Episode 27: That Time The Library Of Congress Left Me In Awe

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

Transcript for Episode 27: That Time The Library Of Congress Left Me In Awe

Hello. Welcome to this week’s podcast. So this week I’m going to be reading three dates from the August chapter of 365 Dates of Travel: The SECOND six months book. It’s the second book in the series and I’m going to read three individual stories. One from 1994 in San Gimignano in Italy. One from 2019 in Washington, D.C., and the last one is going to be Lottie, the Arkana and myself driving from Melbourne up to Far North Queensland in 2005. 

This first date, so 1994, I’m a nanny in London and the family has decided to go on holiday. And of course, I get to go with them. It’s not always necessarily a good thing, but I did actually really enjoy this trip. Definitely, it was worth going on and you can read all about it. There’s quite a few days from this trip in the book and here is one of them. 

2nd August (1994) San Gimignano, Italy

We left London on the 31st of July, flying Excalibur Airways to Pisa, Italy. We hired a car to drive to San Gimignano, the city of towers. Our hotel sat outside the town walls facing open countryside.

The pilot announced a thirty degree arrival temperature. It didn’t drop below that over our week-long stay. The dry heat proved an improvement over the recent London weather. My one diary entry for this trip mentions the difference:

It doesn’t completely cripple me like it has been in London.

I was travelling with work as a live-in nanny. My work hours in London were from the time Katie woke until her bedtime, roughly 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, and I had a suite of rooms. While on holiday, Katie and I shared a hotel room. Katie did not wake overnight, but I’d need to dim the lights and be quiet after her bedtime.

The family allowed me to swim in the hotel pool, with the baby monitor on, once Katie was asleep. Being after dark, I had the pool to myself. A peaceful way to end the day. I wouldn’t do that now. It felt wrong, but I enjoyed it so much I ignored those feelings.

My favourite memory of this trip, though, was breakfast. Katie and I rose earlier than the parents and headed downstairs. We’d often have the buffet breakfast room to ourselves with attentive staff. I would pick a table with a pool view and the staff arranged a highchair. I’d strap Katie in and the staff entertained her while I filled two plates of food from the buffet for Katie and myself.

The staff loved Katie and gave her so much attention that we’d sit at breakfast for an hour to an hour and a half with no complaints from Katie. The staff brought me cup of tea after cup of tea while I just sat there. A perfect start to the day. Once I finished my plate, the staff would ask if I wanted more. I’d go to stand, but they’d insist on getting whatever I wanted, so I didn’t have to leave Katie. A second portion of bacon delivered to me. I wasn’t accustomed to special treatment so revelled in every minute. I recall Katie to my right and the buffet in the distance as I gazed over the pool, drinking tea. Bliss!

On this date, though, the parents woke early and joined us halfway. They shattered the bliss. Katie refused to eat and acted up, trying to climb out of her highchair. Breakfast ended abruptly. I preferred meals without the parents.

The parents headed out of town, leaving Katie and me to our own devices. We swam in the hotel pool throughout the morning. Then I relaxed by the pool, writing my one diary entry for the trip, while Katie napped.

In the afternoon, we ventured into the heart of San Gimignano. The parents thought climbing the towers was impossible with Katie, doing it without us. But I wanted to see the view. I left the pram at the base and ascended the tower carrying Katie, to discover a panoramic view of the town and countryside. It wasn’t too difficult. We also visited the Cathedral where I bought postcards.

I filled the pram’s storage areas as I souvenir shopped on my way back to the hotel.

From my diary:

My house is going to be filled with holiday memorabilia. I’m going to ensure it’s all nice stuff from now on so that it will look good in the future.

My 1994 self would be disappointed with the lack of travel memorabilia displayed in my current home.

***

This next date was one of my favourite days in Washington, D.C., in 2019. You get to hear me going all gaga over the Library of Congress, followed by a visit to the Capitol building and also a little sneak into NASA, at least the gift shop, and also a visit to the Museum of the Bible, which I thoroughly enjoyed and even went back the next day. 

13th August (2019) Washington D.C., USA

I spent hours and hours planning this trip and it paid off today when I saw the Reading Room of The Library of Congress with no one else around. The itinerary changed numerous times but created spectacular results. I had multiple pages of notes in my travel bible for today. I didn’t want to miss anything.

I had read underground tunnels existed to transport people between government buildings. An entire network of tunnels you wouldn’t know existed unless someone told you. I wanted to explore them, taking notes on where to look. Alas, most are for employees only, but I tried the best I could. One tunnel has a little train to transport people faster. A tour of the underground tunnels would be an excellent V.I.P. tour. I’d pay for that.

I rose early for the fifteen-minute walk to the Library of Congress in time for an 8:30 am opening. This ensured tickets to the earliest tour and seeing the magnificent Reading Room without a crowd.

On my walk, I passed a church with a relevant sign: God grant Congress the strength to stand up to the NRA. We can hope.

I passed the imposing Supreme Court Building and made it to the Library of Congress. A handsome building from the outside and magnificent on the inside. The lavishness blew me away. I hadn’t expected it to be so intricate. America was showing their power to the world. Marble, gold, carvings, stained glass windows, columns, statues, rotundas. My mouth was agape as I meandered through the opulence by myself.

I headed straight for the Reading Room viewing area. I could have stared at it for days. The red, the marble, the gold, the wood, the books. What richness that combination makes. One day I will apply for a reader’s ticket. For international individuals, a specific research topic must be nominated, a requirement Americans are exempt from. I will find a relevant future book topic and relish every second in the library. If these surroundings don’t inspire writing, nothing will.

The fact I had recently finished reading a book with scenes set in this room helped my appreciation and it appears in one of my favourite movies, National Treasure. Both scenes played in my head as I appreciated the room through the glass.

I was not happy when others arrived. It was my space. “Go away,” I wanted to say. “How dare you ruin my time?” Of course I didn’t say that. I was lucky to have any alone time. People were bound to come. I arrived at the viewing room at 8:45 am if you want details for a future visit.

I had instructions to seek the conveyor belt delivering books from downstairs and to peer through the archways to the book stacks behind. I could see the stacks, but alas, no conveyor belt. Maybe the conveyor belt works harder in the afternoons.

There are various exhibitions and displays throughout the building, including an informative exposition on the suffragettes’ fight for women’s right to vote. A map room holds the first known drawing including America, from 1507. It’s not the shape we know, but drawn and labelled America. They recreated Thomas Jefferson’s library with his book collection. And you literally have to inspect every detail. There are symbols and meanings in each carving on the walls, ceilings, and don’t forget to study the bannister’s decorations.

My instructions for tunnel discovery revolved around the Capitol Building, but there’s a tunnel for everyone’s use between The Library of Congress and the Capitol. On the opposite side of this passageway, lies three tunnel branches. The walkway to the Senate houses the tram nicknamed the Senate Subway. I could access none of these. Though, I wandered corridors I don’t think I was meant to, trying.

I’d pre-booked a 12:00 pm Capitol Building Tour. Tours are free but require advanced online booking. You had to arrive thirty minutes prior for security and to collect your pass. The tunnel allowed you to skip security as had been through it entering the Library of Congress. I found it loud and noisy after the serenity of the library. The busyness was overwhelming and the building underwhelming. The brief diary entry says:

Capitol quite bland really. Congress not in session.

I had lunch at the Capitol Building in a huge bustling cafeteria. It wasn’t a place to linger, but I found a seat. I had chicken pasta alfredo. There were themed desserts I took photos of rather than eat. I was parched, as they don’t permit even water bottles through security. Pasta with a bottle of water cost $12.90.

I bought a $1 book containing the full Constitution of the United States and The Declaration of Independence. I am yet to read it.

Outside, the heat was stifling. I used my trusty pink umbrella to create shade. My feet and my old injured ankle complained about walking. I had planned to visit The Air and Space Museum next, but it was under restoration with most of what I wanted to see closed, so saved it till the next D.C. visit.

I stopped at NASA Headquarters checking out the gift shop, then the day’s last stop, the Museum of the Bible. This museum looked extraordinary online, so I became a member before leaving home. My main visit was planned for tomorrow, with today being an “if time” scenario. Skipping the Air and Space Museum allowed time today, and I appreciated the two visits.

The Museum of the Bible has six floors of exhibits, recreations, rides, shows and virtual reality theatres. I wanted to experience it all. The bible is the oldest book in the world. I was here for the history.

My tired feet walked me the twenty minutes home via the station for dinner. Chinese tonight with my standard American order of Orange Chicken, and a Sprite for $10.23.

***

This final date for this week is when Lottie and I, so my big four-wheel drive that I was planning to turn into a camper. I had semi turned it into a temporary camper by this point, and she definitely got her name of Lottie by now. And we were doing part or take two of a trip from Melbourne up to Far North Queensland, which is around 3000 km. We had a few mishaps along the way. It was a five-day drive and there were five mishaps. But I survived all the mishaps, and so now you can hear all about them. 

30th August (2005) Narrandera to Narrabri, NSW, Australia

Seems I stretched the truth when claimed daily mishaps. I encountered one mishap the first day and two the second day. I experienced none the third day, then downhill from there.

Today didn’t start well. I had a 12 volt kettle to match Lottie’s 12 volt sockets.

Kettle blew all fuses. Just wanted a cup of tea.

I surmise this is when I began to use the camp stove to boil water, and the practise of filling the thermos for later. Boiling water in a saucepan on a gas stove involved more effort than a kettle. This started the practice of driving, then stopping later for a break to boil water. The water remained hot for a second stop down the road in the thermos.

I have flashes of me in a roadside picnic location with the gas stove on the table and having a cup of tea as I stretched my legs. I also have memories of buying fuses, so they should have been in my tool kit.

The next mishap required professional help. I drove with diesel tank number one selected. I’d done over 400 km and planned to switch to tank two once through the town I’d entered. Parkes is the town from the movie The Dish about the moon landing footage.

I based my mileage on my Nullarbor drive. The problem was the desert had straight roads, and few reasons to slow. The Newell Highway traversed towns, and I drove into a head wind all day. I had my foot hard on the accelerator yet struggled to reach 85 km/hr. Whereas I drove 100 km/hr or more across the Nullarbor. I had not taken the different conditions into account.

I believe the tank gauges worked when I bought Lottie, but now one of them had broken. So there was no warning light. I used mileage as my guide for when to fill up.

I drove through Parkes, knowing I’d flick the switch to tank two any minute, when Lottie shuddered. A railway crossing lay ahead, so I limped the car into a carpark on the left as it stopped. I had zero power.

A few seconds later and I may have stopped on the railway tracks, unable to move. I suspected I had run out of diesel. Conveniently I stopped opposite a BP Truck Stop, so I hopped out and headed over to see if anyone could help me. Could I switch tanks and drive away? That would have worked in a petrol car. A truck driver overheard me say I may have run out of diesel and said that meant trouble. You had to remove any air from the engine. If you couldn’t, then bye-bye Lottie, and drive to Queensland.

How stupid did I feel knowing I almost got stuck on a railway line and broken Lottie, because I didn’t turn a switch? I had over 70 litres of diesel available, but for now, I was stuck.

I had my top level RACV Roadside Assistance. I called in the reinforcements and waited in the car. The mechanic reiterated the truck driver’s concerns. But it was my lucky day. The mechanic found little air and was confident he’d removed it. I switched to tank two and filled the empty tank at the BP truck stop.

My notebook states:

Tank one ran out completely at 436 km. (Oops!)

Oops says it all. I filled the tank with 80 litres. So now I can be confident it’s an 80 litre tank. I had not used tank two much, but added 21 litres. Diesel cost $1.31 per/litre, so spent $132.

I stopped for a dinner break at 5:30 pm after 521 km. Then parked for the night at Narrabri at 8:00 pm after 639 km. What a day.

***

So that’s the end of this week’s podcast. I hope you found it interesting or something that made you smile, or something that made you laugh. Remember, that is my intention. And you have been given permission to laugh away at me as many times as you would like. Don’t worry, I laugh at myself all the time. So everyone else is also allowed to laugh. That’s the whole point. Laugh away at anything you can find these days. Just laugh at anything you can. There’s nothing wrong with laughing. 

Next week, we’re up to the September chapter. So I will be giving some background information and extra information about stories that are in the September chapter of the book 365 Dates of Travel: The SECOND six months, which is out now. And don’t forget, there’s all sorts of other bits and pieces of information on my website at franheapwriter.com. 

Please feel free to get in touch. If there’s something you’re enjoying, please let me know. If there’s something you’re not enjoying, also please let me know because I want to make sure that I’m giving you interesting information, because that’s the point. To make you smile and to listen to something interesting. So on that note, I will wish you an interesting day.

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