Under the scorching summer sun, I sat alone in the second floor of The Big Bus, enjoying the 360-degree view of the city. No one else wanted to feel the burn so early in the morning—I didn’t mind at all.
The tour bus brought us around Washington DC’s popular attractions from Dupont Center to Georgetown to the US Capitol. With earphones on, stories of the past and basic facts were elaborately told with a seemingly patriotic melody playing in the background. The drive was in sync with the narration, as if rehearsed to perfect the timing of when, where, and what to look at.
Oh, the beauty of Washington DC’s old charm and Georgian architecture. Whilst feeling caught up in the old world, the sound of motorcycles started to overlap with the American tune playing in the headset. Old bikers passing by—some dressed in black leather and some in stars, white, blue, and red—they couldn’t get more American than that!
Unfortunately, our tour’s route was cut short due to road blockage. It was Memorial Day in the USA that day. I honestly did not know what to expect. I’m not all too familiar with America’s Memorial Day. All I knew based on the numerous TV commercials I’ve seen was that everything’s on sale for the weekend and it’s a holiday.
My family and I hopped off on the left side area of The Capitol and into a pathway surrounded by tall trees and a park. We would be walking from here on.
The Capitol was under construction but it still looked majestic. I was still trying to grasp how Memorial Day is spent in DC and so far, all I could see was a sea of cops and tourists navigating their way around metal barriers. It seemed intimidating but I was more intrigued. With a map on hand, I started leading the way to the National Mall, a huge park in between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
There it was again, the sound of motorcycles, only multiplied by thousands. The old bikers I saw earlier found their way to this parade—The Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally.
Motorcycles have been the kings of the street on Memorial day since 1988. It was after the Vietnam war when veterans let their Harley-Davidsons roar loud on the streets of DC on Memorial Day Weekend as a demonstration to commemorate the Prisoners Of War (POWs) and those Missing In Action (MIAs). From 2,500 bikers, it grew to hundreds of thousands until it became the largest single-day motorcycle event in the world. This “Ride For Freedom” is a way for these veterans to express their patriotism and to honor those who defend the country. The roaring sound of Harleys would be music to my ears for the rest of the day.
A garden, a memorial, and an art gallery—that’s how I would sum up the National Mall. It is the blend of tall trees and art installations surrounding the pathways that makes this national park so attractive! And there I was, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a stroll here with someone special?”… VROOOOM! Okay. Back to reality.
Making our way to the Washington Monument would take a while not only because of the long walk but also because of the numerous attractions left and right. Within the park premises are museums and galleries such as the National Gallery of Art, Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian, Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, Museum of African American History, and the Smithsonian Castle.
And here it is. The Washington Monument.
Past the monument, I could see a white structure with tall pillars in a far distance—We were heading to the Lincoln Memorial next. Seeing a sea of colours (AKA tourists in their colourful outfits) covering the memorial’s steps had my parents a bit worried that it might be too packed to visit. Ah, but we couldn’t miss it so forward we marched!
Rain clouds were starting to form and the weather was transitioning from dry to humid. We had to quicken our pace before rain pours and before our walking trip comes to a halt. Walking beside the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool didn’t feel rushed at all for it was 618-meters long, giving us more than enough time to appreciate it.
Kids would run near the shallow water to throw a penny and make a wish or to play with the ducklings swimming near the edge. Lots of couples would stop and take photos by the pool to get a double image of the memorial—the actual and the reflected. On my right, several bikers are seated on the grass or strolling along. Before we knew it, we were standing in front of Great Abe’s memorial.
“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”
Standing before the 16th American president, in all his 19-feet marbled glory, was an overwhelming experience. He sits in a building reminiscent of a greek temple surrounded by 36 columns. As greek temples are dedicated to gods, Lincoln’s memorial is a dedication to his greatness—he was no god, but he was a hero to whom many Americans looked highly upon. He now forever sits with a gorgeous view of the entire National Mall.
Next up, The White House. En route to our final destination, the roaring sound of the motorcycles grew louder. I came to realize that the veterans’ final destination was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Their Ride For Freedom journey ends there as they pay respect to those who fought bravely for the country.
Just as the Rolling Thunder Rally slowly came to an end, a literal thunder started rolling in. It was drizzling when we reached The White House. It wasn’t as big as I imagined but it was a mansion for sure!
Taking a breather from the long walk and humid air, a familiar song started playing in the background.
“Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good!”
With tired feet and spirits slowly falling from exhaustion, I was quick to be reminded of how good this day was and how beautiful Washington DC is even if we only had one whole day to explore. As soon as rain poured, it was finally time to call it a day. On to our next USA adventure—Boston.