After breakfast in a great cafe, filled with students working away on laptops with enormous cups of coffee, we briefly explored Williamsburg.
Apart from Colonial Williamsburg, one of the city’s other claims to fame is being home to the second oldest university in the US, the William & Mary University, dating back to 1693 and named after Britain’s King William III and his wife, Queen Mary II.
Braving the cold, we walked through the university grounds and then briefly back through Colonial Williamsburg. Given the time of year, only portions of the historic area were open, but we were able to get some quick history lessons from a couple of the traditionally costumed staff.
One thing that has continually impressed me throughout this trip, with only one or two exceptions, has been the knowledge level of tour guides and staff at tourist attractions. Stopping to ask one lady a quick question, she was able to provide a thorough, and at the same time condensed, history of Williamsburg and its place in the history of Virginia.
We left Williamsburg around lunch and arrived in a very cold Washington mid-afternoon. Whilst Jane opted for a quick nap, I was keen to stretch my legs after being in the car for the last few days.
Despite best intentions, the cold quickly drove me back indoors and I found refuge in the National Portrait Gallery. I only expected to have a quick look around the gallery then return to the hotel, but with 3 floors of exhibits, before I knew it over an hour had passed and I had only still scratched the surface.
Based on several recommendations, we joined an evening “monument tour” of Washington. A minibus with tour guide aboard took us around many of the star attractions of Washington, which looks great at night.
In addition to the expected stops at Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, the White House and the Lincoln Memorial (which is HUGE), we also stopped at the three monuments to each of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The Korean monument consists of a couple of dozen, larger than life size statues of soldiers in the clothes and formation they would have worn on a night time patrol. The statues are set amongst dense undergrowth, in an attempt to replicate what conditions might have been like in Korea, and are dimly lit in what provides an eerie light. Seeing the monument at night was particularly atmospheric.
The Vietnam monument is, by contrast, somewhat understated in its simplicity. A marble wall listing all the casualties of the war, set in a recess carved into the ground. Apparently it was designed by a young university student as part of a project set as part of her course. Undeterred by the “B” she was awarded by her professor, she submitted her design to the national competition. The selection of her design must have been immensely satisfying, especially as one of the competing designs had been submitted by her professor.
The last monument on the tour was the recently unveiled statue of Dr Martin Luther King. Carved out of an enormous sandstone rock by a Chinese artist, it is another great addition to the monuments of Washington. As we visited the monument, a group of very loud and sassy African American women were posing in front of the statue for their friends to take photos. Lots of loud “Uh huh” and “yeah baby” comments from the girls drowning out the rest of the crowd. The one that amused us most was one girl declaring “let me get to the back of dis photo so you can’t see ma’ big butt … ” Dr King would have been so proud.
Snow started falling as the tour finished, so we were more than happy to get back to our warm hotel room.