I find myself in a ghost town on Thursday morning. It is pouring but this is not the only reason for that. Washington sleeps because of the government shutdown. In New York it was not really perceivable. Here it is. The capital is affected like no other city. All federal places are closed. Offices as well as museums and monuments.
A little group of protesters have gathered on Capitol Hill. They are government employees who simply want to work and get paid.
The Mall is deserted at noon. I imagine that on a normal day it would be busy with people on their lunch break, like Bryant Park in New York. Now there are a couple of tourists who resist the rain and tons of puddles.
I am zigzagging from one side to the other. Food stalls are closed as well as the carrousel. A woman is crossing my way several times. We start smiling at each other. Finally she addresses me and asks if I am visiting as well. We exchange our stories. She is from Texas and welcomes me to the United States.
The Smithsonian museums apologize for being closed. Their courtesy is music playing from somewhere in front of the buildings. I cannot see Julia Child’s kitchen.
I walk on the Mall the whole way to Washington Monument, which is still in renovation after the 2011 earthquake that made it sway. Once in a while I see barriers with a paper fixed to it saying “Closed – do not enter”. Not enter what? The few people around do not care.
Around the Monument it is getting a bit busier. Maybe because the rain turns into drizzle. I walk into Foggy Bottom (that’s a neighborhood) and find a place where I can get a bowl of hot soup before I walk around the White House. Little groups of tourists hang around the fences shooting pictures. Inside the fence it is quiet. Not even guards are seen. The White House is not open to the public. Now even the Visitor Center is closed. Michelle Obama is not busy in her kitchen garden.
My last stop is Lincoln Memorial. There I cannot even walk up the stairs. They are taped off and two security guys are watching Lincoln.
Although I hadn’t seen much, at least not in detail, it had been a long day with a lot of walking. I thought about visiting the Hoppers in the Phillips Collection, which was on my way home. I felt too exhausted to still visit a museum though but decided to stop by and have a look into their shop. When I arrived I was told that they didn’t charge any admission for the collection. A kind of courtesy to stranded visitors. So I walked in just to see the Hoppers. They were not there, but a lot of other paintings that I really liked. Finally I walked through the whole collection and was amazed. When I left I bought a Hopper postcard in the shop.
My résumé about Washington is that I have to come back. It is a great city with so much to see – if there is no shutdown. Dupont Circle, where I stayed, is a great neighborhood with beautiful townhouses in a variety of colors, having little towers, bays and gables and nicely designed front gardens. A lot of Queen Anne style. It is worth a visit for a couple of days and there is a lot to do around the city as well.
My trip to Washington implied saying goodbye to Priya and my furry friends on Wednesday morning. Pepper had slept in my bed the last night, close to me, as if she had known I would leave. Do cats understand that packing a suitcase means leaving?
Priya invited me to come back for a home cooked Indian dinner when I am back in New York, which I happily accepted.
That month – my fourth one already – has been the fastest. No other month has been over so quickly.
My suitcase was still heavy, although I had brought a lot of stuff to Soh Ang’s house. When I weighed it at Penn Station it showed 52 pounds. I will have to reorganize it for the flight.
Taking a train at Penn Station is not easy. A board like at airports shows the trains but the track is not displayed before the train arrives. Then everybody runs to the gate and has to pass the ticket check. My train was comfortable. Seats are spacious and there is WiFi. It just didn’t work with my phone.
The route goes through New Jersey and via Philadelphia and Baltimore. Both cities look shocking from the train. A lot of decay and houses falling apart. Trains usually run through a towns poorer areas but I saw blocks that didn’t really look like life was possible there. Even in Washington DC, this county’s capital, we arrived on a broken platform.
An Amtrak man helps people get their suitcases out of the train. He takes every suitcase, not just those of people who need help. The service level again is above ours.
Union Station is connected to the metro. But the metro system is all but easy. To use a subway one needs a farecard. That’s a paper ticket with a certain amount of money on it. The fare depends on the distance and on the time of day, so there are turnstiles to get in and turnstiles to get out and on getting out the fare is calculated. Non-locals don’t know what their fare will be. What makes it more complicated is that they just introduced a new ticketing system, the SmarTrip, which is meant to replace the farecard. It’s a chip card that can be refilled. Since it was issued they charge an extra dollar on every ride with a farecard. The SmarTrip costs 10$ and contains a balance of 8$. That means when you plan to do 3 or more rides a smartcard is the cheaper option. So I decided to buy one. The machine again did not accept my credit card because I could not enter a valid US zip code. This country’s paying systems are not designed for international customers. I finally had to feed the machine all my dollar notes.
I travelled from Union Station to Dupont Circle. That doesn’t require a transfer. Washington’s metro is much younger than New York’s subway and the stations are in a far better condition. Dupont Circle Station is way below the ground. A steep escalator took me upstairs.
I found Trina’s house and the keys in a lockbox secured with a code she had told me. She was at home though. Working for the government she is affected by the shutdown. She is very nice, offered me a cup of tea and gave me some recommendations where to eat. My room is in the basement and has its own bathroom. A Hopper was hanging next to my bed. One of the lesser known ones. A view from a room out on the sea. There is not much more than a wall with a shadow and the water outside. The only drawback of this place was the lack of WiFi. There was not even 4G for my phone.