On the shores of the Potomac upon land formerly a part of the state of Maryland with little specks of territory across the river on the Virginia side, stands the capital of the United States and the arguable center of the Free World (aside from New York City, HQ of the United Nations). Built from the beginning to be the capital of a new nation, Washington, District of Columbia is at its foremost a model city of national governance with its stately government buildings and historical structures. But look beyond and you’ll also see a city with hands reaching out to the world at large. When visiting the US it’s almost a mandatory stop.
Thanks to Philippine Airlines, getting to Washington DC isn’t quite as daunting as you’d think. While you can’t fly there directly, PAL can take you to the closest airport there, at JFK International in New York City. From there it’s a simple matter of getting on a Megabus to DC to finally reach the American capital. I’d very much recommend you make your trip anywhere from late March until May.
WHAT TO SEE
What’s there to see in Washington DC? A better question would be what isn’t. You’ll find a multitude of historical buildings and landmarks to see. This includes some of the offices of the awe- inspiring US Federal Government.
1) Capitol – the home of the US Congress. The House of Representatives and the Senate hold their sessions in the North and South Wings respectively. There’s a free guided tour, but you’ll need to get a ticket from the info desk or online. Congressional sessions are also open, but you’ll need to show your passport to the appointment desks of whichever house of Congress you want to sit in on, and check the schedule if there’s any going on.
2) White House – home to the US President and his family. The best you can manage would probably be a visit to the Visitors Center or take photos and video from outside the fence. Tours of the interior must be arranged with a US consulate in the Philippines, or the Philippine consulate in DC, and usually need 3 months advance notice.
3) Smithsonian Institute – a different place from Ripley’s, but its purpose is almost the same. It’s a museum of things from American history both inspiring and pop, from the original Star Spangled Banner to Judy Garland’s “Oz” slippers. The nearby National Air and Space Museum is for those who enjoy aircraft and spacecraft.
4) Washington Monument – built in memorial to George Washington, it’s the tallest building in DC thanks to strict laws. The view of the city from here is spectacular. Tickets are same-day only.
5) Lincoln Memorial – dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, it boasts an impressive monument of the Civil War President that really sells his personality at a glance.
6) Library of Congress – touted as the world’s largest library, and it should be with the law that at least one copy of every published book in the US is deposited there. Free tours happen every 30 minutes from 10:30AM to 3:30PM.
WHAT IS CELEBRATED
Like any major city, DC has a great many festive occasions to catch through the year, so you can time your trip just right. The lion’s share of these events makes up the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which starts late March. It commemorates the March 27, 1912 presentation to the city of a gift of Sakura, or cherry blossom trees from Tokyo, at a period when relationships between Japan and the United States were cordial, before World War II. The idea of having the colorful Japanese trees in Washington was realized through the agency of then-first Lady Helen Taft, whose husband US President Howard Taft had once been governor-general of the Philippines in the American colonial period. The festival itself is akin the traditional Japanese custom of Hanami, or flower viewing, which occurs around the same dates.
While a great deal of the festival involves simply picnicking under the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and the Washington Monument, there are also organized events such as the Blossom Kite Festival, usually on the Washington Monument grounds, where everyone can enjoy the simple pleasures of kite-flying, with a ban on drones for the duration too. Aside from which there are also fireworks displays, a ten-mile road race, a family day event, and the Sakura Matsuri street parade and festival.
For other significant occasions outside the Cherry Blossom period, try out the Fourth of July celebrations, which also feature the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival held near you know where. For a more hip event to partake in, you could check out announcements for their very own anime convention, Anime USA, which takes place anywhere from September to October (this year it was from October 21-23).
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