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Washington DC this summer: explore the capital and the capitol

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As the Trump administration continues to enact controversial legislation, from immigration to taxation, all eyes are on the White House. In other words, all eyes are on Washington DC.

When I first arrived into DC, I expected to immediately sense the underlying political divide which is permeating much of the United States. Washington holds a central position within national politics; it is a city around which the rest of the US orbits. I expected to hear whispered political asides, see protesters lining the streets, perhaps even feel the tension in the air.

However, wandering around this pristine city, sprinkled with pink cherry blossom petals and bathed in the warm summer sun, I could find no hint of tension. In fact, Washington DC is now one of my favourite cities in the world. Neither in the stark white architecture of the government buildings, nor in any of the tour guides’ cheerful performances, could I find a crack in Washington’s gorgeous façade… until I came across a protest outside of the White House itself.

So here are the top places to see in the amazing Washington DC, concluding with a brief scuffle outside the home of President Trump:

Library of Congress

This beautiful building is often neglected by city visitors. Its regal exterior would perhaps stand out in other cities, but amongst the marble architecture which characterizes Washington's political buildings, it can be missed in favour of more renowned sites. Stepping past the main reception, I was struck speechless by the elaborate interior architecture. Tall white columns line the inner foyer, contrasting the pale pink and orange shades of the outer walls. Proud statues are peppered through the building, holding torches aloft as if lighting the way for visitors. Delve further into the rooms upstairs to discover exhibitions on a variety of subjects, from natural history to colonial conquests.

Supreme Court

The supreme court is another architectural marvel. The smooth marble surfaces of each room provide a majestic feel to the experience, and the plaques and portraits along the walls detail various events, from the construction of the building itself, to the incorporation of women within the legal system (better late than never!). There is even a plaque dedicated to the incredible work of the Obamas (interestingly, there was no mention of Trump on the walls or on the tour). Make sure to catch one of the courtroom lectures for a more detailed summary of the building’s history and current proceedings.

Capitol Building

The silhouette of this building has become increasingly renowned over the years; it is the symbol of US politics. No matter your view on American politics, one glance at this building and you can immediately sense that many important, world-changing events have occurred here.

Make sure to take a free tour and stand within the world-famous dome. You can also go to separate desks upstairs and collect a ticket to see the senate or the house of representatives in action. In my experience, the queues for this can be long and arduous but are definitely worth it if you catch a good debate or speech.

Smithsonian museums

Too often, people try to cram in as many museums as possible just to check boxes. In the case of Washington, this is too easy to do due to the number of museums here!

I suggest a classic pick-and-mix approach - do whichever you fancy. The Air and Space Museum is particularly spectacular with missiles, rockets, and the first unmanned planes, hanging from the ceiling as if in mid-flight.

National archives

This small museum is a must-see since it houses the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. These enormous documents, faded by time, are pieces of legislation over which countless battles have taken place, throughout history and today.

This building often hosts incredible speakers in small, intimate lecture-style settings. I managed to catch Pete Souza, Obama’s official photographer during his eight years in office, who shared hilarious and heart-wrenching tales about Obama’s presidency. Check for events in advance to secure a ticket.

Memorials by night

The memorials surrounding the National Mall are beautiful by day, but spectacular by night. Meander through the park under the glowing Washington Monument, quietly ponder as you stroll past the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials, marvel at the enormous statue of Martin Luther King as he literally emerges from a mountain.

The White House

To see Washington’s beautiful veil lifted, catch a protest outside of the White House. I was standing outside when Trump announced to alter the legislation of the Iran nuclear deal. There was an immediate response.

A group in pink t-shirts holding protest signs erupted into boos and shouts, one turned around to yell at the White House itself. Opposing individuals began to emerge from the crowd, one pair singing the national anthem while donning American flag t-shirts, and a few young people from the middle-east arguing that the protesters knew little about the conflict.

One group of protestors showed unfailing loyalty to Trump, while others screamed "not my President" at the White House. This was the only time when I felt I was peeking behind the curtain, that I saw the political fragility revealed and social divide made clear.

Despite the controversial politicians living in this city, it is an incredible place to visit, buzzing with political uncertainty. Walking towards Union Station, down red-brick streets dappled with sunlight and past stark white regal buildings rich with history and culture, I left Washington with a heavy heart and an eagerness to return. 

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