As a military kid, I grew up everywhere and nowhere, and my moving habit didn’t end with adulthood. I can’t really say that I have a hometown, but if I had to choose one, the Washington, D.C. area would be it. Collectively, over the past 35 years, between Maryland, northern Virginia, and the District of Columbia itself, I have spent over 15 years of my life in the D.C. area. You’d think that in that time, I would have seen all that D.C. has to offer, but in reality, I haven’t even come close.
I took the first step toward changing that today, when I decided to become a tourist in my “hometown”.
When I first learned that M. and I would be returning to the area for these eight months between international posts, admittedly, I wasn’t too thrilled at the idea. Although it’s a popular place to live, I left D.C. for good (or so I thought) in 2008, and moved to Minneapolis in search of a calmer environment, lighter traffic, and a more affordable cost of living. I’ve always maintained that D.C. is a great place to visit, but it can be a tough place to live, as it’s crowded, fast-paced, and expensive. Sort of like New York.
Last week, my parents were in town from Indiana for Thanksgiving. My dad had expressed interest in visiting the Library of Congress, as he had never been before, despite, too, having lived in the D.C. area for many years. My very first job (aside from babysitting) was at the Library Congress, way back in 1997, when I worked there for three summers in a row during college. I was a clerk in the travel office, processing travel authorizations and vouchers and picking up the occasional passport for employees, sometimes including the Librarian of Congress himself. When my dad asked me to take him on a tour, I happily accepted, as I hadn’t been back to the Library since I last worked there in 1999.
Our self-guided tour through the Library’s Jefferson building, with its beautiful marble interior, gorgeous artwork, and several fascinating exhibits, inspired me to take on a new project during the remainder of our time in D.C.: to become a tourist right here and to see the sights that I know are here but too often have taken for granted, not wanting to deal with the crowds of tourists. When I really thought about it, I realized that I have barely seen a fraction of the many sights there are to see in D.C., and of those that I have visited… well, it’s been about ten years. Tourism is low at this time of year, and now that my 50 mile run has come and gone, learning about our nation’s capital seems like the perfect project.
I didn’t have my camera with me during my visit to the Library of Congress last week with my dad, so I’ll have to go back another time to capture some images. Over the next couple of months, I’ve decided to see as many of D.C.’s sights as I can, which will also conveniently prepare me to play tour guide when some of our family members visit us in March.
Today marks the first day of my “tour at home”. And what better place to start than with our nation’s roots?
I spent the morning visiting the National Archives. I couldn’t believe I had never been here before, in all of the years I’ve spent in D.C. It’s embarrassing, really. Inside the National Archives, I saw with my own eyes the 1297 Magna Carta, as well as the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
I also saw some of the other important documents and pieces of legislation that have directly affected me as an Arab-American, woman, and athlete. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 19th Amendment and other Woman Suffrage documents, and Title IX, which allows girls to compete in sports in public education. I wish I could have taken photos, but photography anywhere inside the National Archives is strictly prohibited.
Following my visit to the National Archives, I strolled around the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden for a while. The ice skating rink was up and running for the season, even though it was about 65 degrees out on this December 1st.
Below are some of my favorite sculptures in the garden.
After leaving the Sculpture Garden, I slowly made my way north, taking some time to look around in a way that I had never really done before, at least not in D.C. It’s the way I’ve looked around while in Germany and Spain and South Africa, but never here. Indeed, I was seeing the city with new eyes.
I walked by some of our country’s most important law-enforcement buildings:
And I took in some of D.C.’s unique and beautiful architecture:
As I walked north on 9th Street, I stumbled upon the D.C. downtown Holiday Market. Both local and out-of-town vendors were here selling hand-made crafts, clothes, artwork, and holiday trinkets. I wandered through the stalls, and bought some hand-painted holiday cards featuring winter scenes of D.C.’s most famous sights.
Eventually, I ended up in the Gallery Place/Chinatown neighborhood. When I was in high school, this area was not known as one of D.C.’s places to see and be seen, as it is now. Renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s made Gallery Place/Chinatown one of downtown D.C.’s premier places to shop and eat, thanks in large part to the construction of the Verizon Center. I saw Bon Jovi here in 2008.
The “Gallery” in Gallery Place refers to the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Institute of Art. I stopped inside for a little while to have a look around.
I ended my first day on tour at home through downtown, stopping for a quick lunch before heading back to Arlington on the metro. This was my neighborhood for a long time, at least when it came to work. So many things looked the same, bringing back old memories, and yet so much had changed.
My first day as a tourist at home has left me excited to explore more of this great city, our nation’s capital. A great place to visit, and visit I shall.
Thank you for reading!
And what about you, what are your favorite places in Washington, D.C.?