by Trish Milburn
I'm currently sitting in my hotel room in Washington, D.C. From my window, I can see the National Cathedral, a gorgeous building I first saw as a high school senior.
This is probably my fifth or sixth trip to D.C., but the surreal-ness of it hasn't worn off. For years, D.C. was this far-off place where big, important things happened, a place that only existed in video images on the evening news. I still remember how exciting it was to visit here for the first time when I was 18. Through an essay contest, I'd won one of two spots sponsored by my local electric cooperative on the Washington, D.C. Youth Tour in 1988. It was the farthest I'd ever been away from home; I think it was the first time I'd been somewhere that didn't actually touch Kentucky. I'm sure my face was pressed against the bus window as we rolled into the District.
The next time I came to D.C. was in 2000 for my first RWA National Conference - at this very same hotel. That year, one of my critique partners, Annie Solomon, was a Golden Heart finalist. She's since gone on to publish fantastic romantic suspense novels and win a RITA award. By the way, my other long-time CP, Beth Pattillo, was also a GH finalist one year, and also went on to win a RITA. I've finaled in the GH several times, winning twice, so I'm hoping I keep the trend alive and final in and possibly win a RITA one of these days. :)
Okay, back to D.C. On our way to the nation's capitol for that trip back in high school, we also toured Gettysburg National Battlefield in Pennsylvania. Another place that seemed surreal to visit. Up until then, it'd only been a place I'd read about in my U.S. History textbook the previous year in Mr. Grace's class. During that high school trip, I think we toured the White House, but for the life of me I can't remember. I know we went to some memorials and Arlington National Cemetery where we walked through the seemingly endless white tombstones, watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, saw the Eternal Flame at President Kennedy's grave, and watched the Sunset Parade by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, which was awesome. A stop at the U.S. Capitol, where Kentucky's elected representatives met us on the front steps, came during the week sometime.
We also visited the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. I particularly remember seeing The Spirit of St. Louis, the Hope Diamond and a wooly mammoth.
In 2000, we had one afternoon where we had time to play tourist, and we rode the Metro (my first subway ride) to the Smithsonian. That time, I visited the American Art Museum. Annie, Beth, our other friend Michelle, and I went off in different directions because we like different kinds of art. I found my way to the area displaying western landscapes by the likes of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, the latter known as the Painter of Yellowstone (see one of his Yellowstone depictions below).
Since then, I've been here for meetings and at least once to visit Michelle strictly for fun. Last September, I made a point of visiting the National Museum of the American Indian. I'd been a member of the museum during the years when it was being built and right after it opened, but I'd let my membership drop. Still, I really wanted to see it because I love Native cultures. It was a very nice museum with a great cafeteria with different stations serving Native foods from various regions of the country.
Then when I was here again in November, I took the Metro over to the National Museum of American History because they'd just reopened and had the original flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" on display. That was a moment of awe - to see something that important to our nation's history. It was tattered, torn, and had pieces cut from it for souvenirs, but it was still breathtaking.
That same day, I realized I was close to the White House, so I wandered over to the front fence and took some pictures despite the cold wind. Even when you're standing there looking at it, it's hard to believe you're that close to the home of the President of the United States, one of the most powerful people in the world. You wonder what conversations are going on inside right at that moment.
This week, I don't think I'll have time to see much beside the inside of my hotel, but that's okay. It's still awesome, and still surreal, to be in the same city as the President, ambassadors from other countries, gorgeous memorials to those who have been important to our country's history, and vast collections of that history. I did get to walk through Georgetown tonight after having dinner with Michelle - my first visit to Georgetown.
Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? If so, what were your favorite sights to visit? Have you ever been somewhere it felt surreal to be? I think the only other time I've felt this type of surreal-ness was when I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.