Posted in Travel sparks

Capitol A for Amazing

I feel like I have seen a lot in my two days in Washington DC. Equally, I feel like I have seen hardly any of what’s possible to see in Washington DC. Suffice it to say, I hope to come back for more visits as I had a fantastic time. Even if it was super hot and humid weather!  

The Capitol. Adding to my collection of pics of landmarks under scaffolding when I visit.
 
Given my short trip, I knew I’d be happy if I got to spend time at Newseum (which I have been wanting to see for years), see some of the city, and maybe get to geek out at some other museums and historical places. Yesterday was a great day, but I’ll tell you more about that another time. 

Today was very interesting, with a case of (accidental) great timing leading to a pretty special experience. I was on the hop on-hop off city bus, and, given the furnace that awaited outside the air-conditioned bus, I definitely had to psych myself up to hop off at all. But of course I did, with less than a day left before I hopped on the train back to NYC.   

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial.
 
View from Lincoln Memorial to Washington Monument.
 
Great views, sure. But mostly, I wanted to see this big guy. And he was just as awesome as I’d hoped he’d be… 
Honest Abe.
 

And, for scale, here’s a normal-sized man next to President Lincoln… 

I shall name the other man Honest Gabe. Little pixie man that he is.
So that was all very interesting and in a stunning location. Then I headed down to the Korean War Memorial, and that’s where the magic happened. The memorial itself is incredible – 19 life-sized statues of men dressed in the heavy cold weather gear they would’ve worn during the war. Their faces are modeled on 19 actual US soldiers from that war, apparently. And they are set in a beautiful green garden. Very moving stuff – and proof that traditional art still works: you don’t always need a clever hologram or techno trickery to make your point.   

And then, I noticed a group of Korean gentlemen (mostly old timers, all in uniform) and one young Korean lady (in uniform) gathering, along with a couple of old American gentlemen with service medals and partly dressed in uniform.

I had happened across the beginning of a service of some sort. Some words were said (in Korean), a large wreath was laid, and they all saluted as the anthems of both countries were played. Then a bugler played (bugler, not burglar, to be clear) and everyone that was lurking and watching the scene like me was as quiet as a mouse. It was very moving.  

And a reminder that sometimes when you’re traveling, the unplanned experiences are the best.   

   

And after that, I went to the Museum of American History – yet another interesting museum, and so well designed and presented. These guys know how to do a good museum, that’s for sure. Too many cool things to mention, so I’ll just share this: Al Capone’s mug shot. Doesn’t he look like a nice young man, who would maybe serve you in a bookstore, or sit next to you on the bus to work? 

   

Posted in Travel sparks

The veritas about Harvard

I am a bit of a dork, so I was very excited to visit Harvard when I was staying in Boston. On another beautiful day in that great city, I walked across the Charles Bridge and over into Cambridge, arriving first in MIT territory. I stopped for breakfast and there were two chaps at the next table discussing something suitably smart – they were speaking English, but I still couldn’t really understand what they were talking about – one guy had written an algorithm or something something and the other guy was talking about trade secrets law across the USA something something. Being a gold star eavesdropper, I felt more clever just for listening in on their conversation.

One of the first-year student dorms. I think I would work harder just by living and studying in this beautiful environment.

 

It sounds hard to believe, but you can just feel the smarts in the air in Cambridge – lots of bright young things from around the world and all over the country fulfilling their dreams of studying with the best at MIT and Harvard. It’s a fantastic place to visit – am sure it would be great to study here, but perhaps that’s another story for another day.

I went on a walking tour led by a current undergrad student and he was full of interesting facts about the place. I was intrigued by the payment system they have: the cost they quote is around $54,000 per year (including tuition, books, accommodation, food etc). That sounds pretty horrific, but the guide assured us that relatively few people ever pay that much to attend Harvard – if your family’s combined income is less than $75k, you can attend FOR FREE. And if your family’s combined income is less than $180k, you’ll pay no more than 10% of that (ie, $18,000 PER YEAR). He didn’t go beyond that, but presumably they’re the people that pay a little closer to the quoted figure. What a great system, I reckon – if you’re smart enough to be accepted to Harvard, then your family’s financial status shouldn’t be a barrier to entry. Right on.

The guide showed us the gigantic and very impressive library – from the outside only, as you need a Harvard ID to actually enter the library. Apparently, they have an incredible collection of books stored in their underground stacks and there were certainly a lot of students heading to and from the building. I think the beauty of the buildings and surrounds must really help with study programs – especially when you’re studying alongside some of the brightest minds in the world. I can’t remember spending too much time in the library or hanging out in the grounds of Sydney Uni, but I’m not sure whether that says more about the Uni or more about me…

Had to snap this student leaving the library with a big bag of books. He looked like he might just be the next Bill Gates.
Apparently, it’s good luck to rub the foot of this statue of John Harvard (the 3rd most photographed statue in the USA). This tiger mother was pushing her two daughters to do so, even though the little one had to keep jumping and stretching to try and reach it. Awkward. Especially since there is a rumour that students often try to wee on that part of the statue as a college prank.

And, last but not least, is it just me…or was DONALD SUTHERLAND on my tour of Harvard?

Dear Harvard, in one form or another, I really do hope I’ll be back. (If only I could have ended with a Donald Sutherland line rather than an Arnie line, but I’m not really that familiar with his work – I really should have asked him while I had the chance.)

 

Posted in Travel sparks

Getting close to JFK in Boston

OK, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of a Kennedy nut. I own a lot of books about them and find that whole dynasty fascinating. Although, to put my cards on the table, I’m a much bigger fan of Robert Kennedy than JFK. Bobby wasn’t the pin-up boy of the clan, but from what we know of him, he was a really good man. Whatever your personal opinion of them as individuals, there is no doubt that they were a pretty incredible family. Descendants of Irish Catholic immigrants made good – really good, if you rate the election of the youngest-ever US President as a success. And the youngest-ever US Attorney General (Bobby).

Here it is…And that sky is not PhotoShopped, I promise.

When you add it all up, you can see how the Kennedys have been the fodder for so many books and films and telemovies (argh, Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy): a father and three brothers reaching very senior levels in US politics, tons of children, some very interesting women who were born into or married into the family, significant controversies & scandals & tragedies. Not to mention Marilyn Monroe, some major moments in US history, their Catholic faith, a super-stylish First Lady and a domineering dad. Anyways, lots of stories to tell from before, during and after JFK’s presidency and so I was super excited to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston – it was #1 on my itinerary.

The lobby, with stunning views of the ocean & the city in the distance.

The Museum was outstanding and even better than I’d hoped – in a beautiful location, with incredible attention to small details and a great collection of memorabilia. Starting with a movie (in a theatre, if you don’t mind) to provide some background on the early years of JFK, in his own words, then moving through brilliantly set up exhibits depicting the election, life in the 60s, the inauguration (with seats set up so you can watch the whole thing on a big screen – since it was a freezing cold day back then, this is a much more comfortable way to see it), the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination.

Yep, that’s the view from the lobby. Sorry the iPhone pic is a bit wonky looking.

There was a room dedicated to the too-often-overlooked Bobby Kennedy and a room with more info on others in the family. So interesting – even if you’re not a Kennedy nut, there’s enough personal material, video footage and realistic room settings to keep your attention.

The giant flag hanging from the glass atrium in the lobby.

And I was lucky to strike a new addition – a Jackie Kennedy exhibit, including quotes from interviews she gave to a family friend in her latter years, personal video footage and photos, dresses and amazing gifts from leaders all over the world. Incredible stuff.

Recreating the excitement of the election.
Campaign posters

Anyways, I’m mindful that this might be like re-telling a dream, which is always more fun if you actually witnessed it first hand. So, I’ll stop now. But please make sure that you add this to your itinerary if you’re in Boston!

The Kennedy Clan.
And, last but not least, a wall-sized version of my favourite photo of JFK & RFK. I would totes love this in my home.