Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

We live about 30 miles away from Washington, DC. But, of course, because its there - we rarely go in to take in the sights. This week, we did. An online friend of mine was coming in town with her family, and initially needed some folks to join her party to have enough for a White House tour. We ended up taking a tour of the Capitol, a tour of the White House, and visited the National Archives. I've been wanting to go into town for a while and this was just the motivation to get me moving.

The Capitol tour was pretty neat. We met up at the office of her Senator - their office arranged the tour. She took us to the Capitol by way of the 3 Senate Office buildings, to show how far you can go without ever going outside. She also showed us how the architecture varied as the age of the buildings changed. And while walking the underground corridors, I actually saw OUR Senator, Senator Warner, headed to the Capitol. He looked so feeble - he's been sick recently.

When we arrived in the Capitol we saw many hallways and special chambers, such as the former committee room for the Foreign Relations and Appropriations Committees, on the way to the rotunda. They were exquisitely adorned with beautiful colors and designs throughout. Then finally we reached the rotunda. I had seen the rotunda when I went to the viewing for President Reagan in 2004, but this was an opportunity to actually look at it. There is a freize around the upper portion of the rotunda and it tells the story of the formation of the United States: starting with the Native Americans and the landing of Columbus, all the way through the birth of aviation with the first flight of the Wright Brothers. Its so expertly woven together that you don't see a gap in the pictures - it looks like one long picture - and cannot even tell that it was actually completed by 3 different artists over many years.

Underneath the frieze are some large pictures depicting specific events in the history of the United States, such as the baptism of Pocahontas, the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, Cornwalis' surrender to Washington at Yorktown and Washington's resignation as General of the Army.

At the apex of the rotunda is a beautiful painting of angels - and the father of our country - George Washington.

We also spent some time in the sculpture room. Each state has sculptures of two famous people displayed in the Capitol - with many in this room. This room is also significant because it had held committee meetings for the House of Representatives in the past. There were placards on the floor showing where the desks of some famous representatives sat - including Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams.

On the way back to the Senate office building, we saw the marker indicating the exact center of the city of Washington, DC - the center of Capitol Hill! And then we got on a small train that runs between the office buidings and the Capitol that is used by visitors, guests, and even the Senators as they need to go to the floor for debates and votes.

On Friday, we headed in to go on a tour of the White House and the National Archives. The White House tour was set up by a friend of my friend's husband - he works in the White House. A tour is difficult to get these days so this was especially nice. Mike took the day off and went with us. They are also very restrictive on what you can bring in - certainly no cameras. They usually don't allow purses but I was allowed to take mine due to having medical supplies in it. But they didn't like it. We were able to see several of the rooms in the East Wing of the White House - the Blue Room, Red Room, Vermiel Room, the East Room and the State Dining Room. It wasn't a long tour but it was really neat to see.

You will also notice the kids are in pants - in 90 degree weather. Because we were with an employee, we had to adhere to a "higher" dress code, so we all needed to be in pants. I would have ensured my kids looked "presentable" regardless, but I wish that all of these types of tours had dress codes to prevent the short-shorts and strapless "tube tops" that I saw at several of these locations.

After heading back to the car to retrieve the stuff we wanted to have with us but couldn't at the White House, we got some lunch and then headed over to the National Archives. After a short wait outside, we went through our 3rd or 4th or metal detector of the day, watched a short movie about the purpose of the archives, and then got in another line to see the main reason for the visit - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Declaration of Independence was hardly visible anymore but the other documents were in pretty good shape - considering their age.

We also saw a pretty neat exhibit which show how different documents and other items that have been kept in the archives show the history of our country, from old maps of the colonies, the new states being formed, patents for many of the inventions made in this country, important photos and video, as those mediums were developed. The only disappointment is that they have an area where educators and parents can see how to use documents and books to teach history - and it was closed. I really wanted to see how they were presenting it.

Anyway, it was nice that it took a visit of a friend from Florida in order to get us into a city that is only 30 miles away - but we saw some things we hadn't seen before and I'll try to make a better effort to take advantage of all the wonderful things that D.C. has to offer.


agent713 said...

Sometimes having out of town guests is just the incentive you need...but then you realize how cool your own backyard is!

This looks like an awesome trip! Going in to see all of those exhibits and buildings would be fascinating. Too bad they probably wouldn't let me (a foreigner) in.

zebrafeet said...

i remember when we were sophomores and katy and i were studying and decided to go to dunkin donuts and wound up in dc. don't ask. it was around 3 am when we left campus. we went to the national archives - it is amazing. we parked my car on the street by the washington monument. and promptly forgot which side.

it is scary how much we don't see of our own backyard. it took a friend from germany, my sister's family and my brother's family for me to see boston. and i STILL haven't seen plymouth rock. and I live 20 miles from it.

Whitney said...

Very cool tours!!! How lucky you and the kids are to be able to see what you saw. I was able to go on a tour of the west wing of the white house several years back and saw the president's office, the situation room, etc. Very fun!