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Washington Monument, Washington DC

A traveller’s mistake: How I screwed up (twice) in Washington DC

Have you ever made the same mistake twice, and kicked yourself for being stupid enough to repeat it?

We’ve all been there. Even people like me who precisely measure each decision we make in an effort to avoid making stupid mistakes, still make stupid mistakes.

When I visited Washington DC for the second time, I promised myself that I’d be smart enough to amend the oversight I’d made the first time around.

But instead, I made it again.

Washington DC then and now
My trip to Washington DC in 2011, and 4 years later in 2015

When I visited USA in 2011, Washington DC was on my radar. Seeing as this was my third trip to the United States, visiting the capital seemed important. I hoped it would give me more of an insight on this country that kept drawing me in.

The only option I had to see it was on a day trip from New York City. The 4+ hour drive each way meant getting up at an insane hour of the morning, tiredly questioning my life decisions during the long bus ride, then following it up with as much sightseeing as could possibly fit into 5 hours.

It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. I had no idea whether I would be in this part of the world again, so I convinced myself that this short trip would still be worth it.

All the major buildings and monuments were included in the day tour, as well as Madame Tussauds (touristy, I know, but I’ll admit posing at the fake presidential speech stand and fake oval office was amusing) and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Even though I spent the day powering through as much of Washington DC as I could, what remained afterwards was a feeling of regret. I’d barely scratched the surface of what seemed to be an intriguing and interesting city. I wanted desperately to see more, but time was not on my side.

Union Station, Washington DC
Union Station

Four years later, I happened to be living in New York City.

Another opportunity to visit Washington DC arose, and I jumped at the chance. This time I’d take Robert with me, and we’d catch a bus down on a Friday night to maximise our exploration time over the weekend.

We checked in to our hotel near Union Station, then walked to a nearby house party where we drank a tasty punch with some people we knew.

Standing by the fire in the backyard, we kept ourselves warm in the cold November air and got caught up in the novelty of comparing our New York shoebox apartment with this spacious detached house in Washington DC.

It’s possible that we may have enjoyed a little too much punch judging by our headaches the next morning, so a pre-sightseeing stop at the pharmacy was required for some much needed ibuprofen before a full day of exploring the National Mall.

Supreme Court, Washington DC
The Supreme Court

Our lap of the National Mall took a total of 6 hours and 21,000 steps. We successfully visited the exterior of the Capitol Building, National Archives, National Library, White House, Washington Monument, as well as visiting the Korean and Vietnamese war memorials and the Lincoln Memorial. Needless to say, our feet were killing us, but still we did more.

In the evening we made our way to U Street and 14th – a hotspot for anyone craving food from somewhere other than a chain restaurant. The Mexican meal we had was fantastic, but after that we called it a night – our exhausted bodies were well and truly ready for some rest.

The next day we had until 4 PM to explore more of the city.

I had a plan: visit the Air and Space Museum, then the district of Georgetown and Arlington Cemetery. There were a few more activities that I would have liked to include, but it didn’t seem like we’d have enough time.

Usually 2 hours in a museum is enough to bore anyone, but if you’ve ever been to the Air and Space Museum you might understand how it holds all the magic of being a kid again, staring wide-eyed at the massive planes and space ships and rockets that fill up this huge space. At the end of our 2 hours, we basically forced ourselves out the door in an effort to fit in more sightseeing.

Georgetown, Washington DC

Struggling to catch a seemingly non-existent bus from the museum (therefore wasting yet another half an hour when it didn’t show up), we finally made our way to the historic and incredibly pretty district of Georgetown.

A quick lunch and 45 minutes of wandering through the gorgeous streets was all we could manage before we again had to force ourselves to leave, this time heading back to Union Station to catch our bus back to New York.

I sank low in the bus seat and brooded with disappointment and regret. This was the second time I’d visited Washington DC and left it without seeing all that I wanted to see.

I’d hoped to visit the long rows of white graves at Arlington Cemetery. I’d wanted to explore the interior of the buildings we’d walked by in the National Mall. I’d been itching to explore more museums, visit more monuments, and eat at more of the restaurants that had been recommended to us.

The Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial
The Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

From my two experiences in Washington DC, I can vouch for it truly being a city with a never-ending list of things to do. It looks small and achievable to see in a short amount of time, but that is absolutely not the case.

So Washington DC got the better of me, twice. If there’s a next time, I promise I’ll give it the attention it actually deserves.

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