A tour of the embassies in Washington D.C.
Of Brassy happenings in the capital
By Sarah Harmon
Washington D.D. – Growing up, you were always told that it’s impossible to be in two places at once, especially two different countries that are oceans apart. But what if that’s not true after all? What if I told you that I was in eleven countries during the course of one day and eight countries the following weekend?
On the first two Saturdays of every May, a large number of foreign embassies in Washington, DC open their doors to the public from 10 am to 4 pm. This year had 42 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe participating in the Around the World weekend and all 28 countries of the European Union for the EU weekend.
Since you couldn’t possibly fit in seven per hour one weekend and almost five per hour the next, planning ahead is the best approach. Thankfully, a majority of the countries are within easy walking distance of each other on or near a section of Massachusetts Avenue known as Embassy Row.
Pictured above are dancers from Estonia and a stamped passport from the cultural tour around the world embassies in Washington D.C. in May.
The enormous German Embassy is considerably off the beaten path, but the EU weekend had shuttle buses to make it easier to get there and to other groupings of embassies that are several blocks away from Massachusetts Ave.
For the Around the World weekend, the best starting point is Dupont Circle where the friendly folks from Cultural Tourism DC will give you a map showing the locations of all participating embassies, and you can also buy an official Cultural Tourism DC Passport for $5 to have stamped at each country you visit. For the EU weekend, the European Union Delegation building is within sight of Foggy Bottom Metro, and they’ll be happy to give you your map, free passport, and various other “I Love EU” goodies.
The moment you step through the door of any of the embassies, you have legally departed the United States and are in Sri Lanka, Morocco, Latvia, or whichever country owns the site. Many of the buildings are posh Beaux Arts mansions constructed during the Gilded Age by contemporaries of the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.
Colombia and Chile both have lavish grand staircases that you can’t help but imagine a woman in a turn of the century ball gown with long gloves gracefully descending. They’re showing off a lot more than extravagant architecture and furnishings though. This event is all about exposing visitors to their culture, music, art, history, food, and people.
South Korea could be heard from a block away as the DJ blasted K-pop while visitors from all over the world grooved on the dance floor. Meanwhile, children in Botswana had the opportunity to make a colorful paper windsock before having a chance to sample a traditional Botswana’s snack. While the ginger infused pineapple juice there was delicious, most Americans were probably not adventurous enough to sample the dried caterpillars, regardless of how much protein they may have. The Portuguese Ambassador himself greeted many of the visitors to his country before they watched an informational video, snacked on delightful custard tarts with Port wine, and were given t-shirts with the statement “Portugal: 900 Years Young.”
Travelers who dropped by Morocco truly felt transported across the Atlantic. Their courtyard was transformed with large cushions placed on beautiful carpets under tents. Ladies in attire quintessential to West Africa offered small pastries similar to baklava and hot tea from a gorgeous silver teapot while live music was played. Henna tattoos were also available there for a fee.
A top destination of the Around the World Embassies for foodies was Chile. They offered samples of bread dipped in olive oil with herbs, red and white wine, mussels flavored with cilantro, several types of fruit, and pisco sour cocktails. Lovers of dance particularly enjoyed the Kyrgyz Republic. A trio of ladies periodically performed choreography typical of their country. Elements of Bollywood integrated seamlessly with movements similar to those used in belly dance with a hint of Russian influence.
In Estonia, dancers were not only performing, but inviting members of the crowd to participate and learn how to do something a little like a mix of English Country Dance popular in the 19th century and Polka. The Latvians got some entertaining reactions from sharing samples of their traditional beverages. To be fair, they did warn innocent victims that the herbal liquor called Black Balsam was very strong. Many Americans still were a little unprepared for the 90 proof liquid blending spices and pure vodka. Those visitors who are familiar with the Czech Republic’s Becherovka, on the other hand, found it to be delightful.
For those who are intrigued by a particular region but are hesitant to travel there due to safety concerns, this is a perfect alternative. As a single woman, I would not feel comfortable traveling to Iraq or Afghanistan, but I found the embassies to be charming and the people exceptionally friendly. Notably, in the Iraqi Embassy, a woman in a stunning traditional dress was selling paintings of her homeland. When she’s not painting, she’s a forensic toxicologist here in the United States. She loves the country of her birth, but she is very excited about soon receiving her permanent Green Card.
Traveling around the world gives a unique opportunity to expand a person’s horizons and help them appreciate the beauty in our differences and in similarities they may never have imagined previously. Passport DC gives the opportunity to get a bite sized vacation to countries that many people would not ordinarily think of when planning their next trip, and in some cases, countries that most Americans have never even heard of. Want to see the world but don’t want to spend hours on planes or trying to recover from jet lag? The first two weekends of May in Washington, DC make it simple. This is your chance to prove your physics teacher wrong because thanks to this event, you really can be in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and South America without ever leaving the capital of the United States.
The featured photo: The Luxembourg Embassy in Washington D.C. Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg stayed after the Nazis invaded her country in WWII.
Now this was a brassy happening Brassy in Washington D.C.
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