The White House
When investigating visiting the White House it is straight forward for a US national but for overseas tourists it becomes a problem. The website directs you to ask for permission to tour the White House via your embassy. Following the instructions the British Embassy in Washington and that site clearly denies being able to grant any access to getting on a tour of the White House. Dead end!
If you are a US citizen you apply via your Congress representative so plan in plenty of time to go through the process. You can be unfortunate and have gone through all the security questions and been issued an invitation and arrived in good faith to be told that tours aren’t not happening that day due to a visit of important dignitaries. This exact scenario happened to a colleague of mine who was visiting from Colorado. I must admit that it amused me because I managed to get in the day before.
Max’s visit to the White House
To cut a very long story short for you and my fingers, Zoe, my youngest daughter had worked in Pennsylvania at summer camp for five straight years. Most of the kids and staff come from Bethesda, Rockville, Hagerstown region and one of her colleagues got a six month internship with the Democrats at the White House. You can see what is happening here can’t you?
I wanted to be in DC for the 2016 Presidential Elections and having reached the deadend in trying to get on a tour of the White House I mentioned to Zoe to ask if there any chance her friend could get me on a tour of the White House. She contacted him and the answer was ‘When does she want to visit?’. OMG!
I plumped for the day after the Election result which one way or another would go down in History.
I filled out the invitation with the security questions, passport details and any other information vital to being accepted. A few days later I received a beautiful invitation from The White House. Barack and Michelle Obama personally inviting little me to tour the East Wing of the WhiteHouse. Unbelievable, really unbelievable.
The list of excluded items allowed is long and some are obvious and some aren’t but it is in black and white. So on the day filled with the most amazing anticipation I arrived and joined the queue along the edge of the gardens by the side of the White House. Manned by National Park Staff who were very friendly you could sense the excitement in the line. The instructions about what was acceptable to bring into the tour was very clear so imagine my surprise when the lady in front was told that her bag was not allowed in with her. Her reaction was one of disbelief to the news. There were no facilities nearby to store items or restrooms and that was made very clear in the invitation as well.
Read the small print people!!
I literally had my metro card, credit card, some greenbacks and my camera with a lens shorter than 10 cms and that was it oh and my passport, mustn’t forget that. I think I was the only non US citizen in the line which made me feel really special.
There was, unsurprisingly, a large amount of security and check points to pass through. It must have taken an hour before clearing the final electronic scan and then that was it. Just follow the path and towards the side of the East Wing and let yourself in. They say allow about 45 minutes to do the tour which is self guided and watched by the Secret Service. They are on hand to answer questions that you may have.
Really, you opened the door yourself and walked in. The first hall way was wooden panelled with many photographs of the Obamas’ and their daughters. Then you arrive at the side in line with the famous and recognisable oval of the White House. Of course there is a souvenir stand that was stocked with unique items that were very expensive. I didn’t buy anything from there but many of the other visitors were.
There are many rooms to look into that are used for different occasions with historical portraits and furniture in them. There are glass fronted cabinets with each presidential families personal china on display, including the Kennedy’s and the Obama’s.
Following the marble stairs up there is the Red Room, Green Room and Blue Room. The latter is in the oval part of White House and you can see members of the public staring across the garden behind the fencing where I have on many occasions with the greatest satisfaction being on the inside looking out.
The most famous and recognisable of all the rooms, The East Room with the portrait of Washington hanging there is the largest of the rooms. You know the colour of the walls and the light fixtures from many photographs of events held in there. There were a lot of gold drapes between sections of the wing so you couldn’t see into the West Wing or into private areas.
I don’t know if you know that the East Wing is where the First Lady and her administration are located and it was Jackie Kennedy who wanted the Whitehouse to be open as a museum to the people for the people. All the treasures in the Whitehouse on display have some relevance and historical value to the United States.
After you double back on yourself entering the The State Dining Room and the Old Family Dining room you enter the massive hallway with the American Flag and the Standard of the President of the United States either side of the doorway with the Presidential Seal, that the President greets visiting dignitaries and their entourages.
This drew a crowd of photo takers and selfie takers and as I was on my own I didn’t really stand much of a chance in getting to the front of the line so I took the best photo I could and moved on. There were portraits of past Presidents on the available walls and more gold drapes blocking the view of staircases and corridors to the other side of the White House.
Then all too soon it was time to exit through the most famous doors in the world onto the steps of the White House and under the huge glass lamp that hangs there. Someone kindly took my photo on the steps and then I made my way into the back of the garden onto Pennsylvania Avenue.
If you look upwards with your back to the White House at the building in front, on the balconies are bright lights shining out. These are the studios for the world’s press and the area was swarming with television crews from around the globe.
I didn’t see the President (not surprisingly) but apparently he was holding a speech in the Rose Garden to discuss Mr Trump’s status as President Elect at the time I was leaving.
There was much chatter about Mr Trump’s victory and he was expected for talks with Mr Obama the following day, which is why my colleague didn’t get to do the tour and I did.
When I returned to work after this trip I think that drilled it home how lucky I had been was when a colleague said ‘ I have never met anyone who has visited the White House!’