Would you go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe? Well that’s how I feel about a trip to Washington, D.C. and not see the Capitol or the White House. It just isn’t complete!
I have requested the tours to the US Capitol and the White House through our senator a few months prior to our departure but there is no need to make prior arrangements for the Library of Congress.
Library of Congress
I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from the Library of Congress coming in. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of my favorites. The architecture, predominantly Italian Renaissance, is breathtakingly beautiful.
You can tour the library independently but I highly recommend to join their hourly guided tours that start from 10:30 am to 3:30pm, depending on the season you are visiting. Our guide was very enthusiastic and very knowledgable about the history and facts of the library. She brought us to a circular library where the books are kept in a glass case. According to her, Thomas Jefferson sold most of these books to Congress but unfortunately some were destroyed by the fire.
(One fun fact about the circular library—Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys helped preserved this library with his generous monetary donations).
I was disappointed that we weren’t allowed to enter the research area, where thousands of valuable and antique books remain. If you have seen the movie, National Treasure II, this is where Nicolas Cage’s character searched for the secret book that was reserved for the President’s eyes only. Perhaps someday, I will have the opportunity to enter the library and have the chance to check out the books inside. For more info, please go to http://www.loc.gov/
The tour to the US Capitol can also be done online as well as requesting it through the office of your senator or congressman. When the staff at Senator Ted Cruz made the mistake of giving me a time slot that was an hour apart from the White House tour, I took care of it myself instead of waiting and relying on them to change it. It was very easy and simple.
(Tip: there is a tunnel that connects the Library of Congress and the US Capitol, a nice 5 minute walk on an air conditioned building- beats walking in the heat or cold, depending on which season you visit).
If I was awestruck at how beautiful the Library of Congress was, the tour to the Capitol was quite the opposite. It was underwhelming and disappointing to say the least. It didn’t have that same wow factor as the library and because we didn’t get to witness the current representatives “discussing” the country’s most important issues, the tour was in fact quite boring.
The one thing that caught our attention was a painting of the Baptism of Pocahontas. We weren’t aware at how much impact she had made in those days. And because my husband and and I are an interracial couple, we found her marriage to a white man captivating, especially in that period of history.
Although the tour was uninteresting, it was not a complete waste of time. At least I can say I have been inside the US Capitol but most likely will not repeat the experience in the future.
Where we ate:
We headed to the Madison Building cafeteria located on the sixth floor. The cafeteria was a little bit tricky to find because it wasn’t clearly marked but if you ask anyone, they’ll show you where it is. It’s a nice view inside so make sure you sit by the window. There was a buffet of hot foods (and I am assuming that day’s special were Asian foods), also the usual— salads, burgers, and pizzas. Food wasn’t that great but it was sort of nice to dine with the government employees.
The White House
Our appointment time to tour the White House was at 12:30pm, right in the middle of the DC heat. To kill time, we proceeded to the White House Visitor Center to see what type of trinkets they sold over there. To my surprise, it was really tiny and only sold a few items. They also played a short film, which I would recommend to watch to get calibrated. The film will show you all the different rooms inside the White House, each with its own history (and ones you will not get the chance to see in the tour).
It took about a good half hour before we were allowed to enter the vicinity. The secret service checked our identification cards twice, then we were brought in to a security room where we were instructed to spread our legs apart. The we proceeded to another room for once again a security check. . Then we were directed to do more waiting outside in the 90 degree heat. When we finally entered, I thought it was worth the wait. The White House is stunningly beautiful. We saw the red room, the green room, and the blue room. According to one of the secret service guys, all these rooms are actually used for entertaining guests and they are not just there for viewing. There were so many original paintings , lots of photographs of US Presidents, both past and present, First Ladies, dignitaries and famous people, including that of the late Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta. I wish I was allowed to take photos inside. We were told that that rule all depends on the administration but apparently President Obama do not allow photographing inside. I honestly do not know what the big deal is but I suppose it’s all for security reasons (that or President Obama is the paranoid type 😄)
Where we ate:
After the tour of the White House, it was only appropriate to head to the Good Stuff Eatery where both President Obama and the First Lady have dined before. I tried the Prez Obama Burger with applewood bacon, onion marmalade, Roquefort cheese, and horseradish mayo. Joshua tried the Michelle melt, a free range turkey burger with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce on a freshly baked wheat bun with herb garden mayo. We enjoyed the fries with four different dips (mango, shriracha, old bay and good old fashioned ketchup). The restaurant is located on 303 Pennsylvania Ave SE, one block away from the US Capitol.
Here’s a picture of the Prez Obama burger that I found in the internet. My burger wasn’t really a good photo op so this one will make up for it.
Another suggestion is heading to Rasika, a popular Indian restaurant at the Penn Quarter. I’ve had Indian food many times before, most were homemade cooked by friends but this place is mind blowing delicious! Make sure to order their signature dishes. And by the way, President Obama celebrated his 52nd birthday in this restaurant. And so we thought of doing the same for Joshua’s 16th birthday to make his day more memorable.