When arriving in a new city, I normally try to either join a topless tour bus or jump on any busses and drive around endlessly to get a feel for the city and the layout. Then I normally spend an enormous amount time walking through various neighborhoods and areas to really take them all in individually and in slow motion. Arriving in DC … I have done none of that really!! Apart from perhaps walking around downtown and The Mall area as part of orientation and finding venues, locations and ultimately getting to and from the office! This however was not the “aimless wondering with the purpose of exploring”, but rather the “purposeful walking towards a destination with the added bonus of discovering things on route”. Normally, I would therefore feel like I have not gotten a complete grasp of the city yet, but with it being so easily navigable, by having the streets follow a chronological numbering and alphabet system, I feel perfectly orientated already, even though I have only been able to experience a fraction of what the city has to offer.
I have however been able to enjoy something that normally features rather low on my “activities to do when visiting a new city”: MUSEUMS. On my first full day in DC, I already paid a visit to the National Gallery and joined a very interesting guided tour. And the best part of it all: It was all for FREE! Being a complete sucker for bargains and having to rely even more so now on deals to create something of a social and cultural life with limited financial abilities, visiting the museums in DC has become one of my new favorite activities. Every weekend I explore another one, and if I can, try and join a tour or lecture offered either by staff, volunteers or sometimes even experts in the field. It has truly shown me a side of a city I am sad to say I have seldom discovered in such depth!
It has often caused me to wonder why I have never visited museums to this extent before, and it always brings me back to one answer: it is FREE. I have found that I generally don’t like spending more than an hour or so in a Museum, as it then just becomes an information overload. When normally visiting a museum, and paying for it, I always feel that I need to make the most of it and take it all in! Then it gets too much, I become bored and irritated and vow never to go again, until I travel to a new destination, where I visit the ‘must-see’ museums just to go through the whole cycle again. Here I can go to a museum, visit one specific exhibition and leave, only to return again the next day, weekend or month; always being treated to little pearls of insight which I can slowly string together.
What also strikes me is how many ‘locals’ still go to the museums regularly themselves. I think it is fabulous to see to what extent the arts and cultures are supported here by everyone, tourists and locals alike. It clearly is an indication that if made available and affordable, everyone can participate. Museums and everything they have to show and tell us, should not only be something for the elite or tourists. I think it is wonderful how this city makes them accessible for everyone to enjoy. And it clearly shows that if access is made easily available, people actually utilize and enjoy them immensely and even make donations voluntarily. Perhaps this could be a lesson to many of the museums all over the world, struggling to draw a crowd and consequently exist.