Washington Trip to Remember!

January 20, 2014

Below is a blog written whilst away of Wycliffe College, of their Adaptable Travel educational trip to Washington. This turned out to be a truly remarkable trip to remember for many reasons.  Read on to find out more.

Post 1:
Departure Gate 21 - 10/12/2013

Local time in London: 16:33                          Local time in Washington DC: 11:33

Distance from London: 3830km                 Distance from Washington DC: 2850km

The Atlantic has just receded from view behind the plane's tail, and we have the rugged hills and glaciers of Newfoundland firmly underneath us. The plane is making good time at just under 500mph. Some of the Wycliffe students and staff are snoozing, some are watching various in-flight movies, and the time has come to put together the first in a daily series of travel updates.

Twenty-two students and three staff pulled away from Wycliffe just before 06:00 on the morning of Monday 9th December. They have all chosen to forgo the last week of the Christmas term, with all of its end-of-term parties in order to travel across the pond and visit Washington DC. The US's capital was besieged by snow on Sunday morning, so they all knew they would be looking forward to a near freezing winter wonderland, as well as a small amount of time learning. More about the American legislative procedures as a part of their AS and A2 level politics course. As well as the obligatory sight-seeing and shopping, the trip will take in a day in the Capital and a trip to the Pentagon. I imagine they are reading this as I type, so I had better be nice about them!

After two and a half hours, our coach pulled into Heathrow Terminal 3 and we progressed through all of the usual security procedures. The Virgin Atlantic A330-300 was waiting for us after a short time in the departure lounge. Due to the very early start, nearly everyone was in need of a good nap on the plane at some point.There will be more information about the trip and our hotel, the Harrington in Central Washington, once we land.

Post 2:
Happy Landing  - 10/12/2013

The plane made a successful touchdown at around about 3pm local time. We breezed through passport control and customs and were quickly on our prearranged coach directly into the centre of the city. Our hotel, The Harrington, is very close to the Mall and many of the important sites of Washington DC, so we were able to see the Washington Monument in the White House on our drive in. The White House currently has the National Christmas Tree in its front garden, a large artificial tree complete with fifty smaller trees encircling it, each decorated in the styles of the fifty different states.

The students settled very quickly into their rooms and before long we headed off into the cold American night to visit their Christmas Market and to have some supper. Weather reports had described massive amounts of snow for the day before so we were surprised to see only a small dusting of white on the ground in and around Washington. The temperature, however, was close to zero (or 32 as they call it).

After a brief stop in the Christmas Market, the group headed to Ella's Wood Fired Pizza restaurant for some of the famous American cuisine. After some fantastic food and buckets of soda had been consumed by the Wycliffe party, everyone was eager to get to bed. Although only 9pm according to Eastern Standard Time, the students were feeling as if it was 1am, and many had been awake since around 5am the previous morning!

Considerably heavier snow is predicted for tomorrow, so it is unsure if our scheduled tram ride will continue, although we will have to wait and see!

Post 3:
Post Storm-atic Stress  - 10/12/2013

Tuesday started with a high degree of uncertainty. Weather forecasts The night before had led us to believe that massive snowstorms would sweep through Washington DC, rendering many of the things we wished to visit unavailable. This turned out to be true, but only in part.

Upon heading out for breakfast at a nearby cafe we did see some snowfall, but this was nothing compared to what we have been led to expect. We later realised that the snow had fallen in great amounts (in some cases up to 4 inches) in many places near to Washington DC, but not in the city itself. Relieved, we started to plan out the day.

From that point onwards, things did not go to plan.

The initial plan had been to take one of Washington's fine trams on a tour around the city, and see many of the important sites. This had to be shelved because the tram operators could not get into DC. In fact it turned out that many places around the city were shut simply because the people who worked there in order to open the attractions and keep things safe for visitors were similarly trapped at home!

It was decided that we should we order our itinerary slightly and taking a day at Congress instead. We walked the short distance between the hotel and the Capitol Building in quite heavy snowfall, and arrived relatively wet.

The impact of the weather was obvious. The House of Representatives had delayed their start by a few hours, and the Congressional Library was shut.As well as a tour around Congress, the students were able to see both Houses in session, before popping across the road to see the Supreme Court building.

Ironically, due to the cold conditions, the ice skating rink was also out of action.

Post 4:
It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done – Mandela - 12/12/2013

Wednesday saw sunshine definitely back on the agenda, although the cold air remained. The day was dedicated to some of the tourist activities that we could not have previously attempted, including a ride on Washington DC's tram tour and trip to the ice skating rink in the Smithsonian sculpture park.

Our first stop on the tram was Washington's National Cathedral, a massive structure built in the Gothic style which many British cathedrals employed 1000 years ago. Although usually providing an impressive tour for students, on this particular day, the cathedral was closed to visitors. In asking various police officers and nearby journalists what was going on, we learned that the cathedral was being used for the national memorial service to Nelson Mandela. Disappointed that we couldn't get any closer to take good photographs, the Wycliffe group walked around the perimeter of the Cathedral along a little side road. It was there that our fortunes changed massively.

Whilst standing at a police cordon, looking longingly at the cathedral, a lady who was a volunteer at the service spotted us and let us through. Quickly we found ourselves in the cathedral's gardens alongside television crews and dignitaries. Our luck did not stop there.

After Mr Woolley was interviewed by New York's EBRU News, a different volunteer took pity on us again and we found ourselves being ushered into the cathedral itself to witness the ticket-only event that was the memorial service.Within the space of a couple of minutes we found ourselves in the presence of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, DC Mayor Vincent Gray and South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool. For students studying US Politics, the first two especially represented fantastic sightings, and a truly rare opportunity. The service itself was phenomenal. A long list of performers opened up proceedings with music from Africa and America, led particularly well by the Morgan State University Choir. There was a long procession of leaders of different faiths which are represented in Washington and the surrounding states, national anthems and the presentation of flags. This was followed by the highlight for our students, a chance to hear Biden speak. The VP discussed his experiences with apartheid as a young senator, and the various connections that the Washington National Cathedral had with various equality movements, including the final sermon given my Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

After departing the service, we rejoined the tram route for our next stop in the older section of DC called Georgetown. This suburb was one of the original ports in place before the Capital was constructed, and as such it has a much longer and deeper history. After stopping there for lunch we continued back into the centre. A second tram route took us around the Mall and to some of the more easily recognisable Washington buildings, including some of the galleries of the Smithsonian, the Post Office, the Capitol itself, Union Station, the Supreme Court and the White House itself! at which we stopped for a brief photo opportunity.

After these, the tram took us to the other side of the Tidal Basin to the now iconic Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. These two monolithic pavilions sit amongst other important memorials recognising soldiers from WWII, the Vietnam and Korean wars, and a newly dedicated statue of Dr King. With the sun setting on the other side of the Potomac River, the tram took us back to its base, a short block away from the hotel. We immediately headed off to the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, which housed an ice-skating rink. The students possessed differing levels of prior experience with ice-skating, so it was very entertaining to watch their smooth skating or frequent falling.

The day concluded with a trip to a pan-Asian restaurant for supper.  

Post 5:
Departure Gate 32 - 12/12/2013

For our last day in Washington, the Wycliffe students took a Metro trip across the Potomac River to the state of Virginia, visiting the Pentagon and Arlington.

We first looked at the 9/11 memorial, located at the point at which American Airlines flight 77 hit the side of the Pentagon. There is one bench for each of the people who died at that particular site, arranged according to their ages. The memorial is an understated tribute to those who lost their lives. Upon entering the Pentagon itself, the students were subjected to a lengthy security procedure (as might be expected) before being shepherded into a waiting room for the tour to start. We were led around the building by a young naval officer, with a second keeping pace behind us to make sure that none of us strayed from the agreed route.

Whilst strolling through around one and half miles of Pentagonal corridors we were able to see historical documents and memorabilia from the various divisions of the armed forces as well as hear some interesting trivia about the world's largest office block.

Once the tour had concluded, we re-boarded the Metro for a short journey to Arlington National Cemetery. Along with row upon row of white memorial stones to a vast number of American's fighting men and women who have died in service to their country, the cemetery is also the final resting place of President John F Kennedy, and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Whilst at the Tomb of the Unknowns we were privileged to witness the ceremonial changing of the guards. Also at the ceremony during our visit, a genuine military funeral was taking place, complete with flag-draped casket, horse-drawn gun carriage and rifle-man escort. The whole experience was  sober and moving.

After this, it was a quick Metro ride back under the Potomac into DC City in order to pick up some last minute shopping, our suitcases, and our bus to Dulles International Airport. The flight will take off at 18:30 EST, arriving at some point on Friday morning in Heathrow!

Written by tour leader Mr Russell.

To organise your next educational trip to Washington, contact Adaptable Travel today.