Around the world with D.C. embassy tours
Today, I visited seven countries in four hours, and I never left Massachusetts Avenue.
More than 40 stately mansions of Embassy Row were open for public tours as part of the Around the World Embassy Tour, a Passport DC event for International Cultural Awareness Month. Each embassy shared art, music, performances and foods native to their country.
Starting our world tour at the Ivory Coast
After my roommate Amanda and I traveled by Metro bright and early this morning, we met fellow Michigan girl Andrea at the ultimate meeting spot off Dupont Circle — Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe. It’s a bookstore, cafe, restaurant and bar all in one. It’s perfect for bookworms to browse while waiting for friends to arrive. Since we did not actually eat here, I won’t delve into a deeper analysis of the classic D.C. establishment. However, I will say that I’ve eaten here before and have never been disappointed. If you want to know more of my thoughts on Kramerbooks, check out my review on Qype, which is basically Europe’s answer to Yelp.
Our group of six ultimately decided to grab coffee and a bite at nearby Firehook Bakery, and there were plenty of options.
When it comes to my morning coffee, I can sometimes be a creature of habit. I ordered my usual: a soy latte and a banana nut muffin. It’s not quite Starbucks — I told you I’m habitual about my coffee — but Firehook does offer more pastry options than the Seattle-based chain and has that neighborhood coffee shop vibe even though it, too, is a chain.
After picking up a map of the embassies from Cultural Tourism DC at Mass Ave and 20th, where the free shuttles were picking up swarms of embassy visitors, we began our walk up Massachusetts, along Embassy Row.
Three of the girls we traveled the world with today were experienced embassy hoppers and knew from years past that lines would get longer and longer later in the day. The embassies were open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and shuttles were also scheduled to quit at that time. We all wanted to visit Japan before the line became astronomical, so we headed off in that direction.
Along the way, Andrea and her friends recognized an embassy they had missed the year before, but they remembered the elephant statue outside. We ventured inside to find the building was the Embassy of the Republic of Côte D’Ivoire, more commonly known as the Ivory Coast. The French influence on the nation was clear as workers spoke the “language of love” to one another. The embassy had just opened its doors for the public tours, and we were informed there would be performances and food later in the day. Although we missed out on that, we did see some traditional artifacts from the African nation.
Embassy Stop No. 2: Japan
Finally, we reached our desired destination: Japan. After a somewhat intense search of our bags and persons, we were admitted entrance into the Embassy of Japan. We could smell the teriyaki and soy sauces down the street, and we were ready to see what Japan had in store.
There were traditional dolls, clothing and models of Japanese cuisine, including sushi, bento and soba noodles.
There was origami, kimonos and a samurai warrior.
Perhaps most impressive were the science, technology and business innovations coming out of Japan. We spoke with representatives from Canon, high-speed rail, a five-star airline, a human-like robot and Telenoid, an interactive robot that looks a bit like Casper the ghost.
And, of course, there was the much-anticipated food. We ate teriyaki chicken and mochi ice cream and drank iced green tea.
Embassy Stop No. 3: Venezuela
Across the street, the Embassy of the Bolivian Republic of Venezuela was the only embassy we visited with a formal tour. With art deco details, an airy and open atmosphere, formal furniture reminiscent of King Louis style, and abstract art, the Venezuelan Embassy has a beautiful interior. In fact, it was probably my favorite of the embassies we toured today.
The Venezuelan Embassy offered a variety of fruit and root juices. I tried passion fruit juice, which was incredibly refreshing as temperatures were starting to rise into the upper 60s and the sun was shining brightly upon us. I also tried quinoa pudding, which I have to say tastes like bread pudding. It’s just a bit grainier in texture.
Embassy Stop No. 4: Turkey
From Venezuela, we moved down Mass Ave to the Middle East. At the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey we heard some traditional Middle Eastern music, which always reminds me of my hometown, Dearborn, Mich.
We tried on beautiful, traditional clothing and looked at detailed paintings, tiles, scarves and jewelry in a mini-market reminiscent of a Middle Eastern open-air market.
Booths served Döner, figs and apricots, and we each tried Turkish delight, recalling its mention in C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and Turkish coffee. This was my first cup of Turkish coffee and I really liked the slightly sweet taste. I even drank Amanda’s. She was not a fan.
We even met a well-mannered, friendly and very large Kangal dog that is native to and illegal to take from Turkey. We were told the penalty for doing so is a $500 fine and three days in jail. This particular mastiff served as a therapy dog at a hospital and was very calm around the crowd of passersby wanting pet and photograph him, but his master told us that the breed is very friendly toward people and many Turkish people consider the breed their national dog.
Embassy Stop No. 5: Belize
As we approached the Embassy of Belize, it became abundantly clear why the Central American country is a Caribbean vacation destination. Reggae music was pouring from the mansion’s multi-tiered backyard, and after shaking hands with the ambassador and his wife, we were each given Mardi Gras beads. Unfortunately, the food at Belize required cash, so we continued on.
A quick deviation to visit the Islamic Center
Two doors down from the Embassy of Belize is the Islamic Center of Washington. It is a beautiful mosque.
Embassy Stop No. 6: Brazil
Note to first-time embassy tour-goers: Most embassies don’t have a restroom for you to use, but Brazil does!
Once we all made it through the long line to enter and the slow line for the single bathroom, we finally toured the residence. The upper floor has beautiful rooms for entertaining, including the largest dining room table that we saw today. Live acoustic guitar music filled the downstairs, but outside was the real party. We happened to catch a martial arts/dance performance.
Embassy Stop No. 7: Bolivia
The Embassy of the Plurinational State of Bolivia was our final stop of our world tour. A quinoa tour was featured at many of the Latin American embassies, and we tasted chocolate, soup, cookies and energy bars made from the edible, grain-like seeds. Bolivia also hosted performances with vibrantly costumed dancers.
A cheap trip around the world
The best part of the embassy tours? They’re free.
If you plan to tour the embassies next year or the Shortcut to Europe: E.U. Embassies’ Open House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday, I recommend bringing cash. Some embassies offered delicacies for a small price such as Döner for $4 at the Turkish Embassy. Other embassies, such as Belize, charged for all of its food. Vendors selling artwork, jewelry and packaged food items mostly took cash. I only saw one accepting credit cards. Some of the embassies were also selling bottles of water and cans of soda. Again, cash only.
At the Turkish Embassy, we received a coupon for $525 round-trip fares to Istanbul. That’s a great deal, but you can’t put a price on experiencing cuisines, art, music and dance from various cultures. But if you could, I’d go with free.
Wish you were here,