Riding a bus is different from riding the subway in just one way: You can see things out of the windows.
The Washington buses, anyhow, differed in very little else. You use the plastic credit-card-looking SmartCard to pay your fare, same as the subways, and you sit in seats that are surprisingly clean and comfy. My entire experience with public transportation came in New York, New York, and San José, Costa Rica, so it would have taken very little cleanness (or comfiness) to surprise me.
Oh, and you pull the little rope to tell the driver to stop. Otherwise he might not let you off where you want to go. The subway just stops everywhere.
My first experience with a municipal bus system this side of the Río Grande came early Sunday morning, when I went to the National Cathedral. No direct route existed via subway, so with a little nervousness I took a subway to the nearest stop for the bus route that would take me direct to the Cathedral’s gate.
The Washington metro website has this handy-dandy trip planner that lets you plug in a destination and arrival time and will suggest various routes to get you there (and maybe early). Armed with that information, plus some general tips for noobs to the Washington bus system, I left my third-floor guest bedroom and headed for the subway, and ultimately a bus stop.
It was only a few minutes after I got to the bus stop that the big blue-and-white bus rumbled itself to a stop next to me, stooping to allow me and my bus-stop companions, all of whom spoke Spanish, inside its warm, dry self.
The next 20 minutes, give or take a few, drew cross-street after cross-street across my field of vision. They were filled mainly with ethnic convenience stores and residential neighborhoods. I could tell I was close when I started seeing the tips of some Gothic edifice above the trees and houses nearer my street.
Offloading myself at my destined stop (according to the metro’s website directions), I walked a few paces, around puddles formed from the morning’s perpetual drizzle, until mounting the steps of this gigantic Episcopal church where a 10 a.m. service would be held in its St. Joseph Chapel – the crypt. No joke.
The crypt chapel was beautiful in its own right, but served only to highlight the superlative beauty of the sanctuary, through which I passed going to and from the 10 a.m. service. I was just able to catch the cathedral’s choir filling the sanctuary with music, from the back, at the beginning of the 11 a.m. service in the main spot (as I was on my way out from the 10 a.m. one downstairs). Heavenly.
I’m not entirely sure I grasp the meaning of “beatified,” but I think it applies to the feeling I have seeing really splendid architecture. And this was indeed splendorous. I probably got more Christian encouragement from the buttresses and stained glass than I did from the interactive sermon.