36 Washington, DC

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Our Washington is very different from what most tourists first see. On the dock behind us are house barges; 40-foot barges with a house built on them. Ahead of us you can see the Washington Monument over the tops of traditional houseboats. To the north, low condos block our view of the Capitol and to the south, the Potomac flows, but for us, it’s really the corridor for the daily 30 or more noisy helicopter flights from the Pentagon out the various military bases in the area. Just beyond is Washington International Airport, with jets taking off using the same Potomac corridor as a path to minimize jet noise in the Capitol when the wind is from the west. At times, the noise blocks out conservation. However on the plus side, we are within an easy walk of all the museums, memorials, Capitol and White House. The grocery store is only 2 blocks away. It’s a truly unique place from which to view Washington and we have been making the most of it.

Visiting a city without a time limit is interesting. We registered to stay a week, then added 3 more days, and then signed up for 3 more beyond that. We were having too good a time to leave and there isn’t any deadline to be somewhere else. We get up and set off exploring until we are dead tired and then head back to home to Tranquility. After 3 solid days of museums and memorials we took Sunday off and relaxed aboard resting our feet and tired legs. However, during our resting, Ruth managed to fit in giving the boat a good clean and I replaced a patch on the dinghy that was leaking.

Just to keep our daily exploring record intact, we took the subway over to the Capitol in the evening with other boaters. There on the lawn under the glow from the Capitol dome we enjoyed the Memorial Day performance put on by the National Symphony with help from Hollywood stars and Colin Powel. Made for one of those can’t believe we’re here nights.

Many of the sights were the things we’d read about for years, but it was exciting to see them first hand. However, for us, the unique things are the ones we didn’t anticipate. It seemed like every classroom in the nation was visiting Washington at the same time. The place was jammed with kids and their tour guides trying valiantly to keep them together. It made for some amusing scenes. At the Capitol, it was interesting to see the photographer set up waiting for classes to show up for their formal group photo on the Capitol steps. Closer to the Capitol entrance we were amused to see the contrast of styled haircuts, $400 suits and fancy soft briefcases of the power brokers moving among the ball caps, t shirts and backpacks of the kids lining up for the tour. At the White House we watched bemused as 30 or more kids spread their cameras out on the sidewalk then lined up against the fence. Their guides then worked frantically picking up each camera and snapping the group picture so each kid would have his own personal photo of the group. The best part of course was watching the mad rush to retrieve the cameras and the dash off to the next attraction.

At the White House, and out on the Mall there were a few protestors. Lonely looking people standing or sitting with their homemade signboards crowded with explanations about their particular grievance. The flow of people seemed to leave them a wide space to avoid contact. It was always a temptation to break into that space and ask what the person hoped to accomplish by keeping their lonely vigil. However, the fear of being trapped into listening to some extended explanation, or worse, being followed as the person tried to continue talking, kept us from invading their space.

The subway system is a treat. Clean, quiet and convenient. Rode one morning over to Dupont Circle, a very cosmopolitan area of Washington. It’s a nice mix of homes, apartments, and small shops and cafes. Found a small café for leisurely breakfast sitting in the sidewalk greenhouse. Walked off breakfast by walking out Massachusetts Ave, also known as embassy row. The homes and embassies are striking. Walked all the way to the Naval Observatory where Vice President Gore lives. Once we were that far, we continued on to the National Cathedral and enjoyed exploring its interior and grounds. Huge cathedral, very impressive, but didn’t seem like it would make for a cozy church service.

Down the dock from us was a 46 foot trawler named At Ease. We’d first seen them in Colonial Beach. We hit it off and developed friendship with Celina and Jim, comparing notes each evening on sites we’d explored. One of the advantages they had with a big trawler was the ability to easily carry a huge dinghy. One day we piled 4 bikes in their dinghy and motored up the Potomac to the Georgetown area. From there it was a nice bike ride up Rock Creek Park. The rocky outcroppings, woods and natural trails were fun to find so close to the heart of Washington. Jim even pointed out two deer watching us from the other side of the creek. It was a nice ride covering about 10 miles.

A few days later, the Ruth and I set out from Tranquility and biked the to Georgetown. From there we followed the old C&O barge canal to Great Falls. Along the canal, the old locks with their hand-operated gates are still visible. The falls and rapids at Great Falls were worth the ride. However we began to question our sanity on the trip back as out tired legs and knees began to protest. It was a 36 mile round trip, a bit of a stretch for two ‘slightly’ out of shape people.

Our first building tour had been the Capitol, our last was the Supreme Court. In between we had covered a lot of ground, memorials and museums. We were toured out and reluctantly admitted it was time to move on. We finished with a flourish, by having lunch at the Monocle, a very fancy restaurant where the power people dine. Showing up in t shirts, shorts and sandals got us the worst table in the place and snubbing service, but we were bemused looking at all the fancy people conducting business over lunch and the food was great.

While at Washington we had our first anniversary of living aboard. No great celebration, just the recognition that we had now been cruising for a year, still loving it and glad we had taken off. This life style is not for everyone, but for us it’s wonderful. We’ll find a special spot somewhere in the Chesapeake and formally celebrate a year of living aboard. We laughed about now we can say we’ve been living aboard for over a year, other than that, nothing has changed.

We left Washington before dawn so we could make our bridge opening at 4:30 AM. It was exciting picking our way back down the Potomac. Your whole world becomes focused on picking out the 4 and 6 second flashing buoy lights from the background of bright city lights. Once through the bridge, the city lights were behind us and navigation became easier with the winking buoy lights now easily visible against the dark shore. In the gray light of morning, we motored down the Potomac enjoying watching the sun light up the clouds and trees along the river.

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