Once again, TV has led me astray. Based on too many moments of "national political unity" where opponents go to church together and smile before stabbing each other in their backs the next day I figured Washington National Cathedral was a tiny little place in downtown D.C. kind of like Ford's Theatre or the natural high point. But no. Not by a long shot.
Washington National Cathedral is a full-blown, honest-to-goodness cathedral on par with some of Europe's greats. It's the 23rd biggest church building in the world. And it's way out in the boonies. At least by East Coast standards where everything is usually just around the corner.
Like tourists (and wily visitors intending to get the most out of each day) we began with a tour. And just like in many of the other sites we've visited we got a ton more out of the tour than if we'd just walked around.
Of course, some of the greatest things we saw were while we were just wandering. As the light came through the stained glass windows it cast incredible colors on the statuary and us. I was thrilled to see the kids thralled by the architecture and statues all along the walls. In fact, the interior and exterior are filled with special features it would take months to see. We managed to get up into the tower, down in to the chapels below ground, and of course we saw Darth Vader.
Um... What? Darth Vader?
He's on the north side of the cathedral carved as a grotesque as the result of a contest in 1986. (It's not a gargoyle - a gargoyle directs water away from the building. Duh.) We looked for a long time before we could find him and it was a huge victory when we did.
Check which tours are being offered and bring a good telephoto lens or binoculars. And don't plan for a short visit or you'll be too rushed.