The Lincoln Memorial and Other Things in My Backyard

My Backyard

Sometimes it’s too easy to take for granted the things around you — like the lake down the street, or the concert hall the next town over. For me, it’s been my proximity to the nation’s capital that I often fail to appreciate. While I grew up only 30 minutes away from Washington, D.C., I hardly visited as a child and generally I had no interest to do so. Now at school, I am only 10 minutes away from the city and still take for granted the fact that I am within spitting distance of one of the most historically significant and politically powerful cities in the world.

In an attempt to rectify my apathy, I have made an effort to spend more time in D.C. The summer after returned from Madrid, I took off every Wednesday from work and rode the metro in the city. I walked around alone, took pictures tourist-style and visited nearly every Smithsonian museum (must take advantage of the freebies!). But that’s only the tip of the ice burg. There’s so much more to D.C. that I need to consume before I graduate and move abroad, and slowly but surely, I’ll do my best to soak in all that this mighty city has to offer.

The Memorials

Aside from the museums, the most historically compelling attractions in D.C. are the monuments and memorials. While there are what seems like a never-ending list of memorials in the capital city, there are 11 that stand out from the rest: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Marine Corps War Memorial and Pentagon Memorial.

Last weekend’s warm weather compelled a friend and I to walk around the city and explore some of the memorials we had yet to visit. We had no set plan for where we would go; we just decided to see where the adventure would take us.

Down the Mall

Beginning our journey on the National Mall, we headed away from the Capitol building and down toward the Washington Monument. The monument has been under repair since an earthquake and hurricane in 2011 caused substantial damage to its foundation. Under normal conditions, patrons would have the opportunity to enter the 555-foot obelisk, an homage to President George Washington and the world’s tallest structure made of stone, and take a tour to the observation deck. But we could only walk by, taking pictures as we headed down the Mall toward the World War II Memorial.

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The World War II Memorial

I’m embarrassed that I’ve lived so close to D.C. for so long and never visited the WWII Memorial until now. As we approached the stunning arches protruding from the rest of the memorial’s columns, I was overwhelmed by the serene beauty of the structure.

The memorial is centered on a memorial plaza and Rainbow Pool. The pool features small jets that gloriously move and shoot water to create a beautiful fountain, a unifying feature for all other elements of the memorial. Around the plaza stand 56 granite columns that represent the 48 states, seven federal territories and the District of Columbia.

The columns are all inscribed with the name of the state or territory and adorned with oak and wheat bronze. They are arranged in the order of entry into the Union, alternating south to north across the plaza. A bronze sculpted rope connects the columns and symbolizes the unification of the nation.

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On either side of the memorial are two 43-foot pavilions that are the entryways on the north and south ends of the plaza. They are labeled Pacific and Atlantic, representing the victory won in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters. Sculpted American eagles are perched atop the pavilions, and on the floor are WWII victory medal surrounded by the years 1941-1945 and the words “Victory on Land,” “Victory at Sea,” and “Victory in the Air.”

We stood for what seemed like hours under the Atlantic Pavilion, looking out over the Rainbow Pool and watching tourists gleefully seek out the columns with their home states. The sun was beginning to set and lights flickered on in the pool, making the water glow with a connotative virtue. Entranced by the memorial’s allure, we finally had to pull ourselves away so that we could move on to see other memorials while the night was still young. Of course, I had to first stop to get a picture with the Maryland pillar. 🙂

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 The Lincoln Memorial

I’ve visited the Lincoln Memorial once before on a school trip. I remembered very little of it other than the large columns surrounding the very stoic sculpture of President Abraham Lincoln. Turns out, not much has changed.

After leaving the WWII Memorial, we raced down the sidewalk of the reflection pool to get a glimpse of the sunset before it faded behind the memorial. We lost in the race against the clock, but the sky was still bright enough to perfectly illuminate the memorial as we made our assent up its painfully long flight of stairs.

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One of the most recognizable landmarks in the U.S., the Lincoln Memorial’s edifice is made of white stone and is surrounded by 36 iconic columns. Within its walls sits a powerful 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln, sitting in contemplation, with one had gripping the edge of his throne and the other clenched in a fist. Behind him, an inscription boldly reads, “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

On either side of the chamber, two larger inscriptions present Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and arguably his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. There was such an outrageous amount of Lincoln-ness oozing from the inside of the memorial that I couldn’t help but think, “Man, this was a cool dude.”

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The Reflection Pool

Tired from the walk, we stopped to rest at the foot of the memorial’s stairs and look out over the reflection pool. The water refracted the light from the Washington Monument and the surrounding buildings along the Mall. We watched as the sky turned from deep blue to black, and used the time to do some reflecting ourselves. Looking over the pool gave us such a gentile, peaceful feeling. It was at this moment that I thought again about how much I take for granted. This beautiful memorial and enchanting pool sit practically in my backyard and I have never appreciated it to the extent that I should. We both agreed we could have sat there the rest of the night, but we wanted to move on to a couple more memorials before we headed back home.

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

It took us about 15 minutes to walk from the pool to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I had recently visited the memorial to write a 20-page paper about its symbolism for a visual rhetoric course I took over the winter. The memorial is one of the newest in D.C. and is one of the only memorials dedicated to a person who was not a U.S. president. The features of the memorial work together to develop themes of progress and perseverance, and give a notion of forward movement, while the memorial itself remains steadfast.

The main entrance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is through a massive stone erection representing a mountain of despair. Visitors walk through a passageway carved out of the mountain and approach the portion of the stone that was removed. From behind, the small stone appears to be and ordinary boulder, but as we walked around it, we saw the inscription on the side with the words from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

That boulder, representing the stone of hope, features an unfinished sculpture of King himself protruding from front. His feet are undefined and his arms are crossed, one hand holding an unidentifiable scroll. His presence is almighty and his countenance fierce, an evocation to the public to carry out his unfinished business and proceed in the fight for justice, equality, democracy, peace and love.

A granite inscription wall encompasses the memorial and displays 16 of King’s most influential quotes. The wall faces the Tidal Basin, an elegant body of water southwest of the National Mall, and leads visitors toward the water. After taking time to read the quotes and talk about their powerful messages, we set out on one of the pathways around the basin and walked around the water’s edge.

The Tidal Basin

By then, it was completely dark. The Washington Monument was more illuminated than ever and we could see its reflection in the basin. We stopped again to rest at a bench along the water and absorb the serenity of the night. Across the water we could see the Jefferson Memorial, our next and final stop, lit like the North Star. Groups of children and chaperones on school trips passed us by as we sat and talked quietly on the bench. A few more people walk by, including a man on the phone talking animatedly and few couples holding hands. I remember saying, “I would be in such good shape if I lived around here because I would jog around the basin for every day.”  That’s probably very untrue, but it’s the thought that counts. The cool air and light breeze finally made us cold enough that we figured we needed to get moving to the next stop. We had one more memorial to hit before our journey could end.

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The Jefferson Memorial

The pathway around the Tidal Basin brought us directly to the Jefferson Memorial. Much like I am with the WWII memorial, I am embarrassed that I had never visited the site before. With a columned entrance like that of the Lincoln memorial, the Jefferson memorial creates a chamber around a statue of President Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s Founding Fathers, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence and an adviser to the Constitution.

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Round steps lead up to the columns of the memorial, and a dome confidently adorns the top of the building. Inside, the 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson stands central to four surrounding walls. Each wall contains a 17-line quote from one of Jefferson’s most famous works, including an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. The memorial is simple and neat, and rightfully reflects the impact of the man it honors.

When we first arrived, there was a group of at least 100 school children running around the memorial. But they soon left along with the other visitors, and at one point, we had the entire memorial to ourselves. It was relaxing to sit down at one of the four benches along the inscription walls and read the words from one of the greatest minds in our nation’s history. It’s crazy to think how one individual, whether its Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., or so on, can personally shape the story of the U.S.

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Back Home

By the time we left the Jefferson Memorial, we were hungry and ready to head back home. It had been a spectacular evening of playing tourist in our own backyard. We visited only five of the 11 notable memorials in D.C., but I’m sure we’ll go back and visit them soon. We also have the Constitution Gardens and other spectacular attractions on our list. The weather is getting nicer and summer is approaching, so now we have even more  reasons to go explore the nation’s capital. Like I said earlier, slowly but surely I’ll do my best to take advantage of the amazing city that is so accessible to me and just out of reach for so many others. Before I graduate and go to places I’ve never been before, I need to know where I’m coming from.

Toronto in 30 Hours — How I Did it and You Can Do It Too


TORONTO, CANADA spans 2,751 square miles and has a population of more than 5,580,000. It boasts more than 100 attractions, from museums and historic sites to restaurants and markets. With so much going on, it seems nearly impossible to truly explore the city in 30 hours. But my friend Sarah and I managed to do it — and here’s how:


Getting Acquainted to the City (1 HR)
Checking into the Hostel (.5 HRS)
Buying a CityPASS (.5 HRS)
Climbing to the Top of the CN Tower (3 HRS)
Exploring Downtown Toronto (2 HRS)
Getting Dinner in Greektown (2 HRS)
Going Out at the Hostel (4 HRS)
Sleep (5 HRS)

Going to Casa Loma (4 HRS)
Stopping for Lunch (2 HRS)
Exploring the Royal Ontario Museum (3 HRS)
Grabbing a Quick Sushi Dinner (1 HR)
Picking up our bags at the Hostel and Heading to the Bus Terminal (2 HRS)


Sarah and I both live in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so we took the Megabus from Union Station to Toronto. We left at 8 p.m. Thursday night, anticipating our arrival in Toronto at 10 .m. Friday. We passed through Philadelphia, Penn. and Buffalo, N.Y., making stops at both before finally crossing the border. Once in Canada, we of course had to go through customs, but that was quick and painless. By that point, getting off the bus and stretching our legs was extremely welcome. Two hours after we left customs, we were in Toronto. ($73/each, round trip)


Having some bus troubles along the way, we finally arrived at the Toronto Bus Terminal at 12 p.m. on Friday. Famished, we first stopped to grab a bite at Druxy’s Deli. Then we headed to the ATM to take out some Canadian money and found a subway station. The Toronto subway, officially known as the Toronto Transit Commission, is refreshingly easy to navigate; there are only three lines and the stops are clearly labeled, both on the maps and at the stations. It took us about 15 minutes to get from St. Patrick’s Station to Donlands Station, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hostel. ($11/day for a 2-person subway pass)


We had a fantastic experience at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, which is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto. We stayed in a six-person mixed dorm (I could have sworn I booked an all-female dorm! It wasn’t too bad though, we didn’t see the guys much, and we kept our valuables locked in a safe). The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating and they made us feel right at home. We stayed long enough to get our bags settled in and freshen up, and then we were off on our adventure. ($25/each for one night)

In doing our pre-trip research, Sarah found that it was highly recommended to buy a  $61 CityPASS for Toronto. The Toronto CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to 5 must-see tourist attractions in Toronto that saved us 43% compared to combined regular box office prices:

  1.  CN Tower: A Wonder of the Modern World (Reg. $32/each)
  2. Royal Ontario Museum: Engage the World (Reg. $12.50/each)
  3. Casa Loma: Toronto’s Majestic Castle (Reg. $24/each)
  4. Toronto Zoo: Canada’s Premier Zoo (Reg. $23/each)
  5. Ontario Science Centre: Canada’s Leading Science Center (Reg. $22/each)

The passes were valid for nine consecutive days and allowed us to skip ticket lines. We bought ours at the Royal Ontario Museum, but decided to wait until the next day to explore the museum. Instead, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and headed to the CN Tower. ($61/each)


I still get chills thinking about it – what a thrill. According to the tower’s website, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified the CN Tower as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (the others being the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel, the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast and the Empire State Building).

After skipping the ticket lines, Sarah and I went through a brief security check and got in line for the evaluator. We queued for an hour and finally rode the glass elevator up 1,136 ft (346 m) to the LookOut Level. The views of the cityscape, the Toronto Islands and the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Lake Ontario were breathtaking. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a light lunch and some red rosé at Horizon’s Restaurant.  We ended our visit with a stop at the CN Tower gift shop. (Tower cost covered by CityPass, $15/each for lunch, $15/each at the gift shop)

After the tower, we had some spectacular maple lattés at Second Cup Café. With our fresh energy boost, we walked around for a while taking pictures and searching for souvenirs. Finally we made our trek back to the hostel. (About $30/each)


Our hostel was in a part of Toronto called Greektown. The streets were lined with Greek restaurants and shops, and naturally, Greek people. We stumbled upon Pan, a magnificent, candle-lit restaurant featuring authentic, gourmet Greek food and walls lined with wine bottles. The food was exquisite and there was even a live band and a belly dancer. I have to say it was one of the best meals I’ve had. ($35/each)

Back at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, we relaxed a bit and hung out in the common area with the other young, broke travelers. Then we all went downstairs to The Only Cafe, an awesome local bar on the below the hostel with over 200 beers from around the world. I’ll spare the details of the night, but let’s just say we had a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Cheers to the Maple Leaf.



We had an incredible breakfast at the hostel, then headed north via the subway to Casa Loma, Toronto’s majestic castle. The castle allows you to “step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendour.” As Canada’s foremost castle, it is the former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt and complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and a garden that we weren’t able to see because it is winter. Both the inside and outside we simply stunning and, as a princess in training, I felt right at home. (Cost covered by CityPass)

When in Canada, one must eat at least once at Tim Horton’s. So we did. Then we went to Starbucks for some more maple coffee and to charge our iPhones.


Last stop on the trip was the Royal Ontario Museum. Again, we got to skip the lines and go straight to the entrance. The museum has four floors of world history and cultural exhibits, divided into eight categories: fashion and textiles, Earth and space, ancient cultures, biodiversity, fossils and evolution, contemporary culture, Canada, and world art and culture. Tired from the previous day’s events, we only stayed a few hours, though I’m sure anyone could spend the entire day there. We still had a chance to see hundreds of ancient artifacts, fossils and works of art from around the world.


We seriously ate well during this trip. After we left the museum, we headed back to Greektown for our last meal in Toronto. Craving sushi, we stopped at Casa Sushi, a nifty sushi place with more than 100 items on the menu. Sarah got several different rolls, and I got a huge vegetarian platter and a mojito for less than $16. The food was fantastic, the service was eh, but overall great bang for our buck. (about $20/each)


We headed back to the hostel after dinner to pick up our bags and be on our way. Having about an hour to spare, though, we decided to grab one last drink at The Only Cafe. It was the best possible way the end our amazing trip. Afterward, we headed to the terminal and were (kind of) first ones in line, destined for the front seats of the double-decker bus. The ride home went a little more smoothly since we were too exhausted to care about the tight space, and after 14 hours, we were back in D.C.


There ya have it: Toronto in 30 hours, excluding travel time to and from the City. Though we didn’t hit all of the attractions covered by the CityPASS, we still saved a few bucks with it.  If I could have done anything differently, I would have tried to squeeze in the Science Center on the second day, but we were just too tired for that. Oh well, it’s just an incentive to go back.

*Updated 3/35/2014