sad face. 

Day Three:

Well today was the day I just happened to wake up at 3.30am and decided I was energised enough, having slept at 10+ the previous night. So I decided to blog, but halfway through wanted to double check the name of a location, and well you know the rest. 

So I wasn't in a good mood when everyone finally started waking up at about 7. I was also really hungry from all that emotion, and demanded to be fed. I decided that we would eat at Lincoln Waffle House, because my sister and I had passed by the place on our walkabout on day two, and I thought it looked good. 

We split a banana pancake with sausage and egg. Yes, that patty-like thing is actually called "sausage" in America. Weird huh. 

The food was disappointing though. The pancake tasted funny, although the banana slices did help save it, the sausage was too salty, and the eggs were pretty tasteless. Good thing my bad mood was long gone by then, because this meal would not have helped it. 

This is the house where Lincoln died, opposite Ford's theatre. Which was right beside our breakfast place, and a stone's throw from our hotel. Didn't go inside, because you needed to pay an entrance fee, and at any rate it was too early for it to be open. 

After breakfast, it was time to hit the road in our rented car, to the destination of New York! I was beyond excited, because I mean how many songs and movies have preached to us about New York being the greatest city in the world? I couldn't wait to walk on those streets and experience life in the Big Apple. 

But first, a short stopover at the Washington National Cathedral on the edge of town. 

My apologies here. It was really sunny so I couldn't see that I didn't catch the whole building. I guess you can tell that it's really, really big?

Was a little too secular for my taste though. The church was bustling with Americana, such as a statue of George Washington, state flags, and plaques in every nook and cranny of the cathedral that were dedicated to some person's memory. I dunno, I guess in a Roman Catholic's opinion, I don't think that cathedral felt like a house of God. I didn't have a moving experience at all, and the place felt more like some place purposely tailored for tourism. 

The high altar. Made from carved wood. I'd have preferred marble or stone though. 

Obviously, I wasn't particularly thrilled with this stop, but it didn't matter, because we were soon on the move again! This time, to our next stop along the way, Philadelphia, for a quick lunch and to visit the Liberty Bell

We had Philly's signature dish, the Philly's cheesesteak at Grande Olde Cheesesteak. I was really surprised when it turned out the "steak" wasn't a slab of meat, but was instead regular bits of meat covered in melted cheese and stuck in a hotdog bun. 

And guys, this really, really, sucked. As in if this really is what Philly's cheesesteak should taste like, then noone should ever be subjected to eating that piece of crap. The cheese tasted as artificial as string cheese and the meat was oily and tasteless. It was just a huge letdown. 

Philly continued to be a letdown, when the queue to view the liberty bell turned out to be at least 30 minutes long, and the weather felt far too hot to bother. At any rate, we managed to catch a quick glimpse at the bell on our tippytoes, and saw it was enclosed in a large perspex case, where we couldn't ring it or touch it. So we decided it wasn't worth the effort.  

Went over to the Reading Union Square to have some Bassetts Ice Cream before we left. I had chocolate chip cookie dough, one of my favourite indulgences ever. 

But honestly, the ice cream was just average. Nothing amazing like how my brother promised Philly ice cream would be. 

So I guess all in all, Philly didn't excite us one bit. I honestly don't think I'll ever come back here. 

Thoughts on America so far?

Philly sucked, but Washington felt like a dream to explore because of all the intricate architecture. It was big and clean, and noone seemed to mind that we were Asians. I really loved being there, even though it does get a little boring after a bit. 

On the highway, it was so unusual to see almost everyone keeping to the speed limit, and you hardly see cars zooming by at all. Malaysians have a lot to learn from this, myself included. Also, every time you passed a state line you'd see a different speed limit and gas price, which was quite unexpected. 

America has been a great adventure so far, and its only just beginning! Next stop, bright lights and city sights; New York, here I come!

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