I started today by cycling east, up (and I emphasise up!) Capitol Hill, and to The Capitol Building or, rather, past it, as there is oddly no stand for hire bikes near that building. I found one a couple of blocks beyond The Capitol, where the streets are filled with picturesque residential buildings, of greater age than the anodyne office blocks in much of central Washington. It felt a bit like finding Notting Hill where Whitehall should be. I walked back to the Capitol for the first Wikimania activity — a guided tour of that building. We visited the interior of its vast rotunda, and its crypt, as well as a hall full of statues which was once where the House of Representatives met. The audio-visual presentation and museum-type displays in the new, underground, visitor centre gave me a much better understanding of the history and working processes of the US democratic system than I’d previously held. We also saw a real live congressman (I have no idea which).
Afterwards, I walked a couple of bocks to the north-east, to Union Station, to take a look at some real American trains (I’d only so far seen those on the metro).
On leaving, I asked a passer-by for directions to my bus stop, and he offered to walk with me as he was going that way. He turned out to be US government attorney and professor of law, and we had an interesting conversation about the pleasures of travel, and the use of Wikipedia in education.
I used the Circulator, a bus which runs across town, and costs only a dollar per trip, allowing one to hop on and off as often as desired within two hours. As it passed my hostel, I nipped in for a wash and brush up, and stopped at a roadside farm produce stall to buy a peach, picked in nearby Loudon County, Virginia, just three days ago. It was without doubt the best peach, and possibly the best piece of fruit, I have ever eaten.
I hopped back on the Circulator to George Washington University, to register and and pick up my delegate pack and speakers’ badge for Wikimania, the conference I’m attending. I had intended to depart again immediately, and walk around Georgetown for an hour or two, but more of the UK contingent had arrived, as well as some more of my friends from last December’s GLAMseterdam, and I finally met the delightful Lori Phillips, the Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, with whom I’m co-presenting on Saturday, so I lingered to chat, instead. The provision of free muffins and bagels, and drinks, did not influence my decision, at all.
At 5pm, a bunch of Wikipedians met up and took the Metro to the impressively maintained (and vandalism free, unlike many in the UK) Congressional Cemetery, where I was pleased to see an extensive deployment of QRpedia, by Peter Ekman, whom I had been happy to advise remotely. It was great to meet him too. We had a guided tour of the cemetery from its Program Director, Rebecca Boggs Roberts, during which we observed monuments to, and the burial places of, many notable characters, including J. Edgar Hoover and composer John Philip Sousa. There were plenty of birds (no new ones) and a new Swallowtail butterfly, and I finally managed to find one of the big and noisy cicada-type insects which one hears here every evening.
We returned by Metro, timing our trip perfectly, as it started to rain just as we entered the station. When we came to leave at the other end, it was coming down like a tropical monsoon, and we were forced to shelter in the station entrance. While we did so, two metal manhole covers were noisily blown out of their seating by the air pressure inside the drains.
Eventually, the rain subsided and we made a dash for the hostel, thankfully arriving without a soaking.