Christmas at the White House

Nobody gets in to see the wizard.  Nobody.  No how.

That’s how it feels trying to get into a post 9-11 White House.

White House East Door

There is considerable ‘hoop jumping’ involved.  However, if you can get past the procedural challenges, the reward is worth it.  Especially at Christmas time.

Yesterday, after literally months of planning, we were able to do just that.  Beyond clearing two security checkpoints, we were able to walk virtually unimpeded up to the East Wing entrance where we were greeted by a giant red bow-topped “package” leading up to the doors

Red Garland White House

Garlands everywhere!

Garlands of every colour and style graced the doorways throughout the House.  Balls, baubles, leaves, fruit, ribbons, bows and raffia!  Whatever you can imagine – in every color!  Simply gorgeous!

White House Pups

Down the hallway to the East Landing giant furry replicas of the First Dogs, Bo and Sunny greet visitors.  Volunteers are standing by to take guests’ photos in front of the dogs – normally I don’t like to be in the pictures, but who could resist these two cuties?

East Wing Colonnade

Draped from the ceiling along the colonnade, thousands of sparkling crystals danced among the ribbons.  It is such a simple decoration –  lengths of ribbon hanging in streamers – but it created a dazzling effect.

White House Christmas

The real White House Pups

It was at this point, while looking up and admiring all the ribbons, that I heard a commotion behind me.  I spun around just in time to see the two Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny, come trotting by with a handler no doubt on the way to an event.  I managed to snap a quick photo – not the best, but certainly a keeper!   After having just stood next to the giant ones, the real Bo and Sunny were surprisingly small!

Christmas, and more!

Even though the point of our visit was to see the White House dressed up for Christmas, seeing the portraits of past Presidents and First Ladies was quite a thrill.

White House First Lady

 

White House Library

 

decorations detail

 

Christmas decor

 

East Room Window Wreath

Entering the East Room is breathtaking!  Decorated in traditional colors of red, gold, burgundy and silver, it also contained a nearly life-size crèche prominently placed between the fireplaces in the center of the room.  Here, again, volunteers were conveniently waiting to take photos for all who ask.

White House Christmas

White House Gingerbread

 

 

Nutcracker in East Room

The tour is self-guided and so during the course of our visit, our group had become intermingled with a group from Gettysburg, PA who were dressed in Civil War Period costumes.  Their presence added a certain mystique to the White House, as if transporting it back in time.  I admit that I tried to photograph them whenever I could!

Christmas White House

Gettysburg Ladies at White House

Red Room Christmas

Very limited photography

As you can imagine, security is very strict.  While photos are allowed, they can only be with a camera phone or a small camera without a detachable lens.  I took mine with my phone which was kind of disappointing.  However, it is only recently that photography is allowed inside at all, so no complaints!

Red Room Bow

 

Green Room Fireplace

 

White House Foyer

 

White House Foyer

For more information

All tour requests must go through the office of a Congressman and may be made 3 months to 21 days in advance of your visit.  The Secret Service is very strict about what is allowed inside so it is important to follow the instructions.  Everyone goes through a security check before being allowed to tour.  Complete instructions are available here.

Do you have a favourite place to visit during the Christmas Holidays?  Tell us about it in the comments!

 

Spanish on a Segway

I was just finishing my last bite of dinner when my phone rang. It was my friend and colleague Elsa O’Grady owner of Washingtonian Tours.  She specializes in groups from Spanish speaking countries and is often in need of Spanish speaking guides.  “Hi, Deirdre,” she said.  “I know it is short notice, but I wondered if you might be able to lead a group tomorrow.”  Before I could answer, she added, “There is one more thing you should know before you answer.  The tour is on a Segway.”  20131130_122426

As a guide, the name of the game is flexibility.  Go with the flow.  I’ve never been on a Segway, wasn’t sure I could maneuver it, but what the heck?  It sounded like a fun adventure so, “Sure, Elsa!  I can do that!”

20131130_122452We were to meet at noon to get a short “how to” lesson and then two hours of touring the city.  When they arrived at City Segway Tours, we were directed to three bins marked “small, medium and large” to select and fit our required helmets.  We then divided ourselves into three groups for our lesson. 20131130_130810 One by one, after the first tentative grasp of the handles we learned how to mount, dismount, move forward, stop, turn – all the basics.  It is a fun, quirky mode of transportation, easily learned and quickly mastered.  Our instructor and guide, Grace, was clear and patient in her explanation to each person.  I was there to assist with translation as needed.

20131130_130836On completing the lesson, each person climbed aboard his own Segway for a short practice session around the patio before heading out into the streets of Washington.  Moving off with Grace in the lead, I brought up the rear keeping the group together, in a single file as we traversed the city.  20131130_132251Our first stop was Pennsylvania Avenue and White House.  Grace explained the various visual priorities – the Eisenhower Office Building, the Renwick Gallery, Blair House and ultimately the White House itself.  I provided additional commentary in Spanish and answered questions for the guests.  It felt odd for me as I am usually doing the commentary for my own guests, but I was happy to be able to try out the Segway so I sat back and enjoyed the moment!  20131130_133448 However, I must admit I lapsed into tourist mode as I couldn’t let the photo op pass – I wanted photographic proof of the day’s adventure!

Due to the group’s schedule, the tour had to be slightly shortened.  Normally, we would have visited the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and both the Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials.  As it was there was only time in their itinerary for a stop at the Washington Monument before traversing down Constitution Avenue to finish our tour.

20131130_135200

It was great fun and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to try out a Segway.  Rolling along the streets is a fun and different way to visit a city.  For information on tours and prices contact City Segway Tours 502 23rd St., NW, Washington, D.C. (877) 734-8687 www.CitySegwayTours.com