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Kiwi Rail's Scenic Trains

All three of them... back-to-back!

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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It wasn't my original plan but having revised my itinerary to fit in Easter in Hawke's Bay I ended up with back-to-back trips on all three of Kiwi Rail's Scenic Train Routes, the nearest thing New Zealand has got to an intercity passenger network. My journey began with the now familiar trip into Auckland's Britomart Station from Onehunga where I caught the thrice weekly 7.50am 11 hour Northern Explorer Kiwi Scenic Rail Train south to Wellington.

Auckland suburban train about to leave Onehunga Railway Station for the Britomart

Auckland suburban train about to leave Onehunga Railway Station for the Britomart


Britomart Railway Station

Britomart Railway Station


The Northern Explorer about to leave the Britomart in Auckland for Wellington

The Northern Explorer about to leave the Britomart in Auckland for Wellington

All three trains - the Northern Explorer (Auckland to Wellington), Coastal Pacific (Picton to Christchurch) and TranzAlpine (Christchurch to Greymouth) - have identical newish rolling stock with plush seats, panoramic windows, airline style overhead screens of the route and earplugs for a commentary. However what makes these trains stand out are their open air viewing carriages for taking pictures of the pretty spectacular scenery often passing outside.

Inside the passenger carriage of a Kiwi Rail Scenic Train

Inside the passenger carriage of a Kiwi Rail Scenic Train


The open air viewing carriage

The open air viewing carriage


Inside the open air viewing carriage

Inside the open air viewing carriage


Me in the open air viewing carriage

Me in the open air viewing carriage

The journey began with atrocious weather through the lowlands south of Auckland, past the Waikato River (the longest in New Zealand) and into the King Country. During the 1850-1860s this was the last stronghold of the independent Maori who hoped by electing themselves a King this would better help them defend their land and culture. For a long time this area was out of bounds to Europeans, a bit like the American West with the Red Indians about the same time.

The King's Marae is at Ngaruawahia and has been visited by many world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II. We passed the royal Maori cemetery on the sacred mountain of Taupiri where the higher up the hill you are buried the more senior you were with the Maori Kings being buried right at the top.

The Waikato River bending away towards the coast

The Waikato River bending away towards the coast


The gate to the King's Marae at Ngaruawahia

The gate to the King's Marae at Ngaruawahia


Maori cemetery on the sacred mountain of Taupiri

Maori cemetery on the sacred mountain of Taupiri

The train then began to climb up towards the volcanic plateau, initially passing rugged farmland but this changed to native broad-leaved podocarp forest as we reached the Tongariro National Park. We had a short photo stop at the National Park Railway Station where the top of Mount Ruapehu (aka "Mount Doom" from the Lord of the Rings) briefly made an appearance above the clouds.

Crossing the river on the way up to National Park Station

Crossing the river on the way up to National Park Station


Crop spraying helicopter on the way up to National Park Station

Crop spraying helicopter on the way up to National Park Station


Native Podocarp broad-leaved Forest seen from the train

Native Podocarp broad-leaved Forest seen from the train


Mount Ruapehu (aka Mount Doom) appears above the clouds

Mount Ruapehu (aka Mount Doom) appears above the clouds


Close up of the top of Mount Ruapehu

Close up of the top of Mount Ruapehu

From the National Park the train headed south towards Wellington using tunnels, viaducts and the Raurimu Spiral (built in 1898) where the track spirals 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometres) to cover a distance of 1.2 miles (2 kilometres) in order to beat the gradient.

Crossing a large viaduct on the way down  to Wellington

Crossing a large viaduct on the way down to Wellington


Our train leaves a tunnel on the way down to Wellington

Our train leaves a tunnel on the way down to Wellington

We arrived in Wellington (christened "The Coolest Little Capital in the World" by Lonely Planet) where I made my way across the road to my backpackers hostel where I was staying overnight before getting the ferry in the morning. There was an ominous sign on the back of my door giving instructions of what to do in case of an earthquake!

Coolest Little Capital in the World sign rotating around a harbour building in Wellington

Coolest Little Capital in the World sign rotating around a harbour building in Wellington


What to do in an Earthquake notice on the back of my room door in Wellington

What to do in an Earthquake notice on the back of my room door in Wellington

I went exploring the city in the evening and discovered it was late night opening at Te Papa, the excellent Museum of New Zealand. Inside I passed some Orcs, was subjected to shaking room simulating an earthquake and saw a giant squid as well as the feathered cloak Captain Cook was given in Hawaii shortly before his death in 1779. On the history floor there was a wall high copy of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori and the British, something New Zealanders are immensely proud of and treat with a reverance akin to how Americans treat their constitution.

Three Orcs by the Information Desk in the Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand)

Three Orcs by the Information Desk in the Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand)


Giant Squid at Te Papa, the largest and most complete specimen ever found

Giant Squid at Te Papa, the largest and most complete specimen ever found


Hawaiian Feathered Cloak and Helmet given to British explorer Captain James Cook in 1779

Hawaiian Feathered Cloak and Helmet given to British explorer Captain James Cook in 1779


The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi wall high in the Te Papa Museum

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi wall high in the Te Papa Museum

In the morning I got the shuttle bus from the railway station and climbed aboard the Kaitaki Interislander Ferry for the 3 hour 10 minute sailing to Picton on the South Island. For the first time since Switzerland I actually wore my coat as it was starting to feel a bit chilly. The Kaitaki started life as the Isle of Innisfree for Irish Ferries on their UK to Dublin/Rosslare routes so I've probably sailed on her before in a former life!

Our ferry Kaitaki gets ready to leave Wellington

Our ferry Kaitaki gets ready to leave Wellington


Wellington Harbour

Wellington Harbour


Our Ferry leaves North Island in its wake as we cross the Cook Strait

Our Ferry leaves North Island in its wake as we cross the Cook Strait

After crossing the Cook Strait (unfortunately I didn't see any albatrosses) we entered Tory Sound and then sailed down Queen Charlotte Sound (both are better described as a 'fjords') to Picton. Everybody on the boat appeared to be on the deck as sailing down the Marlborough Sounds is pretty awesome as the land closes in behind you after sailing across the open sea.

We enter Tory Sound on South Island on our way to Picton

We enter Tory Sound on South Island on our way to Picton


The Kaitaki sails down Queen Charlotte Sound on South Island - awesome!

The Kaitaki sails down Queen Charlotte Sound on South Island - awesome!

Passing other ships in Queen Charlotte Sound on our way to Picton

Passing other ships in Queen Charlotte Sound on our way to Picton


The Kaitaki docked the far side of the harbour in Picton ready to return to Wellington

The Kaitaki docked the far side of the harbour in Picton ready to return to Wellington

Having disembarked from the Kaitaki it was only a short walk to the railway station to catch the 5 hour 30 minute Coastal Pacific Kiwi Rail Scenic Train to Christchurch. No commentary this time unless you had your own earphones as the Chinese supplier had let Kiwi Rail down and the ear phones they were meant to give us were still enroute!

For the first hour and a half of the trip we passed endless rows of vines, not surprising as the Marlborough Region we were passing through is by far the largest in New Zealand producing about 75% of the country's output and is particularly well known for its white wine.

The endless vineyards of Marlborough

The endless vineyards of Marlborough


and more vineyards...

and more vineyards...


...and yet more vineyards

...and yet more vineyards

At Lake Grassmere we passed the shallow lagoon sheltered from the open sea which with its high salinity along with warm prevailing winds make it particularly well suited to salt extraction producing about half of New Zealand's domestic salt. Beyond Seddon the railway ran along the coast and we reached where the Kaikoura Mountains (the highest mountains north of Mount Cook) reach the sea and the scenery changed dramatically with headlands rising out of the sea and lots of tunnels.

The Lake Grassmere Salt Lagoon

The Lake Grassmere Salt Lagoon


The Salt Works at Lake Grassmere

The Salt Works at Lake Grassmere


The Kaikoura Mountains reach the sea with dramatic headlands

The Kaikoura Mountains reach the sea with dramatic headlands


There were numerous tunnels where the mountains reached the sea

There were numerous tunnels where the mountains reached the sea

This stretch of coastline is particularly well known for its marine life and we saw many seals from the train lazing on the rocks. The train stopped at Kaikoura with its Whale Watch Centre, a place I plan to return to a bit later on my trip. The last part of our journey was across the very flat North Canterbury Plans crossing the occasional river until we reached Christchurch.

The rocks where the Kaikoura Mountains reach the sea are ideal for seals

The rocks where the Kaikoura Mountains reach the sea are ideal for seals


Seal coming ashore near Kaikoura

Seal coming ashore near Kaikoura


The train stops at Kaikoura famous for whale watching

The train stops at Kaikoura famous for whale watching


The Coastal Pacific at Kaikoura Station

The Coastal Pacific at Kaikoura Station

I overnighted in Christchurch, a city very much still recovering from the earthquakes that devastated it in 2010 and 2011 and which I will be returning to in 10 days time. Suffice here to say it was a shock to see especially after hearing how beautiful the city had once been.

In the morning I got the free shuttle back to the railway station and boarded the TranzAlpine for the 5 hour journey across the Southern Alps to Greymouth on the west coast, the final stage of my end to end journey on Kiwi Rail's Scenic Train Network. Initially our route took us across the Canterbury Plain, New Zealand's largest flat area but after about an hour and a half we had our first real view of the mountains and had a photo stop.

The TranzAlpine about to leave Christchurch Station for Greymouth

The TranzAlpine about to leave Christchurch Station for Greymouth


The Canterbury Plains - New Zealand's largest area of flat land

The Canterbury Plains - New Zealand's largest area of flat land


Our first view of the mountains

Our first view of the mountains

The next couple of hours were the most spectacular of my entire train journey from Auckland as we went through 16 tunnels and crossed 5 high viaducts making our way across the Southern Alps. It was difficult to decide which side of the train to look with the highest of the viaducts - the Staircase Viaduct - standing at 240 feet (73 metres).

The railway ran alongside increasingly deep river gorges as we climbed up into the mountains

The railway ran alongside increasingly deep river gorges as we climbed up into the mountains


One of many spectacular viaducts we had to cross as we made our way across the mountains

One of many spectacular viaducts we had to cross as we made our way across the mountains


The train passed and crossed many mountains, lakes and deep gorges as we crossed the Southern Alps

The train passed and crossed many mountains, lakes and deep gorges as we crossed the Southern Alps


Crossing the Staircase Viaduct as we make our way through the Southern Alps

Crossing the Staircase Viaduct as we make our way through the Southern Alps

Having crossed the Otira Viaduct and then gone through the Otira Tunnel (at 5.3 miles - 8.5 kilometres, the longest railway tunnel in the British Empire when it was built in 1923) we stopped at Arthur's Pass, the highest of only three roads crossing the Southern Alps and the highest settlement in NZ.

From here we descended South Island's wetter West Coast, initially through cattle country but then as we descended past Lake Brunner (a large lake popular for trout fishing) and into 1860 Gold Rush country we had natural New Zealand Bush and Forest until we arrived at our final destination of Greymouth.

Me at Arthur's Pass, the highest settlement in NZ

Me at Arthur's Pass, the highest settlement in NZ


Lake Brunner

Lake Brunner


Crossing the Grey River on the way to Greymouth

Crossing the Grey River on the way to Greymouth


The TranzAlpine makes its way down to the west coast

The TranzAlpine makes its way down to the west coast

Posted by FrancisRTW 03:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains lakes trees snow trains boat fjords wine maori marine_life videos lord_of_the_rings solo hostelling earthquakes nz_south_island nz_north_island film_locations constitutions Comments (0)

Independence Hall Philadelphia

America's most historic square mile

semi-overcast 17 °C
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The first city my family took me to visit on the US East Coast was Philadelphia and in particular the L-shaped group of downtown city blocks that make up the Independence National Historic Park and contains many of the key the historical buildings from the time of the American Revolution. Having parked underneath the Independence Visitor Center and made our way past our first Benjamin Franklin look-a-like, I got my first view of Independence Hall ...with a group of Chinese looking people surreally performing Falun Dafa on the lawn out front trying to attract new recruits!

My first view of downtown Philadelphia

My first view of downtown Philadelphia


The Independence Visitor Center and National Constitution Center in Independence Park

The Independence Visitor Center and National Constitution Center in Independence Park


My first view of Independence Hall

My first view of Independence Hall


'Falun Dafa' being performed on the lawn in front of Independence Hall

'Falun Dafa' being performed on the lawn in front of Independence Hall

Our first stop however was to see the famously cracked Liberty Bell which has become an iconic symbol of freedom. The bell was originally made in London and hung in the then State House (now Independence Hall) in 1753 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania's constitution with the inscription from the Bible Leviticus 25:10 "Proclaim Liberty through all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof". The bell was only tolled for important occasions (most notably for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776) but became cracked sometime between 1817 and 1846 and after several attempts to repair it hasn't been rung since.

X-rays of the Liberty Bell showing its famous crack

X-rays of the Liberty Bell showing its famous crack


The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell


Me stood by the Liberty Bell with Independence Hall through the window behind me

Me stood by the Liberty Bell with Independence Hall through the window behind me

The centrepiece of the National Park is Independence Hall itself, a world heritage site and a lovely example of Georgian Quaker architecture. Although free to get in (as are most government owned heritage buildings) we needed timed tickets that had to be booked several days earlier. Our tour began with a talk in the East Wing explaining the historical context (as a Brit I was surprised how the American Revolution was portrayed as something few really wanted and was stumbled into almost as a last resort).

Independence Hall

Independence Hall


Washington's Statue outside Independence Hall

Washington's Statue outside Independence Hall


Plaque commemorating Independence Hall as 'The Birthplace of the United States of America'

Plaque commemorating Independence Hall as 'The Birthplace of the United States of America'


Horse and Carriage passing the front of Independence Hall

Horse and Carriage passing the front of Independence Hall

We were than taken into the main building underneath the white clock tower and shown the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and then the Assembly Room itself (which is where everything happened - George Washington appointed Commander-in-Chief 1775, Declaration of Independence adopted 1776 and a lot more besides).

Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court


Independence Hall Assembly Room - where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776

Independence Hall Assembly Room - where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776

Behind Independence Hall is Independence Square which is where first public reading of the Declaration of Independence happened in 1776. In the middle of the square is statue of John Barry, born in Wexford (Ireland) in 1745 he was the first captain of a US warship and is credited with being "The Father of the American Navy" (an epithet sometimes also used for John Paul Jones).

The back of Independence Hall from Independence Square

The back of Independence Hall from Independence Square


Replica of Stretch's 1753 Clock on the west end of Independence Hall

Replica of Stretch's 1753 Clock on the west end of Independence Hall


Commodore Barry's Statue and the back of Independence Hall in Independence Square

Commodore Barry's Statue and the back of Independence Hall in Independence Square

We then hoped to visit Congress Hall on the west side of Independence Square (which is where the US Congress met between 1790 and 1800) but there was quite a long wait until the next tour so I decided to cover this off when I was due to visit Philadelphia again a bit later on my trip. Instead we had a look around the West Wing of Independence Hall which is where original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States are on display.

The West Wing of Independence Hall from Independence Square with the Congress Hall just beyond

The West Wing of Independence Hall from Independence Square with the Congress Hall just beyond


Copy of the Declaration of Independence inside the West Wing - no flash allowed!

Copy of the Declaration of Independence inside the West Wing - no flash allowed!


Inkpots used to sign the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution

Inkpots used to sign the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution

The final historic site we passed was Franklin Court which consists of a row of five restored tenement shops, three of which were originally built by Benjamin Franklin in the 1780s. They lead onto a courtyard where Benjamin Franklin's house itself once stood which has an underground museum filled with artifacts associated with him but we didn't have time to go in and see it. Amongst the restored tenement shops is a 18th century printing shop - similar to Franklin's own business, a postal museum and a real US post office - the only one in the country that does not fly the US flag as it didn't yet exist when it first opened in 1775.

Franklin Court Market Street Houses

Franklin Court Market Street Houses


The US Post Office at Franklin Court

The US Post Office at Franklin Court

We then went on an unsuccessful quest to find somewhere I could try the local fast food known as a Philly Cheesesteak before my 2 hour train journey from Trenton into New York to see an exhibition soccer match at the Yankee Stadium. That dubious culinary delight will have to wait for me until another time!

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged museums city chinese philadelphia us_east_coast constitutions Comments (0)

Capitol Hill and the White House

Tours of Capitol Hill and the theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated but only a distant glimpse of the White House

sunny 27 °C
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Tours of public buildings tend to be free in the USA but often have to be booked up a long time ahead (as I found out to my cost when trying to visit the US Mint in Denver). I was chuffed therefore to find only a couple of days beforehand that there was still a tour slot available for the US Capitol during my stay in Washington.

The entrance to the Capitol is via the large underground Visitor Center at the back of the building opened in 2008. Having cleared the airport style security you enter Emancipation Hall dominated by the original plaster model for the bronze Statue of Freedom which stands on top of the Capitol's Dome.

The entrance to the Visitor Center behind the US Capitol

The entrance to the Visitor Center behind the US Capitol


The Statue of Freedom in the Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall

The Statue of Freedom in the Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall

Emancipation Hall is the large central space in the Visitor Center where you pick up your tour passes from one on the information desks situated at either end and then queue for one of the two Orientation Theatres - this place is designed to cope with numbers as politely as possible with lots of volunteer guides on hand offering help. While waiting there is a rather impressive Exhibition Hall with models and exhibits describing the history of the building; there is also looking up a rather unusual and impressive view of the Dome itself.

One of the two Information Desks at either end of Emancipation Hall

One of the two Information Desks at either end of Emancipation Hall


The view of the Capitol Dome through the glass roof of the Visitor Center

The view of the Capitol Dome through the glass roof of the Visitor Center

The Capitol Building and Visitor Center is cluttered with statues as each US state is entitled to donate 2 statues honouring persons notable to their history to the national collection which they can change over time. Twenty four of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection are in the Visitor Center.

Jack Swigert (1931-1982) from Colorado's Statue in Emancipation Hall

Jack Swigert (1931-1982) from Colorado's Statue in Emancipation Hall


Chief Washakie (1798-1900) from Wyoming's Statue in Emancipation Hall

Chief Washakie (1798-1900) from Wyoming's Statue in Emancipation Hall


King Kamehameha (1758-1819) from Hawaii's Statue in Emancipation Hall

King Kamehameha (1758-1819) from Hawaii's Statue in Emancipation Hall

The tour itself begins with a short film in one of the Orientation Theatres where you are allocated to a tour group; ours was large containing perhaps 80 people but all linked to the tour guide by a radio earpiece so everyone could hear her. We were then taken into the Rotunda and had its marble painted frescos, friezes, paintings and statues explained to us as we looked up at the inside of the impressive 288 feet (88 metre) high and 96 feet (29 metre) diameter Dome. The Rotunda is where John F Kennedy and ten other US Presidents have lain in state after they died.

Our guide explains the various pieces of artwork around the Rotunda underneath the Capitol's Dome

Our guide explains the various pieces of artwork around the Rotunda underneath the Capitol's Dome


Looking up at the inside of the Dome from the Rotunda

Looking up at the inside of the Dome from the Rotunda


'Baptism of Pocahontas' - one of the 8 large oil paintings depicting events from US History around the bottom walls of the Rotunda

'Baptism of Pocahontas' - one of the 8 large oil paintings depicting events from US History around the bottom walls of the Rotunda


Statues of Presidents Grant and Lincoln beside the POW/MIA Flag in the Rotunda

Statues of Presidents Grant and Lincoln beside the POW/MIA Flag in the Rotunda

Next we entered the semi-circular shaped National Statuary Hall; this where all the state statues were displayed from when they were first inaugurated in 1864 until 1933 by which time the hall had become rather cluttered (the statues were 3 deep!) and their weight threatened to fall through the floor. The statues were instead distributed throughout the building and today only 38 statues remain in the National Statuary Hall itself including Rosa Parkes (Civil Rights Pioneer 1913-2005 who refused to give up her bus seat to a white person) and Ronald Reagan (40th US President 1981-1989).

National Statuary Hall where the House of Representatives sat 1807-1857

National Statuary Hall where the House of Representatives sat 1807-1857


The Statue of Liberty above the south door of National Statuary Hall

The Statue of Liberty above the south door of National Statuary Hall


Rosa Parkes' Statue in National Statuary Hall

Rosa Parkes' Statue in National Statuary Hall


Ronald Reagan's Statue in National Statuary Hall

Ronald Reagan's Statue in National Statuary Hall

National Statuary Hall was originally where the House of Representatives met from when it was completed in 1807 until 1857. It has peculiar acoustics which mean you can't hear someone speaking quite close to you while being able to hear someone whispering on the opposite side of the room - a phenomenon demonstrated to us by our guide. It is rumoured that John Quincy Adams (6th US President 1825-1829) took advantage of this while a congressman 1831-1848.

John Quincy Adams' desk location 1831-1848 - the famed whisper spot

John Quincy Adams' desk location 1831-1848 - the famed whisper spot


Our guide (you can just about make her out in her red uniform) demonstrates the whisper point from across National Statuary Hall

Our guide (you can just about make her out in her red uniform) demonstrates the whisper point from across National Statuary Hall

Our official tour ended with a trip down to the crypt, but not before I managed to get sneak photo through the main backdoor of the Capitol along Capitol Street East with the US Supreme Court on the left and Library of Congress on the right. Down in the crypt we saw amongst the massive columns and arches supporting the Rotunda the White Compass Stone which marks the zero spot from which all of Washington's streets are numbered and where it was originally envisaged that George Washington (1st US President 1789-1797) would eventually be buried.

A sneak photograph out the backdoor of the Capitol along East Capitol Street

A sneak photograph out the backdoor of the Capitol along East Capitol Street


The Compass Stone and Lincoln's Bust in the Capitol's Crypt

The Compass Stone and Lincoln's Bust in the Capitol's Crypt

I then managed to get a pass to the House of Representatives Visitor's Gallery to sit and watch the Senate in session for ten minutes or so discussing the finer points of a new bill concerning the War on Terrorism (Congress was not sitting out of respect for a New Jersey Congressman who had died the previous day). It was then time to move on and I took the underground tunnel to the Library of Congress across the street.

The underground tunnel from the Capitol Building over to the Library of Congress

The underground tunnel from the Capitol Building over to the Library of Congress

The Italian Renaissance-style Library of Congress Jefferson Building directly behind the Capitol was built in 1897 and is the oldest of the four buildings housing the Library. Entry to the building is via its stunning Great Hall which has a 75 foot (23 metres) high stained-glass ceiling, marble floor and marble staircases. Branching off from the Great Hall are several impressive exhibition galleries on such topics as the American Civil War and American Explorers. Although we were only allowed a fleeting glimpse from the Main Reading Room Overlook, the centrepiece of the Building is the Main Reading Room with its ornate domed 160 feet (49 metres) ceiling and wood panelled desks.

Inside the Great Hall of the Library of Congress

Inside the Great Hall of the Library of Congress


View down into the Great Hall of the Library of Congress

View down into the Great Hall of the Library of Congress


The stained-glass ceiling of the Library of Congress' Great Hall

The stained-glass ceiling of the Library of Congress' Great Hall


View across the Great Hall to the entrance to the Main Reading Room Overlook

View across the Great Hall to the entrance to the Main Reading Room Overlook

It was now time for some external shots; the Library of Congress was fine but the US Supreme Court across the road was undergoing refurbishment and cloaked in white sheeting - Sydney Town Hall, Denver Capitol, St Patrick's Cathedral New York... I'm beginning to lose count of the number of landmarks that been obscured by scaffolding while I've been on my trip! At least they had the good sense to put an image of the building on the taupaulin so it wasn't an eyesore while undergoing the restoration work.

Outside the Library of Congress

Outside the Library of Congress


The US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court


Rear view of the US Capitol

Rear view of the US Capitol

Walking back across the street and around to the west front of the Capitol I got a close up of the classic view of the building where it looks down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. A short distance in front of the Building is the mounted Ulysses S. Grant Memorial (18th US President 1869-1877 and Civil War General) and the Reflecting Pool, again with great views of a very photogenic building.

View of the Capitol from the north west

View of the Capitol from the north west


Front view of the steps leading up to the US Capitol

Front view of the steps leading up to the US Capitol


View of the US Capitol from the path around the Reflecting Pool

View of the US Capitol from the path around the Reflecting Pool


Me sat by the Reflecting Pool outside the US Capitol

Me sat by the Reflecting Pool outside the US Capitol

The White House is 1.2 miles (1.8 kilometres) from the steps of the Capitol on the north side of the National Mall facing the Washington Monument. On the way there I stopped at the National Archives Building on Constitution Avenue and queued to see original copies of the US Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in its central Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom with an original copy of the British 1297 Magna Carta on display in a case close by. Unfortunately photography inside the building was not allowed.

The National Archives Building on Constitution Avenue

The National Archives Building on Constitution Avenue

Carrying on to the White House, it has been the home of all US Presidents ever since it was completed in 1800 although it needed to be rebuilt after it was burnt down by the British during the War of 1814 (apparently in retaliation for the destruction of some public buildings by American troops in Canada). I had hoped to do a tour of the White House but these had been stopped indefinitely in March 2013 because of staff shortages following the 2013 budget sequestration (a casualty of US brinkmanship party politics!). Even the Visitors Center was closed for refurbishment temporarily replaced by a Portakabin in the Park to the front of the South Lawn.

Crowds by the railings in front of the White House

Crowds by the railings in front of the White House


The White House - home of the US President

The White House - home of the US President


Me by the railings of the South Lawn in front of the White House

Me by the railings of the South Lawn in front of the White House

I did however manage to book a slot to visit the Ford Theatre 5 blocks away which is where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while watching a performance of the play "Our American Cousin" shortly after the end of the American Civil War in April 1865. It's still a working theatre with a museum in the basement containing Lincoln artifacts such as the gun John Wilkes Booth used to shoot the President and then a trip upstairs to the theatre auditorium to see the Presidential Box beside the stage where the fatal shot was fired.

The Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated

The Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated


Glass case containing the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln

Glass case containing the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln


The Presidential Box inside the Ford Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated

The Presidential Box inside the Ford Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated

After he was shot President Lincoln was carried across the street to the small back bedroom of the Petersen Boarding House where he died in the early hours of the following morning. As with the theatre itself while the building has been restored to look like it did in 1865 very few of the furnishings are originals. Upstairs their is a museum describing how the assassins were tracked down and hanged and a book shop with an impressive tower of 15,000+ books claiming to contain every book ever written about Abraham Lincoln.

The Petersen House across the road where President Lincoln died

The Petersen House across the road where President Lincoln died


Abraham Lincoln's death bed

Abraham Lincoln's death bed


The tower of 15,000  books written on Abraham Lincoln in the Petersen House

The tower of 15,000+ books written on Abraham Lincoln in the Petersen House

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged buildings tour washington native_american solo us_presidents us_east_coast constitutions Comments (0)

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