50 States in 50 Days: Washington, D.C. – A Capitol City

Posted by Natalya Smith, Consular Officer

View of the Washington Monument from Kennedy Center rooftop

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My name is Natalya Smith, and my favorite city in the world is Washington, D.C. It is commonly referred to as the District, short for the District of Columbia. DC is not a state, but rather an administrative area located on the land donated by the state of Maryland along the Potomac River. It’s the capital of the United States, and is famous for its monuments, museums, the White House, the Capitol Building, and its universities and historic sites.

My absolute favorite thing to do in Washington is to visit the Kennedy Center (the National Center for the Performing Arts) after work, getting a bite to eat at the rooftop cafe, and enjoying the view of the city, the Potomac river, and the planes coming in for landing at the Reagan National Airport. And then, I can enjoy an evening full of opera, ballet, or classical music performed by some of the best musicians and entertainers in the world. If residents or tourists cannot afford full price tickets, every evening there are also free shows at the Millennium Stage welcoming everyone to enjoy and appreciate the art of singing, dancing, and music.

The National Mall is a cluster of monuments, museums, and historic sites in the heart of Washington, D.C. On the one end of the Mall is the Capitol Building which houses the legislative branch of our government. It is open for visitors and provides a thrilling opportunity to watch members of Congress debate and vote on what may become U.S. law.

Lincoln Memorial and the Replecting Pool

On the other side of the Mall are the Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool — an impressive tribute to the President who lead the nation at the turbulent time of the Civil War. But when I think of the Lincoln Memorial, I immediately envision Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement, addressing thousands of Americans against the background of the Lincoln Memorial with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and painting the future of a more just, equal, and tolerant nation.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the Potomac River

I have been to the top of the Washington Monument many times, and the panoramic views of DC and its surroundings never fail to amaze me. Unfortunately, last summer’s earthquake caused significant damage to the monument with several visible cracks appearing on its facade, and it is now closed to the public. In the meantime, visitors can enjoy the grass fields around it for picnics, sports, and kite flying.

If you decide to visit Washington, you absolutely should visit the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. Did you know they are free to the public? They are probably the finest museums in the world, and even within my family there is a debate on which one is the best — the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of American History, or the Botanical Gardens. But there are many more of them for art and history lovers, and one can spend days and even weeks exploring the treasures collected inside them.

Museum of Natural History, Washington DC

I used to work next to the White House and could see it from my office window. I remember visiting the White House several times, as well as being able to drive along Pennsylvania Avenue (which is now closed for traffic). Things changed after September 11th, 2001, when my coworkers and I were ordered to run from downtown Washington, not knowing whether the White House could be a target of the next terrorist attack. That was probably the scariest and darkest day of my life. When we returned to work several days later, the many changes around DC signaled that we were now living in a new era of a nation under attack, constant security threats, and Americans from all over the country stepping up to the challenge and serving their country.

National Christmas Tree, 2011

If September 11th was the darkest day of my life in DC, then President Obama’s Inauguration Day was undoubtedly the brightest and most inspirational. I don’t remember being so cold in my entire life (even when I was a little girl growing up in Russia) as that January morning, but for some reason that did not matter. We were full of hope, anticipation, and unity and it felt like the hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall were all my close relatives attending a family reunion. People were crying with happiness, singing and dancing together, and congratulating and hugging each other. The feeling of accomplishment and pride, of victory and control over our own fate was unprecedented. President Obama’s message of individual Americans becoming the change they want to see in the world is still with me today, and it inspires me to be a better person and citizen.

Writing this blog about Washington, DC made me homesick. What do you say we go there for Christmas? The National Christmas tree by the White House will be lit by President Obama, and there will be an ice-skating rink on the National Mall, complete with lights, music, and hot chocolate. So, I will see you there!

The United States Capitol at night

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