Monday, June 30, 2014

And so the Journey Begins!

So after months of preparation and anticipation, the day had finally arrived. We were about to embark on a journey that would forever alter lives. As I woke bright and early in the morning to arrive at El Ceritto High School before 3:50 AM, all that I could think was "wow, this is really happening... I am really leaving today." Once the remaining members of the Penn and Vanderbilt cohorts arrived and had their luggage checked for weight, Don proceeded to go through a thorough pre-flight check list he had prepared. Among the major topics that were discussed were behavioral expectations around TSA and the vitality of blogging every night for us. Also he discussed a few rudimentary travel tips in order to ensure we had an enjoyable flying experience. However, the most vital piece of his check list that he wanted us to remember throughout our trip was the reason for which we would be on the East Coast for. While one aspect of this trip revolves around having a memorable and incomparable experience that would follow us for the rest of our lives, the primary objective would be to excel in our classes and retain the knowledge from what we see and hear while here in order to share that with member from our communities. After he concluded, we were off to take the very important group photo of our cohort. When both cohorts had finished with this, the shuttle that would take us to the airport conveniently pulled up. We all said our goodbyes and as we each boarded the shuttle, it evident that we all knew that we would not come back the same as we had left.

Lovely view from my hotel room

The plane ride, as would be expected with any early morning flight, was very relaxed and calm for the greater portion of the flight. The primary reason for this was that many of those onboard took advantage of the time in order to sleep. Unfortunately, I was unlucky in that I did not get seated near anyone new whom I could spark a conversation with. However, as time went on, one thing seemed to awaken a portion of those whom had spent the majority of the flight sleeping, the first match of the FIFA World Cup for the day between France and Nigeria. It was first remarkable that the flight would offer full coverage of the game, but the most impressively was the amount of individuals who could heard watching the game. Every so often when a play did not turn out as expected, a sigh of exasperation could be heard or a cheer when a play was good.

Washington version of a junior high school

Upon descending on Washington D.C, many of the various landmarks came into to view from the plane window. It was so beautiful the way the city seemed to flow with each other and the way every appeared so tranquil. As we approached our final descent, we were given the wondrous image of the Pentagon. Personally I had seen various images online and through news broadcasts, but to actually see the building in person, with my own two eyes, was impressive. It stood proud and firm as though to symbolize the strength of the nation upon which it was tasked with protecting. When we finally landed and we made our way into the terminal, the first thing that I experienced was the heat. Unlike the heat with which I had grown accustomed to in the Bay Area, East Coast heat possessed one additional factor, humidity. The air seemed a lot thicker as opposed to that of the Bay Area and I was a large juxtaposition from the environment I had grown up in. After a few quick orientations of our location, we proceeded to retrieve our luggage from the baggage claims in order board a shuttle that would take us to our hotel.

The very first thing that came to my mind as I watched Washington D.C unfold in the distance was the beauty it possessed. It truly was incredible and made me feel as though I were staring a movie rather than real life. As our shuttle swayed in and around streets, our driver regaled us with stories of local attractions and prime hotspots we may decide to visit. However, one of the aspects that really caught my attention was the architecture. The streets and many of the buildings were all constructed out of brick. For me this was a new experience for me as very few things in the Bay Area are constructed using bricks because of the earthquake risk.

The White House
When we arrived at our hotel, we were met with another surprising aspect of Washington D.C. Normally I have grown to understand a hotel's idea of complimentary amenities that are intended to heighten its appeal towards guests. However, not once have I ever seen a hotel give out free ice cream, refreshments and baked goods to guests. I found that to be a very unique aspect of the hotel but also served as a great relief considering it had been a long time since many of us had eaten anything. Therefore it served to satisfy our appetites momentarily. After obtaining our keys, we were given a few moments to get settled in before having to head back down in order get lunch. As many of us were still becoming accustomed to our surroundings, we all decided on taking up a suggestion from one of the desk operators at the hotel that was just around the corner. The menu was pizza, but that is not was made this experience special to me. When we entered the building instantly the first two elements that caught my attention were the Italian theme that flowed through the restaurant and the large television that was running the World Cup game between Germany and Algeria, which was surrounded by a group of fanatics each cheering on their team. However, another element that surprised me was that apart from selling Italian cuisine, it also offered a wide array of Greek food to choose from. This was a combination that I had very few times seen infused, Greek and Italian food in one restaurant. However, being that we all were a bit still edgy with our appetites, we decided to play it safe and order a few pizzas which tasted phenomenally and I will definitely be adding it to my list of venues to eat at if I ever am in Washington.

The Washington Memorial
Later on in the evening, we set out on what would be one of the most productive walks I have ever had. Our goal was to head over to see as many of the monuments as we could with the few hours that we had before we had to head back in order to catch our bus. Never before have I had an evening filled with so much history that has greatly marked the foundations of this proud and prominent nation. One of the added benefits of this excursion was that the temperature outside was actually very nice to take a walk in and seemed to evoke a very calming mood in the ambience. This was a fair contradiction as our chaperone, Mr. Hillyer pointed out, from the Bay Area, where at this time one would normally have to be covered in various jackets and articles of clothing in order to stay warm. As we proceeded on our walk, the first monument we came upon was the White House. I basked in the architectural beauty and the proud symbolism this structure represented. I had seen the White House before, back when I had first visited Washington as part of a middle school field trip, but I never really appreciated its beauty and significance until today. Next up was the Washington Memorial, which stood and high and mighty, overlooking the other memorials. After was the World War II Memorial. This is a memorial that always seems to reach deep into my soul. One of the things that this memorial teaches me and that is also demonstrated by the various gold stars that line one of the walls, is that freedom will always come at a price. Following our time there, we stumbled upon one of the lesser known memorials, the World War I memorial. This was the very first time I had ever seen the memorial in person and I had heard very little about it. The design was architecturally simplistic but still impressive all the same. We then headed over to explore one of the newer memorials to be added, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Upon first impression, I was taken aback with the impressive design that for many may not even seem so complex. However, the concept behind it was phenomenal and in my opinion truly manifests the ideals and beliefs of MLK. The next two memorials that we managed to see were the Korean and Vietnam Memorials which were impressive but also very impacting. It really caused me to question the price that is paid in every war that the U.S becomes involved in. Last on our list was probably among the most iconic symbols of Washington D.C, the Lincoln Memorial. Every time I witness the beauty of this monument I cannot help but stand in awe. It is truly one of the most rigorous, well-developed and elegant monuments in all of Washington. In addition it also offers on of the greatest views of the Washington Memorial as its appearance I displayed back on the surface of the reflecting pool.
The WWII Memorial

For a first day, I can officially say I have done a lot. It remarkable how much we have experienced in the span of just 24 hours. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us.

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