By Day 4, his Holiness had had the good grace to move along to New York so that walking around the National Mall and White House surrounds was at last achievable. The barricades and portaloos were still in evidence but the checkpoints had been removed and we could move freely between the monuments without constant baggage checks. I was determined to see the White House so we jumped on the metro and made our way, first to the White House Visitor Centre and then to the real thing. At the Visitor Centre you can see all sorts of impressive artefacts, gifts to previous presidents and an interactive scale model of the house itself. These days, celebrities and sports personalities aside, it is almost impossible for visitors from outside the United States to get a tour of the White House; despite the website’s assertion that tickets can be obtained through one’s embassy.
Nevertheless a walk by was on the agenda so after lunch we made our way, first to the North front, and then the South. What we hadn’t taken into account was that whilst President Obama was done with Pope Francis for the week, his attention was now focussed on President Xi Jinping and, with their respective wives over at the zoo naming the new panda, they were deep in discussions at the White House; which meant that outside the protests were as loud as they were large. At this point we were able to give the kids an unintended lesson in the meaning of the First Amendment.
Never had I imagined it would be so easy to explain the words “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” but there it was…
So, the obligatory photograph outside the White House with Alex covering his ears from the noise of the various groups of protesters and John still clutching a pamphlet from the New York Tibetans: A history lesson like no other.
From the White House we walked south west towards the Lincoln Memorial, stopping outside the National Academy of Sciences to admire the statue of Albert Einstein. Visitors are encouraged to have their pictures taken here and to share them on social media ready for the NAS annual meeting next April where they will be shared in Einstein’s honour.
The boys were already familiar with the Lincoln Memorial, thanks to the Hollywood film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, so it was something of a disappointment to them when Lincoln did not stand up and stroll across the Reflecting Pool. Undeterred, Teddy and Alex made their own entertainment.
At the far end of the Reflecting Pool is the National World War II Memorial and then the Washington Monument. Looking north from the Washington Monument you can see the White House and looking south, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. By now it was threatening to rain and time to get indoors so we continued east to the Air and Space Museum for it’s final hour before closing and then caught the metro back to our apartment.
I have no idea how far we walked that day, nor how Alex managed, given the blisters on my feet, but we all slept well that night and the kids were promised a relaxed day to follow.