On Tour at “Home” in Washington, D.C.

IMG_5022As 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.

National Archives

The National Archives houses many of the country’s important historical documents. The exhibits are excellent and include a lot of hands-on, kid-friendly educational tools. The teacher in me wishes I could bring all of my students here!

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.

brochures

My take-aways from the National Archives. Interestingly, the 1215 Magna Carta is currently on display at the Library of Congress, and my dad and I were able to see it last week when we visited.

Archives

The National Archives is located on Constitution Avenue, between 7th and 9th Streets.

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.

Sculpture Garden

Entrance to the Sculpture Garden.

Below are some of my favorite sculptures in the garden.

Typewriter Eraser

Typewriter Eraser, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

Miró

Gothic Personage, Bird-Flash, by Joan Miró

Amor

Amor, by Robert Indiana

Thinker

Thinker on a Rock, by Barry Flanagan

Graft

Graft, by Roxy Paine

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.

Archives west side

The west side of the National Archives. The inscription at the top reads: “The glory and romance of our history are here preserved in the chronicles of those who conceived and builded [sic] the structure of our nation.”

Archives west side

Front view of the west side of the National Archives.

I walked by some of our country’s most important law-enforcement buildings:

DOJ

Department of Justice.

FBI

The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Headquarters.

And I took in some of D.C.’s unique and beautiful architecture:

9th and Penn

The intersection of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Post Office

The Old Post Office Pavilion, used as Washington, D.C.’s main post office until 1914.

Old Post Office

The Old Post Office Pavilion is a place I can say I have actually been inside. It was here that I applied for my Peace Corps passport, way back in 2002.

Old Post Office

The clock tower at the Old Post Office Pavilion, viewed from 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

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.

Holiday Market

The downtown Holiday Market in Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Holiday Market

D.C.’s downtown Holiday Market at 9th and F Streets, adjacent to the south side of the National Portrait Gallery.

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.

Verizon Center

The Verizon Center, D.C.’s main venue for basketball and hockey games and big-name concerts.

Food Trucks

Food trucks have become extremely popular in Washington, D.C. Local workers were lining up at these ones just outside the Verizon Center as I passed through the neighborhood during lunch time.

Gallery Place/Chinatown is booming with shops and restaurants.

Gallery Place

Some of Gallery Place/Chinatown’s newer and remodeled buildings on 8th Street.

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.

Portrait Gallery

Like all Smithsonian museums, the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Institute of Art does not charge an admission fee.

License Plates

On display at the National Portrait Gallery: These license plates, each from one of the fifty states and D.C., in alphabetical order no less, sound out the Preamble to the Constitution. Pretty cool!

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.

Woodies

The old Woodies building in Metro Center, home to the flagship Woodward and Lothrop department store and built in the late 1800s, is known for its ornate exterior. Today, it houses several offices, stores, and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. When I worked in D.C. about three blocks from here thirteen years ago, this building was vacant.

Carolers

Just before hopping on the train to go back home, I had the special treat of hearing these two gentleman singing Christmas carols a cappella on the platform at Metro Center.

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.?

4 thoughts on “On Tour at “Home” in Washington, D.C.

  1. I was just thinking the other day about the things we haven’t done with the kids when we were there. As much as I don’t like living there full time, I agree with you. There is so much to visit and see, and, maybe, if I treated it that way to begin with, I wouldn’t have come to dislike the area so much! Good luck!

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    • Misti, thanks so much for your comment. Seeing the city as a tourist rather than a resident is much different- in a good way! Next time you are back here, definitely take advantage of the more fun things… it will take your mind off the traffic and rude people always in a hurry. 🙂 Hope you are continuing to enjoy Amman!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your freshly renewed enthusiasm for the good things around DC. I worked in the area on a six-month temporary assignment a few years ago. I made it a point to go out and see as many of the marble places as I could, enjoying their historic and artistic treasures. I pretty much worked my way around the National Mall over several weekends, then branched out a little from there, enjoying the variety and feeling of some of the smaller neighborhoods. One thing I really enjoyed and have recommended to many friends since then is actually outside DC proper, in Alexandria, the George Washington Masonic Memorial. It’s an impressively monumental building in itself, and a fascinating museum of significance. Free admission, volunteer guides, and when we were there an orchestra was rehearsing in the concert hall for a classical performance that evening — bonus!

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    • Thanks, Bruce. Yes, Alexandria is great for visiting. In high school, some of my friends and I would often go to the Masonic Temple at night and look at the lights below on King Street. It is a beautiful building, indeed… maybe another visit there is in order!

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