I’m Still Smiling

I didn’t snore.  I didn’t scream awake with a single leg cramp.  I didn’t drool in my sleep on the metro, and I didn’t get “accidentally” lost in the crowds.  I did, however, smile until my cheeks hurt, I did gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the surrounding beauty and magnificence, and I did walk almost 128 miles and burn off approximately 57,000 calories in a four-day period (or something close to that).

If you read my last blog (“A Secret Revealed, A Dream Taking Flight,” posted April 16, 2012), then you know I am referring to my recent, first-ever trip to Washington, D.C.  I was giddy when I left with a friend on our much-anticipated trip; I was awe-struck and humbled and inspired when I returned.

It has now been two weeks since that return, and I have tried repeatedly to write about the trip–to put into a couple thousand words a descriptive narrative of all that I saw and all that I felt–and I have finally come to the realization that I simply cannot do it.  Our kind host and mutual friend did an amazing job of mapping out our visit and making sure we visited as many sites as possible on our “must-see” list–while still allowing enough time at each location to thoroughly absorb all that it had to offer.  The resulting sensory overload, though, has made it impossible for me to write about the overall experience with an objective sense of detachment instead of the mushy-gushy sentimentalism I seem inclined to revert to.  And instead of focusing on the big picture, my mind keeps conjuring up the tiniest of details . . .

. . . I remember laughing at the realization that two women needed five suitcases (one devoted solely for the combined transport of shoes) for a four-day trip.
. . . I remember the nervousness of meeting our friend at the airport after so many, many years of not having seen each other.  Would we recognize each other after so long?  (As it turned out, two short blondes with five suitcases and two camera bags between them were easily recognizable.)  And would we know what to say to each other after that initial meeting or suffer through repeated bouts of uncomfortable silence?  (The conversation started flowing before the taxi left the airport and didn’t stop until the early-morning goodbyes four days later.)
. . . I remember walking to a nearby grocery store and being amazed at the selection (Fifteen different varieties of olives–seriously?  I thought there were just two kinds–black and green.) and also being shocked at how much more expensive the groceries were there than back home.
. . . I remember the comfort and ease and cleanliness of the metro.
. . . I remember walking and walking and walking–and then walking some more–and I remember thinking our friend’s interpretation of “It’s not much farther” was very different from my own.  I also remember being grateful that my bicycling had at least given me the endurance to keep on walking (and walking and walking) and the ability to keep up with my younger friends.
. . . I remember being grateful when our friend realized our energies were waning and hired a bicycle taxi to cart us around for the rest of the day.  I also remember feeling slightly guilty when three adults piled themselves and all their camera gear into a cart being pulled by one young man–but that guilt was soon replaced with admiration when young Matt and his tattooed calves sprang into action and muscled their way up inclines, around corners, and through traffic.  Admiration indeed.
. . . I remember soaking my tired feet in a hot foot bath while sampling five different kinds of gelato out of the same bowl and thinking this just might be the closest I would ever come to experiencing heaven on earth.
. . . I remember hearing someone else snoring in the middle of the night and smiling because it wasn’t me.
. . . I remember being treated to some of the best Chinese food I have ever eaten.
. . . I remember being awakened by Murphy, our friend’s dog, licking me in the face–and laughing until I realized Murphy had already been on his morning walk and then worrying about what he might have eaten on that walk.
. . . I remember looking around the room at the writer’s conference I attended and realizing that at least a third of the 200 participants were as old as (or older than) I.  And I remember realizing, after some of them introduced themselves, that a retiring English teacher who wants to be a writer is not so much an oddity as a cliche.
. . . I remember being stunned by the breath-taking beauty of Washington, D.C., and especially by the floral displays everywhere.  I had expected such beauty at the U.S. Botanic Gardens but not on every street and around every corner.
. . . I remember being amazed at the grandeur of all the memorials and realizing that no picture I could take would ever adequately convey their sheer massiveness.
. . . I remember being overcome with emotion at Arlington National Cemetery–being in awe of the soldiers on guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, feeling so humbled by the men and women buried at Arlington, and feeling such a sense of gratitude toward them as well as toward the leaders who had seen fit to give them such a beautiful, peaceful resting place.
. . . I remember the joy of visiting such places with fellow photographers who never once expressed impatience, and I remember being entranced as we reviewed each other’s photos on the television screen at midnight, noting how sometimes our perspectives were identical and sometimes our individual styles made our perspectives completely different.
. . . I remember being welcomed by our friend’s friends throughout the weekend and the comfortable ease with which new friendships were formed.  I also remember the Sunday afternoon spent at Barrel Oak Winery–and how sampling its award-winning wines and dining on cheese and crackers and olives and cheesecake was a relaxing, enjoyable way to celebrate the near-end of our whirlwind trip.

And I remember leaving Washington, D.C., tired and weary (so much so that I dozed off before our plane ever left the tarmac)–but also with a renewed pride in and fascination of this beautiful country and its rich history, with the warm glow of wonderful friendships cemented, and with the determination to make a return visit (and another and another) to visit all the places I didn’t see this time (and to visit some of the same places again).  When I got back home, so many of my friends asked about my trip, and it was–and still is–hard for me to adequately describe.  To many of them, I simply responded, “I smiled for four days straight.”

And now, two weeks later, I’m still smiling.

Below are just a few of the approximately 1,500 pictures I took during my visit to Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area.  Two of my favorite sites were Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Botanic Garden, and I’m planning separate posts focusing just on those sites . . . so stay tuned.

I was fascinated by the precision and dedication of the soldiers at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery.

This is inside at the U.S. Botanic Garden, one of my favorite places in D.C. (and on my list of places to visit again).

This is a distant view of the White House.

Of all the statues in D.C., this one at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial was my favorite.

This is a view of the Capitol Building as the storm clouds were rolling in.

The ghostly statues of the Korean War Veterans Memorial created an eery sight in the early morning.

My favorite memorial was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which included four open-air rooms and several waterfalls, statues, sculptures and 21 FDR quotes inscribed on the walls. This statue, titled “Fala and Franklin D. Roosevelt,” is based on depictions of an aging, sick Roosevelt, and it stirred controversy over the issue of his disability. Designers decided against plans to have FDR shown in a wheelchair. Instead, the statue depicts the president in a chair with a cloak obscuring the chair, showing him as he appeared to the public during his life. Roosevelt’s reliance on a wheelchair was not publicized during his life, as there was a stigma of weakness and instability associated with any disability.

One of my favorite views in D.C. was the Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

The Three Amigos at Barrel Oak Winery . . . me (in the middle) with fellow traveler Patty and gracious host Jamie.

About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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21 Responses to I’m Still Smiling

  1. Jamie Adams says:

    We do have a great selection of produce and OLIVES!! Great selection of pictures!!

  2. DCircle says:

    Thank you Mrs. E for finally blogging about your trip. I have been enjoying all your pictures!! I must say, Arlington National Cemetery was my favorite part of my visit to D.C. I could have stayed an entire day watching the Changing of the Guards Ritual, the many memorials to visit, JFK’s Gravesite, sitting at the Eternal Flame and simply letting the peacefulness of the cemetery overtake me. It’s a privilege to know we live in a land where our Forgotten Hero’s, really aren’t forgotten. Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures!!

    • Thank you, Donna, and I’m sorry it took me so long to finally write about my trip; it was such an overwhelming experience that it really was difficult to try to put it into words–and I still don’t feel like I did a very job of conveying the true joy I felt. We spent about 2 1/2 hours just at Arlington, and you’re right–we could have easily spent the entire day there. I’m looking forward to going back.

  3. Hello – I visited Washington last year – it’s weird seeing up close all the places that seem so familiar. The Lincoln memorial will stay with me forever. Thanks!

    • I know what you mean–so many of these places I had seen countless pictures of, but seeing them in person was an entirely new, incredible experience. I have pictures from the Lincoln Memorial, too–just so many pictures that I couldn’t share them all. I hope visiting D.C. is something that everyone gets to do at least once.

  4. emjayandthem says:

    I’m smiling just reading this! In a previous life, I used to commute to D.C. a couple of times a month (from CT). I never tired of exploring the Smithsonian or delighting in the history and beauty of that beautiful city.

    Wonderful post and your excitement is well placed 😉


    • Thank you, MJ, and I am slightly envious of you! The Smithsonian was on my “must see” list, but unfortunately we ran out of time, so it is on the top of my list for my return trip. Someday …

  5. John Bradley-O'Neill says:

    Great post and photos, Karen! I’m so glad your trip to Washington, D.C. proved to be an enjoyable and enlightening one for you. Ah, when we venture over the horizon and see new sights, we as well discover new destinations within ourselves. So much of our own inner and vast geography contains roads and paths and forests begging to be walked upon. Sadly, many remain ensconced in their own villages – some by choice, and others who yearn to walk within themselves yet are fearful to do so – and that, my dear, is a tragedy of epic proportions.

    Which brings me to this small gem by the wonderful writer Reg Saner:

    “How do you love them, these touches only the open road could imagine!
    Because the road still tells a good story about human figures pretty much like yours charging
    against the horizon.
    And tells how, against astonishing odds often including themselves, most people get where they’re going.
    Even in the hurtle and chinook of the vast swashbuckling diesels you hear it.
    And, during hushes between, in these small secrets traded by birds.

    – “Road Life”

    • Thank you, Mr. O’Neill, for sharing such beautiful sentiments. I love the quote, but even more I love your own words: “Ah, when we venture over the horizon and see new sights, we as well discover new destinations within ourselves.” I am finding this to be so very true, especially after a lifetime spent yearning “to walk within” myself and yet being “fearful to do so.” My journeys–those within this world as well as those within my own being–have just begun …

  6. Kip Light says:

    I still remember the trip my wife (now ex) and two sons took when the boys were pre-teens (both now thirty-somethings) and I remember the same feeling of awe that you describe. As a veteran, I was truly touched by the reverence and precision that the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers showed to their “residents” and humbled, as you were, by what they all gave to us. Fortunately, MS hadn’t hit me yet. I have to I’ve been to DC a couple times since, but I was driving a tractor trailer and didn’t get to do anything except watch traffic and get a glimpse of the Mormon Temple (truly beautiful architecture). Now that the MonSter has grown strong enough to keep me in my wheelchair most of the time, I probably won’t get back to see it again. Thank you for letting me vicariously share your adventure (and wonderful pictures). Bravo Zulu (Navyspeak for well done).

    • Thank you so much, Mr. Kip Light, for your kind words and also for sharing a part of your story. I am humbled.

      My trip to D.C. meant the world to me, but it means even more now after reading your comments. I am planning another, more specific post about my visit to Arlington and will be including several more pictures from there; I hope you will enjoy that post and those pictures as well. (And by the way, my host and tour guide was an eight-year veteran of the Navy himself, so in addition to the general information garnered from the trip, I also got to hear a little Navy history as well.)

      And finally and most importantly, thank you AND your shipmates for your service to our country and for the sacrifices you made for people like me.

  7. RayEtta says:

    I fully can understand the awe, I think I would be the same. I have traveled some all west of Arkansas but I have never been to the east coast and I really hope I get to go one day. Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Germantown and anyplace else I could fit in. I would love to see New York City, but I think only a pass through short trip. My family roots go back to Germantown, with my earliest known ancestor being of some of the first settlers of that town in 1683. It is good to get to see some through someone’s eyes at least.

    • Thank you, RayEtta. I have done very little traveling in the previous years, but I hope to change that in the years to come. I was fortunate to take a trip to New York City several years, and I would go back in a heartbeat–so many cultural venues to explore! And I would love to someday visit Philadelphia and Boston for all the history lessons they have to offer. I hope you have more travel opportunities in your future as well.

  8. bronxboy55 says:

    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to read this post, Karen, but I’m glad I finally did. It’s filled with beautiful words, images, and feelings. I remember my first trip to Washington, climbing the stairs from the Metro late at night and seeing the Capitol, bathed in white light. It was amazing.

    • Thank you, Charles, and I’ve been so busy with end-of-the-year activities that I am behind on my writing and also my reading (i.e., I’ve got several of your posts to catch up on!). I didn’t see any after-dark scenes in D.C., and so I can only imagine the beauty of the Capitol “bathed in white light” . . . perhaps my NEXT trip will include such sights. And yes, my experience was amazing as well. I’ve just started working on a separate blog about Arlington that I hope to post later this week …

  9. Pingback: Honoring the Fallen and Walking on Hallowed Ground | Iced Tea with Lemon's Blog

  10. Pingback: Remembering the Fallen and Walking on Hallowed Ground | Iced Tea with Lemon's Blog

  11. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a
    famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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