52 States in 8 Months

No pics of the International Spy Museum, but a few of our Supreme Court

Posted in East coast trip, Meals by Ulf on February 11, 2009

2008-12-29_08-35-25-christmas-trip-4388My diary about our Christmas holiday continues on December 29th. We had to get up rather early as our car was parked in the street which is not allowed during rush hours. Well, Pingu and Mila went to the car at around 6:30 am while I decided to stay in bed for another 15 minutes. Pingu and Mila found a car park close to our hostel which cost around $15-$20 for a full day. About five blocks away (at 5th and K street) there were offers as cheap as $5, but we did not know this at that time.

After we had a rather modest breakfast at our hostel, we went to the International Spy Museum. This is the only place in DC so far where I paid an entrance fee (roughly $18). It was not easy to convince one of my Swabian fellows to spent the money (since all the Smithsonian Museums where we could have gone to instead are free). However, it was absolutely worth it!

We spent something between three and four hours in the museum. The tour started with giving everyone a new identity. In the meanwhile I’ve forgotten the details, but I think I chose to be some kind of a British arts student. Mila, Pingu, do you still remember your camouflage identities? Then we were trained in finding places for hiding messages (such as tree stumps or rusty cans) or leaving signs (like little chalk dashes on postal boxes). They showed different observation techniques and brought surveillance cameras and tourists with watching holes in their newspapers to our attention ;-).  Afterwards there was a huge amount of spy technology. Cameras in an arbitrary small size were on display, and it seems like especially Minox supplied quite a number of governments. They also had all kinds of bugging tools and devices to find them. And there were of course several “hidden weapons” such as the KGB “Kiss of death“, a lipstick pistol. That is real James Bond technology! The museum also presented lots of stories about real spies from ancient times to the cold war. Especially Berlin got a lot of attention: I did not know about the “Operation Gold” before, a 1953-1956 CIA wiretapping  against Eastern Germany and Russia. They also presented a real Trabi in the museum and showed where people could hide. It’s not easy to believe that a man can hide in front of the engine, next to the car’s radiator…

After we finished the Spy Museum (and its gift shop!), we went to the National Mall again. Our destination was not the Capitol (which is on the first picture), but the building just behind it: The US Supreme Court.

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Just as many places we’ve seen in DC, the supreme court has an impressive marble structure. It’s even astonishing inside the building! The stairs which connect the first and the second floor are completely made of marble! This even includes the hand rails! Please also look at the color of the elevator doors!


As a complete contrast, the statues in the building are completely black. The depicted one shows John Marshall who served as the Chief Justice in the Supreme court for 34 years (1801-1835). During this time he dominated the Supreme Court. Wikipedia says that he was only outvoted a single time within more than 1000 decisions, and that he formulated the majority opinion in 519 of those cases.

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Before we came closer to the court room itself, we had the opportunity to look at some very detailed models. Can you imagine that the following models have only the size of roughly a square foot? The level of detail was unbelievable!

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The first picture shows the Supreme Court room in the Capitol building (I’ll show you real pictures in a few weeks) while the second model is the current court (please compare the picture of the model from above with the photo of the actual court room below). They did not mention the former Supreme Court locations in New York and in Philadelphia. I will at least show you pictures of the latter in a few days.

Now that you’ve seen the models of the court rooms, I can also show you pictures from the real one. The entrance was hidden behind a Christmas tree and many marble columns:

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But do you want to know what happened right when I glimpsed into this room? Some security guys found an ownerless backpack. At first I did not care, but then all of the sudden the second floor was evacuated. I lost track of Pingu and Mila, and finally they’ve thrown us out of the building. This is how it looks like if there is such an emergency evacuation:

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After about 10 minutes we were allowed to enter the building again, but we had to line up for the security check which also took some time.

It turned out that Mila and Pingu had more luck: They were sent to the lower floor where they could stay. I have no idea how such a semi-evacuation can create more security … but I guess the guards just followed a stupid protocol when they threw us out. Sorry, but Schaeuble sucks, Bush sucks, CCTV sucks and most so-called security measures in the US are dispensable, annoying and give only little advantage.

After we left the Supreme Court, we went to a local Subway restaurant (unlike New York, the people in DC call their underground train system “Metro”, so it cannot be confused with the fast food chain). Actually it was not easy to find the Subway restaurant although it’s only about 200m south of the Capitol. Luckily Pingu brought his GPS, so he could guide us directly to this place :-).

Have you ever seen a fast food restaurant like this? There was only a small door on road level, and the real restaurant was located one or two floors up. It was not spacious at all. I think they just converted a residential flat to a restaurant. But the sub was very tasty — which is always the case when I eat at Subway’s.

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On our way back to the mall Pingu took some pictures of a squirrel. As Christina noted in a comment earlier in this blog, there are many squirrels here in the US. They don’t look as redish as they do in Europe, they are more like gray here. Oh, I just remember that I already told you about them. But anyway, the DC squirrels do funny gestures:

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While we were walking through the city, we also went past a car with a funny number plate:


Do you want to know what this number plate reminded me of? Someone once told me that the number plates in TV ads for cars would always have letters like A, H, I, O, T, U, V, W, X, Y or numbers like 0, 1 or 8. Do you recognize a pattern? All these characters can be mirrored and still make sense. This saves costs as most cars look symmetrical and one therefore only has to flip the images for moving the steering wheel from the left-hand side (where it belongs) to the right-hand side.

Well, Porsche, BMW, Ford and GMC can’t use this trick because they have non-symmetric brand tags. Sorry guys ;-). And Nissan can’t use this trick. Not only because of their brand label, but also due to their mysterious and non-symmetric car designs. I somehow like the design of the Cube‘s back door, but the shape of the overall car is really disgusting. Luckily they don’t even try to sell it outside of Japan … yet.



One Response

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  1. Ms Falcone said, on February 12, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Of course I remember my secret identity, given the fact that my life depends on it! So yeah, my name is Ms. Falcone, Italian travel agent visiting Hanoi for 30 days to check out the hotels… :)

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