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That the marshy swamp where WASHINGTON DC now stands was chosen
as the site of the capital of the newly independent United States
of America says a lot about then-prevalent attitudes toward
government. Washington DC, District of Columbia (the boundaries
of the two are identical) - also known as " DC " and
" The District " - can be unbearably hot and humid
in summer, and bitterly cold in winter. Such an unpleasant climate,
it was hoped, would discourage elected leaders from making government
a full-time job. This disdain for politics is still apparent:
DC is run as a virtual colony of Congress, where residents have
just one, nonvoting representative and couldn't vote in presidential
elections until the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961.
Other than the federal government, tourism is DC's biggest
industry. The city attracts almost twenty million visitors each
year. Conveniently, most arrive in midsummer, when the lawmakers
have gone home, so overcrowding is rarely a problem. The nation's
showcase puts on quite a display for its guests, and admission
to virtually all major attractions is free. The most famous
sites are concentrated along the central Mall , including the
White House, individual memorials to four of the greatest presidents,
and the superb museums of the Smithsonian Institution. Downtown,
however (broadly speaking the area immediately north of the
Mall, between the White House and the Capitol), can seem very
empty, even intimidating, at night, and you're more likely to
spend your evenings in the hotels and restaurants of the city's
more motherly neighborhoods, such as historic Georgetown , arty
Dupont Circle and the funkier Adams -Morgan district.
Getting around Washington DC DC is a cinch. Most places downtown,
including the Mall museums, the major monuments and the White
House, are within walking distance of each other, and an excellent
public transportation system reaches outlying sights and neighborhoods.
The clean, efficient and still-growing Metro subway is the envy
of other cities; one-way fares start at $1.10 (base rate, off-peak),
with a slight rush-hour surcharge from 5.30-9.30am and 3-7pm.
A One Day Pass, valid after 9.30am on weekdays, costs $5 (trains
run Mon-Thurs 5.30am-midnight, Fri 5.30am-2am, Sat 8am-2am &
Sun 8am-midnight; get route information at the Metro Center
Sales Office, Metro Center station, 12th and F sts NW; tel 202/637-7000).
The standard fare on the more extensive bus network is also
$1.10. Taxis are a good-value alternative with most cross-town
fares ranging $5-12.50. (Surcharges kick in during peak hours
and for each additional passenger.) There are taxi stands at
major hotels and transportation terminals (like Union Station),
or call Yellow Cab (tel 202/544-1212).
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