Archive | 7:28 am

Have I mentioned? I happen to like walking tours.

2 Feb

Image Source: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/washington-dc-tours

While you were at the gym, honoring your New Year’s Resolution, I was quietly tackling a couple more items on my 40×40 list. In this week’s update:

#7 – Take an official walking tour of DC. 

This weekend I took my first ever guided walking tour of DC. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I love DC and I love walking tours. I’ve just never made time to play tourist in my own city. Coming out of two weeks of near-zero temperatures, today’s balmy 52˚ forecast made me think the timing was right for a walking tour. And it was.

I joined DC by Foot for a “pay what you want” walking tour of the National Mall. I was hoping for a neighborhood tour, but they run a limited schedule during the winter, so the Mall was the only real option that worked with my schedule.

I’ve logged many hours on the Mall doing things that most tourists would find pretty cool – attending the Library of Congress’s Book Festival, playing kickball, watching a kite festival, enjoying Screen on the Green movies, witnessing presidential inaugurations, rallying against the Keystone XL pipeline – so I was worried I’d find the tour a bit disappointing.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fb/Jefferson_Pier_and_Washington_Monument.jpgThere were two things I saw on this tour that I had never noticed before: One was was the Jefferson Pier. It’s a small marker just west of the Washington Monument, indicating the original intended location of the Washington Monument – AND the prime meridian that L’Enfant proposed. Interestingly, while the meridian idea never took off, apparently whenever NASA measures distance in the universe, they use the Jefferson Pier marker as the starting place. Pretty cool.

The other thing I’d not noticed: The “graffiti” on the back of the WWII Memorial: Kilroy was here. Although I was familiar with the expression, I hadn’t heard the story of its suspected origin before.

Legend has it, prior to WWII James Kilroy was a rivet inspector in a shipyard in Massachusetts. At the end of each shift, he scribbled “Kilroy was here” to indicate where he’d left off. During the war, sailors started finding this phrase all over their ships – and when they compared notes with other sailors, they found that Kilroy had been there, too. Since it seemed Kilroy was inexplicably omnipresent, people took up scrawling the phrase wherever they went, helping Kilroy cover the globe – and bathroom stalls.

In any case, pretty cool that it became so linked with WWII, that it’s there, etched on the back of this memorial.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

In addition to the knowledge I picked up along the way, I enjoyed a few of the unscripted aspects of the tour. For example, when we kicked off, at the highly trafficked corner of 15th and Constitution, our guide made a point of saying that was usually the noisiest place on the tour. His words must have jinxed us – because for the rest of the tour, we had hundreds of Canadian Canada Geese pass over us, honking more fervently than the DC drivers.

[Note: My original post called them Canadian Geese, but my dad, the ornithologist, told me I’d made one of the most common mistakes in birding. Apparently they’re Canada Geese. I don’t even want to figure out the mechanics of this grammatically.]

And when we were standing by the Washington Monument, a young guy walking by interrupted our tour to ask , “Do you know how many flags there are circling the monument?”

“Fifty,” our guide answered confidently.

“Really?” the guy asked, “Because I heard it was like 54 or something – the states and the territories?”

“Nope,” our guide said. “I’ve counted them.” The guy thanked him and started to walk away. Our guide continued, “Do you know what the other question I get here a lot is?” The guy shook his head. “How do they get them to all fly in the same direction?” our guide offered.

The guy stopped and stared and shook his head. “Whoa – you’re right. Now that I look at them, they ARE all going in the same direction… why is that?”

“The wind,” our guide said. The guy smacked his head. “You got me! Man!”

And that’s why you should always join the tour and pay what you can. Otherwise, you’ll be shamed.