By Jasmine Lu, Regular Contributor
Over the weekend, I attended a Youth Leadership Summit in Washington D.C., and while the activities were fun and engaging, my favorite part of the trip was walking along the streets of the city and visiting the monuments and museums.
Since we didn’t have much free time, due to the nature of the Summit, my friends and I were eager to take advantage of every minute of freedom. We wanted to make the most of our trip and give one of our friends, who had never been before, the grand tour.
So here’s my list of recommendations for the next time you find yourself in D.C.:
Capital Bike Share
D.C. has this incredible system that allows you to rent bikes to ride throughout the city. There are self-service stations to rent and return these bikes near every major monument or museum, making trips via bike extremely efficient. Best of all, the system constantly updates their online map so that you can click a station to see how many bikes are available, preventing you from making an unnecessary trip. It’s super user friendly and a great way to travel through the city.
While more expensive than the free Smithsonian museums in DC, experiencing the Newseum is something I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. Just as the punny name suggests, it’s a museum that looks at the role of news and media in history (something we’ve seen become an increasingly prevalent issue with the internet and smartphones). With a total of seven floors, the Newseum artfully takes visitors on a journey, exhibition after exhibition, floor after floor. Exhibitions range from how media shaped public opinion during the Vietnam War to archives of the front pages of newspapers during prominent historical events (Release of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Dred Scott decision, Death of Princess Diana, etc). After going through all seven floors (starting from the top), you won’t look at news/media the same way.
The Smithsonians provide such a rich learning experience for FREE. They do close very early, however, so you’ll want to schedule out your day to make sure you can visit all the ones you want to. Some well-known ones include the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, and more recently, the Native American Museum. Definitely make it a priority to go to at least one of these impressive museums.
To get the full D.C. experience, it is absolutely necessary to pay your respect to the history of our country at the various memorials. It’s easy to get through most, if not all, in just a day because they are so close to each other. Though I didn’t get to all of them, here is my take on the importance of visiting some of the most famous memorials.
1. The Lincoln Memorial
One of my favorite memorials, because of its simplicity and elegance, Lincoln sits front and center looking out towards the Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool. At this stop you’ll be able to pay your respects to two men who played significant roles in advancing the rights of African Americans. First, of course, there is Abraham Lincoln who, with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War, was the man who took it upon himself to end the “peculiar institution,” also known as slavery. Right outside of the memorial, on the steps leading up to it, you can stand on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I have a dream” speech and will forever be remembered for his nonviolent approach to leading the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
2. The Korean War Memorial
This memorial is one of the most eerie, as statues of soldiers wear heavy gear and are creeping forward with terror evident in their eyes. It’s said that no matter where you are within the memorial, one of the soldiers will be looking at you, so you can’t hide from their haunting gaze. The walls alongside these soldiers are full of ghostly images of those who died in the war. It’s truly a haunting experience to commemorate those who served and died in an equally haunting war.
3. The Vietnam War Memorial
While it may seem unimpressive far away, up close the number of names engraved along the black wall is appalling. It truly sends visitors into shock, considering just how many people were lost in this extremely controversial war. The design of the memorial was actually meant to reflect that of a healing wound if viewed from above, and in considering the implications of the Vietnam War on culture and history in the USA, it is an extremely apt metaphor to memorialize the sacrifices of so many people.
This is just a fraction of the many places worth visiting in D.C. Hopefully, they will leave you with a much greater appreciation and understanding for the immense complexities of our country.
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Jasmine Lu will be attending Duke University in the fall and will be pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering. She has many interests including global health, computer science, and film. You can learn more about how her mind works at her personal blog j-------lu.tumblr.com
image via hilliardschools.org