“8 West! 8 West!” As soon as those words left the speakers, a whirlwind of well-tailored suits and J. Crew blazers began to rush by. I looked to my travel partner, Christine, and asked somewhat frantically, “Where is it!?” She scanned the signs lining the edge of the room and spotted the glowing number 8 in the distance. “Follow me!” she yelled behind, as her legs and suitcase were already moving forward. Moments later we descended onto the platforms beneath Penn Station.

There’s something beautiful in the seemingly antiquated rush to board and ride a train.

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After the streets of New York City, the sudden hush of the Amtrak Acela Express’ quiet car took me by surprise and I took a deep breath as Christine and I settled by the window. After a short tunnel of darkness, it felt like seconds later that we were staring at a bucolic scene in New Jersey, smoothly coasting along. We were heading south to Washington D.C. with hopes to map out the perfect weekend getaway within our Nation’s Capital.

The beauty of the Acela is it takes you through a review of the varied and beautiful northeastern cities. The murals of Philadelphia, the urban outskirts of Baltimore, and a classic sign in Trenton that boldly states “Trenton Makes, The World Takes.” The train races faster than the clouds, providing only a glimpse of buildings and trees before they disappear. As a photographer that can be frustrating. By the time I see an image it is already gone. Although, after an hour, I started to find it relieving–a subtle reminder to keep myself from living behind the lens and just enjoy the view.

When we arrived in D.C. I was amazed at how quickly the trip had flown by. Last time I was here I had driven during rush hour and the trip took an excruciating 7.5 hours. The only thing that saved me from exploding was my incredibly well curated playlist called “Disney & Divas”(on repeat). On the Acela, I barely had time to get through my email and have a couple of nice conversations before we were excitedly walking to our hotel. What a dream.

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The following day I signed up for a 3-day membership with Capital Bikeshare and discovered the perfect way to explore the city. All of D.C.’s roads are majestic boulevards. They pair well with the architecture, making you feel like a little ant–as if you’re part of something great than yourself. That is a wonderful feeling for a city built on American values..

One of my first stops on my journey was the White House front lawn. As I walked through the crowd I heard a familiar word: “Y’all.” On the streets of New York I hear accents from all over the world. In D.C. I picked up on accents from all over the United States–everything from southern drawl and Texas twang to a delightful family from Wisconsin. The assortment of dialects hovered in the humid air and left me feeling a sense of pride.

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Regardless of how you feel about politics, pride is something that is hard to ignore while exploring D.C. My favorite stop during the weekend was the National Portrait Gallery. The current first floor exhibit is titled “Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze,” and features a painting of the lovely Katy Perry alongside a mixed media portrait of Oprah.

As I ascended the staircase I was in awe of the painting waiting at the top. “Seal Rocks (San Francisco),” by Albert Bierstadt has a wild energy that kept me captivated for at least ten minutes. For a millennial brain, that is quite a long time. After the spell was lifted I wandered through the Presidential portraits and settled in the central courtyard for a necessary nap.

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The hot summer days are easy to enjoy in D.C. because there are a wealth of large, free, beautiful, well-curated, and air-conditioned museums every couple of blocks. I spent my afternoons cycling through the streets (with no traffic) bouncing from the National Building Museum, to the U.S. Botanic Garden, and through the Hirshhorn Museum.

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To fuel my legs I stopped at the USDA Farmers Market, the Belga Café, and enjoyed a sangria margarita at Chupacabra. Before I knew it, the spectacular arches of Union station were fading behind me. On an early Sunday afternoon as we rode back to New York, Christine and I stared out the window and remarked on how lucky we are to be in the middle of so many renowned cultural institutions. The train provides quick and easy access, and has always been my favorite form of travel. As the power lines raced through the sky, rising and falling at a steady pace, I found myself taking another deep breath in preparation for arrival. The New York City subway has no quiet car.

 

Michael George was invited aboard Amtrak to explore Washington D.C. through a partnership between Amtrak and Passion Passport. All opinions are his own.

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Michael George is a freelance travel and portrait photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. His images have appeared in publications such as WIRED, Popular Mechanics, American Photo, Runner’s World, and Hello Mr. magazines. He is also a “professional” adventurer. In 2010 he cycled 4,000 miles across the United States to raise money for affordable housing. In 2012/13 he walked over 1,000 miles through southwest France and northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian pilgrimage. Michael’s documentary, “Portrait of a Pilgrim,” will be published as a Photo Journal by National Geographic next year. You can follow his journey on Instagram @migeophoto.