I went swimming in Washington DC.

Entry #17.4 / 3rd July 2022

The swim turned out to be a great idea. It was nice to swim back and forth and not worry about any kids or anyone else hanging around. It was just nice to take a minute to appreciate the cool water and also the fact: I’m swimming in the middle of Washington DC!

            It was a thought that I never thought would come to pass. It never probably never would’ve made it to my bucket list as it was such a silly thing to wish for. But the thoughts washed over me then:

            I ate breakfast in Times Square.

            I went swimming in Washington DC.

            These unbelievable but simple facts cracked a wide smile on my face that I hope wouldn’t be removed for a long time.

***

I was swimming for a good hour or so, which ten minutes after I got out I ended up sitting on one of the beach chairs and got talking to another girl at the pool. I found out she was there for the weekend also, though visiting a friend within Washington DC. We spoke about what we got up to within the city and she also gave me some ideas of places to go within America, which I thanked her for.

            Once I got back to the shared room, I quickly showered to get the chlorine off my skin and popped out to a nearby shop to get food. I didn’t get anything too fancy, and when my stomach was satisfied, I called it a day and went for my last sleep in the bed of heaven.

The Lincoln Waffle Shop

Entry #17.1 / 3rd July 2022

Describing my slumber on the mountain-like feather-light pillows as merely peaceful would be an understatement. Whatever material the beds at The Generator are made of, I want to know their contact as soon as possible. That was hands down the best sleep I’ve had in months.

            Enjoying a bit of a lie-in, I gradually emerged from my sleepy state around ten to nine (which, given the early starts I have on camp days, felt like a luxury). Getting out of bed was a bit of a struggle initially, but duty called.

            After freshening up and preparing for the day, I couldn’t decide what I was more excited about: the sightseeing ahead or the prospect of returning to bed later tonight.

            When I said goodbye to Janette and Ryan the previous night, they mentioned they were planning a relaxing day at the hotel, and we agreed to meet up later. I was eager to explore the Capitol and let the day unfold.

            I’m not sure if it was the excitement of being in Washington DC or my determination from the night before, but I found myself embracing the solo-traveller spirit. After getting ready in comfortable clothes and light makeup, I left the hostel after ten and set off into the city.

            Before heading out, I searched for nearby breakfast spots and decided on Lincoln’s Waffle Shop, conveniently located in the same direction as the Capitol.

            Following the directions from Google Maps, I strolled through the streets and stumbled upon a food market along the way. Knowing that I’m probably going to have a very unhealthy weekend, I decided to buy an apple to eat on the way to the waffle shop and OH MY GOD!

            Hands down best apple I’ve had all year.

            ‘Bet that’s something you thought you would say.’ The responsible voice chimed in for the first time since…

            Huh. I thought, realising it was the first time either of two voices spoke up since I arrived in Washington DC.

            It wasn’t unusual for me to go without hearing the two opinionated voices chiming in. To be honest, as I got older, matured, and recovered, their appearances and opinions became rare. They would express themselves sporadically when a situation – whether emotional or humorous – arose, or during a creative project, and sometimes engage in minor arguments over trivial matters. However, because I’ve been so immerse in this new experience of coming to America, I hadn’t fully grasped that their constant opinions had become less frequent.

            And now they hadn’t piped up much was the new weird thing.

            If there was a hidden meaning to it, I couldn’t dwell on it too much at the moment, as my growling stomach, after finishing my apple, reminded me that I needed much more fuel to get through the day.

***

The Lincoln Waffle Shop was bustling with activity, evident from the line outside. Fortunately, the wait wasn’t too long, especially for me. Being a solo diner, I managed to secure a seat at the counter relatively quickly.

            Feeling the adventurous side of me come out, I decided to order waffles which, surprise surprise, I had never tried before. I’ve had pancakes, but waffles and French toast? I never tired either before coming to America. And I guess, looking back, there was really no opportunity to try either. I didn’t even have pancakes that much, just here and there.

            Turns out, waffles aren’t half bad. They may not rival my love for pancakes and French toast, and certainly don’t compete with a bacon and egg sandwich, but I wouldn’t turn one down if it were offered to me again.

            However, when I briefly lined up for the waffle shop, I noticed another queue across the street labelled “Ford’s Theatre.” I had no clue what that was, but I was intrigued. So, as I waited for my waffles, I looked up Ford’s Theatre.

            I think my jaw may have dropped when I realised that Ford’s Theatre was the location where President Lincoln was shot, and the Peterson House, directly opposite the theatre, was where he died.

            First of all, I had no freaking idea that the theatre he was at when he was shot was actually in Washington DC. I don’t know why, but I didn’t even really consider it was in Washington DC. Secondly, I literally had no idea that the theatre was basically a museum, along with the Peterson House.

            Thirdly, this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

            So, looking at the museum times for the next day, keeping in mind what time I would need to catch the bus back to NYC, I booked a slot for around nine thirty in the morning. It was around three dollars as well, so nothing overly expensive.

            Satisfied with my breakfast and for tomorrow’s plans, I paid for my food and set off for the rest of the day.

***

I didn’t have much of a direct plan for the day. I knew I wanted to see the Capitol, but anything else? I wasn’t sure, and to be honest, I didn’t want to overly plan my day either. Ryan advised me to see where the day took me, which was both a good and scary idea.

            I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going on. I like the known.

            I hate the unknown.

            But isn’t this the point of the Camp America experience? The point of travelling? To expect the unexpected. To walk into the unknown.

            So, I followed Google Maps towards the Capitol and would see where the day would take me from there.

            There wasn’t a lot to see, and at the same time, a lot to see along the way.

            I walked by the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building, where a dozen American flags waved in the breeze. Then, I passed the Archives of the United States of America, followed by the National Gallery of Art, which boasted a massive fountain out front that could rival the opening shots of FRIENDS. Next, I noticed the Canadian Embassy building. Finally, I was trekking past Union Square Park.

            As I walked, there were things to see along the way, but simultaneously, you can appreciate that they’re commonplace. What I mean by this, in my own unique way, is that they’re just there. For people who live here, they’re simply a part of their home that they probably see consistently throughout the year. But for travellers, they represent a whole lot of something.

            As I continued to follow Google Maps weird directions (why the hell was I trusting this thing?), I came across a garden centre. It began as a maze with many people going into it and I was curious.

            I looked at the time first before I realised – wait, I have no plans. Nothing in solid timing anyway. I can get to the Capitol whatever time I want.

            I grinned and, once I adjusted my backpack straps, I headed into the maze of the garden centre.

***

Settling In

Entry #16.3 / 2nd June 2022

We ended up going to Popeyes for food – a place I had never been to before and felt a bit nervous about. Trying new foods or new places wasn’t always a great experience for me. But amazingly and easily, I trusted Ryan and Janette when they said I would like it.

                  And I did.

                  I didn’t order anything over the top – just chicken and chips. The chicken had a bit of spice to it, but not so much that it overwhelmed my senses.

                  I had a great laugh with both Ryan and Janette. After we finished eating, we decided to head to our respective accommodations (me at the hostel, them at the hotel) and meet up later at the White House.

                  Upon my return to the hostel, it was time for the full check-in process. After retrieving my rucksack, I took the lift up to my shared room. The atmosphere of the place was reminiscent of a mix between student accommodation and a hotel, defying traditional stereotypes.

                  “Woah…” I mumbled as I entered my shared room and took it in.

                  I was assigned to a mixed four-bed room, where the beds were built into the walls. They appeared exceptionally comfortable, even more so than the ones back at the university campus, and each had a curtain for added privacy. Below the bunk beds, there were drawers, each labelled with a number corresponding to the allocated beds.

                  Unfortunately, it seemed I was assigned to one of the top beds, while both bottom ones were already occupied. One had its curtain drawn open with belongings scattered across it, and the other had its curtain tightly closed.

                  Aware that someone might be asleep on the other side, I moved quietly as I placed my rucksack on the desk across from the beds, which had a mirror hanging just above it.

                  Just then, a door to the left side of the room opened and I jumped slightly.

                  “Hi.” The man smiled gently at me, walking the short distance to the drawn open curtain lower bunk bed.

                  I pushed passed my nervousness and returned the smile. “Hi.”

                  I’m not sure if it was because he saw how nervous I was or because he was just a friendly guy, but he moved an inch towards me and put out his hand. “I’m Justin.”

                  I let out a breath and shook his hand. “I’m Rose.”

                  His smile turned into small smirk. “I’m guessing you’re not from around here?”

                  I nodded, “And I’m guessing you aren’t either by your accent… or why else would you be here?”

                  He had laughed lightly which put me more at ease.

                  We spoke briefly about where we were from; Justin mentioned he was from Germany and had come to Washington DC for a diplomatic event or business meeting (although I’m not entirely sure if he said he was an ambassador, so don’t quote me on that). I mentioned my job as a camp counsellor, explaining I had weekends off to do whatever I wanted.

                  As our conversation came to a natural end, Justin nodded towards the bathroom he came from. “It’s free now if you need to use it.”

                  I grinned, “thanks. I probably stink from travelling!”

                  With a few “see you laters” to each other, I got some of my belongings from my rucksack and headed into the bathroom for a well-deserved shower.

***

Hours later, I had showered, dressed, and applied a light layer of makeup. Fortunately, I managed to get ready on time. After a few glances in the mirror, I left the shared room and the hostel, following Google Maps to the White House.

                  I decided not to take the bus, preferring to stretch my legs and soak in the realisation that I was in Washington DC. It still hadn’t fully sunk in – not just the fact that I was in the heart of the capital, but also that I was in America in the first place. It was difficult to imagine that roughly this time last year, I had entertained the idea of doing Camp America.

                  Now I was here, and still in utter, complete disbelief.

                  Walking down the city streets, I spotted a Sephora shop on one side and paused in my stride. Checking the time on my phone, I debated internally. I had enough time to browse in the shop, as the walk to our designated meeting area would take about twenty minutes, and I still had forty minutes left. However, I didn’t want to year the label of The Late Girl.

                  That is not something I aspired too.

                  But… I just wanted to check something. It wouldn’t take long and I’ll be in and out in five minutes.

                  With a determined nod, I crossed at the traffic lights and reached the Sephora shop on the other side of the street. Luckily, the shop was open, and I entered leisurely, absorbing the atmosphere. It immediately reminded me of the Superdrug shops in the UK, although Sephora had its own distinct identity – the bold black and white striped wall designs, the well-planned layout, and the spaciousness of the store.

                  Plus, it wasn’t like Superdrug that was trying to be the next Boots.

                  After anxiously looking around for a few moments, I ran into a shop worker and plucked up the courage to ask what I was looking for.

                  “Hi,” I began nervously, though my voice held confidence. “Do you guys hold Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty brand?”

                  The woman smiled, “yeah, of course, I’ll show you.”

                  I let out a breath of relief as I followed the shop worker to the designated area. I smiled when I saw the brand for the first time.

                  “Do you need any help with it?” The woman inquired, obviously knowing that I didn’t know much about the brand yet.

                  I hesitated before I shook my head. “No, not today. I just wanted to check that the shop had it.”

                  The woman nodded, “no problem. If you need any more help though, I’m just back over there.”

                  I smiled and nodded in return. “Thank you!”

                  Browsing the Rare Beauty brand for a few minutes more, I left and headed back in the direction of the White House. Determined not to be late for the third time that day.

***

Welcome to Washington DC

Entry #16.2 / 2nd July 2022

Fortunately, the bus station wasn’t too far from Times Square. Unfortunately, there was a massive line for our bus, resulting in tighter seating arrangements. Janette and Ryan mentioned they were planning to sit at the back, which aligned perfectly with my natural inclination – a win-win.

                  We snagged seats in the back, with Janette and Ryan occupying two seats on one side, and I taking the adjacent seat next to someone else. I felt a bit uneasy, given my tendency for motion sickness, especially since I wasn’t seated by the window (which usually helps). However, I had my earphones handy, hoping that music would help distract my mind during the journey.

                  However, after a brief rest break during the bus journey, as we settled back into our seats and the air conditioner made me feel colder than I anticipated for a bus ride, boredom set in. I grew weary of sitting still and tired of the music I had chosen to listen to.

                  So, glancing down at my phone, I pondered how to quell this boredom. I couldn’t read or stare at my phone too much, wary of triggering motion sickness. Nonetheless, I had to do something – my restless body drew a few glares from the person beside me.

                  As I flickered through my phone, I saw the application for Voice Memos. Opening up that, I saw a few recordings on there. One of them being “Tarot 7/8/2021”.

                  Given my interest in tarot and all things weird and wonderful, I naturally sought out a professional tarot reading for my birthday last year. It was actually a few days after my birthday, but it still felt like a birthday treat.

                  It was one of the many reasons I was so hyped about going to New Orleans. I wanted to see if a professional would say something different, add anything new, or give the same reading as the tarot reader (who later became my mentor) did.

                  I remembered most of what the tarot reader said to me, but it was always good to refresh my memory. Plus, I was bored and still had another three hours of bus journey ahead of me.

                  So, I clicked on the recording and listened to the tarot reader’s predictions.

                  Halfway through the reading, I straightened up, eyes narrowed, hands clasping the bus seat, my mind elsewhere. Back in that room, with the tarot reader gently holding my hand, reading my palms, examining my life line, seeing what the future held for me.

                  I glanced over towards Janette and Ryan briefly as the tarot reader’s words echoed through my mind and soul.

                  ‘Dude,’ the bright voice mumbled once the recording ended and I tugged my earphones out. ‘That can’t be a coincidence.’

***

Thankfully, I managed to shake off any lingering thoughts about the tarot reading and its potential implications by the time we reached Washington DC. And even if I hadn’t, the moment we stepped out of the bus station and into the city would been enough to distract me.

                  Although we didn’t witness anything jaw-dropping, it was still an amazing feeling to be in the heart of the country, somewhere I never thought I would ever be able to go.

                  There was a small debate on what to do first, and it was decided – since I had a rucksack – that we would stop by my hostel first and drop off my bag. We hailed an Uber to the Generator Washington DC, but encountered a few confusing detours by the Uber (I’m not sure he knew where he was going, even with Google Maps), before finally arriving there.

                  “Wow,” Janette said as we entered the Generator reception area. My eyes widened in shock as I took in the surroundings. “This looks amazing. Where did you find this place?”

                  I blinked, taking in the modern but cosy look of the hang-out spaces near the reception area. It looked more like a student accommodation building than a what you think a hostel should be like. “On Hostelworld app. It was the same for the first hostel as well, but this one appeared to be more reliable.”

                  “And probably much more nicer.” Ryan commented, “how much was this place?”

                  “Around hundred and fifty dollars for two nights, give or take.” My body relaxed further as we approached a sofa area and I tugged off my backpack. “It looks like its worth the cost as well.”

                  Janette sat down on the sofa with a big sigh. “Yep! Definitely is!”

                  Once I retrieved all my documents from my backpack, I approached the desk and spoke to the receptionist. Though it wasn’t quite time for me to complete the check-in process, they took the remaining payment I owed and check in my rucksack for me.

                  When I returned to Janette and Ryan a few minutes later, they were both on their phones and I gave them my internet access codes so they could quickly answer a few messages.

                  “Hungry?” Ryan said after a while of us just sitting and catching up with our phones.

                  “Definitely!” I exclaimed that caused the two of them to chuckle and we slowly made our way out to explore.

***

Instead of settling on a specific place to eat, the three of us opted to explore and see if anything caught our eye. Midway through our stroll through different neighbourhoods, I gasped as something came to mind.

                  “Okay I know this is going to sound weird,” I began as I stopped by one of the houses in the neighbourhood. “But could you guys take a photo of me sat on the steps of this house please? I’ll explain in a bit!”

                  Ryan and Janette wore expressions that blended confusions with amusement, but Ryan took my phone. After I removed my backpack and settled on the steps, he kindly took the photos for me.

                  “Thank you!” I said, delight compassing my whole being as I flicked through the photos Ryan took.

                  “Was it because of the sign?” Janette asked as we slowly started walking again.

                  I frowned. “What sign?”

                  “The ADT security sign.”

                  I frowned further. “No… My sister asked me to take a photo of myself sitting on some neighbourhood steps so she could live vicariously through me. As she sees dozens of photos of random people in America on neighbourhood steps. She mainly meant in New York though, but Washington DC could count too.” There was a pause before curiosity caught up with me. “Wait, why would I want a photo with a security sign?”

                  “Because of the ADT killer.”

                  I widened my eyes. “What?!

                  “I don’t remember if was that security company,” Janette went on, “but there was some kind of security service man who went on to become serial killer which was aided by his profession.”

                  My mouth was ajar, trying to digest the information but unable too. While I was big watcher of true crime content (mainly those who focused on the victims, like Kendal Rae), I literally never heard of a serial killer who was security service provider.

                  Looking back at one of the photos with the security sign in the background, I struggled to process. “Okay, I really don’t know how I feel about this photo now.”

***