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Capitol spot; Taking a trip down DC's Memorial lane.

THE special agent stared at me, dark eyes focused like pistols on a point between my eyes. "We only aim to shoot the bad guys, sir," he said with deadly politeness.

I had just watched him blast the centre out of a paper target with a .375 Magnum and I was swept with fear. Had I paid for that banana in the Au Bon Pain sandwich cafe an hour before?

Or, confused by the currency and the waitress's motormouth delivery, could I now be busted for being in digestion of illicit fruit? Was this a case for Internal Affairs? Could I plead the Fifth Amendment, or did that apply only to a handful of bananas?

What was the charge? Smuggling peelable food across a throatline?

Special Agent Burrell's face broke into a smile as I started to look very worried.

"English, huh? Hope you enjoy your visit to FBI headquarters in Washington, sir. You have a nice day."

Perspiring, I returned to what is known as the White House-White Sand tour.

This was Washington DC and Virginia Beach -- Showtown USA meets boardwalks, bubblegum and bathing beauties.

Even if you are, like me, a fan of America, you might not immediately opt for Washington as a holiday spot.

Bang

Fusty museums and boring politicians? But tucked within its snug Beltway autoroute are some surprising delights.

On the first day you must start out at The Capitol, the only building in Washington without an address because it is slap bang in the middle of the city and all roads radiate from it.

If you want to see the politicians at work you'll need to present your passport to the House of Senate, or Congress, Appointment Desk.

But the chances are the lawmakers will be hard at work in one of the many committee rooms in the building. Still, worth a try.

The Capitol is linked by the beautiful Mall (The Mawl in US-speak) to the Smithsonian, a collection of 13 museums and a zoo.

Close by are the Jeffer-son Memorial, the new Vietnam War Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial and my own favourite, The Lincoln Memorial. Pop up to the Lincoln for a view that you'll recognise from a hundred movies.

See if you can spot the stone-carver's "typing error" and the mystery face at the back of Lincoln's head.

And for the "I didn't know he said that" tour, include a stroll through the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial with its fountains and beautifully carved quotations from his speeches.

Faltering from all that walking? Well, sit down on a bench and let me tell you some more.

Washington is becoming more and more popular with British tourists (one of the earliest was Charles Dickens).

Skills

The city has a vast number of hotels, from the luxurious Jefferson, near America's most famous newspaper, the Washington Post, to the comfortable Days Inn Crystal City just across the Potomac river.

And, of course, there is the FBI headquarters on 9th and Pennsylvania Avenue.

This is the place to go if you want to see an agent's shooting skills. (Take my advice: pay for your lunch and get a receipt.) Most of the monuments, museums and places to visit are free, but often have queues outside, particularly the FBI building. So allow lots of time.

Getting around town is easy. There are plenty of cabs but many do not have meters, so to avoid arguments you'll prefer to use the Metro.

The base fare for most trips is $1.10 (67p) or you can buy the Metrorail $5 (pounds 3) one-day pass.

You'll find plenty of help at the stations and, unlike some cities, the underground is very safe. Set an afternoon aside for shopping in Georgetown, and at night Monument City is brightly lit but ... dead. So there's no night life? Wrong.

Take a noisy dining cruise with music under the bridges of the Poto- mac on the Odyssey riverboat for $68 (pounds 41) or opt for the midnight delight cruise with your partner for $30 (pounds 18).

What a day, what a night! And after all that you must be ready for the beach. So was I.

DON WALKER

UNITED Airlines has up to three flights a day from Heathrow to Washington. Try a two-night city break from pounds 343 p.p. with United Vacations (0181 313 0999). Further info: Capital Region Holiday Guide, 01234 767928.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 24, 1998
Words:732
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