Experiencing the nation’s capital in 24 hours

While Augusta has much to recommend it, I felt the time had come to visit a national capital, and this past weekend I did so. Both the required marathon drive and the relatively short visit were well worth the effort.

Nearly all the views of the river that flows through the city are splendid. The imposing edifices lying along or near the area known informally as the capital mall are awe-inspiring, both because of the historically significant events that have taken place inside them and their majestic outer appearance.

The city’s baseball stadium could pass for brand new, even though it is not. There’s a lot of excitement around the ballpark this year; the local professional baseball team plays to enthusiastic crowds and, barring a collapse of epic proportion, is playoff-bound, hopefully preparing to vie for its league’s championship after the regular season concludes. The home side convincingly won the game we watched on Friday, our first night in town.

Since we were staying a stone’s throw from downtown I arose early Saturday and went for a stroll. I actually walked onto the grounds of the park surrounding the residences of several top government officials, taking care to first obtain permission from the efficient but polite uniformed government personnel charged with keeping the area secure. (Later in the day I had to empty my pockets and go through a metal detector before visiting one particular building, but the officers in charge were almost apologetic while doing the required searching.)

While strolling through some well-kept gardens I spied a small plaque beneath a young Sugar Maple. Curious, I moved closer to read the inscription, which stated the tree had been ceremonially planted by Kofi Annan, who at the time of his official state visit was the Secretary General of the United Nations. In the immediate area were similar-sized trees, planted by (among others) Queen Elizabeth II; China’s president Hu Jintao; Nobel Peace Prize-winner Lech Walesa; Russian president Vladimir Putin, and a whole host of other contemporary and past dignitaries and heads of state. Not all of the significant amateur arborists had been visiting from other continents; further down the footpath were several larger and evidently older trees. The first one I spotted had, it turned out, been dedicated by then-first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961! Other ceremonial tree planters, in addition to her husband, included presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Later our entire party took a walking tour of the city. We visited outdoor markets that featured fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, a wide variety of ethnic food, and a plethora of items designed and crafted by all types of artists. We posed alongside statues of American Revolution-era heroes, and were entertained by various musicians and street performers. Throughout our stroll we heard at least a dozen languages spoken by people dressed in everything from suits and ties to hijabs to tank tops and short shorts. Throughout the long, sticky afternoon (our hostess’s Fitbit later revealed we had walked nearly ten miles!) we and everyone else we observed were treated with kindness, cooperation, respect, and deference. In the national capital, at least that day, the universal language was clearly a smile.

Early in the evening we drove through the posh section of the city that features embassies of other countries, along with homes of foreign officials. When I was young I aspired to be a mailman or a professional athlete, but had I been exposed back then to what I saw along “Diplomat Row” on this particular night my goal would have been to become a representative to a foreign country, assuming the mansions housing the ambassadors from South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Japan (among others) were typical.

As is often the case in August the day was at times oppressively muggy, but the temperature dropped somewhat after dark, there was a hint of a breeze, and we finished our very-full- one-day vacation by watching an impressive fireworks show following the evening’s baseball game.

By night’s end we were utterly spent. Despite our hectic pace we still hadn’t viewed the inside of any of the legislative buildings, the mint, the art museum, or the national archives. As was the case in past visits to the capital I felt as though I had absorbed perhaps one percent of what there was to see during our thoroughly enjoyable but all-too-brief visit.

There’s no doubt: the capital city of a nation is a truly rare gem, one that is a pleasure and a privilege to experience. I cannot wait to return to Ottawa next summer for its nation’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) celebration. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be inspired to return to Washington DC one of these years!

Andy Young
August 22, 2016

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