A Visit to Washington

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Gwen Outen. Today we take a summer visit around the nation's capital.

August is a month when a lot of people from the Washington, D.C., area go someplace else for a week or two. But August is also when a lot of people from someplace else go to Washington. Such a trip often starts this way:

A person who lives here -- we'll call her Suzy -- gets a call from friends in another part of the country. They want to see the city. They want to see everything. But they can only stay a day or two.

Suzy knows that her friends cannot possibly see everything in such a short time. Also, the weather may be very hot. There may be security delays. But Suzy wants her visitors to leave with happy memories.

So she organizes a plan for her friends. She decides they will do most of their travel in the city by foot or on Metro trains and buses. Metro is the public transportation system. That way they will not have to worry about where to leave their car.

At night, they will visit open-air memorials. During the day, the group will see museums; many are free of charge to enter. But, without a lot of time, which ones should they see?

The visitors have two children. So Suzy decides that her friends should begin at the National Museum of Natural History. This is part of the Smithsonian Institution. The first thing the children want to see is the area that shows what dinosaurs looked like millions of years ago.

The Natural History Museum is along the grassy area in Washington called the National Mall.

Next Suzy leads her friends along the Mall to the National Museum of American History. It contains all sorts of objects. There are dresses worn by the wives of presidents. There is a walking stick that Benjamin Franklin gave to George Washington, America’s first president. Franklin was a statesmen, writer and inventor. The collections in the American History Museum also include objects from popular culture of today.

The guests have walked a lot so far. They see a table, but they cannot sit at it. This is the table where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence from Britain in seventeen seventy-six.

Next, the visitors walk over to the most popular museum in the world. Each year as many as ten million people visit the National Air and Space Museum. Suzy points out some of the most famous things. One is the command vehicle from the Apollo Eleven spacecraft. In nineteen-sixty-nine, Apollo Eleven carried the first astronauts to land on the moon. The visitors all touch the moon rock that is also on display in museum.

By now, everyone is hungry and a little tired. So they buy food inside the Air and Space Museum. Then, as they walk out into the sunlight, they look across the street. They see a building that looks unlike any others around it, including the Capitol, where Congress meets.

The shape is like waves of golden sand. This is the National Museum of the American Indian. But it is not ready yet for the public. Opening ceremonies are planned for September twenty-first.

Suzy's friends decide they would like to see some art. But they do not have the time or energy to see the National Gallery of Art. Instead they walk over to a smaller museum, the Freer Gallery. It has art collections from Asia and the United States.

Here the group inspects one of the rooms. Large golden birds with shining tail feathers are painted on the walls. James McNeill Whistler painted this. It is called the Peacock Room.

Next the group walks to a Metro station. The next stop for them is the International Spy Museum. It opened in two thousand two. Visitors learn about the history of intelligence gathering. And they see all kinds of devices used by spies.

But spying is not the only subject here. Currently there is a collection called "The Enemy Within: Terror in America -- Seventeen Seventy Six to Today." This collection includes pieces of the planes flown into the World Trade Center in New York on September eleventh, two thousand one.

By now, everyone in the group is ready for some quiet time and a good meal. So Suzy takes them back to her home by Metro. Later, they start out again. This time Suzy will drive her guests in her car to see the memorials in Washington.

Now it is getting dark. The visitors will do some of their sightseeing by moonlight, when the temperature is cooler.

They start at the F.D.R. Memorial. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the nation from nineteen thirty three until his death in nineteen forty five. He served longer than any other American president. The memorial opened in nineteen ninety seven. It contains four areas. Each represents one of his terms in office. Statues help show what life was like. One sculpture shows men standing in line waiting for bread during the Great Depression.

After that, Suzy takes her guests to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The war lasted from nineteen fifty to nineteen fifty three. The statues of soldiers look real. Moonlight shines on their faces.

From there, the visitors walk to the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president. He led the nation through the Civil War in the eighteen sixties. He was shot to death as he watched a play in Washington. The memorial is a large white building open all the around. At the center is a larger-than-life size statue of the president. Lincoln is seated. He looks toward a body of water called the Reflecting Pool.

Next, the visitors walk to the black wall that forms the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On the wall are the names of more than fifty eight thousand Americans who died in the Vietnam War. Names are listed by year of death. The wall grows taller and taller as the war reaches its height. Many visitors find the names of loved ones and rub the letters onto paper. Many leave flowers and notes at the foot of the wall.

Maya Lin designed this wall. In nineteen eighty, she entered a national competition to design a Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She was twenty one years old then, an architecture student at Yale University.

In April of this year, the first National World War Two Memorial opened nearby. This memorial looks more traditional. It is made of bronze and granite, with stone pillars all around. In the center, at ground level, is a round pool of water with fountains in the middle.

The World War Two memorial honors the sixteen million who served in the American armed forces. It includes a wall with four thousand gold stars to honor the more than four hundred thousand who died.

After all their walking, Suzy and her guests are glad to return to the car. Now they will drive a short distance to see the memorial to America's third president. A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands in the middle of a white circular structure with columns all around. In the moonlight, the visitors can see an image of the memorial in the Tidal Basin, which collects water from the Potomac River.

Next the group drives past the Washington Monument. This honor to George Washington is made of white stone. Its narrow form reaches more than one hundred sixty nine meters toward the sky.

It is late now, and everyone decides they have seen enough for one day.

Next morning, they walk past the White House. Visitors can go inside the president's home, but they must first get tickets through a member of Congress.

Instead, Suzy's group stands in line to visit the United States Capitol. They see where the House of Representatives and the Senate meet. And they see the paintings and statues that are throughout the Capitol.

Later that day, the guests fly home. Suzy gets some time to rest before she has to go back to work. But her friends are already planning their next trip. They did not have time to see places like the Holocaust Museum, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. They want to see the American Indian museum, too.

Maybe next time they will have to stay longer. Suzy cannot wait till next time.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. And our thanks to Suzy Karpel, whose real-life experience with visitors to Washington helped guide our story. I'm Gwen Outen. And I'm Steve Ember. We invite you back again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.