Monday, July 28, 2014

Arriving in Arlington

A magnolia flower at the Arlington National Cemetery

Serendipitous moments, those unexpected happy coincidences, are some of the best things in life. I look out for them and am always delighted when they arrive. The morning I was leaving Barham on the 7.05am VLine bus to Melbourne, en route to the United States, I checked my Facebook page just one more time…

My friend from school, Burge, after years of Facebook silence, had posted a beautiful profile picture of herself and her two sons. “She’s posted it at 4am… What’s with that?” I had wondered.
I clicked on her page and lo and behold, she was now living in Arlington, Virginia in the United States. US geography is not one of my strong points and I had no clear idea where Arlington actually was, just a vague sense it may have been somewhere near Washington DC.

I sent off a quick message:

Hi Burge the Elusive,

I haven't seen you in years and suddenly, your beautiful face pops up on my newsfeed!! AND you live in Arlington?! (which, I actually don't know where exactly that is... but...) I'm about to hit the airways (as in sky, not radio) for LA (tomorrow) and making my way across the US to Washington DC for a writer's conference 26th - 29th June.

Have cut my "getting to Washington" a little fine but should be there by Wednesday, 25th June for some very speedy sight-seeing before the conference - only two things on my list to see: the Smithsonian's and Arlington cemetery.

Don’t know if you are close or far away from Washington or if in the world of amazing, serendipitous moments, you are able to catch up that Wednesday night - 25th June?

Annie xo

… and Burge responded back within minutes:

Annie, Annie, Annie!!

We're so close!! Let's lock in something for the 25th.  Do you want to come and stay??  My number is ***

Love Burge

As it turns out, Arlington is just across the Potomac River, literally a stone’s throw from Washington DC. I guess I should have realised that Arlington National Cemetery would be located at a place called Arlington…

Two weeks later, I was stepping off the Metro train at her local station, where Burge and her sons, James and George, were waving to me from the steps leading up to their street.

Although it seemed no time had passed, we hadn’t seen each other since our twenty-year school reunion in 2008; it was so good to talk and catch up on each other’s lives.

With James and George leading the way, Burge and I walked to their local cafĂ© for lunch and afterwards we visited Burge’s favourite bookshop, across the road.
Books, beer, wine and chocolate - what's not to love?!
 One More Page, is my kind of bookshop; books, beer, wine and chocolate – pure genius! The owner and operator, Eileen McGervey, opened this small, independent, neighbourhood bookshop in 2011.

I loved the little recommendations dotted onto the various books
One More Page has a great feel to it and had it not been for my time limitations, I would have happily lost myself there for hours amongst the titles and pages. Eileen’s staff are warm and welcoming and have dotted little quirky reviews and recommendations onto books throughout the store. Even the US President, Barack Obama and his family have shopped here on at least one occasion.

Later that afternoon on the prior recommendation from my Barham friends, Geoff and Sal May, I caught a train out to Arlington National Cemetery.
Standing near Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial with Washington DC in the background
 A United States Military Cemetery, the first military burials took place there during the American Civil War in 1864.

Burial in Arlington National Cemetery is generally limited to active, retired and former members of the armed forces, Medal of Honor recipients, high-ranking federal government officials and their dependents.
The Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery - built in 1920

The 624-acre cemetery is the final resting place for over 400,000 people including President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Open to the public 365 days and on average, 5,000 people are buried at Arlington National Cemetery each year.
A sentinel guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I don’t know what it is about military cemeteries but the few I have visited seem to be permeated with the same profound sense of tranquillity. I first experienced it in 1994 when I visited the war graves at Gallipoli in Turkey. Standing on that Turkish peninsular, looking out over the Aegean Sea, I felt surrounded in a beautiful calm stillness, in direct contrast to Gallipoli’s violent and bloody history.

In 2009 the boys and I were on a four-wheel driving, camping adventure through Australia’s Northern Territory with our friends, the Wares from Hay and the Osters from Barham. Late one afternoon we called in to the Adelaide River War Cemetery south of Darwin. Once again I felt the same sense of peace I’d experienced half a world away and fifteen years earlier.
Arlington National Cemetery

The hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery is just the same and I found it well worth the time to visit and one of the many highlights of my trip.

Burge's seriously delicious peach dessert
That evening Burge’s husband Paul (a scientist with the Australian Defence Department), cooked a delicious barbeque dinner that we enjoyed al fresco with salad and refreshments in their backyard. As we tucked into Burge’s magnificent peach dessert on dusk, I glimpsed my first ever firefly. James helped to satisfy my curiosity by capturing one so as to give me a close-up view.
James' hands and the firefly

These tiny, nocturnal, luminescent beetles have dedicated light organs that are located under their abdomens. The fireflies take in oxygen and combine it with a substance called luciferin inside special cells to produce a light with almost no heat.

My time with Burge and her family was all too short due to my other travel commitments but nonetheless, a wonderful 24 hours.
L-R: James, Burge, George and Paul


  1. I agree about the serenity in (especially military) cemeteries. And I think if the cemeteries could blog, they would comment on the reverence most visitors bring to their visit. And I believe it is that military cemeteries are the only place where we can really face the numbers of our citizens who have sacrificed their ability to share in what they have given their nation.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment John. I agree with your sentiments regarding cemeteries, in particular, military cemeteries. When I walk past their headstones, I always wonder about who they were and about their families and friends that were left behind.

  2. How wonderful to see the most wonderful Burge and her family in photos! Loved your page about Arlington Cemetery, and against serendipity strikes, and you ride that lightening road to adventure.

    1. As always Suzette, I appreciate and enjoy your comments - thank you!