An American Girl Goes to Washington

Every year when the weather gets warm, I get an urge to hit the road to visit family and friends on the east coast.  This year was no exception, so I fired up the Camry and hit the road to visit our nation’s capital.
My first stop in the DC area was at Shanghai Garden with Uncle Tony.  After a long drive and an unexpected detour through West Virginia, I was ready for some Shanghainese soul food.
I was extremely excited to try the Xiaolongbao.  FYI, if you dine in the XLB is not on the American menu, it is on the Shanghainese menu. 
The Beijing duck was a little different that the dish I enjoyed in China, but it was still yummy.
I have been to DC a few times, but had never toured the Capitol Building.  So I started my day of sightseeing with a tour of the Capitol with Drake, an aide to Senator Mitch McConnell. 
Our tour started across the street in the Russel Senate office building.  While waiting for our guide, I proceeded to spill a glass of water on myself.  The aides were really sweet when helping me clean up the mess.
After going through capitol security, we took an underground tram to the Capitol Building.
We pose in front of a plaster replica of the Statue of Freedom.  The original is located on top of the Capitol Dome.
We then toured the old Senate and Supreme Court Chambers.  I had no idea the Capitol had so many different chambers.
Each state had the opportunity to donate a statue to be displayed in the Capitol. What's wrong with this statue?
Due to renovations, our view of the portraits in the rotunda was limited by scaffolding.

My favorite statue in the rotunda was the suffragette statue which features Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and Lucretia Mott.  Notice there is some stone left that could be used for a future influential woman.
This is the top of the rotunda dome. The painting, Apotheosis of Washington, depicts George Washington with thirteen maidens representing the original thirteen states.


After checking out the rotunda, Drake told us to be quiet and to put our cameras away.  We were then led down a hallway.
Then we were led out to the Majority Leader's balcony for a spectacular view of the National Mall.
This spot is not included on the public tour.  I HIGHLY recommend scheduling Capitol tours through your congressman or senator.

This patio set is on the balcony.  The Majority leaders can entertain foreign dignitaries in style!
The Declaration of Independence hangs outside the House and Senate Chambers.
Drake was able to hook us up with House and Senate gallery passes. 
Unfortunately, cameras aren't allowed in the gallery so I was unable to snap a picture in the Senate.  BTW, before you go to the Capitol CHECK OUT THEIR PROHIBITED ITEMS LIST ONLINE. Even though I was extremely mindful of what I packed, I still had to dump half of the contents of my purse at security.

After our tour, we were a little hungry so we ate lunch in the Capitol Visitor Center Restaurant. I am not usually a fan of cafeteria food, but my Lobster roll was INCREDIBLE! Photo Source: Trip Advisor
Tickets for Capitol tours can either be obtained through the Capitol Visitors Center, or through your Congressman or Senator.  If you are an American citizen, I highly recommend booking your tour through your congressman or senator.  Tours scheduled through their offices tend to be significantly smaller than the visitors center tours.  (My tour had 7 people, the visitors center tours had upwards of 30 people.)

After lunch it was time to move on the portrait gallery.  Thank goodness I remembered to bring an umbrella!
After lunch and our tour, we headed off to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery to meet up with my Aunt Ann and Uncle Jim and catch some pictures of the presidents.
The Presidential Gallery displays portraits of all the presidents.

Some of the portraits are traditional, others (like this large likeness of Bill Clinton) are a little more avant garde.

My favorite part of this museum is a beautiful atrium cafe. I had a lovely time catching up with Aunt Ann and Uncle Jim while sipping a lemonade.

Not all of the portraits in the gallery are of presidents.  I was mesmerized by this portrait of Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood.  I will be returning to check out some of the other exhibits. Photo Source: National Portrait Gallery website
In addition to the presidential portraits, I highly recommend taking an entire afternoon to see portraits of pop culture icons, presidential contemporaries, and other traveling exhibitions.

We capped off our afternoon with a trip to the International Spy Museum. Aunt Ann, Uncle Jim, and I had a fun time learning about history through the context of espionage. 

Located across the street from the Portrait Gallery, the International Spy Museum is a fun place to learn about the dark world of espionage.
While in the museum, visitors assume spy identities and hone their memory and observation skills. 

In addition to playing spy, we saw how people were smuggled in cars across borders in Europe.
I especially appreciated the Trojan Horse replica.

The Cold War posters reminded me of the Propaganda Poster Museum in Shanghai.
My favorite part of the museum was listening to former spies talk about their experiences in the field.  If you decide to visit, be sure to catch the "James Bond Moment" portion of the spy confessionals.
While the tickets are a little pricey ($21.95 for the most basic package), the museum is worth the price of admission.

After a day of sightseeing, we enjoyed a yummy dinner at Lebanese Taverna.
If you enjoy middle eastern food, Lebanese Taverna is a great place to dine!
I highly recommend getting the Chef's platter.  It was great to sample different kinds of hummus, tabouleh, and other goodies.
To cap off the evening, UT and I went on a self-guided, twilight tour of the monuments on the National Mall.

I happy to finally see the completed MLK monument.
I'm also a fan of the Jefferson Memorial.

I was thankful for a beautiful evening on the mall.

I could have spent a week in DC without getting bored, however I needed to continue my adventure in Philly!

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