A day exploring the rich diversity of life in Washington DC: reflecting upon the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Today turned into a long day where we squeezed as much as we could handle walking one end of the National Mall to the other and seeing many of the museums and sights in between. It started with us catching a cab from our hotel to the Church of the Epiphany, an Episcopal Church in downtown we had researched before leaving Australia. They had an 8am service we wanted to attend. For those following this blog – you may remember that we worshiped last Sunday at Old North Church in Boston. Today’s worship couldn’t have been more different if it tried! For a starter it was filled with the down-n-out of the city who attend the worship and sign up for the cooked breakfast program that is offered afterwards. There was a security guard patrolling the front of the aisles and reminding some of the more bored and at times loud parishioners that they were in a church. Congregation would have numbered 60 of whom 55 would have been African American. The music was gospel based. At the beginning they asked for volunteers to do the readings so yours truly put his hand up to do a reading – well what do you do – once a Priest – always a Priest – even on holidays! Apart from a few unruly outbursts the service was a lot of fun. Feeding the hungry and looking our for the marginalised are some of this Church’s main programs and it was a salient reminder – less than three blocks from the White House – how divided this country is between the haves and the have nots.

Mentioning the big Cheese – after church we walked those three blocks to see if we could have a gander at the White House – but we were turned away by some very gruff looking but polite policemen who said the House was off limits today. Ah well – I’m not really a fan of the current resident and anyway I have seen the place before. So we head off for our next stop – the 555 ft high Washington Monument – we had been informed that the lift inside works and we wanted to go to the very top. We make our way on this glorious morning to the base of the monument – only to be informed by some very polite park rangers that all tickets for today have already been distributed – (it was only 9.15am!!) So – we touch the base and have a look at the views looking back to the Lincoln memorial and can just see the White House in the distance.

Given that we are about two hours ahead of schedule – we are starting to think about what we could add to the end of the day. Next stop is the National Archives. Part of the last week has been a history tour of the big three cities – Boston, Philadelphia and now Washington DC. We have learnt about why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written; have seen the very chamber where they were written; now we wanted to see the actual documents themselves. And so in the National Archive building we do indeed see them as well as the original Bill of Rights. Given that we are so used to seeing copies I must say the real documents look a bit worse for wear. They are some 230 years old and the lettering is quite faded and hard to make out. About the only signature you can make out these days is the big one by John Hancock.

Cuppa tea time – so we make our way to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – a wonderful oasis of contemporary sculptures – set in a tranquil setting with a wonderful  pavilion cafe. Given that we had seen Rodin’s museum only a few days earlier in Philadelphia – I chuckled to myself over the Rabbit thinker!

Next stop – we walk to a choice of Mum’s – the National Museum of American Indian history and Culture. This is a new museum and is beautifully laid out on four levels. I took a shot looking up to the ceiling and it reminded me of the Guggenheim in New York. So after reflecting upon the poor in the morning – I am now confronted with another of American histories dark underbelly’s – that of its treatment of the native American Indians. The fourth floor was a complete display of the hundreds of treaties made between the various Indian nations and the USA – all bar one (that of William Penn in the late 17th century) of which were broken. The forced removal of the Indian people from their traditional lands is a red stain upon this countries history and after being proud of the government and the founding fathers over the last week and a bit – I was mortified by the action of President Jackson especially. The treaties became know as ‘bad paper.’ It was turning out to be a reflective day where the complexities of history and the advantages of hindsight became all too apparent.

We have time up our sleeve and energy still left in the legs so we head over to the ‘Newseum’- a museum about the the press – celebrating the first amendments granted right to a free press. Six floors crammed with fascinating material – a timeline of important newspaper, radio and TV moments. Specific displays looking at cultural changes over the years – a special display on 911 and also one on the 30th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. So much to see – it would takes many visits to do this museum justice. I was impressed with the display looking at photojournalism and the Pulitzer prize winning pictures – many of which have become household images around the world. I also found interesting the display on political editorial cartoons – many reflecting upon the current President.

Both of us are exhausted by the end of this – we are at maximum overload and decide to call it quits. We have been on the go for a solid 9 hours and have walked a good ten or so k’s and are ready to go and start preparing for the next stage of the journey – traveling to Chicago in the morning.

Church 1
worshiping at an African American Gospel based Episcopal church – what a way to start the day!
Church 2
I want this back home to sing from!
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open preaching with a bit of call and response
Washington Monument 1
Washington Monument
Washington Monument 2
The White House – through the trees from the Washington Monument
National Museum of African American History and Culture
We passed by this new museum – the African American Museum – beautiful contemporary design
Archives
National Archives building – no photos allowed inside
Sculpture 1
the Sculpture Garden
Rodin Rabbit
Rodin would be turning in his grave!

American Indian Museum 1

American Indian Museum 2
Inside the Native American Indian Museum – reminds me of the Guggenheim

newseum 1

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Of course Watergate was covered in this museum!
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best political cartoon I have seen in a while

We tour Washington’s monuments and pay our respects to the honoured men and women of America’s past

Saturday 9 November 2019

If there is something that Americans know how to do well then it is in building monuments to their honoured hero’s. And if they are not erecting tremendous monuments then they are building tremendous buildings. Today we set out to see a bit of the grandeur that is Washington DC. We get the hotel shuttle back to Union Station and arrange a hop-on/hop-off ticket for the day. We start by doing a full almost two hour loop of the city. A word to those coming to DC – get the Big Bus open top bus not the Old Town trolley bus that we used. Our bus had plastic clear roll up type windows which our driver said we were not to roll up and open because it was too cold. Yes – he had a point – while a fairly clear sunny morning – it was bitterly cold – even my hands were cold in the open and that is saying something! But – this policy meant that we couldn’t take any good photos from inside the bus because of the murky plastic windows. Minor irritation soon put behind us as we stayed on for the second loop and got out at the Capital building.

This is the highest point in the city and designed to be so as no building is allowed to be higher than the statue of Lady Freedom a top the dome the dominates the Washington DC skyline. An interesting tidbit – the actual statue is 19 ft high and no statue in the city is allowed to be higher than 19 ft – not Jefferson in his memorial or Lincoln in his memorial (although the designer of the Lincoln memorial cheated in having Lincoln seated. If that figure stood it would be 30 ft tall.)

Our stop was on the far side of the building so a brisk ten minute hike put us in the visitors centre and lined up for free tickets for the hour long tour of this impressive building. We were shown a 10 minute film that explained the origins of the Congress building and how the system of Congress designed by the framers of the Constitution was a compromise and truly an experiment in Democracy still working itself out today. The motto on Lady Freedom – the 19 ft statue that adorns the top of the dome of the Capital is E pluribus unum – out of many, one. Out of many people, one nation. And we were reminded that it was in this particular building that the principles that govern the USA were formed, debated, and passed into law.

We were shown the crypt under the floor of the dome – The founders of the building wanted to have George Washington’s tomb placed in this space – and even built a lovely one in preparation but didn’t realise that his will stipulated he be buried next to his wife on the family estate!

The centre dome is some 9 million pound (we are after all in the US) cast iron piece of work. The centre room under the dome is lined with statues and large painting showing the history of the birth of America. In fact the building has two statues from every state – chosen by each state by its people and each state can change their choice by popular ballot.

After a fascinating tour we wait to get back on the next bus and make our way around to the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was the first Secretary of State, under President Washington, the second vice President under President Adams and the country’s third President. He was the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence and also the Constitution. A truly great American and his monument is fitting. An imposing figure in the centre of a round room with four sections of famous texts inscribed in the granite on the walls.

I forgot to mention that this is the Saturday of a long-weekend in the States – Veterans’ Day on Monday. Everybody has decided to descend upon Washington DC for the holiday. Crowds are everywhere and no more so than on the tour buses. We have to wait for the third bus to pick us up as the first two to come by were filled to the brim. This meant an hour standing in the cold. but no matter – we eventually get ourselves round to the Lincoln memorial – passing by the Martin Luther King Jr memorial and the new FDR memorial. Franklin Roosevelt when asked what monument he wanted in his honour is believed to have said, “Well a rock something the size of my writing desk out the front of the National Archives.” Well someone took him at his word and to this day there is a rock the size of a desk on the front lawn of the National Archives! There is also the rather more imposing 7 acre memorial to the only President elected for four terms.

The Lincoln memorial is unlike anything else – set in a form of a Greek Doric temple – it has 36 pillars to represent the 36 states of the Union in the 16th Presidents tenure. On one wall is carved the words of the Gettysburg address while on the facing wall are the carved words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Between is the imposing sitting figure of Lincoln himself. It is breath-taking – and even though I have seen this sight on two other occasions – it still knocks me out! I do not believe there is any doubt that Lincoln is by far the greatest President the USA has had.

A slight miscommunication means Mum and I are searching for each other for longer than we anticipated and decide once we found each other again to draw stumps and call it a day. We get back to our hotel by 6 after another wonderful day on tour.

Capital 1
The view as we exit the bus
Capital 2
As we walk around the building
Capital 3
Finally on the correct side
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Statue of Fredrick Douglass – a hero of mine – a great debater able to hold his own against Lincoln!
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The Great Dome from the inside
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One of the painting in the Dome room showing the signing of the Declaration of Independence – we were in that very room in Independence Hall a couple of days ago!
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It truly is a great room
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Statues everywhere
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Outside the Capital there is a statue of Grant – former President of the USA on his favourite horse. Every statue in the city showing a figure on a horse is set in the same direction – facing the Commander-in-chief’s house – while having the other end of the horse facing the Capital!
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Imposing figure of Jefferson
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Words from the Declaration of Independence
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The Great man himself
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Address given by Lincoln after the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most famous speeches ever made and less than 300 words!
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The view from the steps of the Lincoln memorial looking at the Washington monument
Map of Washington DC
A map of DC – we started today on the right at the Capital and moved left to the Jefferson Memorial and then to the far left for the Lincoln memorial
Washington Monument afternoon sun
The afternoon sun on the Washington monument

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to the Nation’s Capital

Friday 8 November:

Today we checked out of our perfectly located hotel in Philadelphia to continue our adventures with a train trip to Washington DC. Following our theme of exploring the birth of the nation and the key documents – we have thus far thrown tea into Boston Harbour in protest against unjust taxes thus firing the first shot in the War of Independence; worshiped in the very church in which the lanterns were lit to warn Paul Revere that the British were coming; we have sat in the very chamber in Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the rebels or patriots – depends on whose side you are on – signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the young nation; and now we have arrived at the capital to among other things, visit the National archives – to see these actual documents for ourselves!

When we arrived at the train station in Philadelphia – our usual hour or so ahead of when we need to be there – we were greeted by the grandeur of a huge structure – not as big as New York’s main train terminal by any means – but impressive nevertheless. We also were greeted by a notice saying our train was delayed. Instead of boarding at 12 noon – it was closer to 1.15pm by the time we got rolling. It took over two and a half hours for the journey into Union Station, Washington DC. The country side was pretty nondescript; the small towns we zipped by also had a dowdy rustic look to them. I reflected that it’s one thing to see the sights of the historic cities – it was like being on a first date – everyone was on their best behaviour and looking their best – but these towns and hamlets we passed looked, at least from what I could glimpse – dirty and unkempt and rather sad.

Because of the delay we didn’t have the time after checking in at our hotel to do a loop of the city by bus but will leave that joy for the morrow. Our plan is to do a loop – see the Capital building (a view of which we have from our hotel window) – and see as many of the memorials to the great Americans of the past as we can fit in – the Jefferson and Lincoln being top of the list. Sunday we plan to go to church at Church of the Epiphany at 8am – wander past the White House and visit the Smithsonian and other museums including the archives.

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Grand Terminal at 30th Street Philadelphia
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Dedicated to the fallen
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Apart from the crane – not a bad photo out our hotel window of the US Capital building.

A day of Art in Philadelphia

Thursday 7 November

After all the excitement of a day yesterday feasting on the rich history of this fine city, we decided to do as we did in Boston and visit the glorious art venues of Philadelphia. Given our location it turned into a matter of a long day of walking between world-class art museums. We headed out around 9am on an overcast and slightly cold morning to our first stop – the Auguste Rodin Museum. This museum housed the most sculptures of Rodin outside of France, including the one everyone knows – the Thinker. What I didn’t know was that this was originally meant to be a small figure atop Rodin’s Gates of Hell. It is supposed to be the figure of Dante reflecting upon the abyss below. However, he decided to also remove the figure, enlarge it and have it as a separate piece – the one the world knows and loves today.

After a moving tour of this museum – we head up the road to the Philadelphia Art Museum. This museum is perhaps more famous for the steps leading up to the front door – for these are the steps used by the character Rocky as part of his training drills to become a better boxer, in the movies Rocky 1- to whatever!  Every day thousands run up and down these steps – I wondered how many actually made it past the doors to view what is truly a fine collection of art on par with many of the world’s best galleries. I of course went straight to the impressionists, post-impressionists and even ventured into Cubism and early 20th century material. The museum hosts a great American section as well as a fine European collection 1000 – 1500, and 1500 – 1850. The early time period of this art is of course religious in nature and I was in my element.

After an exhilarating number of hours spent reflecting upon great treasures we left and walked to the Barnes foundation museum of art. Assembled by Albert Barnes between 1912 and 1951 the gallery is home to a world-class collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modernist paintings, with especially deep holdings in Renoir (the most in a private collection in the world), Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso. I was as my wife would put it – a pig in heaven! The collection also includes examples of African art, Native American pottery and jewelry, Pennsylvania German furniture and wrought-iron metalwork. The experience was unlike any other art gallery I have had the great fortune to visit around the world. The art was hung to Dr. Barnes instructions to create what he called ‘ensembles’ arranged according to light, line, colour and space. So we found paintings by van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso hanging next to ordinary household items – a door hinge, a yarn spinner. It sounds horrific yet it does work. By late afternoon, our brains had had enough and we called it quits and walked back to hotel, exhausted but sated, filled to the brim with so much art and beauty.

Today marked the halfway point of our journey and we are off to Washington D.C. in the morning. So far, so good and we are really enjoying our travels, and looking forward to visiting the nation’s capital.

Rodin Museum
Rodin Museum
Dante pondering the gates of hell
The Thinker
The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell – Rodin’s last piece in 1917- you can see Dante perched above the gates pondering the abyss.

The Cathedral

A beautiful piece that caught my eye titled: Cathedral

Museum of Art Philadelphia
Museum of Art Philadelphia with the famous steps leading up to the main entry.
Rocky
Rocky is on the grounds!
The Bathers
The Bathers
Sunflowers
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
Monet garden path
Monet
Manet
Manet
Picasso 1
Of course there is Picasso
Picasso 2
More Picasso
religious art 1
Altar Piece – simply stunning – 14th century!
Copley
A piece by Copley – Pre-Revolution American Artist – this done in 1773
The Annunication by Tanner 1898
The Annunciation by the American Tanner in 1898 
Barnes 1
Barnes loved his Renoir and this collection is the most in private hands.
Barnes 2
More Renoir
Barnes 3
still more Renoir
Barnes 4
too much to take in but fascinating layout
Barnes 5
beautiful Matisse works
Barnes 6
no words can describe the visual power of walking into rooms like this

 

The Miracle of Philadelphia

Wednesday 6 November in Philadelphia was a fantastic day on our American expedition. We had set ourselves the tasks of seeing (at least) the Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell , to continue our tour of the birth of the USA. That we were able to do this and so much more made today a gem. After a continental breakfast we headed out for the short 10 minute stroll to the Independence Information and Visitor Centre. The sky was a clear rich blue without a cloud in sight and while there was a slight nip in the air (it is autumn after all) it was lovely taking in the sounds and smells of China town as we made our way towards the old town.

Having acquired our tickets for the tour of the Independence Hall we joined the waiting group of like-wise eager beavers and were ushered into a small anti-chamber off the main hall to meet our tour guide. Now those reading this who have seen the show The West Wing will know the character C J Craig, played by Allison Janney. Our guide was tall and lanky and had the same sparkling dry wit as Craig and was a delightful and informative host as we made our way into this sacred chamber. We saw the actual place where the Declaration of Independence was drafted, edited and proclaimed. Interesting to note that while everyone thinks the 4th July is the day when the declaration was made – it was actually made on the 2nd July. The Americans celebrate the 4th because it took two extra days for edits to be made and for the document to be printed and hence it has 4th July 1776 on the document.

The hall was also the place where the now 13 independent former colonies of England, having won the war by 1783, sent representatives to thrash out the form of government by which they now would live. The problem was that while they had been united against a common enemy – now that the yoke of oppression had been lifted – former jealousies and rivalries once more surfaced. That a constitution was finally agreed was called by both Madison and Washington the ‘miracle of Philadelphia!’ The marvelous compromise which saw a small colony like Rhode Island agree with a large colony like Virginia was the bicameral Congress system – where all states were equal in the number of representatives in the Upper House – the Senate – pleasing the smallest of the states – and the number of representatives in the lower House – the House of Representatives – was based on population – hence pleasing the more populous states. We were also reminded by our guide that Benjamin Franklin, then 81 and only three years from his death in 1790, played a key role in persuading and cajoling by his wisdom and charm, the most objectionable players in the room. We were to be reminded all day that Franklin was truly the outstanding persona in North America, if not the world, in the 18th century.

Next stop was the beautiful two story building used as the Congress House – Philadelphia was the Capital of the fledgling country for ten years from 1790 to 1800 when the capital was then moved to the new city of Washington, DC. And so the Congress – both the House of Representatives and the Senate met in the Congress building – next to the Independence Hall. We were reminded that George Washington was sworn in for his second term of office (from 1792 to 1796) in this building as was John Adams in 1796.

After these two tours – we went to see the bell. Original cast in 1751 for the bell tower of the Independence Hall – it was too brittle and slightly cracked on its first peel. Recast – it was rung on 8 July 1776 at a reading of the Declaration of Independence. It is said to have cracked again in 1824, during the visit of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. The repairs do not seem to have worked well because when it was asked by the Mayor to be rung to celebrate Washington’s birthday in 1846 – the repairs gave way and the crack widened and lengthened so as to be unusable and what we see today. The bell has become a great symbol for freedom and liberty – it was first called the Liberty Bell in 1837 by anti-slavery abolitionists and the new name stuck. It has been used by groups claiming liberty in America ever since – women demanding equal rights at the turn of the century; the black rights movement in the 60s and the gay pride movement in the 80s. I was interested in the biblical quote inscribed on the bell from Leviticus 25.10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

All this only brings us to morning tea! We wander over to check out the Benjamin Franklin museum – built near the spot where his house and printing firm were located from the middle of the 18th century. Fantastic tribute to a wonderful man. Franklin was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. I’ve read his autobiography before and his works on the virtues and time management and the bettering of oneself, but to see it all under one roof was inspiring. Most people know of him through kites and lighting but if they leave it at that they would be in my humble opinion missing out on the deep wisdom of a true genius. Here is just a taste of the man: It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it; Well done is better than well said; and my personal favourite (which could I imagine be leveled at several world leaders of the moment) – We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

Lunch was had in the Bourse Food Hall. A building circa 1895 – and one of the first to use steel in its frame. The name Bourse means a place of exchange and this building was the first commodities exchange house in the USA. It now acts as a giant food hall on the lower level and various office space above, including I found out, the Mexican consulate.

In the afternoon we took the opportunity to go on the Big Bus – the hop-on/hop-off bus and have a tour up top resting our feet. Space really doesn’t permit me to mention all the wonderful buildings we saw except to mention the town hall – which extends 167 m up including the 11 m statue of the founder of the city, William Penn atop the building spire. This building took 30 years to build from 1871 to 1901. It is the largest municipal building in the world with 700 rooms. There was a gentleman’s agreement that no building in the city should exceed the height of the hat on Penn’s statue. This was broken in 1987 by the building of Liberty One which soared up 288 m. For the next thirty years until 2007 no major team of any sport in Philadelphia won its equivalent championship, after the city having enjoyed much success in many sports before 1987. It was called the curse of Billy Penn! It was broken in 2007 by the building of the Comcast building. One bright iron worker fixed a small stature of William Penn to the top of this building to restore the fact that no building was higher than Penn’s hat. From 2007 the city has enjoyed sporting success again in many sports. Believe it or not!

Independence Hall (2)
Independence Hall – in the afternoon sun
liberty bell
The liberty bell – crack side – but with the sun in the wrong position for a good photo
liberty bell back side
other side – with much better light
town hall front on
Philadelphia Town hall – with tower and spire to the right
william penn
the 11 m high stature of Penn a top the 156 m tower
actual room in Indendence Hall
The actual place where the declaration of independence and constitution were forged, debated,and agreed

A nice day for a train journey

Today Tuesday 5 November was a traveling day as we boarded an Amtrak  train for the 6 hour journey from Boston to Philadelphia. The day started off cold and wet but by lunch it was a fine afternoon. The train was comfortable and it was ironic to reflect upon the fact that for all the security being endured as we fly – everyone just walked on to the train with their luggage – no checks – no security – yes – our tickets were scanned once we got rolling but the whole system was all so 1980s – and it felt so good!

One of the great things about our trip so far has been the location of our hotels – the ‘Sleep-Inn Philadelphia’ is in central Philadelphia and when we get walking tomorrow – everything is within easy reach – looking forward to seeing the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall among many other places this stately city has to offer. But we also find ourselves in China Town so of course – it was Chinese for dinner.

lovely clock
a beautiful time piece at Boston South Station
Map thus far
A map of where we have been so far – we flew into Toronto -down to Niagara Falls and onto Buffalo – we flew to Boston – bus up to Bangor and back to Boston. Now – train down to Philadelphia.
dinner
which army is coming to dinner

From Presidents to Impressionists – another fantastic day in Boston

Monday 4 November 2019

Boston has many fine museums which are world-class. The top two rated in the city are the JFK Presidential Museum and Library and the Museum of Fine Arts. It was our plan of attack to spend half a day at each on this our last day in this fine metropolis.

Up early and we found a new place for breakfast where we each had the Eggs Benedict – Irish: you just add corn hash and potatoes to the mix! With our new found confidence in the public transit system – we successfully managed via two trains to get to the JFK library situated on a beautiful parkland overlooking the harbour with views back to Boston. I recommend this place for all history buffs – it was fantastic and better in my opinion then the new Churchill museum in London. We watched a short film outlining the rise of the Kennedy Clan in America from humble beginnings right up to Jack’s nomination as the Democratic party contender for the 1960 election against Nixon. We then wandered around a beautiful set of exhibits outlining his life from then to the fateful end on 22 November, 1963. There were original artifacts (including the inauguration speech made by JFK – with his last-minute changes marked on the pages!) We saw videos from his life in the White House with Jackie and the various crisis to overcome in his brief tenure as President – including the Cuban Missile Crisis and his visits to Berlin and Ireland. While I am well aware of his personal faults and the problems with his marriage which I cannot condone, one cannot but be amazed at the skill and courage of this young President. Hearing his words once more also made me think about the current resident in the White House and how things have changed so much!

We backed tracked into town and made our way in the afternoon to the Museum of Fine Arts – one of the best in the world. Having been to Egypt last year and seen a lot of their relics and artifacts and also last year seeing the collection stored in the British Museum, I was amazed to learn that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has the biggest collection of mummies outside of Egypt! It also has a fine collection of art from Asia and the Americas but it was its 19th century Impressionist collection I was eager to see. Monet’s, Van Gogh’s, Renoir’s – the list went on and on – I was in heaven. Nothing beats in my mind for relaxation and inspiration a slow stroll around a world-class collection of art! It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to do so today and with our ventures in the morning added up to another perfect day in the USA.

JFK Library
the impressive JFK library
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the text of the President Kennedy’s inauguration speech where you can see the last minute changes to the section – ask not what your country can do for you – just amazing! 
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The Boston Museum of Fine Arts

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One of my favourite paintings by Monet

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