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More Than Meets The Eye Washington, D.C.
Distributing its largesse generously in the form of a cosmopolitan way of life on a small scale, Washington, D.C. promises visitors a different experience from that of all other capital cities.
We all have an image of Washington, D.C. in our heads from things we’ve seen in movies or on the news: a capital seething with scandals, conspiracy theories and a web of complex relations, where politicians and intelligence agents haunt the streets. I too was a victim of such prejudices before I saw Washington, the so-called center of world politics. I had expected see tall concrete buildings on all sides, people walking along staring straight ahead, roads blockaded by an army of secret service agents safeguarding the politicians. The real D.C. however greeted me with a completely different face.
THE HEART OF WORLD POLITICS
The sheer modesty that struck me when I first set foot in the city prompted the inevitable question: “So this is where the decisions that change the course of history are made?” The U.S. President and thousands of government officials come and go along these avenues every day without ever making you feel the city’s super-power status. Withdrawing into the fog rising from the nearby river, the city and its people instead convince you that this is the capital of a modest, unassuming country. A notion clinched above all by how easy it is to get around without the need for a car. As if to defy its size, D.C. is a city where it’s possible to get around entirely on public transport, even on foot. Laid out on a grid, the D.C. city center is also dotted with green areas in the form of squares and parks where you can stop for a pleasant rest if you get tired.
SYMBOLS OF THE CITY
Because of its importance and its central location, we start our tour of the city from the White House, home of the American Presidents. Accustomed as we are to the splendor of Ottoman palaces, the White House may at first glance appear somewhat plain. But when you stop to think that this building is at once the home and the office of the President of the United States, you inevitably feel a frisson of excitement. It is a sense you get frequently as you go about the city. When you see before your very eyes buildings you are accustomed to seeing on television screens, you can’t quite believe it’s real at first. But the architecture of those buildings is one of the things that brings the reality home best of all. Most of these stylish and majestic government buildings were inspired by the architecture of ancient Greece. Among them, one of the most impressive is the Capitol building, the Houses of Congress in other words, a frequent target of alien invaders in Hollywood movies. The green swath in front of it reminds you again that you are in a very different capital city. Known as ‘The National Mall’, this area is a virtual open-air museum of the country’s history. This vast expanse is also the place where Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963. And indeed King’s words seem to echo in our ears as we gaze on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The almost 3-kilometer-long, 120-meter-wide stretch from the Capitol building to this monument to America’s 16th president is where concerts, large meetings, and presidential swearing-in ceremonies are held. But at 170 meters in height, the most prominent structure on the Mall is the one known simply as ‘The Monument’. Built in memory of America’s first president, George Washington, this obelisk simultaneously dictates the maximum height of buildings in D.C. If you are interested in what is discussed in the corridors of the U.S. Congress, it is surprisingly easy to enter both the House and Senate buildings by simply showing your passport. A stroll through the offices - adorned with well-known symbols of their own states - of members of Congress, whose doors are open to all, is like a brief tour of the whole country.
CITY OF MUSEUMS
One of Washington’s biggest drawing points is its museums, which house artifacts from a broad slice of time spanning the country’s 200-year history. The fact that most of the museums on and around the Mall are free means that they are visited by close to thirty million tourists every year. The most prominent of the museums attached to the Smithsonian Institution are the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Air and Space Museum. The command module of the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1969 and the unmanned American aircraft you will see here make it one of the most fascinating among all Washington’s museums. Not to mention that there is even a lunar rock that you can touch. The city’s many embassies too are an extension of its entrance-free museums. It’s fun to saunter down the avenue known as ‘Embassy Row’ and see these buildings exhibiting the styles of numerous countries.
While offering all the advantages of social life in a capital city, D.C. has also preserved its own unique texture. The city’s most bustling district is Georgetown, now a world trademark. With a history stretching back to the 1700’s and avenues lined with two and three story Victorian style houses, the Georgetown area is humming with activity at almost every hour of the day. Discovering the cafes that lurk in the back streets or listening to one of the ‘go-go style’ jazz groups D.C. has spawned is extremely enjoyable.
Running parallel to Georgetown’s main avenue, the Potomac waterfront is also a lively social scene. What’s more, the city center itself isn’t far away. You can enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants on the riverbank in good weather and engage in friendly chat with the congenial people you’ll find there.
The area known as Adams Morgan is one of the city’s alternative entertainment venues. A popular haunt of university students especially, it boasts a raft of cafes, restaurants and places of entertainment. A stroll from Dupont Circle to Adams Morgan, which we might term D.C.’s bohemian district, will show you a different side of the city.
Serving the finest examples of world cuisine, the luxury restaurants frequented by the world’s leading statesmen and politicians make up another important component of life in D.C. These exquisite tastes are, again, to be found in the Mall area and on 19th Street
WRAPPED IN COTTON
If you happen to go to D.C. in springtime, it means you will have come to America’s most beautiful city in this season. The cherry trees that blossom at the end of March transform the city into a veritable fairytale kingdom. An important component of Japanese culture, cherry trees were sent to D.C. by local Tokyo officials in 1912 as a symbol of Japanese-American friendship. Their blossoming is celebrated every year in a two-week-long festival at the end of March. All over the city, the pink and white blossoms of the cherry will leave you breathless at every step and give you a feeling of nothing other than complete peace of mind. Over time D.C. has lost a portion of its ever-growing population to the state of Virginia on the other side of the Potomac. When you cross over the Key Bridge at the end of Georgetown, you are therefore leaving behind a period in time as well. For the new, high-rise buildings you won’t find in D.C. proper are going up here.
In addition to the airports that serve the city, both the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery where America’s war dead are buried are also in Virginia. One of the most interesting stops here is the Iwo Jima, or U.S. Marine Corps, War Memorial. Inspired by photographs taken at the time of the American landing on Iwo Jima during the Second World War, this monument is a memorial to all the wars fought in the 200-year-history of the capital city that lies across the river. In short, D.C. deserves a chance to prove that it’s all a capital city is cracked up to be.
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Washington, D.C. flights in both
directions on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Departure
times are 10:50 a.m. from Istanbul and 10:55 p.m. local time from D.C.
WHAT TO BUY
You can pick up interesting souvenirs of prominent buildings and figures in American politics to give to your friends..
WHAT TO EAT
Cupcakes and hamburgers - that favorite fast food of American presidents - in Georgetown, and, because it is so cosmopolitan, the finest examples of the cuisine of numerous countries of the world.