Sunday, 14 April 2013

The History and Culture of Washington DC

We left Philly and continued our journey south toward the nations capital, Washington DC. Another 4 hour bus ride and we reached DC in the early afternoon. Now, Washington is not well known for its cocktail and bar scene, but this visit was not about researching bar culture in DC, it was more about discovering and learning the about history of America.  It’s a city which is full of monument’s, well known political buildings and the famous Smithsonian museums. Our stop in Washington was just for the weekend, and as luck would have it, we were fortunate enough to witness the annual cherry blossom festival which sees thousands of tourists from far and wide visit the city, as it turns pink with cherry blossoms. 

I’d booked Cara and I into a hotel, just off the National Mall, perfect location for getting to all the major sites on foot. We dumped our bags and wasted no time and quickly set off the see what Washington had to offer.  As we made our way out into the centre of the “Mall”, we could clearly see two of the most well known structures in America, and probably the world, At one end, we saw the dome of the famous US Capitol Building and at the other, was the unmistakable giant spike, which was the Washington Monument.  We decided to make our way toward the US Capitol first.  This famous building is the meeting place for the US Congress and the US Federal Government. Funnily enough, Before Congress and Government came to the Capitol Building, it had previously been held at Philadelphia’s “Independence Hall”, which Cara and I had visited the day before. It was Thomas Jefferson, who in the spring of 1792, decided to hold a design competition, for architects to propose an idea for a new home of government in Washington, as well as a home for the President. Architect William Thornton, was the winner for the US Capitol Building design. The building began its construction in 1794 and on November 17th 1800, the US Congress held its first meeting inside the new location. Construction and expansion continued until 1811. When seeing the Capitol Building on TV and movies, It’s hard to comprehend the size, but as we made our way closer, we were both blown away and amazed that something so impressive was built over 200 years ago. 

As is to be expected in Washington, security is tight surrounding important places, so we could only go so far. After several photos and long periods of staring in amazement, we made our way back, up the Mall, toward the Washington Monument. The shape of this structure is known as a “obelisk”, which is a tall 4 sided pillar, tapering in at the top into a point. This monument, which was named after George Washington, is the largest obelisk in the world. It stands 170 metres tall. It’s construction began in 1848, but was not completed until 1884. Due to lack of funds, building was halted for 23 years in the middle of that time. The Washington monument is arguably the centre point of the city.  As Cara and I stood at the bottom of the giant obelisk, we had a clear view back toward the Capitol building. In the other direction was the famous Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. Lastly, directly north of the monument is the presidents home, "The White House”.  Never had we seen so many different famous sites within one eye shot. 

After an amazing first day in the nations capital, we made our way back to our hotel for some much needed food and drink. We stopped off at a nearby bar, where I decided to continue my research on American brews by trying another US beer. This time it was the Yuengling Traditional Lager.  Yuengling is the oldest brewing company in America. It was established in 1829 by German brewer David Gottlob Yuengling. When David Yuengling immigrated to America, he started up a brew house, based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  So far I’ve noticed that American beers are very heavily influenced by the Belgium and German style of brewing, and the Yuengling beer is no exception. Although It’s a lager, the Yuengling flagship beer has a deep rich amber colour. It has a light herbal aroma and when tasted, you can pick up hints of caramel which makes this beer a little sweeter than your average lager. It has a nice crisp clean finish and it’s slightly higher in carbonation, which made for a nice refreshing, thirst quenching beverage after a long day of travel and sight seeing. 

The site seeing continued the next day as we visited the Smithsonian museums, and some of the many other monuments and memorials in Washington DC. But, by far our highlight for the day was getting up close (well, as close as we could get) to the White House. The home of the US President was designed by Irish architect James Hoban, in 1792. Like the Capitol Building, Construction was completed in 1800 and it has been the home to every US President since that time. Before the White House, US Presidents would base themselves in New York City. But in 1801, Thomas Jefferson was the first president to move into the White House. As we walked around, taking many photos, we saw a nice little restaurant along Pennsylvania Avenue, which would make a perfect place for us to have dinner and a cocktail.  On an unseasonably warm night in Washington, Cara and I enjoyed the opportunity to sit outside, just near the front gates of the White House and look down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol Building whilst sipping on a cocktail. Cara was drinking a lychee and raspberry Bellini, and I decided to go for one of my favourites, a classic ‘Rum Punch’. 

The next day, the city was a buzz. It was the day of the famous national cherry blossom festival. It’s a day which symbolises friendship between America and Japan. It started in 1912 when the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gave Washington DC the gift of 3000 cherry blossom trees. Every year during the month of April, these trees blossom which turns some of Washington’s most famous sites into a sea of pink. As Cara and I made our way around the festival taking it all in, we were lucky to witness the annual parade which goes through the city centre which includes many of the local school groups and sporting teams. It also celebrates many other cultures and people who have immigrated to America, not just the Japanese. 

Looking at the Jefferson Memorial, through the Cherry Blossoms.
As mentioned at the start, Washington DC is not the epicentre of all things cocktails and bars in America. It is however a place full of history and culture. Cara and I both learned a lot from our weekend visit. We now have to say goodbye to the east coast of America as out next stop would be the on the other side of the country in San Francisco!

“Lychee and Raspberry Bellini”
Shake with no ice
30ml Lychee Liqueur
30ml Raspberry Puree
Pour into Champagne Flute
Top with Prosecco

Classic “Rum Punch”
Build over ice
15ml Lime Juice
30ml Sugar syrup
45ml Rum
60ml Orange Juice
Garnish with grated Nutmeg over the top (optional)

The classic rhyme for Rum Punch goes...

“One part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak"

1 comment:

  1. So glad you visited DC, it really is an amazing place full of wonderful things to see.