Back in the Spring after our weekend in Delaware, we spent a few days in Washington DC. We were hopeful that we had timed the trip to be in town just as the Cherry Blossoms peaked bloom because it’s a bucket list item for me, but alas just our luck, a late cold snap brought in a snow storm dashing our hopes and diminishing about half of the blossoms beginning to form. In a city that was experiencing temperatures in the 70s the week prior, while we were there, the weather could be described as frigid at best. With a near record breaking high of 32 degrees, it was the coldest March in 33 years. Despite the cold, we still managed to have a good trip and see quite a bit. We’ve been to D.C. a few times over the last 10 years and have seen most of the monuments and typical tourist stops like the Smithsonian museums, so we focused our efforts this time on things we hadn’t done before like take a tour of the U.S. Capitol, visit local markets, and see more of the city. Everything we did was free!
We took a US Capitol tour with a staffer from our state House of Representative congressman. Because we took the free tour through our representative’s office, we got to walk through the underground tunnels from his office in the Rayburn building to the Capitol building. Walking through these tunnels was not only a nice reprieve from the icy weather outside, but was a neat experience to walk the same halls as our nation’s legislative leaders.
The first stop on a tour is Emancipation Hall, named to honor the contributions of the enslaved laborers who helped build the U.S. Capitol. This is actually where you will go to get your tickets if you want to take one of the daily tours offered. It is located underground beneath the East Front plaza of the U.S. Capitol at First Street and East Capitol Street.
The glass ceiling tiles in this room are actually at ground level and can be seen from upper floors of the U.S. Capitol.
Also in Emancipation Hall visitors can see the plaster model of the Statue of Freedom, the statue that sits atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol, and 18 of the more recent statues donated to the National Statuary Hall Collection, a collection comprised of two statues from each state.
This is the actual plaster model used to cast the bronze statue itself. It was stored in pieces for 25 years before being restored in 1992. In late 2008 the model was relocated to the new Capitol Visitor Center, where it is now a focal point of Emancipation Hall. I cannot imagine a more appropriate place for it to be on display.
She was the third and final design by Thomas Crawford for the Statue of Freedom. On top of her head rests a helmet with a crest composed of an eagle’s head and feathers. She wears a classical dress secured with a brooch inscribed “U.S.” Over it is draped a heavy, flowing, toga-like robe fringed with fur and decorative balls. Her right hand rests upon the hilt of a sheathed sword wrapped in a scarf; in her left hand she holds a laurel wreath of victory and the shield of the United States with 13 stripes. The helmet is encircled by nine stars.
This center section of the building above, known as the Crypt, supports the rotunda of the US Capitol. The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered and was becoming so warn down from visitor’s touch it that it is now protected by a barrier. Located in the Crypt are 13 statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection, representing the 13 original colonies, and the Magna Carta replica and display.
Not only is the U.S. Capitol a working building with active legislation occurring, but it is truly a work of art. Every room is a masterpiece of marble and sandstone. Around every corner is a statue, carving, or mural. The rotunda of the U.S. Capitol is probably the most magnificent space in the entire building though. Below the dome of the Capitol building, the rotunda is a central meeting point within the wings and the circular walls are covered in murals, carvings, and artwork. However, above you can see The Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi visible through the oculus of the dome.
National Statuary Hall, also known as the Old Hall of the House, is the large, two-story, semicircular room south of the Capitol Rotunda. This historic space now serves as the main exhibition space for the National Statuary Hall Collection and as a gathering place for media in the U.S. Capitol.
During some of the restoration of this room, Bronze markers were placed on the floor to honor the presidents and other important leaders who served in the House of Representatives while it met there noting the location of their desks. I captured a picture of the marker for James Polk since we are from Tennessee.
The Columbus Doors, also called the Rogers Doors or Rotunda Doors, stand imposingly at the main entrance to the U.S. Capitol Building, almost 17 feet high and weighing 20,000 pounds. Designed by American sculptor Randolph Rogers, each scene depicts the life of Christopher Columbus.
Ash enjoyed his first trip to the U.S. Capitol so much that he napped through most of it and then pooped all over his outfit when we got back to the Rayburn building. It was a memorable trip.
If you want to reserve your own tour of the U.S. Capitol building, you can do so right here or through the offices of your state congressmen. More information about booking a tour can be found on VisittheCapitol.gov.
We stayed at our friends’ apartment near Union Station for part of our trip and so we walked through Union Station many many times going to the Metro station. One day we actually spent a few minutes wandering around checking out the shops inside. The dual flags below are flying in front of Union Station.
We also grabbed burgers from Shake Shack located here for dinner one night. Do you see it in the left corner of the picture below?
I’m just in love with the architecture of this building and the amazing design on the ceiling.
In the same neighborhood as Union Station is Union Market. The original Union Terminal Market opened to the public in 1931. The market featured large, airy, well lit indoor stalls for 700 vendors, cold storage vaults, elevators and a public café. Vendors sold meats, fish, dairy and produce six days a week. Now the modern Union Market is a warehouse-like food market with over 40 local artisans and vendors offering charcuterie, empanadas, gelato, homemade pasta, small batch kombucha, fresh seafood & more.
Union Market is truly a community because the entire area houses local vendors selling goods or food; artwork and murals are featured; there is even a small local theater showing movies! But the best part? Free parking! Union Market has it’s own large parking lot and in this chilly weather, we appreciated the ability to park nearby with our baby. We stopped here twice during our trip for food and other items to take home. In fact, the retail shop inside is where we discovered Big Spoon Roasters peanut butter, which is amazing!
We couldn’t visit Union Market without also making a trip to the city’s Eastern Market. Located in the heart of the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, Eastern Market is DC’s destination for produce, local meats, fresh pasta, baked goods, and community events. However, we now know that the best time to visit is on the weekend when the outdoor market is also set up.
Parking is not free here and is very limited. You might be better off taking the Metro and walking if you don’t plan to load up on groceries.
Finally, we spent a morning walking around the Potomac River and Tidal Basin to see what remained of the Cherry Blossoms. Despite the icy conditions, many of them charged ahead and survived, so we were still able to enjoy them a bit. I can only imagine the magnificence of this stroll with all of the trees at peak bloom tossing their pink confetti everywhere.
Does he look annoyed with me? I think he was annoyed with me for lagging so far behind to take pictures. ROFL. Love him and his patience with me taking SO MANY PHOTOS!
We walked all the way around the western side of the Tidal Basin to the newer Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial completed in 2011, which we had yet to see on any of our previous visits to D.C.
The Tidal Basin provides you with access to a few lesser visited, but still beautiful monuments like the FDR Memorial, which we walked through on our way back to the car!
One tip is that there is ample free parking provided by the NPS around West Potomac Park near the National Park Service station. You will want to get there early to snag a spot though. The only caveat is it’s a bit of a hike from there to the Tidal Basin. So if you plan to make a morning of it or even a day, you could park there and walk over to see many of the monuments, including Lincoln. The Lincoln Monument is just across the street from the picture above.
Until next time D.C…it’s one of our favorite cities to visit because some of the best people we know live there.