28.05.2012 26 °C
Yesterday we left Philadelphia by train, the last train ride for this holiday. Sad about that. The trains are such a nice mode of transport, particularly when the stations are so big and grand and the trains are modern, clean, on time and very comfy. I wish there was more of it.
The train was full because it is the Memorial Day holiday long weekend here so people are travelling. Arriving at Union Station, another grand building fit to be a museum really, you'd be forgiven to think you'd just crossed several latitudes south. It was hot here! The traffic was pretty bad but temporary because I think we'd just missed the Rolling Thunder parade which is a traditional motorcycle parade through the streets for memorial day. For the rest of the day, there were residual bikers around on their Harleys.
Either from lack of imagination, laziness or because of too many choices, the hotel we reserved during the planning stages 6 months ago is the same one I stayed in during my May 2001 business trip. Hotel Lombardy is a tall Victorian heritage listed hotel with much quirk. None of the rooms are the same. It creaks. It's furnished in 1920 Chinese style here and there. Anyway it also boasts the same street address as the president - Pennsylvania avenue so needless to say, we are on a good street (just a way further from the action centre).
Bit of an eerie atmosphere outside. There was a storm brewing and the air was thick. Most shops and cafes were closed for the holiday and there was only a few people milling around. I think DC has changed since I've been here. It feels even bigger and there are many construction sites and road works going on. So we walked about to look at the area and work out where to go for the memorial day concert on the west lawn on Capitol hill.
Not too hard to find a landmark of this fame surrounded by a huge crowd of patriotic people! There was a long queue to get through the security screen. Getting used to this process by now. We arrived a few mins before the concert started and found a patch of lawn to sit on. The grass is different here and it doesn't seem to see the blades of a mower too often so it was rather like sitting in a meadow with a thousand people.
Now as I need not explain, Americans are masters in matters of ceremony and organization, therefore this concert was unlike any I've been to. And certainly unlike any war memorial service we have in Australia or England. Interspersed between songs sung by famous singers (none known to me, but an American Idol finalist sang the national anthem), were tributes to the wounded and killed. It was quite melodramatic and obviously moving to those who have been affected. The emphasis was on the Afghanistan war, but there was also mention of Iraq and the wars of the 60s and 70s. Colin Powell spoke. We couldn't see him despite 3 big video screens, one of which was suspended by a crane about 60 feet in the air. The storm was making this sultry night intensify and some people started to leave. We left too because we had to walk back to the hotel. Just as well because as we got back the rain started. The sky was purple and there was lightning. It didn't seem to stop couples from dancing argentine tango on freedom plaza though. Most odd.
Night time is great for looking at the massive buildings. They are lit up so wonderfully, it maximizes their appearance. There is no shortage of statement in DC. There is a lot of power here and that is what these buildings speak of.
After a grapple with the antiquated air conditioner, I managed a good sleep in another marshmallow super king sized bed.
Stay tuned for today's entry. This hotel has wifi!